Walter Hill is one of those directors that has several films that I consider to be among my all-time favorites. THE DRIVER(due out from Twilight Time later this summer), THE WARRIORS, SOUTHERN COMFORT and even STREETS OF FIRE are films I hold very close to my heart. That being said, I'd never seen HARD TIMES until this viewing. That's pretty ridiculous, especially considering how much I love Charles Bronson AND that's it's Walter Hill's directorial debut. It's a great film and I can't believe it took me so long to finally get to it. For my money, HARD TIMES is a better boxing movie than ROCKY, which would come out the following year.
It's a pretty simple story. Bronson is a drifter who happens upon a gambler(James Coburn) who is running some less-than-above-board bare knuckle boxing matches. Bronson demonstrates some prowess in the sport. They team up. This movie has some classic economy of setup. Within the first 10 minutes, we've established Bronson and Coburn's character's and Bronson is in his first fight. Fantastic. I love a good storyteller who doesn't waste any time cutting to the chase. Bronson was fresh off the success of DEATH WISH the previous year and he is in perfect "Bronson" form. Not too much talking, much kicking of ass. He was about 54 when this movie was made, but you'd never know it. And Coburn, who I adore is absolutely firing on all his cylinders. He's perfect for this fast-talking gambler type role and he nails it. Don't let me forget Strother Martin's doctor character either either. One of his introductory lines is "Some were born to fail and others have it thrust upon them" and that is a perfect character establishing bit. He's loaded with memorable dialogue like that. Martin should really be remembered more for this role than for COOL HAND LUKE in my opinion. The icing on the cake is Jill Ireland(she and Bronson were already married at this point). She's as lovely in this movie as I've ever seen her and it's easy to see why Charlie B fell for her.
The Great Depression-era backdop adds some grit to the proceedings. Hill really gets some nice period detail into the grimy locations he's chosen. There's a palpable air of desperation that can be felt throughout. There's also an undercurrent of darkness as well. A sense that these guys may be in over their heads and the bottom could drop out at any moment. Gambling in this era is even more difficult for me to watch for some reason. Funny and fitting that Twilight Time would release to gambling pictures on Blu-ray on the same day. An excellent choice!
THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN(1970; George Stevens)
In Robert K. Elder's new book The Best Film You've Never Seen, he interviews a bunch of directors about films they think are forgotten or took a critical beat down when they were released. He told me that one interview he didn't get, but wanted to was with Vincent Gallo.
The film Gallo had chosen to talk about was THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN. This was no surprise for me to hear because I remembered hearing a great interview Gallo did with Elvis Mitchell right around 2000 or so. He discussed some of his favorite films with Elvis and he specifically mentioned an affection for Warren Beatty. I'm pretty sure I recall him mentioning LILITH, ALL FALL DOWN, MICKEY ONE and of course, THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN. I made a point to see all of them. ONLY GAME is my favorite of the four. It's one of the best gambling films I've ever seen. I put it right up there with CALIFORNIA SPLIT(which is the best gambling movie ever made in my opinion).Warren Beatty had quite a run of amazing films from the late 60s through the mid to late 70s. Many of them are not spoken about nearly enough. This is certainly one those that has nearly been completely forgotten at this point. Due in no small part to a lack of availability for quite a while. It's unfortunate because not only is Beatty great in it, but Liz Taylor is as well. In fact I think it's one of her best performances ever. In fact George Stevens directed both her best turns(this and A PLACE IN THE SUN). This would be Stevens' final film and it's really one of the better swan songs a director ever had. Not only in that I think it's a very good movie, but also in the story and themes that he's covering here. They seem to fit well as a final movie for some reason I can't even exactly articulate.
Like HARD TIMES, this is also a rather simple tale. In this case, the tale of two lonely down-and-outs who end up finding each other. Both of them are living in Las Vegas so, as is often the case, gambling enters the picture. Gambling movies are really tough for me to watch sometimes. They make me squirm and cringe uncontrollably. I'm not much of a gambler myself, but watching characters not quit while they're ahead(a trope of such films), it makes me crazy. I'll occasionally go so far as to cover my eyes during some scenes like this as if I were watching a horror flick. It's really quite compelling nonetheless. A good gambling movie can grab hold of me in a big way for sure. While I was watching it my son asked me to tell him what it's about. When I tried to sum it up I realized how much more it is than a simple synopsis. A true buried treasure awaiting discovery. This is Criterion Collection caliber stuff, don't miss it.
Still Available!COVER GIRL(1944; Charles Vidor)
My favorite kinds of musicals are typically those where the characters are working on or star some kind of stage show and that's where the singing comes in. I always find this less distracting than those films where characters burst into song out of nowhere. For the most part, COVER GIRL is the former kind of musical. It does have several "burst into song" sequences, but I must say I rather enjoyed most of those in this instance.
Rita Hayworth is never not easy on the eyes, but she's even more radiant in technicolor. COVER GIRL is definitely one of those 'disarmingly pleasant' musicals. Not all pleasant though as there is an undercurrent of sadness and regret here as well that gives it a little extra something. It's by no means a groundbreaking picture, but I found that while watching it I was caught up. I'm not even the world's biggest Gene Kelly fan(outside of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, ON THE TOWN & XANADU), but he was quite tolerable here. There was even one musical number on a city street that reminded me a bit of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, even though this film preceded it by 8 years. There's also a very memorable scene where Gene Kelly sort of dances with himself, that really was my favorite in the whole film. Overall, it does have some wonderfully produced and lavish musical numbers and is well worth your time if you've not seen it yet.
Though it was released in July of 2012 in a limited run of 3000 copies, there are still copies available at Screen Archives. Get em before they're gone!