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|Index||22 reviews in total|
Ponderous? At times. Pretentious? Sure, a little. But what a strange,
sumptuous, utterly hypnotic experience this is. I haven't seen all that many
from this time period but it is quite unlike anything else I can think of.
There are stylistic similarities to Nicholas Roeg I guess, with
intentionally disorienting editing and jarring perspectives, but that's
about all that comes to mind. And perhaps Richard Rush's great "THE STUNT
MAN". The seamless, fluid dissolves are what stick with me the most; just
the way cryptic little bits of dialogue evaporate at the end of one scene
and haunt the next. The movie has an elusive, swirling quality; watching it
you sometimes have the feeling that you are weightless and that this is a
vision of some afterlife or parallel world.
It's really driving at something, this film. Its many enigmatic characters are constantly circling each other, digging, trying to figure out what makes them tick, whether or not they're one of "them" or one of "us". Made in 1969, I think the film is an understandably confused, troubled reaction to what was undoubtedly an incredibly turbulent decade. Its biggest fear is that terror and violence have become so commonplace they are no longer the exclusive property of evil. "Good" may use them too in steadily increasing proportions, and soon the two are indistinguishable. But there is also a sense of some small hope here, a chance for redemption, rebirth. James Coburn's last bitten off words echo chillingly as the credits roll: "Watch And See. Watch And See".
I'm assuming the comments I read on this site were written by horny
guys - the accolades to Lee Remick's beauty take up most of the
comments. She is absolutely gorgeous and sexy in this movie, and I
agree, she's the main reason to see this film.
James Coburn has a "Hard Contract" in this 1969 film about a top hit man, John Cunningham, who's sent to Europe by his boss Ramsey (Burgess Meredith) to kill three people, one of whom, Michael Carlson (Sterling Hayden) was his predecessor in the job. Cummingham is a man completely detached from human emotion; he only pays for sex, won't kiss, and won't let a woman spend the night. While in Europe, he meets a beautiful woman, Sheila Metcalfe (the afore - and oft-mentioned - Remick) and her group of friends, including Adrianne (Lilli Palmer) and an ex-Nazi. Sheila falls for Cummingham, the rest of the group adopts him, and before Cunningham knows it, he's become, for the first time, part of the human race. Carlson knows what he's there for immediately, and the two have a confrontation. Cunningham has started to realize there's something in the world besides killing.
This movie makes a great effort to be deep. It doesn't really know what it is; it lacks a point of view, but it does convey a message. Some of it is kind of cryptic. I actually thought there were lines of dialogue missing from the version I saw.
Coburn is very good as a man who finally realizes he can't avoid living; Remick as an outrageous, adventurous socialite gives a wonderful performance; Palmer as her dizzy friend is delightful. Hayden, never a favorite of mine, was an unusual man in real life, and I think what made him special as a person comes through here. The retired hit man is one who thought a good deal about the meaning of life, as did Hayden, and found peace within himself. Hayden, after his forays into Communism, his guilt over cooperating with the committee, and his basically going out to sea and writing, did the same thing. Karen Black has a small role as a prostitute in the beginning of the film.
A really wonderful cast, an uneven film, a kind of blah ending - still worth seeing for Remick and Coburn in their primes.
James Coburn(John Cunninghman) gets very distracted when Lee Remick (Sheila Metcalfe) enters his room as a hooker and gives him plenty of action. He almost forgets about doing his final hit to retire on. This film is filled with great actors, Burgess Meredith( Ramsey Williams) who also played in Rocky 1 and Rocky 2. Karen Black (Ellen) and Sterling Hayden give excellelnt supporting roles along with Lilli Palmer(Adrianne), Lee Remick's close friend. This film cannot be ignored, it has too many veteran actors to make it an all time classic film of the late 60's.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
James Coburn, Burgess Meredith, Lee Remick, Sterling Hayden, and Patrick Magee are all good actors, and they all have instances of brilliance in HARD CONTRACT, but the film is not worthy of them. First time director S. Lee Pogostin has a few good ideas, but he makes too many beginner's mistakes for the material to succeed. Coburn plays a hitman working for Meredith, hired for a job he's not sure he can do. His target is Sterling Hayden, who had once been a contract killer himself, and they share a wonderful scene in which he tries to convince Coburn to quit. It's a good scene, well written and well acted, but it has the mark of an unexperienced film maker. There is another good scene in which Meredith moves in on one of the target's relatives and discusses modern violence in front of a Goya painting. A big part of the problem is the film's conclusion (SPOILER) in which they say that "murder is obsolete." This is supposed to be good enough for the audience and Coburn and Remick run off romanticaly into the bushes. What a disappointment! This movie didn't do half the things it could have done. Lee Remick is underused as the love interest, and Magee doesn't even have any lines. Should have been better.
Hired American assassin (with a predilection for prostitutes but an aversion to kissing--or, indeed, feeling anything) gets a new assignment: kill three men for one client, all in Europe. Once there, he meets a chatty jet-setter who works steadily to break down his walls, though getting to know her and her wealthy friends means becoming sociable with one of his targets. Modern-day story, an original from writer S. Lee Pogostin (who also directed), has plush production, beautiful cinematography by Jack Hildyard and lovely scoring by Alex North, but it cannot manage an even balance between drama, romance, intrigue and travelogue. Pogostin enjoys 'deep,' prattling conversations about the meaning of life, but his metaphor-heavy narrative (with political and fascist undertones and finger-pointing at the media for making us all immune to the horrors of violence) just isn't gripping. The scene transitions often overlap in a lazy, dream-like fashion, and the dazed performers are equally as narcotizing. Not a good vehicle for star James Coburn, who weighs in once in a while with a villainous, mischievous smile but otherwise seems at half-mast. Lee Remick plays his love-interest, Sterling Hayden is a bearded mystery man, Burgess Meredith is Coburn's boss, and a young Karen Black turns up as a hooker who loves to say "I love you." Curious, but memorable only because it is so blatantly odd. *1/2 from ****
A paid assassin who only sleeps with prostitutes is sent to Spain to carry out an "assignment" and in the process meets a young woman. He bumps off a few victims but he's such a pro the viewer doesn't see much, if any, violence. This isn't a violent picture, though the ending will have you squirming a little as he drives a car load of people along a windy mountain road, seemingly contemplating whether to kill them all, as they beg him to slow down. James Coburn is excellent in the part, a combination womanizer/contract killer who seemingly doesn't have either the time or inclination to get involved, a classic casually immoral role in which he has an ongoing professional relationship with a prostitute played by Karen Black and later meets another sex professional in Belgium. It's almost too bad that Lee Remick's character interrupts this life of his, but she does bring out a more human and sympathetic side that confounds his supervisor, in a great part for Burgess Meredith.
This is a very special movie. Lee Remick's performance alone is worth the effort. There is a smart and rather deep undertone to the film. Some people might be put off by the unabashed, intellectual, writerly approach, but if you accept the style and go with the story, it is a great ride. The picture has pretty much vanished, but it's well worth seeking out.
**SPOILERS** Should have been titled "Redemption of a Hit Man" the
movie "Hard Contract" is really a good film that's just a bit over
philosophical in it's message but still well worth watching. Super-cool
CIA assassin John Cunningham, James Coburn, gets to see the light but
it takes John to go almost halfway through the movie for him to finally
Being the #1 killer for his country John has nerves of steel and ice-water in his veins for blood with absolutely no feelings at all for those that he does in. Just give him a name and location, plus a hefty fee, and that's all he needs to be motivated to kill someone.
On election day John ices a victim in a movie house votes in the local election and spends the rest of the afternoon with a hooker Ellen, Karen Black, to work off his excess energy that John has a lot of. The next day John goes to see his controller or boss a CIA man who uses his job, a physics college professor, as a cover James Ramsey, Burgess Meredith.
This is the big one or hard contract as Ramesy calls it. The hit that can put John in the money and have him retire from the business of contract killing for good. Three hits in three cities in Spain and Belgium with the last victim being revealed to John after the first two hits and he's home free.
Going to Spain to get the job, or jobs, done John runs into a number of people and incidents that changes his life forever. And after those experiences he'll never as much hit kill or murder anyone again! Not even Adolf Hitler if he were still alive and John was given a contract on him by the CIA!
Running into American tourist and jet setter Sheila Mecalfe, Lee Remick, who's also a part-time hooker on the side and her goofy and naive but good hearted friend socialite Adrianne, Lilli Palmer, John learns that killing isn't right. John also learns that being at peace with the world and himself as well is what it's really all about. By the time the movie ends John throws away his weapons of death and destruction his job as a CIA hit-man and his unemotional detachment to the human race and becomes a true pacifist and lover of man and womankind alike!
Without going into all the details of what happened to John, to open up his eyes to what's good in the world, you have to see the film for yourself to really appreciate it. John has a revelation that's truly a miracle. The type that you find in the Holy Bible. John, or later Saint John, isn't that quickly converted to a good, or non-violent, life. He does knock off the first two persons that he was told to do in by his boss Ramsey. Later as the truth about the saying "Love thy Neighbor as Theyself" slowly takes hold over him John just can't bring himself to knock off the third person former top CIA hit-man Michael Carson, Sterling Hayden, or anyone else for that matter.
Carson, like his soul-mate Sheila, let's John in to what's good and what's bad and good, as Carson tells him, is far far better in fact there's no comparison what's so ever! Carson a more vicious and effective hit-man in his heyday then even John is now has become so passive he looks like he converted to become a ultra non-violent Quaker of Amish! A person who wouldn't even defend himself or his family even if his or their lives were in danger! There's one thing about being a peaceful and non-violent person but that's going a little bit too far!
At the end of the movie even the blood thirsty and murderous Ramsey, who's obsessed with killing, saw the light. Ramsey flew to Spain to first save John for the insanity that overtook him. A paid government assassin who doesn't want to kill anyone what kind of CIA hit-man is John anyway! Then not only does Ramsey become as big a pacifist as John but also falls in love with the daffy and zany Adrianne! In the end we see both John and Sheila and Ramsey and Adrianne romping in the grass, as the movie "Hard Conract" ends.
Everyone in the film only wants the best things, living in peace with their fellow man, out of life instead of the worst,taking one's life, which is all that John and Ramsey knew about and practiced. That was until they saw and experienced the truth: Which is that it's better to live in peace then to kill each other. And it was that truth that finally set them free, from a life of selfishness destruction misery and death, forever.
A professional hit-man is sent on a mission to Europe, but gets
involved with a bubbly sexpot despite his strict code of
Disappointing melodrama that doesn't come off despite a sterling cast. There's a delightfully sexy Remick, a charmingly continental Palmer, a mysteriously wacky Meredith, and an imposingly sinister Hayden. Plus, starring in the central role, a wordlessly stone-faced Coburn. But despite this line-up, the screenplay is both over-long and needlessly elusive.
The key to the murky story, I'm guessing, is that the movie was made in the late 60's, during the 'Make love, not war' period. What writer-director Pogostin appears aiming at is a movie that applies the motto to a professional killer, of all things. At least, this is the narrative's trajectory even though the details are too often elusive. Much of the obscure philosophical palaver appears to concern just how wrong professional hits are in an era of mass political killing. It also serves, I think, to soften Cunningham's going unpunished despite his bloody record. Note too, how little attention is given to Cunningham's two professional hits, as if they're merely incidental to the overall story.
Whatever the narrative shortcomings, we get a pretty good travelogue of Western Europe as background. In fact, it appears Pogostin never shot in the same spot twice, which means the camera jumps around a lot adding to the feeling of a disjointed narrative. One way or the other, the movie's amounts to a disappointment given the talent involved. My advice is to catch up with a tight little b&w gem from 1958, Murder by Contract, which shows how the material should be done.
This is by no means a suspenseful edge of your seat offering, but it is
somewhat enjoyable due to the film locations and the soul searching,
quasi-existential dialog that seems to question morality, or lack
thereof, in so many shapes and forms. To hit or not to hit, (another
human being, that is!), is one of our tiring assassin's (James Coburn)
looming questions. So much for hitting others for the so called good of
freedom and democracy; our lead character is finding in himself an
evolution of kindness and tenderness, brought upon in no small manner
by the vivacious femme fatale (Lee Remick) who slowly but surely brings
into focus things our lead character has ignored all too often during
the course of his existence.
The plot works its way to a mainly Mediterranean and European base of operations and the entire cast seems to have fun in throwing their metaphorical two cents worth of philosophical rambling. Lili Palmer, Burgess Meredith and Sterling Hayden provide the best lines of the supporting crew and all provide our lead actor with plenty of set-up lines for his consumption and subsequent reaction.
Not a great movie, but a fun glimpse into a sample of the film making mode of the latter 60's. In short, a nice hour and forty-five minute escapist period piece, indeed!!
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