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Hard Times (1975 film)

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Title: Hard Times (1975 film)  
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Subject: Hobo, James Coburn, 1975 in film, Charles Bronson, Pauline Kael, Chikao Ōtsuka, List of sports films, Brion James, Jill Ireland, New Orleans in fiction
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Hard Times (1975 film)

This article is about the film starring Charles Bronson. For the film starring Sonny Chiba, see The Street Fighter.
Hard Times (also released as 'The Streetfighter')
File:Hard times.jpg
Original theatrical poster
Directed by Walter Hill
Produced by Lawrence Gordon
Written by Walter Hill (screenplay)
Bryan Gindoff (story & screenplay)
Bruce Henstell (story & screenplay)
Starring Charles Bronson
James Coburn
Jill Ireland
Strother Martin
Margaret Blye
Music by Barry De Vorzon
Cinematography Philip H. Lathrop
Editing by Roger Spottiswoode
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) October 8, 1975 (USA)
Running time 93 min
Country USA
Language English
Budget $2.7 million[1]

Hard Times is a 1975 film starring Charles Bronson as Chaney, a drifter who travels to Louisiana during the Great Depression and begins competing in illegal bare-knuckled boxing matches. This was Walter Hill's directorial debut.


Chaney (Charles Bronson), a mysterious, down-on-his luck drifter during the Great Depression, arrives in town in the boxcar of a freight train. He comes upon a bare-knuckled street fight run by gamblers. After the bout, he approaches one of the fight's organizers, the fast-talking "Speed" (James Coburn), and asks Speed to set up a fight. Betting his few dollars on himself, Chaney wins with a single punch.

Speed wants to become Chaney's manager. They travel to New Orleans, where Speed intends to enter Chaney against local fighters at long odds. Chaney takes a cheap sleeping room. At a diner, he meets Lucy Simpson (Jill Ireland), a lonely woman whose husband is in prison. They begin an uneasy affair.

Chaney cautions Speed that he wants to make a little money to "fill a few in-betweens," and then move on. Speed recruits a cutman, the medical school dropout Poe (Strother Martin). An opium addict ("a dyed in the wool hophead") Poe is relieved when Chaney accepts him.

Speed plans for Chaney to take on the city's undefeated street fighter Jim Henry (Robert Tessier), an intimidating brawler bankrolled by wealthy businessman Chick Gandil (Michael McGuire). Gandil suspects a setup, so he insists Speed bet $3,000 up front. Speed is forced to obtain a loan from local mobsters. Chaney takes on Jim Henry and proves up to the task, knocking him out.

The trio of Chaney, Speed and Poe celebrate at a juke joint with their lady friends. Speed gets into a dice game and gambles away his share of the winnings. The mobsters stalk Speed because of the money he owes.

Gandil offers money so Chaney will fight for him. Speed is willing because it will square his debts, but Chaney refuses. He and Speed have a bitter argument. Lucy also splits with Chaney because of his emotional distance and lack of commitment.

Gandil decides to hire Street (Nick Dimitri), a black leather coat-wearing, top street fighter from Chicago. He fails to draw Chaney into a winner-take-all bout, so he pays off Speed's debt and takes him hostage. If there is no fight, Speed will be killed for the money he owes.

Poe visits Chaney at his apartment and tells him the trouble Speed is in. Chaney comes to Gandil's warehouse where the fight will take place. Not only is he forced to fight for Speed's life, but must risk all of his own winnings.

Street is his toughest opponent yet. The two knock each other down, but eventually Chaney gets the upper hand and wins a grueling bout. Speed's life is spared. True to his word, Chaney decides the time has come to move on. He gives Speed and Poe a generous amount of the money and walks alone towards the railroad tracks. As he disappears into darkness, Speed says, "He sure was something."


  • Chaney (Charles Bronson) -- a man of few words and no past, devoid of any permanent relationships and of limited financial means.
  • Spencer "Speed" Weed (James Coburn) -- a gambler who manages Chaney.
  • Lucy Simpson (Jill Ireland) -- a married woman Chaney takes up with.
  • Poe (Strother Martin) -- a medical school dropout who attends Chaney's cuts.
  • Jim Henry (Robert Tessier) -- a feared street fighter.
  • Chick Gandil (Michael McGuire) -- a wealthy businessman and rival to Speed who bankrolls Jim Henry.
  • Street (Nick Dimitri) -- a street fighter brought in to meet Chaney in the climactic fight.


The film was shot on location in Louisiana. Hill says he originally wrote the film intending to cast a younger actor, like Jan Michael Vincent, and that he wanted Warren Oates to play Coburn's role.[2]

He remembers that Bronson "was in remarkable physical condition for a guy his age; I think he was about 52 at the time. He had excellent coordination, and a splendid build. His one problem was that he was a smoker, so he didn’t have a lot of stamina. I mean, he probably could have kicked anybody’s ass on that movie, but he couldn’t fight much longer than 30 or 40 seconds."[2]


The film was profitable and in 2009 Hill says he still received money from it. However he never made another film with Bronson.

"We had kind of a falling out over the film," the director said. "He thought I’d been a little too… how do I put this? Too draconian in my editing of his wife’s (Jill Ireland's) scenes."[2]

Critical Reception

Pauline Kael called the setting of Hard Times “elaborate period recreations that seem almost to be there for their own sake”." The film is about the personalities of local street fighters and their agents; a group that has always been on the outskirts of society. On the other hand, setting the film in the Depression might have been a way for Hill to make Chaney a more sympathetic character. Kael explains, “Put [Charles Bronson] in modern clothes and he’s a hard-bitten tough guy, but with that cap on he’s one of the dispossessed—an honest man who’s known hunger”.[3]

Roger Ebert in his October 14, 1975 review of Hard Times in the Chicago Sun-Times called it "a powerful, brutal film containing a definitive Charles Bronson performance."[4]


"Chick" Gandil was the name of one of the eight Chicago White Sox players banned from baseball after the Black Sox Scandal when they were accused of conspiring with gamblers and deliberately losing the 1919 World Series.


  • Charles Bronson as Chaney
  • James Coburn as Speed
  • Jill Ireland as Lucy Simpson
  • Strother Martin as Poe
  • Maggie Blye as Gayleen Schoonover
  • Michael McGuire as Gandil
  • Felice Orlandi as Le Beau
  • Edward Walsh as Pettibon
  • Bruce Glover as Doty
  • Robert Tessier as Jim Henry
  • Nick Dimitri as Street
  • Frank McRae as Hammerman
  • Maurice Kowalewski as Lucy Simpson
  • Naomi Stevens as Madam
  • Lyla Hay Owen as Waitress
  • John Creamer as Apartment Manager
  • Robert Castleberry as Counterman
  • Becky Allen as Poe's Date
  • Joan Kleven as Carol
  • Anne Welsch as Secretary
  • Fred Lerner as Caesare's Hitter
  • Jimmy Nickerson as Barge Fighter
  • Charles Hicks as Speed's Hitter
  • Walter Scott as Poolplayer
  • Max Kleven as Poolplayer
  • Valerian Smith as Handler
  • Bob Minor as Zack
  • Larry Martindale as Driver
  • Charles W. Schaefer Jr. as Card Player
  • Leslie Bonano as Card Player
  • Ronnie Philips as Cajun Fighter
  • Greater Liberty Baptist Church Choir And Congregation
  • Brion James (uncredited)

See also


External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • AllRovi
  • Roger Ebert's original review of Hard Times
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