The Last Hard Men

Sometimes the title of a movie is almost prophetic; James Coburn and Charlton Heston were probably among the last real tough guy actors. But everything must change and be replaced, and that’s the underlying theme of this 1976 end-of-the-trail western.

In the early years of the 20th century Zack Provo (Coburn), along with a half dozen others, escapes from a chain gang and goes on the run. News of the breakout reaches retired lawman Sam Burgade (Heston) who realises that Provo will come gunning for him. It was Burgade who ran Provo to ground and he knows that old scores will have to be settled. With the abduction of Burgade’s daughter (Barbara Hershey), the chase is on – ending only after an orgy of sub-Peckinpah slow motion violence.

James Coburn

The movie was directed by Andrew V. McLaglen and, like most of his work, promises more than it ultimately delivers. McLaglen, an apprentice of John Ford, always knew how to film a landscape and offers some pleasing images here. The main problem is that he seems to be trying to remake Big Jake in the style of Peckinpah, and it never really comes off. However, we’ve seen all this before, and seen it done better. Heston tosses out some lines about how the times are changing, but it doesn’t feel like it has any real conviction. Jerry Goldsmith provides a rousing score but again there’s nothing original – it is the same one he produced for 100 Rifles a few years before. All in all, not a bad movie but not a great one either. If you’re a western fan, or a Heston or Coburn completist like me, you’ll want to check it out – just don’t expect too much. 

The film is widely available in continental Europe, though not in the UK yet, from Fox. The transfer is a solid one, with a sharp anamorphic scope image and strong, bright colours.

13 thoughts on “The Last Hard Men

  1. The only McLaglen film I’ve ever seen that comes near to cutting it is ‘Shenendoah’, and I have my reservations about that too – pedestrian just about sums him up doesn’t it?

    This gets shown pretty regularly on cable – despite all that, I am that Coburn / Heston completist and it’ll be ticked off the list at some point.


  2. Thanks for the comment John.

    Strange that a man could spend so much time around Ford and yet fail to capture something of his genius. I suppose it just shows why those “special” people really are special.

    Regarding McLaglen’s other films, I have to confess to having a real soft spot for ‘Chisum’.


  3. ‘Chisum’ has a great singalong credit sequence doesn’t it, and that nice little piece of dialogue from Wayne (when he’d almost – almost – stopped being an actor and become a living national monument): ‘…Then I thought about something Henry Tunstall once said. He watched a man walk to the gallows… saw him hang. He said it was ghastly. Well, I’ve seen men hang, and that’s the word – ghastly. You two are going to hang.’


  4. Ah, there’s so many things I enjoy in ‘Chisum’ – Ben Johnson mumbling his way through the film, the great brawl with Forrest Tucker, and that showdown at the river

    ‘So, if you want these horses I’ll sell them to you. Did you bring some gold with you?’



    ‘Just lead…..’  



  5. I’ve got this lined up for viewing soon, along with a couple of other Heston films – Will Penny and The Mountain Men, the latter like The Last Hard Men is available in Europe though not the UK.

    I’ve always rather liked The Last Hard Men but it’s one that I enjoy more for the pairing of the two legends than for being a great film. Looking forward to seeing it again though as I haven’t watched it for several years.

    As for McLaglen, he’s rarely more than adequate but I too have a soft spot for Chisum. The shot of John Chisum looking out over his land is one of the strongest images from latter day Wayne westerns. Like you I also enjoy Johnson’s performance but I can’t say I’m that enamoured of the final fight between Wayne and Tucker or perhaps I should say their stunt doubles as the scene has some of the most obvious doubling I’ve ever seen.

    My vote for McLaglen’s best film would go to McLintock, it’s not high art but it has a raucous charm that’s hard not to like. What’s surprising, given what a mediocre director he was, is how many of his films I have on DVD (11!)


  6. Thanks for that, Ian.
    I agree that the opening and closing shots of Wayne in ‘Chisum’ are iconic images.

    Like you I was surprised to find that I have ten of McLaglen’s movies on DVD – I think that may be because, although he was no great director, he did turn out a lot of reasonably entertaining product.


  7. Nice review Livius.

    I quite like McLaglen’s ramshackle old-men action films made in 1978-80 – The Wild Geese, The Sea Wolves and North Sea Hijack. As a Western director I thought he was never more than efficient – but he was generally efficient and having recently watched Big Jake, I think it could have done with some of McLaglen’s simple professionalism.


  8. Cheers Mike.
    Coming from a respected reviewer like yourself, I’ll take that as high praise indeed.

    Nice to see some love for ‘The Wild Geese’ – I, too, think it’s a lot of fun. I suppose many of us do have some grudging admiration for McLaglen after all.


  9. I think McLaglen had a knack for working with big name actors who were a little past their prime and it’s generally those names that draw me to his films rather than McLaglen’s. You can almost always rely on Heston or Coburn to entertain even if the film as a whole is a little lacking.

    John, that Region 1 Mountain Men DVD is very cheap but it’s also 4:3. I’ve got the Spanish DVD which is anamorphic widescreen and can be had for 7 Euros (plus shipping)at (and The Last Hard Men for 9).


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