The Hard Way

The Hard Way (Michael Dryhurst, 1979)

I have watched, loved, re-watched and loved again the moody British hitman telefilm THE HARD WAY for roughly 15 years now, but until I recently read a review that compared it to the moody French crime films of Jean-Pierre Melville, I had never made that connection. It’s a valid comparison (THE HARD WAY even uses longtime Melville cinematographer Henri Decae), but perhaps it never occurred to me because, for as much as I appreciate this British TV movie, I have always been left cold by the (admittedly similar) Melville films. The difference? Patrick McGoohan. The HARD WAY star is every bit as stoic and taciturn as, say, Alain Delon’s character in Melville’s LE SAMOURAI, but McGoohan brings with him the screen presence he created through other roles and that makes all the difference. The viewer is able to project intelligence and principle onto a reserved man who provides few clues about his inner workings.

But those few clues that McGoohan does offer through his performance—of world-weary assassin John Connor, who lives in a remote Irish farmhouse when not on assignment—are masterfully delivered. So much so that the film not only works as a “one last job” story but also as a character study of a solitary contract killer. Early on in the film, Connor is paid a visit by his employer, McNeal (Lee Van Cleef), and although the scene could have easily shook out like every other stock “I want to retire/I won’t let you just yet…” scene that is familiar of the subgenre, McGoohan plays his part with such intriguing minimalism that the viewer becomes, from that point on, desperate for any shred of insight into his character. For instance, during a bar scene late in the film, we finally get to see Connor in public, and we watch every little fascinating bit of behaviour, trying to see how this reclusive hitman interacts with regular society.

Other clues about Connor come from narration—both on-screen and in the voice-over—provided by his ex-wife (Edna O’Brien) throughout the film. While these scenes are more stagy and less naturalistic than the rest of the film, the information rings true (she thinks that the gentle and patient Connor could’ve just as easily been a priest as a hitman), and there’s an interesting revelation at the end as to where/when this narration is being given.

But even if the John Connor character hadn’t been so interesting, THE HARD WAY still would have avoided being a routine “one last job” crime entry. When you read between the lines, you realize our protagonist has been trying to quit for a lonnng time now, and it takes the events of this film—an assassination attempt intentionally botched by Connor—to make McNeal take his resignation seriously. And as for Van Cleef’s character, the movie resists the urge to make him the stock “one last job” baddie boss—or even entirely villainous, for that matter. After Connor botches the hit, we see a lot of scenes from McNeal’s point of view, and we see the mess/aftermath/fallout he has to clean up. It’s actually quite sympathy evoking. In fact, because Connor doesn’t successfully complete the contract, there’s even an assassination attempt on McNeal (which turns out to be a marvellous little scene, because the gunfight takes place in a cramped public washroom—even involving a bar of soap!—and is as quick as it is claustrophobic). These proceedings are set to very little music (although there are a couple of pre-fab movie music tracks by Brian Eno and some haunting Irish fiddle by Tommy Potts), and it all climaxes with a gun battle that makes inventive use of its location’s circuitry (and that’s all I’m saying about that!).

For all intents and purposes, the Network release is the film’s proper debut on DVD. Previously, THE HARD WAY has only been available as a French disc (“LE DERNIER CONTRAT” on the Les Editions Du Film Retrouve label) that merely offers version français language options, or as part of a “Triple Action Feature” set from Direct Source DVD—a set so scarce I would think it was a cancelled release if not for the few lucky bastards who report on web forums that they found it in Canadian Wal-Marts. The Network DVD boasts a nice transfer—one that trusts the grey drabness that was originally intended to set the mood for this fatalistic story (whereas the French DVD brightens the picture and saturates the colours, which almost destroys the film’s bleak atmosphere). Also included are a trailer and an art gallery.

The only criticism one can have about the Network release is the erroneous presence of some ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK stills (featuring Van Cleef) both in the art gallery and on the packaging. But Network needn’t feel too bad, as the French DVD also put one of these stills on its back cover. (Is there a standard artwork package that a DVD distributor receives when they license this film, or are some ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK stills floating around out there with “HARD WAY” mis-markings? Dunno…).

But even if the main artwork for Network’s DVD had been a picture of Jerry Lewis in THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, this would still be one of the greatest, most sombre, artful crime films ever to grace a DVD collection.

(Mike Malloy)

 

Who Dares Wins – Arrow Video Blu-ray

From our exclusive feed with Cult Labs

Who Dares Wins (Arrow Video)

THE 60 SECOND WAR BEGINS NOW!

Paranoia, black ops and espionage combine in Who Dares Wins, a violent and edgy anti-terror classic starring Lewis Collins (The Professionals) and Edward Woodward (The Equalizer).

The anti-nuclear movement is plotting a bloody outrage on British soil and, having already fatally lost their undercover operative at a violent protest, the secret services call on the aid of the SAS. Captain Peter Skellen (Collins) risks his career, his family and his life to infiltrate the terrorist group before they can unleash an attack that will devastate the country.

Relive a classic cold war thrill ride which remains relevant to this day… Who Dares Wins, a violent lesson in how to deal with the enemy within.

Special Features:

– High Definition Presentation of the main feature

– Audio commentary with producer Euan Lloyd and director Ian Sharp

– The Last of the Gentleman Producers: A Documentary on the life of the legendary producer Euan Lloyd, featuring Sir Roger Moore, Ingrid Pitt, Kenneth Griffith and more!

– Two Original Trailers

– Bonus Feature Film: THE COMMANDER, another Lewis Collins action spectacular co-starring Lee Van Cleef and Donald Pleasance, directed by Antonio Margheriti aka Anthony M. Dawson!

– Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork

– Collector’s booklet featuring brand new writing on the film by Ali Catterall, co-author of Your Face Here: British Cult Movies Since the Sixties plus press book extracts and writing by Euan Lloyd!

Blu-ray only

Region B

Release date: 02/07/2012

The Wild Geese – Arrow Video Blu-ray

From our exclusive feed with Cult Labs

The Wild Geese (Arrow Video)

One Last Pay Day… One More Chance To Die!

Legendary hell-raisers Richard Burton and Richard Harris, along with a coolly detached Roger Moore are aging mercenaries with a taste for fine liquor, drawn together for a late but extremely lucrative pay day in The Wild Geese, an African adventure soaked in booze, gunfire and bloodshed.

Colonel Allen Faulkner (Burton) is secretly back in London to accept the task of reinstating an African leader deposed in a violent military coup, but without the combat skills of his two old friends, there isn’t going to be a mission. With his two reliable loose cannons in place, Faulkner and the team enact a text book rescue operation but disaster is close at hand when the cynical multinational who set up the whole deal turns the tables, striking a new deal with the local despot which sees The Wild Geese trying to escape with their lives intact.

The Wild Geese are ready for one last mission so finish your drinks and relive this classic old school British action adventure today.

Special Features:

– High Definition Presentation of the main feature

– Audio commentary with Roger Moore, producer Euan Lloyd and second unit director John Glen

– World Premiere Newsreel Footage

– Original Trailer

– Bonus Feature Film: CODE NAME: WILD GEESE, starring Lewis Collins, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine and Klaus Kinski, directed by Antonio Margheriti aka Anthony M. Dawson

– Reversible sleeve with original poster and newly commissioned artwork cover

– Collector’s booklet featuring brand new writing on the film by Ali Catterall, co-author of Your Face Here: British Cult Movies Since the Sixties and a biography of Euan Lloyd

Blu-ray only

Region B

Release date: 02/07/2012