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    Hard Times Blu-ray Review

    Blu-ray Sony Pictures Twilight Time

    Jun 19 2013 09:55 PM | Richard Gallagher in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

    Hard Times is a stark and brutal look at the lengths to which some men would go to make money during the depths of the Great Depression. It is the first film from director Walter Hill (The Driver, The Warriors, 48 Hours), and boasts an outstanding cast headed by Charles Bronson and James Coburn. The story is spare but compelling, and the look of the film realistically depicts the appearance and atmosphere of New Orleans in the 1930s.

    Title Info:

    • Studio: Sony
    • Distributed By: Twilight Time
    • Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
    • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
    • Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
    • Subtitles: English SDH
    • Rating: PG
    • Run Time: 1 Hr. 34 Min.
    • Package Includes: Blu-ray
    • Case Type: Blu-ray Amaray
    • Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
    • Region: A
    • Release Date: 06/11/2013
    • MSRP: $29.95

    The Production Rating: 4.5/5


    Hard Times is a stark and brutal look at the lengths to which some men would go to make money during the depths of the Great Depression. It is the first film from director Walter Hill (The Driver, The Warriors, 48 Hours), and boasts an outstanding cast headed by Charles Bronson and James Coburn. The story is spare but compelling, and the look of the film realistically depicts the appearance and atmosphere of New Orleans in the 1930s.

    Chaney (Charles Bronson) is a drifter who rides a freight train to an unnamed town in the south. He arrives with only a satchel and six dollars in his pocket. While drinking a cup of coffee at a cafe, he notices a group of men gathering across the street. He decides to investigate, and he discovers that the men are there to bet on the outcome of a bare-knuckle fight which is taking place in an old warehouse. One of the fighters is managed by Speed (James Coburn), a fast-talking con man and gambler who is betting that his man will be able to whip another fighter. However, Speed's fighter is pummeled to the ground and the bet is lost. Later Speed is approached by Chaney, who needs money and believes that he can be a successful fighter. Speed decides to take a chance on the drifter, who then proceeds to win his first fight with a single punch.

    Dutifully impressed by Chaney's ability, Speed takes him by train to New Orleans, where bigger fights can be arranged. Chaney, however, is his own man. Before he will respond to Speed's offer of a partnership, he wants to take a look around the city. He rents a room and meets Lucy Simpson (Jill Ireland) at a restaurant. She takes an interest in Chaney, but she is wary. "I got a husband in jail," she tells him. "No job and no prospects." When she asks him about his plans, Chaney responds "I don't look past the next bend in the road."

    Chaney decides to make a deal with Speed, who brings him to the waterfront to see a fight involving Jim Henry (Robert Tessier), a heavily muscled brawler whose bald head seems to be impervious to punches. Henry is managed by Chick Gandil (Michael McGuire), a flashy dresser with lots of cash. "Son of a bitch has broken me out three times," Speed says to Chaney. "He's the one we're going to shake." Speed is his own worst enemy, borrowing from loan sharks and gambling his cash away as quickly as he makes it.

    Chaney is an enigma, a laconic loner who is a man a few words. We know nothing about his background. He tells Speed that he plans to fight only until he has enough money to hit the road again. Speed decides that Chaney will need a cut doctor, so he introduces him to Poe (Strother Martin). Actually, Poe is not really a doctor - as he explains to Chaney, "I have two years of medical school to recommend me." That is good enough for Chaney, and Speed begins working on raising the $3,000 he needs to set up a fight with Jim Henry.

    In some respects Hard Times reminds me of another depression-era drama, They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Both films are about desperate people trying to earn money during a period when jobs were scarce and the future was uncertain. The difference is that Hard Times is less grim, in spite of the gritty subject matter. Although James Coburn delivers a terrific performance, this film is dominated by Charles Bronson, who was in better shape at age 53 than many men twenty years his junior. Director Walter Hill demonstrates a keen eye for period detail and uses interesting camera angles to enhance the realistic fight scenes. The subject matter is not for all tastes, but Hard Times is a riveting portrayal of the Great Depression which will not be easily forgotten.

    Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA

    The 2.35:1 1080p transfer of Hard Times effectively utilizes the AVC codec. The print is immaculate and looks as good as I remember it in theaters nearly 40 years ago. The image is generally very sharp. The color palette is somewhat muted, which is in keeping with the period in which the action takes place. Flesh tones are accurate the lines in Chaney’s face drive home the feeling that he has lived a hard life. The framing appears to be spot on. A moderate level of film grain is intact, giving Hard Times a pleasing, film-like appearance. This fine Blu-ray does justice to Philip Lathrop's excellent cinematography.

    Audio Rating: 4.5/5

    The 5.1 HTS-MA audio is superb. Dialogue is consistently clear and understandable, and the evocative musical score by Barry DeVorzon is given a wide and pleasing soundstage. The film is free of explosions and other room-shaking noises, but the sharp sounds of bare fists hitting human heads will likely make viewers wince.

    English SDH subtitles are available for those who need them.

    Special Features: 3/5

    The extras on this Blu-ray disc from Twilight Time include the isolated score track and the film's original theatrical trailer. The trailer is in good shape.

    Also included is an informative and insightful eight-page illustrated booklet by the always interesting Julie Kirgo.

    Overall Rating: 4.5/5


    Hard Times is brutal and violent, but at the same time it manages to be uplifting and life-affirming. People did struggle mightily during the Great Depression, but most of them somehow managed to find a way to get through it. This Blu-ray presentation is being issued in a limited edition of 3,000 copies, so those who are interested are well-advised to visit the Screen Archives website to confirm that it is still available.

    Reviewed by: Richard Gallagher
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    • Randal Gist likes this


    9 Comments

    For some reason, I always thought this was a comedy, and steered away from it.  Maybe I'll have to get it, since I like Bronson, Coburn, and Strother Martin very much.

    Photo
    Walter Kittel
    Jun 20 2013 03:49 PM

    Nope, not a comedy unless you get your laughs from seeing Charles Bronson beat guys senseless.  :)  (I kid, I kid)

     

    I've always been a fan of this film and this was the start of my affinity for the films of Walter Hill.  I would agree that Chaney is a cipher and the film has, to some extent, existential qualities that I tend to associate with films of the '70s.  I'm not saying that it is a film that spends a lot of time pondering the fate of its characters, but its characters are isolated and exist in a hostile, indifferent world.

     

    While Strother Martin has more iconic dialog in Cool Hand Luke, for my money he delivers some of the best dialog in this film as well.

     

    My copy of the Bd release is on its way and I am looking forward to re-experiencing this film.

     

     

    - Walter.

    Speaking of Walter Hill, I wish Universal would release Streets of Fire.

    Any Walter Hill film is welcome on blu-ray as far as I'm concerned. I think this one looks great and a giant step up from any other version I have seen for home viewing. Love this film and so happy Twilight released this and is also doing The Driver. 

     

    Would love a blu of Extreme Prejudice because that film has never had a decent release in any format. 

      • JoHud likes this
    Photo
    Richard Gallagher
    Jun 21 2013 05:38 PM
    I'm not saying that it is a film that spends a lot of time pondering the fate of its characters, but its characters are isolated and exist in a hostile, indifferent world.

     

     

    That's an excellent point, one which is driven home by Chaney's comment that he doesn't look past the next bend in the road. For many people in those days there wasn't a lot to look forward to.

    Photo
    Eastmancolor
    Jun 23 2013 12:12 AM

    A fine looking disc on all counts.  I wish all mid-1970's movies looked this good on Blu-ray.

      • Robin9 likes this
    Photo
    Walter Kittel
    Jun 23 2013 07:08 PM

    I watched the Bd release this evening and thought it looked terrific.

     

    A fine looking disc on all counts.  I wish all mid-1970's movies looked this good on Blu-ray.

     

    Absolutely.  I was really impressed with the transfer and its film like appearance.  One of the better catalog titles I've seen of late.  I certainly enjoyed viewing the film again and I noticed that the cinematography of the film favored shots where streets, rail cars, etc. tend to be viewed from an angle to the viewer that results in the structure receding into infinity.

     

    A fine, fine disc that should please fans of this film.  And yes, more Walter Hill films would be most welcome.  

     

    - Walter.

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    Charles Smith
    Jun 23 2013 09:17 PM

    Watched this today, my first time ever to see the film.  Totally thrilling, and I can't wait for my next go at it which will be in the company of a couple of Bronson fans who have never seen this particular film.

    I'm 100% in agreement with Richard Gallagher's review.

    HARD TIMES has been a favorite of mine since I first saw it in 1975. Good writing is important to me, and this melancholy ballad from Walter Hill is a story well-told. I knew of Walter Hill's talent as a screen writer from THE GETAWAY (1972) and THE THIEF WHO CAME TO DINNER (1973) which share similar themes with HARD TIMES. This was an auspicious debut for Hill as a director. He started out as a scriptwriter for hire, but kept the best scripts for himself. Right at the beginning of his career Hill understood the importance of atmosphere, something he must have picked up from the Hollywood masters at a time when other directors were forgetting it. I love his uncluttered compositions in deep focus, the emphasis on faces in medium shots, the dramatic minimalism, the stoic characters, the attention given to each supporting role, and the hardboiled story in which people must make impossible choices and pay the consequences.

     

    Hill makes a suspenseful point of Bronson's age by casting younger men as his opponents in the fight scenes. As the older man Bronson has to work harder to keep up, which he does. The actor has no trouble meeting the physical demands of the role, but one should not under-estimate his emotional commitment to the character. This is a deeply felt performance by Bronson, all about the small gesture and the subtle expression. Hill holds on his silences, holds on his listening, and gives a thought time to work it's way out of Bronson's mouth. What he says will be terse and to the point. The film has more to say apart from its fight scenes. I particularly enjoy Chaney's relationship with Lucy Simpson, the hard-luck girl trying to hold onto her dignity played by Jill Ireland, who had been acting since the late 1950s before she became Bronson's wife. Her part isn't just window-dressing, because Walter Hill  knows a woman has to survive in the depression, too. The decision she ultimately makes causes Chaney to be disappointed in her. He is surprised at how easy it is for her to let go of him. Of the several films Bronson and Ireland made together, HARD TIMES offers their most poignant scenes together.

     

    HARD TIMES is first-rate cinema and so is Twilight Time's transfer.