Hard Times (Blu-ray)
Twilight Time / 1975 / 94 mins / PG
It seems that only the directors who have a major debut success get any attention from the public. Quentin Tarantino (with RESEVOIR DOGS), Kevin Smith (with CLERKS) and of course the granddaddy of them all, Orson Welles (with CITIZEN KANE) are good examples of this. After their first films hit every project they were attached to was highly anticipated, or at least had a stronger than usual amount of public interest, regardless of how good the film turned out to be. However for every Tarantino, Smith and Welles there are a countless number of extremely talented directors whose debut film, no matter how good it was, just didn't click with the public. Robert Zemeckis (with the very sweet I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND) immediately comes to mind, but we are here to talk about the debut film of Walter Hill who would go onto make such vividly electrifying films as THE WARRIORS, 48 HRS., and STREETS OF FIRE.
If there is a problem with HARD TIMES, it would be its lack of a strong story. There really isn't much at all to it: Set during the Great Depression, the mysterious Chaney (Bronson) drifts into town and hooks up with Speed (James Coburn) who works the bare-knuckled street fight scene. Chaney says right up front he is only around to make a few bucks and then he is gone, however he is a near unstoppable fighter and Speed sees a lifetime on easy street. There is a romantic subplot with Chaney and a down-on-her-luck married woman (Jill Ireland) that goes nowhere and that's about all there is. Not much of a story. But that is not what makes HARD TIMES a great movie.
HARD TIMES was a mild success when it was released in 1975, and as has been noted several times by fans and critics it contains The Definitive Charles Bronson performance. His man-of-few-words tough guy persona works amazingly well for Chaney making him both immediately sympathetic and still an enigma. Bronson's performance is fantastic and definitely one of the strong points of the film but what Walter Hill brought to it was equally as mesmerizing. The look, the feel, the characters and possibly even more important, the deliberate pacing of HARD TIMES is masterful. Every frame of this film seethes with decay and every character, no matter how wealthy, sweats of desperation. This may very well be one of the best cinematic depictions of life during the Great Depression. It is leisurely paced because the life the characters are forced to live is slow. Every character has a beaten down/accepting-the-horrible-life-they-have demeanor; even the fast talking Speed's energy is all nervous energy. HARD TIMES may not be a flashy, in-your-face game changing film, but it is a beautiful movie that heralded the coming of a master filmmaker.
The anamorphic 2.35 transfer HARD TIMES received for this release is unsurprisingly magnificent. The reason it is unsurprising is because every single film Twilight Time has licensed from Sony has been nothing short of jaw-droppingly beautiful. HARD TIMES is no exception with its fine layer of film grain, extremely warm colors and exceptional detail.
The film has also been given a new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix which, surprisingly, is very in keep with the feel of the original mono mix. The soundscape doesn't really open up unless it is obviously called for (crowd scenes) and the results are natural sounding and very pleasing.
Twilight Time's signature supplement of an isolated score is here. Barry DeVorzon's deep South-inspired music is presented on a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track.
The original theatrical trailer (which, like so many trailers of the era, gives away almost everything) is also included.
HARD TIMES may not have been a debut film of the magnitude of RESERVOIR DOGS or CITIZEN KANE, but it certainly showed Walter Hill's cinematic style for nuance and perfection. Nearly four decades after its release, it still packs a punch and is an immensely enjoyable film. Highly Recommended!