His debut story centers on the adventures of an anonymous loser turned illegal boxer during the Great Depression in New Orleans.
Charles Bronson (Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania; November 3, 1921-Los Angeles, California; August 30, 2003) specialized in violent characters of avengers, boxers or vigilantes, having worked in the beginning with directors such as Robert Aldrich or Samuel Fuller , and after having been one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’, but it would be Walter Hill with his directorial debut, ‘The Wrestler’, who makes Bronson a great actor without abandoning his most emblematic roles.
Walter Hill (Long Beach, California, January 10, 1942) was considered one of the strongest screenwriters in Hollywood before making his directorial debut. From a very young age, he was very attracted to the idea of writing scripts, but before that he worked in the cinema as an assistant director of directors such as Norman Jewison or Woody Allen. Although his first script was a failure, since it was never brought to the screen, with his next libretto he achieved glory: he was the screenwriter of ‘The Flight’, adapting a novel by Jim Thompson, one of the great successes of Sam Peckinpah.
Although Hill’s vocation was more inclined towards scripts, even towards production, in the 70s Hollywood was going through a real revolution with new filmmakers acceding to film direction, and Walter Hill was at the top of the wave.
In 1975, Columbia offered him to direct one of his scripts, ‘The Wrestler’, based on a story by Bryan Gindoff and Bruce Henstell, and although the future director has his doubts, he ends up accepting, but not without first requesting the help of Gindoff and Henstell. , to join him in a final rewrite of the script, which focuses on the adventures of an anonymous loser turned illegal boxer during the Great Depression in New Orleans
Walter Hill claims Charles Bronson as the lead, something easy to do because he was a regular Columbia actor. But his contract had a poisoned candy: To have Jill Ireland, Bronson’s wife, as the female protagonist, who Hill had not quite convinced, although Hill ends up accepting. Hill was never satisfied with the work of the actress and his criticisms caused that Bronson, after filming, never spoke to the director again. The cast is completed by James Coburn, Strother Martin and Michael McGuire.
The film, which was shot at Columbia Studios and other locations in Los Angeles in 1974, is set in 1933. These are the years of the Great Depression, and an expert in bare-knuckle fighting arrives in the city of New Orleans. His name is Chaney (Bronson), and despite his aging appearance and enigmatic personality, he defeats any rival that comes his way, albeit with the support of Speedy (Coburn), an opportunistic promoter of street fighters. However, Speedy gets into trouble due to past debts, so Chaney must face a decisive fight to save his life.
Social portrait of the Great Depression
Hill paints a great social portrait of the Great Depression years through outcasts where a cunning opportunist will use an effective street fighter to set up fights in a time when boxing was forbidden by law. The film has a fluid and seamless narrative, and Bronson’s interpretation is colossal, doing here the best work of his career.
The film opens in New York on October 8, 1975 (in Spain it does on July 26, 1976) and is a great success around the world. And although it did not achieve nominations or awards, ‘El luchador’ remains one of the most representative films of the new American cinema of the 70s, and the consecration of Walter Hill with his first film.