Thursday, January 06, 2011

Script review – “Hard Times” (1975) by Walter Hill

Hill was already a successful screenwriter in the early 70s when he read Alex Jacobs’ script for Point Blank, which changed how he wrote. His style became very terse, brief - lots of paragraphs of one-two-three word sentences, almost like haiku. He sets the reader up for this with two quotes, “an old Welsh saying” – “characters are best explained by their behaviour” (this would feel more Welsh if it had been in Welsh), and an American saying, “talk is cheap”.
Another quote at the beginning states that this story is true in most respects, only the names have changed. “It has no moral”. It’s set in Louisiana in 1936; the mysterious, taciturn Chaney comes into town with six bucks, and hooks up with the talkative Speed, who manages bare knuckle fighters. Chaney is a superhero and has no trouble taking on all comers. This does mean the story is a little undercooked. Hill jazzes things up by adding Poe, an opium-addicted cut man, and giving Chaney a romance with a girl who doesn’t talk much more than he does. There’s a scene where they get ripped off by Cajuns, Chaney adopts a cat, and then Speed gets in over his head with gamblers – it still feels a little thin. This was a flaw in the film, too.
Still some great moments, though: Chaney stays with Speed because he likes him and Poe (although he never comes out and says it), and when Street, the bad-ass fighter who comes in at the end refusing to cheat. And there are a couple of great roles for character actors in Poe and Street, and the part of Chaney was made for Charles Bronson.
The script is very interesting to read. I think the style works for this sort of genre. There are more quotes later on, one for Part two (ee cummings, a favourite of Hollywood screenwriters), one for Part three (one from Hemmingway about there being a code of honour for whores and thieves – the same one he used in The Getaway. Naughty!)

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