The Streetfighter – 1975
aka Hard Times
Review by John Rouse Merriott Chard
You’re not going to do it for free
Hard Times sees Charles Bronson play Chaney, a drifter who travels to Louisiana during the Great Depression and begins competing in illegal bare-knuckled boxing matches set up by his new found partner Spencer ‘Speed’ Weed (James Coburn). Directed by Walter Hill on his directorial debut & produced by Lawrence Gordon, the film also stars Jill Ireland, Strother Martin, Margaret Blye, Michael McGuire & Robert Tessier.
Hard Times, if you pardon the pun, pulls no punches, it’s tightly scripted (Walter Hill in conjunction with Bryan Gindoff & Bruce Henstell) and thankfully doesn’t get moralistic and didactic on the depression and hard times in general. This features tough men earning a living the respect is there, but it is brutal, with the violence here very effective. It may be too strong for some, but Hill has put it together astutely to make sure we know these are masters of their craft during a very troubling time in history. It is by definition, an honest living for our pugilists.
The bitterness that is here is reserved for those outside of the fight floor, as Chaney observes a bear in a cage as it roars in almost anguish, that whole scene then says so much without Bronson’s Chaney actually uttering anything. To which it sounds weird to call Hard Times an evocative period piece, but it is, because the locations are perfect for the story unfolding, kind of acting as a rich counter point to the violence played out amongst them. The land worth fighting for perhaps? Tough and with no little bite, the film benefits from having Bronson as the lead. Yes Coburn takes the honours for acting gravitas, but Bronson keeps Chaney enigmatically interesting. Chaney is loyal and has the potential for love. We know next to nothing about him, but such is the restraint that Bronson shows in the portrayal, we are grateful to not have had back story filler to bog the story down.
This is about this point in a man’s journey and in particular the next phase of that journey, one which we, thanks to Bronson, are personally involved with. A great understated performance from Mr. Buchinsky. Jill Ireland too is excellent with a touching performance as the down-and-out girl who captures Chaney’s attention. While Strother Martin is ever reliable as as a dope addict forced to work unlicensed as a medic who Speed has brought in as Chaney’s cuts and bruises guy.
A smashing and undervalued 70s movie that takes this part of history and refuses to entertain by basking in histrionics and parable’s for the masses. Blood, brains and brawn cloaked in an evocative cloud of hope. 8/10