What He said:
Not much is known about Chaney (Charles Bronson). He rides into town on a freight train during the Great Depression and is looking for work. Other than that, he’s an enigma.
After wandering the streets for a bit he stumbles upon the underground bare-knuckle fight scene of New Orleans. When the most recent bout is over, he approaches one of the gamblers/managers about participating in the next fight. Having just watched his fighter get pounded, Speed (James Coburn) reluctantly agrees to represent the mysterious man. To everyone’s surprise, Chaney wins rather easily.
When everything settles down, Speed says he wants to manage Chaney. Chaney agrees, but says he just wants to make a little money and plans to split town when he’s made enough.
Chaney manages to establish a name for himself as he defeats one opponent after another. Before long, he is set to face undefeated fighter and local legend Jim Henry (Robert Tessier). Henry is managed by a local “businessman”, Chick Gandil (Michael McGuire).
Chaney wins a lot of fights and both he and Speed make a lot of money together. Having made his money, Chaney is ready to leave town. Before he does though, Speed gets himself into some trouble. He’s a bit of a gambler and has gotten himself into some major debt. Gandil agrees to pay for Speed’s debt if Cheney fights a street fighter from Chicago named Street (Nick Dimitri). We are not told much about Street’s history, but you get the impression he can handle himself. If Chaney doesn’t take the fight Gandil won’t pay his debts and the bookies will kill him. Chaney has to decide what he’s going to do. He’s made his money and has also had a falling out with Speed, so he’s not eager to take the fight. But he’s not a bad guy deep down despite the circles he runs in.
There’s also a subplot involving a woman Chaney meets named Lucy (Jill Ireland). She is married, but apparently looking. Her husband is currently in prison. I didn’t really understand what was going on with this character. Her husband is in prison, she doesn’t seem to show any regard for him, but still feels the need to tell Chaney she’s married? Why not just leave him? Or if she is going to hold out until he’s released, but still do what she wants in the meantime, why the need to tell people she’s married? It was a little bizarre. Welcoming other men , but feeling the need to proclaim she was married seemed pointless.
Director Walter Hill sure does like urban environments. The Warriors (review here), Undisputed (review here), 48 Hours, and Trespass (review here) are some of his many movies that address the hardships of life in the city; particularly the poorer parts of the city. He’s pretty good at portraying them for the most part too. So when I saw this movie on Crackle (meaning it’s free) I figured why not?
A movie about a street fighter who is trying to make some money until he makes enough to wherever it is he plans on going next is not a complicated storyline. You know you’re watching a very simple tale about a small part of a character’s life. That’s kind of the part of the appeal here. You have no idea where Chaney comes from or where he’s going next. You just know that he has a very specific goal and skillset. You also know that Speed – while initially weary of this stranger – would love to partner with Chaney long term and make a ton of money. But Chaney makes it clear from the get-go he’s not going to be in town long. So when Speed gets into trouble, you’re interested to see how it all pans out.
It’s also a good old-fashioned macho men type of movie. Nothing fancy or flash, no explosions, just two brawlers duking it out old-school style. The fights were a refreshing break from some of the overly choreographed – and frankly fake looking – stuff in theaters today. Just two guys using their fists and occasionally their feet to beat the hell out of one another. No fancy flips or windmill kicks for these fellas.
I have not seen a lot of Charles Bronson movies, so I don’t have a large frame of reference, but this was one of his better roles. I know he’s probably most well-known for Death Wish, but I never liked those movies. I think they’re awful. They are very amateur and don’t entertain me in the slightest. It’s one thing to be a bad movie, but if it doesn’t even entertain you that’s no good. But I thought he played this part quite well.
It’s a very simple tale, but an entertaining and well-acted one. James Coburn is amusing and the guys playing some of the folk he does business with are solid as old-fashioned sleazy mobster types.
Rating: Thumbs up.
This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on March 28, 2014.