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Film / The Last Hard Men

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The Last Hard Men is a 1976 Western film directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, starring Charlton Heston and James Coburn.

The plot follows Sam Burgade (Heston), a retired Arizona Ranger, as he tries to recapture his old nemesis Zach Provo (Coburn), who has recently escaped from prison and kidnapped Burgade’s daughter Susan (Barbara Hershey) as a form of revenge upon Burgade for putting him behind bars and indirectly causing the death of his girl.

Provides examples of:

  • Berserk Button: Using racist slurs around Provo will provoke great rage as the love of his life was a Native American girl and he himself is meant to be part Native American.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Averted He's the only one of the escaped convicts taken alive.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Whilst Burgade didn’t refuse the call he still encounters this. Before Susan’s abduction he is quite cheerfully and enthusiastically plotting to recapture Provo. Following her abduction he seems quite angry and bitter.
  • Chained Heat: The escaped convicts are chained together and consequently forced to work together in their escape. Later they remain together because Provo promises them gold and revenge.
  • The Chase: Most of the movie is Provo and his gang on the run from Burgade.
  • Damsel in Distress: The plot largely consists of this trope as Susan is taken hostage by Provo and his men and her father and fiancé must race to her rescue. But Susan herself is a badass damsel and quite proactive when it comes to not waiting around to be rescued. She also doesn’t bother hiding her contempt for her captors.
    • Damsel out of Distress: Susan defines this. Upon finding a stranger claiming to be an old friend of her fathers upon the doorstep days after hearing of Provo’s escape her first reaction is to lock the door and run for the gun cabinet. If it weren’t for her father in a moment of genre blindness having locked the gun cabinet she could easily have shot Provo dead there and then. After she’s been captured by Provo and his gang of degenerates, though she has every faith in her father and fiancé, she doesn’t wait around for them to her rescue but instead tries to escape at the first opportunity. The only time she cries or begs is when Provo places her in a no win situation that will lead to her either being shot or raped. Throughout her ordeal she shows no fear and constantly mocks/taunts her captors.
  • The Dragon: Cesar Menendez, a convict sporting a facial scar and badass mustache played by Jorge Rivero, acts as the Dragon to Provo’s big bad. He’s the only member of the chain gang who seems to have been on friendly terms with Provo before the escape and the only member of the gang that has Provo’s confidence and trust. That doesn’t prevent him from being yet another expendable pawn in Provo’s attempt at revenge.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: The girl that Provo loved was accidentally gunned down by Burgade when he first captured Provo which is why he is after revenge rather than just making a run for it. Susan seems to remind Provo of his dead girlfriend.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Cesar angrily objects when the two rapists want to force themselves upon a woman whose husband they are torturing/stealing from but only because the woman is pregnant. Provo is neutral about the matter until one of the rapists starts referring to the woman by racial slurs. Turns out racial prejudice is Provo’s berserk button.
    • Shelby also stands up the rapists, although whether or not this is out of genuine morality or simply because Provo instructed him to is a big bag.
  • Famed In-Story: Burgade is famous from his exploits as a lawman. The local Sheriff and his men respect and even the train driver instantly recognises his name.
  • The Film of the Book: Adapted from the 1971 novel Gundown by Brian Garfield.
  • Genre Blindness: Burgade doesn’t seem to realise that Provo is looking for revenge rather than just going on the run and consequently he leaves Susan home alone. He even leaves the gun cabinet locked.
  • Great Escape: Provo and his fellow convicts enact a successful one during the opening scenes and spend the rest of the movie on the run from the law.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: Provo wanders into this a few times. It doesn’t help that Susan reminds him of his dead girlfriend.
  • Informed Attribute: Weed being a Scarily Competent Tracker (Burgade claims he could follow a duck across a pond) and Shiraz being a knife-fighter.
  • Jumped at the Call: As soon as he learns of Provo’s escape Burgade quite cheerfully and enthusiastically involves himself in the effort to recapture Provo even going so far as to tell the local Sheriff and his deputies how to do their jobs.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Provo occasionally sets traps for Burgade and sends mooks after him but he does so to ensure that Burgade remains on his trail and doesn’t give up. He wants to be the one to kill Burgade and when it looks like his revenge plan has failed he starts having a mental breakdown.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Pretty much everyone who dies in this movie does so instantly from a single gunshot/stab wound. Except for the two rapists. One is burnt to death by a slowly moving grass fire whilst the second gets beaten to death by a guy wielding a shotgun. A loaded shotgun but obviously shooting was too good for him.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: The film was originally scored by Leonard Rosenman, his music was replaced by Jerry Goldsmith cues from 100 Rifles, Stagecoach, Rio Conchos and Morituri. (bizarrely, the original plan was to use re-recorded versions of those Goldsmith cues.)
  • Retired Badass: Burgade who has such a reputation for being badass that some thought he had died rather than retired. The Sheriff and his men have no objection to Burgade taking over the hunt for Provo.
  • The Sheriff: Nye is a fairly helpful one (albeit younger than most examples of the trope), who respects Burgade's contributions, goes to him for advice immediately after the breakout, and diligently hunts the outlaws, but who is ultimately forced to give up the hunt when they cross onto reservation land and the tribal police evoke Jurisdiction Friction, although he does unsuccessfully try to talk them into letting him through.
  • Spanner in the Works: Susan’s fiancé proves to be this for Provo. Despite his inexperience with guns and chasing convicts, the fiancé still manages, in a random moment of genre savvy, to prevent Burgade from walking straight into Provo’s trap.
  • Working on the Chain Gang: Provo and his gang are this during the opening scenes. Then they enact a successful escape plan.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Provo attempts one of these. The only thing that prevents it from being successful is that he didn’t know about Susan’s fiancé so failed to take him into account. When he realises the gambit has failed he begins to suffer a mental breakdown.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Lee Roy Tucker is brought along for his expertise and knowledge of the area, but quickly gets the others as far as they need him to get, and, having annoyed Provo with his racist, Jerkass Stupid Evil behavior, is killed by him.