Welcome to Hard Times (1967)
Directed by Burt Kennedy who also adapted the E.L. Doctorow novel this better than average Western stars a 60+ year old Henry Fonda (On Golden Pond (1981)) as a 49 nine year old lawyer who’d run from every trouble he’d ever encountered until he finally has enough. When a “man from Bodie” (Aldo Ray) all but destroys the small town that called Fonda’s character Mayor he decides to rebuild it in hopes of setting an example for the original town founder’s 14 year old son Jimmy Fee (Michael Shea). Mr. Fee (Paul Birch) along with a lot of the other town’s people were killed in the man’s drunken rage. You may find yourself asking “where is Clint Eastwood when you need him?”. Of course the answer is “he’s in Italy” making a name for himself in movies just like this at that time only his character would save the town through violence. This is different the townspeople are weak pacifists. However with Fonda’s guidance the town rises from the ashes … until the bully returns. The only reservation I have with outright recommending this film is because its too quick too convenient ending doesn’t match the quality nor credibility of the rest of it.
The small remote Western town named Hard Times has fallen on just that after a rogue brute (Ray) brutalizes then kills several of its few residents and burns most of its buildings. In the melee the town founder (Birch) was killed trying to save his girl and prostitute Flo (Ann McCrea) from the bully’s clutches. The saloon owner (Lon Chaney Jr.) and Jack Millay (Allen Baxter) were killed and another prostitute Molly Riordan (Janice Rule) was evidently beaten and raped when Mayor Will Blue (Fonda) powerless to stop it ran from the establishment. Blue who’d been summoned by Fee’s son Jimmy had tried to use Molly to distract the bully. Subsequently the man shot & killed the undertaker (Elisha Cook Jr.) and he’d set the town’s buildings on fire before riding off on horseback after which an old Civil War veteran (Paul Fix) dies of a heart attack. The town’s few remaining citizens Blue Jimmy store owner Ezra Maple (John Anderson) and Native American John Bear (Royal Dano) start to pick up the pieces when Ezra finds Molly in the fire’s rubble. Though she’s still alive she’s been burned and Blue begins to care for her and Jimmy.
Blue and Ezra discuss “what happens next” – tired of running from trouble and frustrated with his lack of performance in what transpired Blue wants to stay and rebuild; Ezra decides it’s time to move on. The town’s got nothing left but its well which is exactly what traveling brothel owner Zar (Keenan Wynn) needs for his horses as he comes into town. Adah (Janis Paige) is his assistant while Jessie (Fay Spain) Mae (Arlene Golonka) and Blossom (Kalen Liu) are his girls for hire. Soon they’ve erected a tent from Adah’s departed preacher husband (it says “Jesus Saves” on the side) and Blue has a source of income the well’s water. When Zar learns that a mine is nearby and a gaggle of its employees descend upon what was Hard Times he decides to stay since he’s got all that they’d want whiskey & women. Zar then hits John Bear who was helping Molly with Indian medicine because he doesn’t “believe in that”; Blue then says that Molly is his wife to keep Zar from knowing that she too was a prostitute. Bear gets back at Zar later and unbeknownst to Zar Blue keeps Bear from scalping him.
The stage coach comes to town driven by Alfie (Denver Pyle) who wants to know if they should keep coming through these parts. Blue and Zar convince him that there will be commerce. Isaac Maple Ezra’s twin brother gets off the coach and Blue tells him that his brother has left town. He then convinces Isaac to stay and establish a new store which is made easier by the whole coach full of stores that Ezra had already purchased and Alfie refuses to take any further. Another man comes to town driving the dead caretaker’s carriage. Blue tells Jenks (Warren Oates) that if he wants to keep what he’s found he’s got to bury the previous owner who the bully had stuffed in the back. So the new town begins to take shape aided by the weekly business from the nearby miners. They survive a winter together and once spring arrives a government representative (Edgar Buchanan) arrives to give them their charter. He also make Jenks who can shoot pretty well the Deputy. One of the miners Bert Albany (Dan Ferrone) has taken to one of Zar’s girls Blossom and Zar agrees to sell her to him for $300. When he protests that he doesn’t have that kind of money Zar makes him his bartender and pays him $2/day.
Molly however is rather ungrateful to Blue for all his assistance; she’s vows to never forget what happened to her when the bully was in town and blames Blue for it. In fact she takes to training Jimmy to respond to her screams with deadly force. Blue is appalled by this and tries to convince Jimmy to follow his example instead; though earlier he had helped Bert fight for Blossom’s honor. Unfortunately this all leads to a rather quick and unsatisfactory ending when the “man from Bodie returns to town as Molly knew he would.