In a 2006 interview director Walter Hill mentioned that he had been critical of the performance of Jill Ireland, who was Charles Bronson's wife at the time. When Hill went to Bronson's home to discuss this, Bronson wouldn't shake his hand--he just showed Hill in and poured him a drink. Hill said that he would have liked to have worked with Bronson on other films, but that Bronson refused to work with Hill again.
According to Walter Hill, Charles Bronson "was in remarkable physical condition for a guy his age; I think he was about 52 at the time. He had excellent coordination, and a splendid build. His one problem was that he was a smoker, so he didn't have a lot of stamina. I mean, he probably could have kicked anybody's ass on that movie, but he couldn't fight much longer than 30 or 40 seconds."
The most grueling filming was the climactic match between Charles Bronson and the fighter promoted by Michael McGuire who plays a respectable seafood merchant with a yen for sports and illegal gambling. The scene, which took more than a week to shoot because of the fight's complicated movements, was filmed in a riverfront warehouse on Tchoupitoulas Street, a rough area where even the street-fighter played by Bronson may have feared to venture. For days on end Bronson and Nick Dimitri would square off under the hot lights, watched intently by McGuire and his hoods, James Coburn, and Strother Martin--and a few dozen cameramen, technicians and crew members. The first thing a visitor to that set would have noticed was the overwhelming smell of the place. To create the illusion of being a seafood warehouse, several Styrofoam oyster bins were stocked with several very real--and very odiferous--oyster shells. An attempt to cloak the fumes with a commercial disinfectant made matters worse.
The producers were going to release the film under the title "The Street Fighter", but when the Shin'ichi Chiba film of the same name came out first (The Street Fighter (1974)), they reverted to the original screenplay title.
The movie did $5,000,000 in rentals according to show-business trade-paper "Variety". This figure has widely been reported as its total U.S. box office. However, the true figure is between $10-$11 million.
According to Walter Hill, Charles Bronson was easier to work with than James Coburn: "[Bronson was a] very angry guy . . . Didn't get along with a lot of people. The only reason I can tell you he and I got along well was he respected that I wrote the script. He liked the script. Also I didn't try to get close to him. Kept it very business-like. I think he liked that. [James Coburn], who everybody liked and got along well with, he and I did not get along well. I think he was not in a good mood about being in a movie with Charlie, it was second banana. He had been up there more, and his career was coming back a bit. I don't think he was wild about being second banana. But Charlie was a big star, perceived to be low rent. That was part of his anger . . . He thought there was a cosmic injustice when he was not a movie star at 35. He didn't get there [until] 45 or whatever . . . [However] when things had seemed to not be working well, or there was some impasse, Charlie would come down hard on my side. That was a tipping point".
Walter Hill thought the project could become more "up market" if he made it more like a Western and set it in the past; Lawrence Gordon was from New Orleans and suggested setting it in that city. Hill said the script incorporated elements of an earlier Western he had written, "Lloyd Williams and his Brother". He wrote it in a style inspired by Alex Jacobs--"extremely spare, almost Haiku style. Both stage directions and dialogue."
Charles Bronson spent the time between takes either sitting off in a corner or turning his nervous energy loose on such feats as flexing his biceps and running up the side of a wall. James Coburn, Strother Martin, and the others would drift over to where some of the technicians were watching football games on a portable television set. Finally, the actors would be gathered together for shooting, and both Bronson and Nick Dimitri were sprayed generously with water to make their fisticuffs look realistically fierce and sweaty.
Producer Lawrence Gordon, a native of Yazoo City (MS) who graduated from New Orleans' Tulane University with a BBS in Business Administration, insisted that the film be set in The Crescent City. Gordon said, "I wanted the film here for two reasons. First, the background is very, very special. You get a great look from the extras and a great accent that you can't get anyplace else in the country [and second was that] I simply wanted to come back to a place I consider home".
The colorful Irish Channel area was utilized for a few of the seedier locations, while the St. Vincent de Paul Cemetery on Desire Street, with its above-ground tombs, served as the forlorn setting of Charles Bronson's first meeting with Poe, the drug-addicted cut specialist played by veteran character actor Strother Martin. Even the rough-and-tumble Ninth Ward is on display, particularly the freight yard of an old warehouse on Chartres Street near the Mississippi River, where Bronson polishes off not only his scheduled opponent but also a chain-wielding poor loser who bet on the wrong fighter.
A local New Orleans dealer and restorer of antique cars provided several autos for the film, including James Coburn's beloved black 1936 Packard One-Twenty Sedan [120B]. The dealer, Gabriel Puccio, was such a frequent visitor to the set that he was eventually cast as a hood on the payroll of James Coburn's rival. However, Puccio's interest in the film would apparently carry over beyond the end of location shooting as he planned to display the Packard in the lobby of the New Orleans Theater where the film would be shown.
Walter Hill says his cinematographer Philip H. Lathrop was incredibly useful during the shoot: "Before we started I was in my office later at night and Lathrop came by, noted I wasn't in a good mood. "Anything wrong?" I had never done it, worried if I will make it look alright. He immediately said, "Don't worry about that. We will make a film, make the shots. If you are having a problem we will make the shots. I can already tell you you are ahead of other directors." He said, "Anything we shoot we will cut together." He said, "The problem that you're going to have is making everybody getting along and you getting what you want." And he was of course 100 %right. That is the problem with direction. Beyond my first or second film, I don't think I've ever had terrible dilemmas based upon resources, but shooting and figuring out how is not a problem, never was. The problems that you have are getting everybody to be on the same page".
No film shot in New Orleans would be complete without a few glimpses of its famous French Quarter. "Hard Times" features the usual quota. The Cornstalk Hotel, a familiar sight to Quarter residents, appears in the background when Charles Bronson tells Jill Ireland the nature of his profession - street-fighting - and also as the residence of the slick gambler-promoter played by James Coburn. Another scene shot in the Quarter is that in which Coburn makes the mistake of trying to thrash Bronson for making a play after Coburn's girl, a charge as ill-conceived as Coburn's lunges at the powerful street-fighter.
Production notes state that the seamy side of contemporary New Orleans was not glossed over, but rather celebrated in a bordello sequence shot on the city's Jackson Street. Naturally enough, the residence was not really used for such goings-on, although one crew member allegedly claimed that "about 80% of the girls employed as atmosphere extras were the genuine article". The press kite goes on to say that "interiors, by the way, were shot elsewhere and it would not be fair to reveal where".
According to cinematographer Philip H. Lathrop, more than a few difficulties had to be surmounted in order to shoot on actual sets rather than on a soundstage. Lathrop said, "It's a wholly different type of treatment because you're working on actual sets and you have to invent a lot of different things that you need not do in the studio, where you can remove a wall or have lights above on the scaffolds. But it gets done".
DVD.net.au reported that "Obtained by producer Lawrence Gordon in March 1974, 'Hard Times' was an original screenplay by Bryan Gindoff and Bruce Henstell; financed independently by tax shelter dollars, production on the film commenced later that same year, with shooting conducted on location in New Orleans, Louisiana. The film project was renamed 'The Street Fighter', however, in a surprising irony, its name was reverted back to its original title, when Gordon and Hill discovered, whilst their film was still in production, that a martial arts epic was due to be released--Shigehiro Ozawa's The Street Fighter (1974)."
This movie was retitled 'The Streetfighter' for its original UK theatrical release so that it wouldn't be confused with Charles Dickens 'Hard Times' story of the same name. This was despite the fact that there apparently hadn't been a filmed version of this Dickens novel for sixty years, since Hard Times (1915). However, Hard Times (1977), a new version, was made and released within a couple of years of this film debuting.
One of two Charles Bronson movies that have a title that is also the name of a piece of literature but is unrelated to that literary property. "Hard Times" aka "The Streetfighter" [See: Hard Times (1975)] is also the name of an 1854 Charles Dickens novel of the same name, while St. Ives (1976) is also the name of an 1897 Robert Louis Stevenson short story named "St. Ives". The latter's full title is "St. Ives: Being The Adventures of a French Prisoner in England".