by Jim Ridley
Charles Bronson golem-walked his way through so many bad ’80s vigilante movies that anything he touched turned to self-parody. But before he solidified into an impassive lug in schlock like Murphy's Law and Death Wish 5, he had one of his best post-Death Wish roles in Hard Times, the 1975 directorial debut of screenwriter Walter Hill. It's a hard-boiled yarn set in Depression-era New Orleans, with Bronson a bare-knuckled brawler scrapping for cash with fast-talking promoter James Coburn.
Connoisseurs of big-screen brawls will find much to love here, as bare-chested, two-fisted Bronson battles bigger and bigger brutes in sterling displays of squinty machismo. (His match with bullet-headed character actor Robert Tessier in particular is a doozy.) It's a terrific no-nonsense B picture that established Sam Peckinpah protege Hill's talent for classical action cinema, the kind with a comic book's graphic snap, crisp linear storytelling and clean bold lines. Hill went on to a string of distinctively laconic, visually bristling thrillers — The Driver, The Warriors, the unnerving Vietnam-in-Louisiana Deliverance riff Southern Comfort — before eventually finding a well-suited stint among the cutthroats on HBO's Deadwood.
As part of its monthly "Movies at Main" screening series, the downtown Nashville Public Library, 615 Church St., shows Hard Times projected from DVD in its auditorium 2 p.m. Saturday. For the occasion, the library's Bill Chamberlain and Clint Tatum have recorded a must-hear interview with Walter Hill for the "Legends of Film" podcast, full of juicy, wide-ranging recollections about his career. (Jim Thompson fans will especially want to hear the section where Hill talks about his script for The Getaway, and his reasons for not keeping the book's hellacious ending.)
The screening is free and open to the public.