23 August 2016 | Wuchakk
It should've been great, but it's relatively unengrossing with dull characters
Released in 1976 and directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, "The Last Hard Men" is a Western starring Charlton Heston as Burgade, a retired law enforcement officer in Arizona, 1909. When a vicious half-breed outlaw, Provo (James Coburn), escapes from a Yuma prison with several other thugs Burgade gets back in the saddle, literally, because Provo's coming after him and his daughter (Barbara Hershey). Michael Parks plays the sheriff who initially assists Burgade while Jorge Rivero plays Provo's right hand man.
This movie's an interesting cinematic study: It has all the right elements for a great Western, but it's curiously mediocre in execution. The screenplay was taken from Brian Garfield's 1971 novel "Gundown" and Garfield was on set for uncredited rewrites. If you're not familiar with him, he wrote the book that birthed the 1974 hit "Death Wish." Add to this a proved Western director and a great cast (How can you go wrong with Heston and Coburn?). Furthermore, the movie features authentic Arizona locations (where Garfield's from) with much of the story taking place in the rugged wilderness of the high country. Moreover, the film has a quality score. While Leonard Rosenman was supposed to compose an original score, it fell through and so the producers concocted a pastiche from four of Jerry Goldsmith's past compositions: "100 rifles" (1969), "Río Conchos" (1964), "Morituri" (1965) and "Stagecoach" (1966). This explains why the music sounds pleasantly familiar to those who've seen any of these movies. Lastly, this isn't a lame old-fashioned Western, it was shot in the gritty realistic style of Sam Peckinpah, one of Garfield's favorite directors, and, as such, there's a lot of wicked violence, including a rape scene.
Unfortunately the movie's only decent. There are some interesting bits interspersed throughout, but the characters come across as dull and the story's strangely un-compelling (your mind frequently wanders). Burgade (Heston) and Provo (Coburn) are two prime examples of the flat characters. The former's just an uninteresting person (the express opposite of Taylor in "Planet of the Apes") while the latter comes across as a one-dimensional vengeful villain whom Ricardo Montalban probably used as a prototype for his cartoony portrayal of Khan in 1982's "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan" (which is in contrast to his fascinating portrayal of Khan in the 1966 episode "Space Seed").
Garfield complained about the title of the movie on the grounds that it was originally set to be called "Burgade" (again, from his novel "Gundown") and "The Last Hard Men" sounds like a porno flick, he argued. But both "Gundown" and "Burgade" are pretty dang generic sounding to me. At least "The Last Hard Men" ties into the theme of the film, which, incidentally, was nothing new at the time in light of "Once Upon a Time in the West" (1968), "The Wild Bunch" (1969), "Big Jake" (1971) and several others, not to mention "The Shootist" (1976), which came out a couple months after "The Last Hard Men." So I don't have a problem with the title. That said, I asked my wife if she wanted to see a Western and she replied "Which one?" I said, "The Last Hard Men." She responded, "Ooh baby, yes!"
The film runs 98 minutes and was shot in Arizona (too many places to cite).