THE LAST HARD MEN, limping into 114th place in 1976, was not, alas, a salute to middle-aged porn legends, but nadir time for both Charlton Heston and James Coburn, whose professional commitment couldn’t elevate this brutal western out of the Spittoon of Bad Ideas. If you need a western fix with Heston & Coburn, stick with Major Dundee.
Arizona, 1909. Retired Ranger ‘Sam Burgade’ (Heston) goes after ruthless ‘Zach Provo’ (Coburn), escaped from prison with his gang of cruds. Provo has it out for Burgade not just for putting him in prison: he holds him responsible for his wife’s death. He kidnaps Burgade’s daughter ‘Susan’ (Barbara Hershey) to use and abuse as bait in order to lure the lawman to his doom. Bring the kids!
Taking a miscue from other End of the West westerns like The Wild Bunch and Big Jake, director Andrew V. McLaglen amps up the meanness. But he misses the majesty of the first by a desert mile and rejects the passable Duke-wipes-’em-out rumble of the latter. Hershey’s needless rape scene and the gratuitous maiming business at the finale are nothing but repellent exploitation. Hershey’s assault joins her similar treatment in Heaven With A Gun, The Entity and Paris Trout. Was she in a contest with Jennifer Jason Leigh to see who could rack up more abused characters?
Fault for the script goes to Guerdon Trueblood (Jaws 3-D), and Brian Garfield, whose novel “Gundown” was the inspiration, if that’s the word for it. A paltry box office of just $2,400,000 was no comfort to the stars or supporting players Jorge Rivero, Michael Parks (bad here, going full Marlon Mumble), Larry Wilcox, Thalmus Rasulala, Morgan Paull, John Quade, Robert Donner and Christopher Mitchum. Music score by Jerry Goldsmith, at least some of it cribbed from others he composed for the genre (100 Rifles for one) can’t save it. 98 minutes.
Coburn: “It was very hard to justify my character’s vendetta with Charlton Heston. He had no redeeming qualities. He was just out for revenge. The director was Andrew V. McLaglen. He knows how to go out, shoot a film and get it done. That’s about all. He’s another director for hire.”