Thursday, October 10, 2013

Hard Contract

I don't know how many more times it's going to show up on the Fox Movie Channel, and it doesn't seem to be available on DVD, so I'd better blog now about Hard Contract, which is getting an airing tomorrow (October 11) at 1:00 PM on the Fox Movie Channel.

James Coburn stars as John Cunningham, who makes his living as a hired killer. He's getting to the point, however, that he'd like to retire on his previous earnings, but to do that, he's going to have to undertake one last contract from his boss, Ramsey Williams (Burgess Meredith). This, however, is a "hard contract", in that it involves killing three people in three differenct countries over in Europe, and John won't be able to learn who the third target is until after killing the first two.

The first one is living in a seaside town on the Spanish coast near Gibraltar, so it's off to the south of Spain. John's an asocial man in the sense that he doesn't want to get too close to anybody, lest emotional attachments get in the way of his job of killing people. So when he gets to the hotel in southern Spain, he tries to obtain the services of a prostitute, something the concierge apparently knows how to provide. Or maybe not, since the hotelier arranges for Sheila (Lee Remick) to have a rendezvous with John. Sheila isn't a prostitute, but a bored American divorcée of means traveling around Europe with some idly wealthy Europeans because, well, it's not as if she has anything better to do. She, of course, doesn't know why John is in Spain, but she's willing to sleep with him anyway.

This sexual experience changes both John and Sheila. Sheila senses that John isn't quite what he's made out to be, while John begins to form an emotional attachment with Sheila. John is able to kill the first guy in Spain, and then it's off to Brussels to commit the second murder. But, John starts finding that killing people isn't so easy like it used to be. Ramsey calls up Cunningham in Brussels, and gets the impression that there's something not quite right with him. Besides, Ramsey is going to have to give his assassin the information on the third victim, so he heads off to Europe unbeknownst to John. It turns out that the third victim is back in Spain, so it's off to Spain again, at which point John meets up with Sheila and all her friends again.

Only this time there's a bigger problem, in that Sheila and her friends know the third victim, one Michael Carlson (Sterling Hayden). That, and Carlson is a former professional assassin himself. Oh, and by now Sheila's figured out the truth about Cunningham. And his relationship with her is deepening. Things are getting really complicated. How is John going to get himself out of this predicament?

Hard Contract is an interesting premise, although it's a premise that had been around in the movies for at least 20 years, being a staple of a certain noir subgenre: people who for whatever reason want to get away from their past, only to find they can't escape. In Hard Contract, the execution of the premise kind of fizzles out. Perhaps it's that all of the characters wind up being like Sheila: not just idly wealthy, but giving off an vibe of blah as a result. I really found myself having difficulty caring about what happened to these characters. And the sexual peccadilloes that John has seem to be just as conveniently post-Code material as they are character developers. On the other hand, there is a lot of lovely location shooting in Hard Contract, and the actors are all professional in doing the best they can with sub-par material. Hard Contract is worth a watch, but it's nowhere near one of the great movies even in its genre.

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