Blu-ray Review: The Hard Part Begins [CIP] | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Monday, May 27th, 2024  

The Hard Part Begins

Studio: Canadian International Pictures

Sep 19, 2023 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Country singer Jim King (Donnelly Rhodes) has been working the circuit for nearly twenty years. As he’s grown older, cycled through bandmates, and watched many of his old honky tonks turn over into rock and roll venues, he’s never let go of a dream—that one day he’ll break through, be signed to a commercial label, and leave Ontario behind for a new life in Nashville. It’s a goal he’s held onto no matter who it hurt: his friends, an ex-wife and child, or the many groupies in the small, rural towns where he still pulls in a crowd. The next heart he breaks will likely belong to Jenny Frame (Nancy Belle Fuller), his latest duet partner both on stage and in motel rooms.

With the music industry changing quicker than he can accept and their finances running tight, King and his band agree to a weeklong residency in the fading star’s hometown. This brings a much-needed paycheck, along with many ghosts from King’s past. With a big-time label expressing some interest in his music, this last return home might be just the thing that allows him to escape from there forever.

The first feature from future Prom Night (1980) director Paul Lynch, The Hard Part Begins (1973) is a compelling character study with a fantastic country and western soundtrack. Donnelly Rhodes’ performance as a down-and-out musician unwilling to look at the bigger picture is phenomenal: a man with blinders to everything but a goal that’s far out of reach, aware of how others see him (as a joke, an asshole) yet incapable of putting anyone’s needs before his own. The desires of his bandmates place his narrow-minded obsession in an increased spotlight, particularly Nancy Belle Fuller as a singer who loves King not for his music, but for him. Paul Bradley is also excellent playing their accompanist: a man like King but without his desire for stardom, content in life, who just enjoys the modest lifestyle of a touring musician.

Picture-wise, The Hard Part Begins looks weathered but solid—and may very well be the best it will ever be seen. It’s an old, low-budget film shot on 16mm; the reversal was apparently damaged enough at parts that the answer print had to fill in sections during the 4K scan. It shows an expected level of grain, and some general wear and tear. There are moments where we would guess the alternate source had to be used, where a scene appears much rougher than the ones around it—such as the first time King visits his old singing partner in the hospital, and their skin tones appear orange and green—but these are few and far between. Otherwise the picture is bright and pleasant. Perhaps more importantly, the mono soundtrack is very clear: the songs sound really nice, and dialogue is strong.

This release of The Hard Part Begins really shows off in the bonus features department, where CIP provide a wealth of contextual analysis from a wide variety of angles. The centerpiece of the extras are several new interviews with director Paul Lynch, divided by topic and totaling 50 minutes. Actor David Daniels (King’s troubled son, Gary) shares his memories from the production, and film and classic TV historian Amanda Reyes provides a fantastic, 12-minute background on star Donnelly Rhodes’ prolific television career. (Rhodes passed away in 2018, but appears here in a short archival interview.) There are two commentaries—one by Lynch and former TIFF official Steve Gravestock, the other by Canadian film authorities Jason Pichonsky and Paul Corupe—plus an interview with the editor and an alternate ending that only adds nine seconds of footage, but subtly changes Rhodes’ closing performance. That’s a lot of really nice added material for a film that’s barely been seen on this side of the Canadian border since its release 50 years ago.

Highly recommended.



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