Sunday, September 25, 2016

Discovering HARD CONTRACT

Last night, I finally caught up with a film that has long intrigued me from afar, HARD CONTRACT (1969), starring James Coburn and Lee Remick. It was the only film ever directed by screenwriter S. Lee Pogostin and it did not disappoint. First of all, the story - about an American hit man who travels to Spain on a job and falls in love for the first time in the midst of an assignment - is used as a way of tapping into larger issues about war and peace. It lures us in as a potential thriller but surprises (admittedly, some might say "thwarts") our expectations by confronting us with an unusually profound drama about politics, philosophy and morality.

The two stars, at their respective zeniths of personal allure, are magical together and the supporting cast is impeccable: Burgess Meredith, Lili Palmer (who steals every scene she's in), Patrick Magee and Sterling Hayden (returning to the screen for the first time since DR STRANGELOVE, debuting his mariner's beard, he's flat-out amazing in an extended dialogue scene with Coburn). As a director, Pogostin's approach to storytelling has an interesting trait: each scene dissolves into the next with the audio of the previous scene continuing on, carried over into the following one, allowing the meaning of what has just been said to resonate until the next scene is ready to move forward. He also proves that sometimes words carry more weight when we cannot see them being spoken.

HARD CONTRACT was one of the first R-rated features to be released by a major studio (Fox), which may have something to do with why it got scarce, if any, commercial television play. There's no nudity and only mild cursing, but Coburn's character is introduced as frequenting prostitutes (one of them brings us an early screen appearance by Karen Black) to keep his life free of attachments; this is dealt with frankly. So, rated R in the sense that "kids aren't going to get this." It has become an obscure film but deserves to be better known. I found it, of all places, on YouTube. While I'm at it, here's another YouTube link to a track from Alex North's evocative musical score.

(c) 2016 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved by the author.

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