Every great western needs a great title. Something bold and solid. A title that can stand alone, and stand out. It speaks for itself. It tells you what the film is about, yet never spoils a single scene. One such film is from 1976. A gritty western full of dusty streets, bad men, and gun play. It’s got a simple story anyone can follow. A tale of good and evil. A tale of revenge. Our stars our both aging, but they need to be to fit the plot. Plus they both deliver with outstanding performances. As the times are changing and the west is becoming less wild, we have two men left standing. On the side of good is ex-lawman Sam Burgade, played by Charlton Heston. Wearing the black hat is his nemesis. The out for revenge Zach Provo, played by James Coburn in a stunning performance. These two are in every regard, The Last Hard Men.
I can’t say enough how good James Coburn is in this film. His performance is beyond good, brilliant even. He plays the part of the grizzled convict hell-bent on revenge to perfection. Coburn’s not over the top like a 1980s pro wrestling villain, nor is he soft spoken and sinister. He’s callous. He’ll take out a member of his own gang as quick as he would a lawman. Coburn makes you believe, simple as that.
Charlton Heston is excellent as always. I think his performance was overshadowed due to how good Coburn was. I can’t stress that enough. Heston plays the retired lawman brought back into the field. He has no use for the new technology of the day; automobiles and telephones. He gets it done the old fashioned way, on horseback with wits and experience. At every turn he makes the young guy who took his place look the fool. He’s got one last fight in him, and it’s more than a job to him. It’s personal.
Coburn’s gang of thugs needs to mentioning. The casting of this motley crew couldn’t be better. They aren’t just flat characters to flank Coburn. Each one has something to offer. There’s his right hand man, a Mexican bandito. Then we have a man who looks the part of riff-raff with horrible teeth. There’s two men who in a way are similar. They both exemplify the worst in humankind. They look the part and play it well. To round out the bunch is a 19 year old kid. He has a taste for candy, and a kind heart. Not a simpleton, just young and naïve.
Before I end I must mention two other cast members. The beautiful Barbara Hershey is Burgade’s daughter. Her role is to garner sympathy for the righteous and heat for the wicked. There is a scene here while not graphic, I didn’t expect to find in a movie from this era. I don’t like to give spoilers, so I’ll just leave it that. To round out the cast is Christopher Mitchum. If the last name sounds familiar, it should. He’s Robert Mitchum’s son. However, he inherited none of his dad’s charm and cool factor. There is a slight resemblance although he looks more like Bob Newhart.
The final scene is masterful. It’s the big payoff we’ve been waiting for. It doesn’t disappoint. All I’ll say is that its use of slow motion is an added touch that increases the drama. How does it turn out? Does good triumph over evil? Does the villain get his revenge? I don’t want to tell you. I want to make you want to find out for yourself. This is such a good film. It’s a classic western showdown to the death between The Last Hard Men.
Copyright © Drew Martin 2015