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 The Last Hard Men (1976, Andrew V. McLaglen)

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scherpschutter
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PostSubject: The Last Hard Men (1976, Andrew V. McLaglen)   Thu Jun 24, 2010 5:36 pm

THE LAST HARD MEN

1976 – Director: Andrew V. McLaglen – Cast: Charlton Heston (Sam Burgade), James Coburn (Zach Provo), Barbara Hershey (Susan Burgade), Michael Parks (Sheriff Nye), Jorge Rivero (Cesar Menendez), Larry Wilcox, Thalmus Rasulala, Morgan Paull, John Quade, Robert Donner, Sam Gilman

One of the many ‘dirty’ westerns of the seventies, Andrew V. MacLaglen’s The Last Hard Men combines the chase theme of Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch with the revenge story more associated with the Italian western. However, the vengeance theme is far removed from the usual Italian stuff about a person framed for a crime he did not commit, or whose family was slaughtered in his absence. And yet the family, and violence directed towards it, is at the core of the story.

James Coburn is a half breed Navaho (!) who escapes from a labour camp and seeks revenge on the man who arrested him, former sheriff and hard timer Charlton Heston. To lure Heston in an ambush, he kidnaps his daughter and threatens to gang rape her, but Heston, fully aware of what Coburn is up to (and capable of), sets his own trap, in a scene very reminiscent of the first few minutes of aforementioned The Wild Bunch: with rumours about a gold shipment Coburn’s gang is enticed to hold up the transport in the middle of a busy town’s street. The scene is very effective, the more so since nothing happens eventually: Coburn doesn’t take the bait, instead he uses Heston’s absence from home to kidnap his daughter. A posse is organized to track Coburn down, but he flees to an Indian reservation, where the sheriff’s jurisdiction ends and Heston has to continue the pursuit with the only help of his daughter’s clever, but inexperienced boyfriend.

The Last Hard Men is based on a novel by Brian Garfield, who also wrote Death Wish. Even though the vigilante theme is not stressed here, the story is about a man who takes the law into his own hands when legislation falls short. Actually, it is about two men taking the law into their own hands: Coburn kidnaps Heston’s daughter, threatening to gang-rape her, because Heston has killed his wife in a shootout prior to Coburn’s arrest. As a man who represented the law, Heston was never persecuted for shooting the woman, who was considered to be a collateral casualty in a necessary manhunt. In other words: for Coburn legislation fell short too. Set at the beginning of the twentieth century, it’s also a film about the changing of times, about unsettled scores and a new era that has arrived while the past is not yet history. The passing of time and the transition from one era to another is well-captured in both the script and the rich production design, giving the film a handsome, distinguished look.

This movie has all the ingredients for a great western, but director Andrew V. McLaglen seems to have little eye for the more thoughtful aspects of the script. Like one critic put it, it often feels as if McLaglen wanted to remake the John Wayne western Big Jake in Peckinpah style (1), with some erratic use of slow-motion and a lot of spurting blood (McLaglen directed a few Wayne westerns, but not Big Jake). As it is, the film works best when it concentrates on this ‘double revenge’ story, with a slow but deliberate build up to the excessive finale, in which Heston uses Coburn’s wish to kill his opponent slowly to outsmart him. Both stars are in fine form. Coburn may seem an unlucky choice to play a half breed, but his maniacal performance is both convincing and disarming. Heston turns in a very fine performance too as the aging family man who’s confronted with his own violent past. Barbara Hershey doesn’t have a fine time as Heston’s daughter, who’s nearly constantly in danger of being raped, but she manages to give her character some dignity.

Note:

(1) Livius on his Blog Riding the High Country

How to watch it: There’s an R2 DVD which is quite good. It presents the film in its correct aspect ratio and the image has been enhanced anamorphically for widescreen TVs. Colours are strong and there’s very little print damage. The mono sound does the job pretty well, although it’s not very loud and Jerry Goldsmith’s score sounds a bit shrill. For this score Goldsmith mainly recycled his own soundtrack for Tom Gries’ 100 Rifles, notably the main theme. The running time of the DVD is 1:33:24 in PAL.


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PostSubject: Re: The Last Hard Men (1976, Andrew V. McLaglen)   Thu Jun 24, 2010 5:49 pm

Nice review Sherp I like any movie with James Coburn, at least I like to wacht them.

By the way this avatar it's much better Very Happy

I think I will finish my vuvuzela project
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PostSubject: Re: The Last Hard Men (1976, Andrew V. McLaglen)   Fri Jun 25, 2010 12:10 pm

Excellent analysis Scherp, and pretty close to my feelings about the movie.

It's always been a guilty pleasure of mine, despite its shortcomings (heck, because of its shortcomings, to a degree). McLaglen was much more comfortable with lighter material, but at least he knows his way around the Western landscapes.

The reference to Big Jake makes sense; Chris Mitchum played a similar character in that film as he does here (doesn't he even punch out his screen dad, John Wayne, in BJ?).

With its morally bankrupt (or at least compromised) central characters, it was perfectly tailored for the cynical mid-Seventies; a useful companion piece - although nowhere near as violent or gritty - is Kirk Douglas' Posse - I recommend that one if you haven't seen it.

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PostSubject: Re: The Last Hard Men (1976, Andrew V. McLaglen)   Fri May 10, 2013 1:54 am

I like 1911 pistols in Westerns. I loved the bit when the telephone and the guy shot up the place Cool
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