Tag Archives: Charles Bronson

Telefon (1977)

telefon1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Spies hypnotized to kill.

Grigori (Charles Bronson) is a KGB agent ordered to investigate a rash of terrorist activities being done inside the US. All of the crimes are being committed by Russian sleeper agents who are hypnotized to carry-out acts via a call on a telephone where they are read a line from a Robert Frost poem, which  triggers them to act upon preordained instructions. The calls are made by a rogue agent named Nickolai Dalchimsky (Donald Pleasence) and it’s up to Grigori to stop him before it becomes an international incident. While in the US Grigori works with lady agent named Barbara (Lee Remick), who Grigori thinks is on his side, but she’s a double-agent ordered to kill Grigori once the mission is completed.

While Leonard Maltin in his review describes the plot, which is based on the novel of the same name by Walter Wager, as being ‘ingenious’ many others felt it was far-fetched. There actually has been one case in the history of crime, which occurred on March 29, 1951 in Copenhagen,  Denmark, where a man by the name of Palle Hardrup was apparently hypnotized by Schouw Nielsen to carry-out a bank robbery and this lead to two people getting killed. Both men were later convicted and the story was made into a 2018 movie called Murderous Trance. Since then though there has been no other cases on record of this type of thing occurring and many experts in the hypnotic field insist that it couldn’t making what transpires here highly speculative at best.

The issue of Grigori having a photographic memory and able to memorize the names and personal details of all the sleeper agents is questionable too. Many researchers say that this type of phenomenon is only temporary and cannot be retained over a long period. There are others that say the photographic memory is a myth altogether and like with the hypnosis angle, forces the viewer to complete shut off their skeptical side right from the get-go in order to have even a chance of enjoying the movie at all.

The only interesting aspect is Lee Remick and Bronson learning to deal with each other’s contrasting personalities, which makes great use of Chuck’s gruff and brash manner, but I felt Remick as an agent wasn’t believable. When she’s ordered to kill one of the sleeper agents inside a hospital by injecting him with a drug she gets quite nervous, but if she’s killed before, then I’d think it would be like second-nature to her and she’d be cool and calm under pressure. I also felt the film should’ve showed her fully carrying-out the killing instead of cutting away without ever seeing the actual injection.

I didn’t get why she would’ve fallen in love with Bronson as the two had nothing in common and really didn’t get along. The film seems to act off the theory that putting a man and woman together will automatically elicit romance and sexual tensions, but members of the opposite sex work together on jobs sometimes for many years where sex and romance never occurs, so having these two end up getting the hots for each other seemed forced and mechanical. Also, the fact that Remick is a double-agent and Bronson becomes aware of this would make me believe that he, being a professional spy, would never trust her enough to let down his guard to expose his softer side to begin with.

I was disappointed too that several scenes are supposed to take place in Texas, including the city of Houston, and yet ultimately all of  these get shot in either California, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Francisco, which was the same one used in High Anxiety, or on a studio sound stage. Yet there are plenty of other scenes that were shot on-location like New Mexico , Montana, and even Finland, so if they could make it to those places then why not to Texas too?

The climactic sequence, which takes place in a backwoods bar and features a humorous performance by Helen Page Camp, as the wife of the bar owner, gets wrapped-up in too tidy of a way and doesn’t take full advantage of Pleasence, who has been very creepy in his other villainous roles, but here doesn’t make much of an impression. While the film is entertaining on a non-think level it compares poorly to other movies in the spy genre and certainly does not come close to matching many of the better ones.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Don Siegel

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive)

Cabo Blanco (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Search for sunken treasure.

Giff (Charles Bronson) is an American living in the small fishing village of Cabo Blanco, Peru where he runs a cafe/bar just after the end of WW II. It is here that he becomes inadvertently embroiled for the search of sunken treasure somewhere off the coast where one searcher dies mysteriously while looking for it. Captain Terredo (Fernando Rey) the local police chief insists that the death was an accident, but Giff disagrees and becomes even more suspicious with the arrival of Marie (Dominique Sanda). Terredo almost immediately begins insisting she must leave the village at once convincing Giff that she must hold the secret.

For a film starring Charles Bronson this thing is incredibly tame and non-violent. His name became so synonymous with action movies during the 70’s that you’re expecting that there be at least some of it here, but outside of a half-minute where Chuck clobbers a would-be assassin there is very little of it. I was also presuming that since the storyline did have something to do with sunken treasure that the cast would be on or in the water for most of the runtime, but after the first 5 minutes it becomes completely land-locked.

Initially I thought putting Bronson inside an ensemble cast with performers like Jason Robards, who had a completely different acting style, would prove interesting, but the two don’t share a lot of screen time together and when they do are mostly adversarial. Chuck otherwise is his same old self, playing the one-dimensional character that he did all through the 70’s only here he stands out like a sore thumb as the supporting players give a more nuanced performance that he’s unable to do. He was also nearing 60 and having Sanda play the object of his desires looks like a grandfather coming onto his granddaughter. The youthful Simon MacCorkindale shows more energy and more up to physical demands, which should’ve made him the star.

Sanda’s presence helps especially with her beauty and a face that makes her appear like she was just 18 and for whatever reason looking younger here than she did in The Conformistwhich had been filmed 10 years earlier. I also enjoyed Denny Miller, best known for playing Tarzan as well as Tongo, the ape man on an episode of ‘Gilligan’s Island’. Here he’s one of Robard’s henchman complete with German accent and neo-nazi bowl haircut.

The film doesn’t start to get interesting until the very end when Bronson is forced to speak to a parrot in order to get a secret password that the bird was apparently trained to say. I also like the bit involving a jukebox that goes on the fritz, but otherwise there’s nothing inspiring or original and looks like it was written simply to cash-in on the big name stars. It’s almost worth checking out though simply for the location. While it wasn’t filmed in the real Cabo Blanco, but instead in Barra de Navidad, Mexico, it still has a very sunny, exotic look that gives off a soothing, relaxing feel, so forget the story and just take in the sights.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 23, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated R

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Mechanic (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hit man grooms apprentice.

Arthur Bishop (Charles Bronson) is a top assassin who is able to make his hits look like accidents. He works for a secret organization that assigns him people to kill and one day they tell him to kill Harry (Keenan Wynn) a man who at one time headed the organization. Arthur kills Harry by making it appear as if it were a heart attack and then becomes friends with Harry’s young but brazen son Steven (Jan-Michael Vincent). Steven harbors all the qualities that Arthur likes in an assassin so he decides to train him into the business, but this doesn’t go over well with the organization who assign both men to kill each other.

While I had a hard time believing that an old man who was Arthur’s first hit in the movie and who was so paranoid that he would look around before entering his apartment building, but then still recklessly keep the blinds on his windows wide open, which would allow somebody like Arthur to look straight into the apartment without any problem didn’t make much sense. The camera also has a point-of-view shot where we can see things from the victim’s perspective inside the apartment and you could clearly see Arthur looking at him through his binoculars from across the street making me think the man would’ve eventually notice him as well. However, I enjoyed how the film focuses more on the preparation for the hit and the meticulous attention to detail that it requires than the actual killings, which helps give the film and added dimension that other movies about hit men don’t since they dwell almost exclusively on the violence.

The action sequences aren’t bad and include a very exciting motorcycle chase that has a few lighthearted moments as they crash through a dinner party on the property of a rich man’s home. Even watching a yacht explode in the middle of a sea is cool because a real explosive on a real yacht are used versus computer effects like in today’s movies, which no matter how improved they become still look fake when compared to the real thing.

Bronson’s acting is good here mainly because the dialogue is limited and in fact the first 16 minutes feature no speaking at all, which for Bronson is a blessing. Even his wife Jill Ireland is enjoyable playing a prostitute in a scene that is brief but still quite fun. Vincent  is okay, but the part could’ve been stronger had it been played by a more versatile actor like Richard Dreyfus, who was the original choice, but director Michael Winner disliked him for personal reasons, so he was never hired.

The one area where the film fails is that it doesn’t stay true to Lewis John Carlino’s script, which had the two main characters originally being closet homosexuals, which would’ve given the film a fascinating and at the time ground breaking subtext while also helping to better explain why Arthur would take the risk of bringing Steve in on his secret profession. Unfortunately the studio couldn’t get the necessary funding it needed with the gay storyline and many actors who were offered the part originally like Cliff Robertson and George C. Scott refused to do it unless the gay angle was taken out, which is a shame as the two main characters come off as too one-dimensional otherwise.

This same story was remade in 2011 and while that version had better twists it still left out the gay angle and it would be nice if some studio at some point would take on the Carlino’s original script and film the story as it was intended.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 17, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Mr. Majestyk (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t touch his watermelons!

Vince Majestyk (Charles Bronson) is a Colorado watermelon farmer who gets into a conflict with Bobby (Paul Koslo) who wants to force Vince to use unskilled drunks to harvest his crop instead of migrant workers. When Vince successfully forces Bobby and his crew off of his property Bobby then goes to the police with assault charges, which lands Vince in jail. It is there that he comes into contact with Frank Renda (Al Lettieri) a notorious hit man. While the two are being transferred by bus to another prison Renda’s men attack it in a shootout, but when the driver is killed Vince takes control of the bus and drives it off into the Colorado wilderness. There he holds Renda hostage while trying to broker a deal with the police where he’ll ‘trade’ Renda for his freedom, but things don’t go quite as planned.

Many people don’t realize that during the ‘70s Bronson did quite a few offbeat films with St. Ives and From Noon Till Three being his two biggest, but this one comes in as an honorable mention. I’ve watched a lot of movies in my lifetime and can usually guess where they’re going, but this one kept me genuinely intrigued most of the way. The script is enlivened with its vivid on-location shooting done mostly in La Junta, Colorado, which includes a well-staged shootout done in the center of town as well as a car chase that takes advantage of an area with scenic rock formations.

The biggest surprise though is Bronson. Sometimes he comes off as stiff and wooden, but here he’s engaging and even reveals a playful side. His character also makes a few miscalculations, which helps him seem more human as opposed to the standard rugged good guy who is always able to think-on-his-feet and constantly able to achieve miraculous split-second decisions.

I was disappointed though with Al Lettieri. He was so effectively nasty in The Getaway that I didn’t think it could be topped or even attempted and yet just two years after that one he again gets cast in virtually the same type of role making it seem like typecasting to the extreme. I was hoping that he would expose a softer side to his persona at some unexpected moment, but it never occurs and he just proceeds to being one mean, angry s.o.b. which quickly becomes boring and one-dimensional.

Lee Purcell though is terrific as his girlfriend. She had played only rural, country girl types before this, so it was great seeing her portray someone more sophisticated and despite her young age, only 26 at the time, she shows great composure alongside her much older male co-stars. Her cool, collected manner makes for an intriguing contrast to Lettieri’s hyper one and should’ve been explored more.

Linda Cristal as Bronson’s love interest is less impressive. Playing a feisty Hispanic woman comes off almost like a cliché and their relationship is forced. She does come in handy as the getaway driver, which I feel is the only reason her character was put into the story to begin with.

Despite the unpredictable touches the beginning is quite contrived, which includes an opening title sequence better suited for a TV-show. The script was written by Elmore Leonard, which made it disappointing as I was expecting there to be some sort of subtext to it, but in the end it’s rather run-of-the-mill with the offbeat elements not enough to make it anything more than a transparent diversion.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 12, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Fleischer

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Vigilante battles drug dealers.

Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) is now living in L.A. and in a relationship with Karen (Kay Lenz) who has a teen daughter Erica (Dana Barron). Erica wants to become an architect like Paul and interns at his office, but she is also dating a boyfriend (Jesse Dabson) who is into drugs. His friendship with a drug dealer gets Erica to experiment with crack cocaine, which ends up killing her. In a rage Paul returns to his vigilante ways by killing the dealer, which then gets the attention of billionaire Nathan White (John P. Ryan) whose own daughter also died from a drug overdose. He recruits Paul into tracking down the biggest dealers in L.A. and killing them, but Paul eventually realizes that Nathan has ulterior motives.

This was the first film in the series not to be directed by Michael Winner and instead the duties were handed over to J. Lee Thompson who had worked with Bronson on several other projects previously. The script by Gail Morgan Hickman tries to take the vigilante theme in a new direction and starts out with a diverting dream sequence in which Paul sees himself as one of the victims that he shoots, which brought up a potentially intriguing subplot involving the psychological pressures one must assuredly develop when they’re constantly killing people even if it’s for ‘justice’, but the film then never goes back to it, which was disappointing.

The overall scenario, which transports Paul from dealing with ordinary street gangs to sophisticated crime families, does not work and fails to give the already tired series a new breath of life. It no longer even resembles a vigilant theme at all, but instead becomes more like an episode of ‘Miami Vice’ but without the trendy attire.

Paul is no longer just an ordinary guy with a gun either, but instead has become a sort-of James Bond incarnate who uses with all sorts of elaborate weaponry and gadgets better made for a seasoned CIA agent. He’s also able to get himself out of just about any nerve-wracking jam like when he miraculously fights off over 20 men in warehouse who are shooting at him, or magically getting himself out of a car that he is driving just seconds before it’s riddled with bullets.

Bronson looks more like he’s 45 instead of 67 and matching him up with a young girlfriend makes him appear more virile, but you know right from the start that it’s only a matter of time before she ends up dying violently. It starts to seem like Paul Kersey is a walking, talking curse as anyone who befriends him turns up dead or like the cinematic version of Jessica Fletcher.

I kept wondering when it would all start catching up with him. How can he continue to work a regular job while still spending so much time tracking down the bad guys? When does he sleep? And exactly how many people does he have to kill before the police eventually nab him, or quit allowing him to walk away from it without consequence?

Unlike the first three films this one fails to elicit any type of message or statement. It seems simply intent at being a profit making venture to cash in on those who like mindless shootouts and car explosions and nothing more.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: November 6, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Death Wish 3 (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Vigilante defends senior citizens.

Paul Kersey’s (Charles Bronson) vigilante act returns this time he goes back to New York City and defends the senior citizens in a neighborhood of his war buddy Charley (Francis Drake) who was killed by members of a street gang lead by Manny Fraker (Gavan O’ Herlihy).

The third entry in the series goes completely off-the-rails with a neighborhood setting resembling an apocalyptic world better suited for a surreal dystopian sci-fi film. The gang members behave like vile creatures straight out of somebody’s worst nightmare and look like leftover cast members from a cheesy version of The Warriors while the senior citizens seem ready to be ordained into sainthood.

After the first movie was released and met with criticism Bronson argued in interviews that his films did not promote violence and yet here that’s all you see. Not only does it brazenly promote vigilantism as being an effective deterrent to crime, but advocates that it’s the only option.

It also portrays the police in a horrible light. Yes, there are bad cops and films have every right to expose that, but there are some good ones too and this film never bothers to show that. All the viewer gets to see are brutal monsters dressed in uniform openly ignoring a suspect’s due process, or just being cowardly and inept when dealing with the real criminals. It got so bad that I was surprised that the police force nationwide didn’t boycott this flick in protest.

The only one looking like he’s having a good time is Bronson who actually appears relaxed and able to convey other emotions besides just anger. This is also the first film in the series where there is an actual clear reason for why the thugs hound him. For instance he drapes an expensive Nikon camera around his shoulder to entice the gang members to mug him and when they do he shoots them, which is the precise type of thing that should’ve been in the first two movies.

He also gets two unintentionally funny moments. One is where he is having a nice peaceful dinner with an older couple, but then excuses himself to shoot two men who are robbing his car before returning to his dinner like it was no big deal. Another scene has him getting out of his car to go grab something from a grocery store while leaving the attractive Kathryn (Deborah Raffin), who he has just started seeing, in the vehicle. While he is away the thugs break the passenger side window and knock Kathryn out before putting the car in neutral and letting it roll down the street and ultimately crashing into another car. Bronson runs down to initially save her, but once he sees the blaze he nonchalantly turns around and walks away almost like saying ‘Fuck, looks like that hot babe I wanted to date has just been burnt to a crisp. Guess now I’ll just have to find somebody else’.

The final 30 minutes is one of the most violent that I have ever seen in a film. It’s literally just one graphic image after another put to a rapid fire pace. Director Michael Winner seems compelled to throw in as many repugnant images of death, blood and rape that he can making it almost laughable in its audaciousness if it weren’t so nauseating instead.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 1, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Death Wish II (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Architect becomes vigilante again.

Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) has recovered from his traumatic loss of his family from 8 years earlier and is now living in L.A. where he continues his work as a successful architect. One day while taking his new girlfriend Geri (Jill Ireland) and cationic daughter Carol (Robin Sherwood) to a fairground he gets robbed of his wallet by a gang of 5 thugs (Thomas F. Duffy, E. Lamont Johnson, Kevin Major Howard, Laurence Fishburne, Stuart K. Robinson). They use the address on Paul’s driver license to find his home and invade it while he is away. There they rape and kill his maid (Silvana Gallardo) and then when Paul returns they knock him out while kidnapping his daughter who they take back to their ‘hideout’. While there they attempt to gang rape her and in her effort to escape she’s impaled on a fence and dies. This sets in motion for Paul to return as a vigilante this time prowling the underground neighborhoods of L.A. where he’s motivated to shoot each of the 5 gang members who participated in the crime.

The film is less like a sequel and more just a slight variation from the original. Having to go through yet another home invasion/rape sequence, which is almost shot-for-shot the exact same as in the first installment (if even more exploitive) is mechanical to the extreme and an insult to the viewer. It’s like a TV-station promising their audience a new episode of their favorite series only to end up showing them a rerun instead. The story should’ve evolved more perhaps having Paul now becoming a ‘professional vigilante’ and being hired by people to track down the killers of their loved ones or at least something that would’ve taken the theme in a slightly different angle.

There continues to be the issue, like in the first film, of why does Chuck constantly get marked by these hoodlums for harassment anyways. For instance at the fairground there’s many other people milling  around and yet for some reason it’s Bronson, this very nondescript middle-aged man, that becomes their target.

The recasting of the daughter role is another problem. In the first film she was played by Kathleen Tolan and portrayed as being an adult married woman. Here though the character has regressed back to being a teenager and looking to be no older than 18 if even that.

To some degree on a sleazy B-level it actually hits-the-spot the soundtrack is done by former Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and it is perfect especially the strained, loud electric guitar chords that effectively reflect the film’s dark, grimy mood. Most of the locales were filmed in actual buildings that were abandoned and in crime-ridden areas forcing the cast to require 20 off-duty police guards for protection. There’s even a scene featuring large squealing rats roaming around at the character’s feet as they say their lines.

The fact that Paul hunts down the actual perpetrators of the crime is on an emotional level satisfying, but it also becomes a logistical problem as it’s just not believable that he’d be able to find them all at random times, one-by-one simply by going to the city’s ‘bad areas’. I was also flabbergasted that in a later scene when Paul returns home from shopping and after dealing with his home being invaded now twice by crooks he doesn’t bother to lock the door once he gets inside, which you would think would be the first thing done each and every time!

The one interesting aspect that could’ve helped the film stand-out was the reintroducing of Vincent Gardenia who played the NYC police chief Frank Ochoa who tracked down Kersey in the first film and does the same here, but not to  arrest him, but instead to kill him. This could’ve created more tension had it been played out effectively as Kersey would constantly have to watch his back for an attack while simultaneously attacking the thugs when he came upon them. Unfortunately this side-story dies before it gets going when Ochoa gets kill just as he decides to help Kersey, which in itself could’ve been an intriguing odd couple-like pairing.

The ending  jumps-the-shark by having Kersey disguise himself as a doctor so that he can infiltrate a mental hospital in order to kill the last of the thugs who now resides there. This segment though becomes more like a scene from one those cheap horror movies with an asylum setting and not like an action flick at all.

The credibility gets seriously strained too by having Kersey constantly coming into contact with regular citizens who always conveniently side with him when it is most needed and thus helping him escape the clutches of the authorities. Sure this might happen every once in a while, but eventually he would confront someone who sees things differently, which all helps to make this film too dumb to take seriously, but slick enough to appease those looking for nothing more than simple-minded action.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 19, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Filmways

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Death Wish (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Architect becomes a vigilante.

In connection with the Eli Roth/Bruce Willis reboot that is set to be released to theaters this Friday I thought now would be a good time to go back and take a look at the original. The story centers on Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) who works as an architect and lives a comfortable life with his wife Joanna (Hope Lange) and adult daughter Carol (Kathleen Tolan). One day while he is at work his New York apartment gets invaded by three thugs (Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Logan, Gregory Rozakis) who kill his wife and rape his daughter. Paul becomes outraged that the police can’t seem to make any headway on the case and decides to take matters into his own hands by becoming a self-styled vigilante shooting random thugs on the street late at night, which in turn has him becoming a cult hero to the many residents of the crime ridden city.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Brian Garfield. Garfield was inspired to write the story after his car got vandalized. He initially fantasized about tracking down the criminals and killing them before eventually speculating what would happen if someone actually went through with these feelings and decided to take the law into their own hands. The main difference between the novel and film is that in the book the vigilantism becomes more of the problem while in the movie it’s considered the solution.

Many critics at the time gave the film unfavorable reviews as they felt it advocated violence, but I found the movie to have a certain uplifting quality. While the message is certainly simplistic and one-sided it still nicely conveys the idea that ordinary citizens can make a difference and it is up to us, the American public, to foster change and not to simply leave it up to someone else. The film doesn’t completely promote violence as the solution either as there is one scene where an old lady (Helen Martin) scares off her attacker simply by using her hat pin.

The problem that I had with it was why does Bronson constantly get harassed by these thugs in the first place? Whether he is at a restaurant or on the subway the bad guys constantly hone in on him for no apparent reason even when there’s plenty of other people around. In the book it made more sense because the title character would intentionally set traps for the thugs like abandoning his car and putting an ‘out of gas’ sign on it, so the criminals would try to rob the vehicle and then when they did he’d shoot them. Of course this would make the character’s motives more questionable, which the film wanted to avoid, but in the process it becomes less believable.

While this has become Bronson’s signature role it still would’ve worked better had a less brawny actor played the part. In the book the character is a meek accountant and someone like Jack Lemmon, who was originally considered for the role, would’ve been a more authentic fit. Bronson’s image is so entrenched as a ‘tough guy’ that his presence here seems like just another of his action themed vehicles. Chuck should’ve also not known how to use a gun right away either and maybe even been initially clumsy with it as it would’ve made the character arch from peaceful novice to sharp shooting vigilante stronger.

I liked Michael Winner’s directing particularly the way he shot the interiors of the apartments and his grimy portrayal of the urban New York setting that perfectly played-up the city’s crime ridden paranoia at the time. This is also a great chance to see some young performers before they were famous including Christopher Guest as a patrolman. I also found it amusing that Paul Dooley and Vincent Gardenia share a brief scene together as they both went on to play the dad character in Breaking Away. Dooley portrayed him in the movie version while Gardenia played the part in the short live TV-series.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 24, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Stone Killer (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Tough cop is relentless.

Lou Torrey (Charles Bronson) is an old-school cop baffled by a rash of homicides that initially seem like random hits, but really aren’t. As Lou investigates further he uncovers a plot orchestrated by a Mafia Don (Martin Balsam) to use a group of Vietnam Vets to avenge the death of some Mafia families 42 years earlier.

Director Michael Winner, during his later directing projects, became synonymous with stale, cardboard B-pictures and after the year 2000 he dropped out of the movie business completely and became a celebrity food critic in the UK writing in a weekly newspaper column called Winner’s Dinners. Here though he shows signs of being a young talent on the rise looking to make his cinematic mark. He captures the lesser seen areas of L.A. with a flair and the shot selection has style that manages to seamlessly connect the film between its talky moments and action.

Bronson though can’t really act as his facial expressions rarely change and he says his lines in an unemotional way making him seem almost like a computer, but his hard-headed personality in real-life carries over to the big screen making him a perfect fit personality-wise to the character. John Ritter is good as a young cop caught making a lot of rookie mistakes. It’s also interesting seeing Stuart Margolin here as he has an important sequence in the desert, which connects with his appearance  in another Bronson hit Death Wish that also had him in the sandy landscape.

The story, which is based on a novel by John Gardner entitled ‘A Complete State of Death’ comes off as flimsy and just an excuse to tie-in a lot of loosely related action sequences. The plot is hard-to-believe and the villain is more like a caricature and barely seen.

There’s some enjoyable moments including Bronson’ relentless chase in a car of a police suspect, played by Paul Koslo, who tries to evade him by tearing through the city streets on a motorbike. Watching Chuck drive through park tables with people trying jump out of the way,  going into oncoming traffic and even storefront windows is impressive on the surface, but ultimately makes the character come-off badly. In real-life a cop barreling his vehicle through areas with so much foot traffic would make him irresponsible and a menace to society as he puts too many people in direct danger simply for his pursuit of one person.  In most cases there would’ve been casualties and Bronson’s character could’ve easily been fired or sued.

The mass assassination of all the Mafia Dons has pizazz, but ultimately it’s just one giant marketing ploy as it borrows many elements from other hit movies of that time including Dirty Harry and The Godfather then blends it together with over-the-top action and a farfetched plot.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Blu-ray

Messenger of Death (1988)

messenger of death 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chuck visits Mormon country.

Three young mothers and their children are shot to death in their home. The police suspect it may have something to do with their religious affiliation, but Denver journalist Garret Smith (Charles Bronson) thinks it’s the water company that is behind it, but as the investigation continues and with the help of fellow journalist Jastra (Trish Van Devere) the identity of who it really is surprises everyone.

The movie is unsettling from the beginning as we witness the brutal murders, which sets things at a downbeat tone. However, it also gets the viewer emotional jarred enough to want to see the killer brought to justice. The mystery is intricate for the most part and keeps you intrigued although by the end I had pretty much figured it out.

For a Bronson flick the action is minimal. There is one big shootout, but it doesn’t last long. The film’s best and most exciting sequence is when two big semi-trucks get on either side of the jeep that Garret and Jastra (Trish Van Devere) are riding in and try crushing it as it moves down the road. The scene is vivid, but suffers from the issue where neither occupant is wearing seatbelts and the vehicle does not have airbags and turns over on itself three times, which would most assuredly kill or permanently injure anyone inside and yet the two are able to miraculously get out without even a scratch.

Bronson does not carry a gun here and he has always had one in so many of his other movies that seeing without one makes him look almost naked. For an ordinary 60-something journalist his fighting skills seem too impressive. I was willing to buy into his ability to fight off a much younger professional hitman one time by using some quick thinking, but then to be able to do it again to the same person later on and give him a severe beating in the process seemed too farfetched.

Veteran character actor Jeff Corey as a fiery preacher is good in support as well as John Ireland who plays his brother. During the mid-80’s Ireland once put a full page add in Variety begging for work, so it’s good to see that those efforts paid off with his appearance here.

To-date this marks Van Devere’s last theatrical project and neither her character nor her performance adds much, but it was still nice to see a man and woman work together and not have it automatically turn sexual or into a relationship. Marilyn Hassett plays Bronson’s wife, but she was 26 years younger than him, which makes seeing them together look a bit weird.

Gene Davis who gave a terrible performance as a serial killer in an earlier Bronson flick portrays one of the hit-men. Fortunately his screen-time is contained, so his limited acting skills don’t ruin the whole picture. The way he dies made me chuckle a little as he gets stabbed while standing at a urinal and yet when he turns around his you-know-what isn’t hanging out even though I thought it probably should’ve been.

The climactic moment where the person behind the murders gets ‘unmasked’ is a little too ‘Hollywood’ and doesn’t pack the punch that a film like this needed and thus gives this already average action flick a slightly below average rating.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 16, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Studio: The Cannon Group

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video