Welcome to Hard Times ★★★

Allegorical western concerning courage in the face of evil and rebirth out of the ashes of devastation, reflecting E. L. Doctorow's novel, one supposes. The violence perpetrated by 'the Man from Bodie' (Aldo Ray), where he doesn't say a word throughout his performance, has a brutality that recalls the Spaghetti Western and looks forward to such other Angels of Destruction as Clint Eastward's High Plains Drifter, as does the bleakness of the landscape and the run down town. Ray's scenes memorably bookend the picture. In between the symbolism becomes heavy handed, dominated by Janice Rule's fiery Irish Madame so consumed by revenge that she takes an orphan under her wing to mould into a stone cold killer; and Fonda's attempt to rebuild and repopulate the town. It's an unusual story — one of those edgy, thoughtful westerns Fonda took up in the late sixties/early seventies — and well photographed by Harry Stradling Jr. Burt Kennedy's direction is lively and shows a good eye for framing, and the cast is distinguished, including good performances from Keenan Wyn, Warren Oates and John Anderson (playing twins). It falls apart, though, in the last few minutes as service to the symbolic message becomes the priority. Still, worth a look.