Rating: The Good – 75.5 Genre: Crime, Thriller Duration: 93 mins Director: Michael Winner Stars: Charles Bronson, Vincent Gardenia, Jeff Goldblum
A milestone in vigilante cinema that doesn’t as much walk the line between right and left wing politics as it draws it. Bronson takes on perhaps his most dramatic role as the liberal architect whose wife and daughter were respectively murdered and attacked in their home. After a slowly realised grieving process, he finds himself increasingly drawn towards the idea of taking matters of self-protection into his own hands. Director Michael Winner ducks and weaves his way through the political hinterland of his drama with a series of right jabs but lands a couple of integral left hammer blows so that he deceives his way to a rather interesting analysis of crime and morality. There’s no rush to the action either as he lays out in meticulous manner Bronson’s remorse and development from fearful citizen to eager vigilante. It’s richly shot in what is clearly one of Winner’s more polished productions and embellished with some outstandingly staged action sequences.
A particular treat however is the cynicism and indeed prescience of Wendell Mayes’ screenplay (adapting Brian Garfield’s novel) which sets the actors on an even strain within Winner’s languidly unfolded drama. The cast blow got and cold however with the normally excellent Steven Keats missing the mark completely as the son in law and a young Jeff Goldblum featuring briefly as one of the most ridiculously unthreatening hoodlums to tumble his way through a murder scene. Bronson too struggles woefully to give his lines the right cadence but his charisma burns through those failings to the point that few could’ve done the job better. On the plus side Vincent Gardenia is fantastic as the bemused police captain in charge of bringing the vigilante to justice.
Not surprisingly, this movie has been both hailed and denigrated as a piece of right wing propaganda but that perception is to completely miss the intricacy of the story being told. From the examination of violence in the television/movie culture, the use of both white and black criminals, to the manner in which Bronsan sets out to lure his victims, there’s little to suggest that self defence against an impoverished underclass is what lay deep in Bronson’s heart. Something else was in play, something much more insidious and interesting from a dramatic point of view. And with that infamous final shot of Bronson smiling at a group of thugs, Winner and co. didn’t just close in style but they had one last go at getting their point across. They made it count!
Rating: The Good – 77.5 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 73 mins Director: André de Toth Stars: Gene Nelson, Sterling Hayden, Charles Bronson
Another top class crime thriller from the annals noir, this one coming courtesy of maverick director André de Toth, who fought tooth and nail with Jack Warner so that Sterling Hayden could take on the role the latter wanted for a certain Humphrey Bogart. Hayden stars as the cynical detective on the tail of two escaped prisoners who are forcing an ex-con gone straight and his wife to help them in a bank robbery. Ted de Corsia is the brains of the nasty outfit, a young Charles Bronson is the volatile brawn and a host of other gnarly faces of the time (including an even spacier than usual Timothy Carey) provide the backup. Needless to say, Hayden chews the scenery about as much as does the toothpick sticking out his mouth in place of the cigarettes the doctor has banned. There’s rarely been a more grizzled character actor so well suited to gritty street noir but he tempers that nicely here with a veiled compassion for the two victims at the centre of the tale. Relatively unknown at the time, Gene Nelson and Phyllis Kirk are genuinely excellent as that couple and provide the perfect platform to connect both sides of the law. Crane Wilbur’s hard bitten screenplay simply oozes class and funnelled as it is through de Toth’s focused momentum, it gives the movie a palpable energy. Choosing to shoot on location in LA, de Toth dresses his film in that priceless atmosphere that was an unfortunately rare feature of the majority of studio shot thrillers of the day. From the first person perspective of the daytime driving sequences to the fleeting shadows of the nighttime encounters, he turns Crime Wave into the cinéma vérité masterclass of the LA noir.
Rating: The Good – 95.7 Genre: Western Duration: 175 mins Director: Sergio Leone Stars: Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale
Sergio Leone’s meta-western was the first true revisionist western. The man with no name is not Clint but Bronson and he’s not as much a man as he is the embodiment of a dying breed of men and the western genre itself. The plot is inconsequential as it is merely a vehicle for Leone, Dario Argento, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Sergio Donati to anthologise and meta-analyse the genre, celebrate its glory, and lament what they saw as its inevitable demise. But what a vehicle it is. From the beginning of the first reel, Leone is reaching into our psyches, tantalising us with familiar shots and references to half-remembered images from the westerns of yesteryear. He scales the story both wide and narrow, subverting our expectations (“that was Henry Fonda right?”), deconstructing mythology, and employing the most audacious yet subtly appropriate use of metaphor in the history of the medium (he got up!). And all this ticks along to Ennio Morrincone’s spell-binding score, themed perfectly to the four main characters played memorably by Charles Bronson, Jason Robards, Henry Fonda, and Claudia Cardinale.
Rating: The Good – 65 Genre: Thriller, Action Duration: 100 mins Director: Michael Winner Stars: Charles Bronson, Jan-Michael Vincent, Keenan Wynn
Michael Winner popped up with the odd good movie and this gritty 70’s thriller starring Chuck Bronson as a sophisticated hit man was one of them. There are some nice action sequences and some cleverly conceived scenarios. Bronson is good and it stands as one of his more interesting roles. Even Jan-Michael Vincent scores well as the cocky and disturbed young buck whom the older pro agrees to mentor. The Mechanic is a dark movie with some interesting themes running through it. It also had an important if subtle influence on later movies such as The Eiger Sanction and indeed its more recent remake.
Rating: The Good – 80.9 Genre: War Duration: 172 mins Director: John Sturges Stars: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough
You know the story even if you haven’t seen it. A group of American and British POW’s particularly adept at escaping are sent to a high security prison camp in an effort to keep all the Nazi’s “rotten eggs in one basket”. Richard Attenborough plays the arch orchestrator of a plan to spring all 200 of the camps’ prisoners and is helped by various types of escape specialists including Steve McQueen (the Cooler King), Donald Pleasance (the Forger), Charles Bronson (the Tunnel King), and James Garner (the Scrounger). All do their part in making this as enjoyable a movie experience as you’ll find in the WWII genre but the most fun comes from the clever methods which the camp’s residents devise to execute their various escape plans. The Great Escape has long since ascended into the rarefied air of “classic cinema” and in truth it epitomises that term more than most.
Rating: The Good – 68.9 Genre: Thriller Duration: 103 mins Director: Don Siegel Screenplay: Peter Hyams, Stirling Silliphant, Walter Wager Stars: Charles Bronson, Lee Remick, Donald Pleasence
One of those cracking 70′s thrillers that got lost in the mist of time, Telefon tells a Manchurian Candidate like story about a rogue Russian operative (Donald Pleasence) who begins activating US based sleeper agents who have been conditioned years before to set in motion a series of attacks on military institutions. Charles Bronson stars as the agent who is sent to the US to track down and eliminate him. Telefon is based on an interesting and well realised premise benefiting from some solid direction, writing (Peter Hyams co-penned the script with Stirling Silliphant), and acting. Bronson is very well suited to the role and Siegel seems content to let his dead pan charisma to set the tone to his character’s pursuit of his man. Lee Remick does especially well as your typical sassy 70′s female sidekick and there’s an interesting chemistry between them that borders on that 70’s ‘nothing-is-what-it-seems’ vibe. Over all, Telefon is a highly entertaining watch and those with keen movie senses will enjoy spotting its influence on Tarantino’s more recent Death Proof.
Rating: The Good – 74.9 Genre: Western Duration: 128 mins Director: John Sturges Screenplay: William Roberts Stars: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Eli Wallach
A town of frightened peasants hire an eclectic band of gunslingers to ward off Eli Wallach’s nasty raiding party. Given the stature in which this film is held it has arguably been somewhat overrated. The brilliance of the story has obviously been lifted straight from Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai so there’s no credit due on that front and, if anything, some of the scenarios don’t make sense from the perspective of the old west. For example, the idea that James Coburn’s character is a Musashi type figure who’s only interested in the perfection of his art doesn’t sit right for a western gunslinger. However, despite some translation problems the film is deserving of much of its praise due to the great ensemble cast led by Yul Brynner’s magnetism and Steve McQueen’s showmanship. Elmer Bernstein’s score is epic and John Sturges’ direction certainly resulted in one of the most beautiful westerns ever shot. The final showdown doesn’t disappoint either although it holds little of the poignancy of its jidaigeki predecessor.
Rating: The Ugly – 63.8 Genre: Crime Duration: 103 mins Director: Richard Fleischer Screenplay: Elmore Leonard Stars: Charles Bronson, Linda Cristal, Al Lettieri
Richard Fleischer behind the camera, Charles Bronson in front of it, and Elmore Leonard penning the script. What could go wrong? Well it’s hard to say but what is for sure is Mr Majestyk really should’ve been a lot better. The acting is completely out of sync with the momentum of the movie and the dialogue often comes across as clunky because of it. That said, it’s a cracking little story of a gritty melon farmer, some local racketeers, and a dangerous hit-man out for revenge. Bronson plays the titular melon farmer and is responsible for most of the wooden acting but his presence just about makes up for it. Al Lettieri (Sollozzo from The Godfather) is suitably nasty as the hit-man and there are a host of vaguely familiar faces giving sub-par to average performances. The action and progression of the story are somewhat idiosyncratic but that only adds to this peculiar little film’s charm and the finale packs a tremendous punch.