Sky Riders / The Last Hard Men Douglas Hickox / Andrew V. McLagen

Sky Riders / The Last Hard Men Douglas Hickox / Andrew V. McLagen
James Coburn was one of the screen's finest actors, and one of the last of a dying breed of tough guys that simply don't exist anymore. His striking good looks were buttressed by a gritty toughness and no-nonsense attitude, all enrobed in his diesel voice. He classed-up any project he was involved in, added glue to some great ensembles and held his own in a series of lead roles as mavericks and anti-heroes. Packaged together on DVD as an "Action Double-Bill" by Shout! Factory, Sky Riders and The Last Hard Men, both from 1976, show two different sides of the Coburn persona. Made when he was reaching the tail end of his career as a bankable leading man, the two movies are both standard Hollywood genre films made by journeyman Brits, but are otherwise as different as ballet and basketball. Douglas Hickox's Sky Riders is a slight, but fun, espionage tale in which Coburn, a lone wolf pilot, attempts to rescue his kidnapped ex-wife and her children by employing a team of hang-gliders, sailing into a remote monastery under the cover of darkness. Already retrogressive when it was made, Sky Riders seems more like a working holiday for everyone involved than an actual film, but is a fun throwback nonetheless. The discovery is Andrew McLagen's surprisingly gritty western, The Last Hard Men, with Coburn as a bitter, remorseless ex-con luring his nemesis, a retired sheriff played by Charlton Heston, into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse. The film works as an ensemble piece, showcasing Coburn and Heston at the top of their games, along with a craggy cast that looks to have stopped by on their way home from the Wild Bunch wrap party, and an amazing Michael Parks, whose low-key performance is the perfect counterpoint to his heavyweight co-stars. An homage to the rich history of the western, referencing High Noon, True Grit and The Searchers, among others, even aping Elmer Bernstein's iconic score for The Magnificent Seven, The Last Hard Men may have seemed like a relic of the past when it was released ― it was one of the very last mainstream westerns before the mid-'80s mini-revival ― but with the benefit of history it can now be seen as a film that stands very much on its own and deserves to be rediscovered. The DVD is no-frills, packaged with the expected trailers and TV spots. (Shout! Factory)