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During the Great Depression, the mysterious drifter Chaney befriends the promoter of illegal street fights Speed and they go to New Orleans to make money fighting on the streets. Speed is welcomed by his mistress Gayleen Schoonoverand invites his former partner Poe to team-up with them. Meanwhile Chaney has a love affair with the local Lucy Simpson. Speed has a huge debt with the dangerous loan shark Doty and borrows money to promote the fight of Chaney and the local champion Jim Henry, who is managed by the also promoter. Casey wins the fight, they make a lot of money but Speed is an addicted gambler and loses his share in the dice table. But Doty wants his money back and Speed's only chance is Chaney accepts to bet his own money that he is saving and fight a winner that Gandil brought from Chicago. Will he accept the challenge? Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The film was profitable and in 2009, Walter Hill said he was still receiving money from it. See more »
We see Chaney jump off the train at the beginning, with the next scene showing him walking by tanker cars. In the background you can see the same train that he just jumped from backing up. Most railroaders would know it was a through freight, and not just switching cars. See more »
You know, Chick, no matter what you do, you'll always smell like fish.
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With this, his first directing job, Walter Hill showed his tendency for archetypal characters (see the later "The Driver" - where the characters didn't even have proper names - and, of course, "The Warriors"). Here, Bronson is 'The Fighter'...Coburn is 'The Hustler'...Martin is 'The Addict-Medic'...and so forth. Bronson's final opponent is simply named 'Street' while the big guy who damages The Hustler's automobile with a big hammer is just called 'Hammerman.' They all present striking, impressive figures; you don't easily forget any of them. They stride or shuffle through a page of history, in this case Depression-era New Orleans, nicely atmospheric as shown here. Times are hard. People need to be hard, as well. One way to make good money is in pick up fights, street fights in warehouses, on docks or, in one case of rich atmosphere, in the bayou.
Chaney, aka The Fighter, as played by Bronson, true to director Hill's method of archetypes, first appears on a slow moving train from places unknown. We never learn anything of his past history, even though there's about 50 years worth there. We learn only of his incredible hitting ability in the current time frame of the story's progression. In a way, Bronson was born to play this role: he's certainly not a young man here but he looks so tough we have no trouble believing he can wipe out men 20 years his junior. With the archetype of The Fighter, the story plays out like some Depression times fable, the tale of a mystery man or warrior arrived in a city to astonish all the onlookers with his formidable fighting abilities. The fights themselves are quite memorable; the viewer has the good fortune to witness these with the shouting hordes of betting men from the safety of a couch at home. We're a part of the spectacle, a guilty participant in a brutal spectator sport, a much more gritty version of modern boxing, and we wouldn't have it any other way.
The rest of the cast is super: Coburn was never better as Speed 'The Hustler' and Chaney's front-man/manager. It's mostly through him that we hear all the phrases and quips common to those places & times, and Coburn delivers them all with a gusto & panache few are capable of. You really believe he was born as the 19th century was ending, grew up in the twenties and adjusted to the Depression accordingly. You'll always remember his retorts to the bayou residents and his last insult about fish to Gandil, the bigshot. Speed and Chaney need each other and their relationship is another strong point; Speed is all about the money, sure, but you sense he has a strong admiration for Bronson's power and quiet nobility (this is confirmed at the end). As Poe, Strother Martin created & added another indelible character to the long list on his resume. Other actors would've been saddled with some of the odd dialog he has to deliver, but he just breezes through it like a song. Glover (Crispin's dad) is also very good as a loan shark, as is McGuire as the rich Gandil. Mention should also be made of the top two fighters (Tessier & Dimitri). The film needed characters who could pose a threat to Chaney and these two looked just as tough. Now if only Chaney would explain more about those 'in-betweens'... but he doesn't say much.
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