In Hard Times (1975), Charles Bronson plays a street fighter in Depression-era America. Chaney, his character, is forced from the circumstances of his time to try and scratch out a living in underground fights. Bronson is brilliant in the role as the laconic hero, speaking under 300 words for the entire film. Joining Bronson is James Coburn, marking the third and final time the two actors teamed up for a movie. The other two films, The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Great Escape (1963) are a couple of the finest movies produced in the 1960s, and Hard Times rekindles some of the magic created by the pair. Coburn plays Chaney’s affable manager, Speed. The two characters are polar opposites; Speed runs his mouth virtually non-stop, while Chaney prefers to speak with his fists.
The brilliance of Hard Times is undoubtedly the chemistry of Bronson and Coburn, but the film also does well with the unseemly world of unregulated boxing. In the early decades of the Twentieth Century, the sport of boxing blossomed in popularity, creating an unsanctioned market, primarily for the purposes of gambling. Managers, like Speed, pit their “hitters” against one another, as if they were pack animals to exploit until they can work no longer. Everyone gambles on the fights, and all the typical pitfalls arise: cheaters, hustlers, and thieves. Chaney and Speed must negotiate this tough world, one aggravated by the desperation caused during the nationl struggles of The Great Depression.
Final Grade: B