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Movies From the Black Lagoon: Hard Times

Movies From the Black Lagoon
Hard Times - 1975,Rated PG

Action fans will get more than they bargained for with this street fighting drama that launched director Walter Hill (The Warriors, Extreme Prejudice, and Southern Comfort). Hill has since become famous for flashy editing and slow motion violence but here he lets the story roll at its own pace and trusts that you'll be swept along by the lead performers. He gets a big boost there from two old school action stars, Charles Bronson and James Coburn.
Bronson anchors the film as Chaney. He's a man of mystery who rolls into New Orleans, circa 1933,with a plan to make some money, as a street fighter, and then return to wherever he came from. That's it for Chaney as far as motivation goes and Bronson's performance hints at their being more to this man than meets the eyes but the film refuse to spell anything out. Instead we are left to construct our own back story and it works thanks to Bronson's performance which leaves the impression that Chaney came from a better life and is only slumming in the fight game to raise a large enough stake to get through this bleak period and return to where ever he came from.
Coburn enters the film as a manager for a doomed street fighter who gets his head handed to him by the reigning champ, a hulking goon named Jim. We are soon hipped to the fact that Coburn, here cast as Speed, is a low level con man that has settled on the fighting game in an effort to feed his gambling addiction.
He hooks up with Chaney and agrees to help him by setting up fights for a hefty share of the cash but Speed can't even enjoy the success they share and soon finds himself in the clutches of a loan shark who plays for keeps.
The story follows this pair and their cut man (played by the brilliant Strother Martin) on a string of bouts, which take them through the seedier sides of the Big Easy. Along the way you get plenty of great Blues music and you're treated to a series of excellently choreographed brawls, which avoid the Hollywood version of a fight scene. The effect is mainly accomplished via realistic sound effects, which eschew the bone breaking tones of a karate film and replace it with the muffled thumps of hands pounding meat.
It all leads to a tense finale, which finds Speed at the mercy of the loan shark who will only forgive Speed's debt if Chaney shows up to face a professional hitter, brought in from Chicago. It's a long wait for Speed but attentive viewers will know that Chaney would never abandon a friend though how he will fare against a professional is the money question. Stick around for this ending and you'll be treated to one of the finest fights ever captured on screen.
Walter Hill deserves a collector's set of his best films though he probably won't merit one for a bit. That's a shame because this film deserves better treatment. Currently you can only find this available in full screen and that format robs it of some great photography. It would have been nice to have some extras as well since this was the last time that Bronson and Coburn shared screen time (as well as the first time that they had the lead roles in a film they worked on together). Till then you could do a lot worse than to check out this forgotten classic in any format that's available.
Best Line: "Some are born to fail, others have failure thrust upon them."

Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to:

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