Blu-ray Review: Hard Times - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Though he had already racked up several screenwriting credits, Walter Hill made his directorial debut with Hard Times in 1975. The film stars Charles Bronson as Chaney, a bare-knuckled brawler, and James Coburn as Speed, his motor-mouthed manager. With that trifecta in mind, this Depression-era drama is quite easy to recommend for fans of ‘70s cinema. Boutique label Twilight Time has exclusively licensed Hard Times (it was originally released by Columbia Pictures) and released it as a limited edition Blu-ray.

How does the film hold up in terms of general interest nearly 40 years later? Not especially well as it turns out. Nothing stands out as being particularly wrong with it, but not enough happens to make the film truly compelling. Chaney shows up out of nowhere, bets his bottom dollar on himself in a loosely-organized street fight, and wins with a single haymaker. Speed, who was supervising the event, sees nothing but dollar signs in this over-the-hill but still potent newcomer. He wants a piece of Chaney, who turns out to be a much shrewder negotiator than expected of a drifter with nothing to his name.

Hard Times cover (213x280).jpgBasically we see Chaney win fights and engage in a sometimes prickly relationship with Lucy (Jill Ireland, Bronson’s real-life wife at the time). He and Speed hire a drug-addicted cutman named Poe (Strother Martin) and prepare for the inevitable match between Chaney and the infamous Jim Henry (Robert Tessier). Speed needs a big win more than Chaney, regardless of how destitute the latter may be. Turns out, Speed is a degenerate gambler who has serious credit issues with some unsavory characters. The acting is all serviceable and the lead characters are likable enough, but the narrative is sluggish. Not unbearably so, but enough to make it reasonable to wonder just why Hill couldn’t make the whole thing a little more interesting.

There’s quite an outstanding transfer here, which should please even the most discerning Hard Times fans. Philip H. Lathrop’s cinematography, burnished with a golden glow that translates well, helps evoke the period. Colors are generally restrained. The cleanliness of the source print is truly impressive, as is the clarity of the image. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is fine, but quite honestly a surround mix probably wasn’t necessary for this film. Dialogue is clean and the fighting sound effects leap out the way they ought to.

As is customary with Twilight Time’s releases, there is an isolated score track included as a supplement. Barry De Vorzon’s music is available all by itself in DTS-HD 2.0. The only other supplement is the theatrical trailer. Julie Kirgo’s essay in the Blu-ray booklet makes a better case for Hard Times than I could even dream of attempting myself. Ultimately the film is a minor entry in the filmography of Walter Hill. For ordering information, visit Twilight Time’s exclusive distributor Screen Archives. As with their other titles, Hard Times is limited to 3,000 copies.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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