Tag Archives: Charles Bronson

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)

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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

10 to Midnight (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer in the nude.

Warren Stacy (Gene Davis) has little luck with women and kills those who have previously rejected his advances and does so while being completely in the nude. Leo Kessler (Charles Bronson) is the cop on his case, but doesn’t have enough evidence to arrest him, so he decides to steal some of the blood sample from Warren’s latest victim, which is being stored at the police lab and is the very rare AB type and plant it on Warren’s clothing when he is not in his apartment. Warren is then brought in for questioning and when police find the clothing and blood evidence he is arrested, but Leo eventually admits to planting the evidence and is fired. The incensed Warren decides to get his revenge by going after Leo’s grown daughter Laurie (Lisa Eilbacher) and it is up to Leo to try and stop him before it is too late.

The film has an interesting twist to the Dirty Harry police-type dramas that too many times were solely focused on the renegade cop doing whatever it takes to bring in the bad guy no matter how many rules he broke in the process. However, this film nicely explores to an extent the reason for due process and how an overzealous cop can sometimes be more of the problem than the solution. Unfortunately it is not enough to save it as the majority of the movie is too routine and mechanical.

The action segments are unexciting and poorly directed. The scene where one of Warren’s victims just stands there whimpering while making no attempt to struggle and fight back seems artificial and dull. The final foot chase between Warren and Laurie looks staged and photographed in a way that offers no tension.

Davis is boring as the villain and has a deer-in-headlights look. His body movements are stiff and robotic and he delivers his lines in a monotone fashion. His pretty-boy male model face adds nothing and his nude scenes, which are shown only from the back does not add the spark that was intended. A good thriller needs a bad-guy actor that commands the screen, but Davis doesn’t even come close and makes Bronson who isn’t considered all that strong of an actor to begin with look brilliant by comparison. This film could have been much stronger had an established and talented character actor been given the role like John Malkovich or John Turturro.

Andrew Stevens is adequate as Leo’s young by-the-book partner, but Eilbacher is quite dull. Wilford Brimley adds some personality as an investigator, but is underused and Geoffrey Lewis scores a few points as Steven’s conniving lawyer.

There is a scene where Leo and Andrew are driving along and having a conversation inside an unmarked squad car that brought to mind one of my biggest pet peeves, which are characters in movies never wearing their seatbelts. I have always worn mine whether I am in my car or someone else’s and of course these days it is the law, but it seems almost insane that police characters wouldn’t especially since they could be careening down the street at high speeds at any second if they are suddenly dispatched to a crime scene. Having them not wear seatbelts does not make them look anymore macho and instead makes them come off as stupid and reckless.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 11, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated R

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Murphy’s Law (1986)

murphys law

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Psycho frames arresting cop.

Jack Murphy (Charles Bronson) is an aging cop who drinks too much and has lost a bit of an edge as he even ends up getting taken advantage of in embarrassing fashion by a young female carjacker named Arabella (Kathleen Wilhoite). Now he is being stalked by Joan Freeman (Carrie Snodgress) a criminal he put into jail ten years ago, but is now free and out for revenge. When she frames him for the murder of his ex-wife Jan (Angel Tompkins) he goes on the run. The problem is that he is now handcuffed to that same gal he arrested for carjacking and not only is there a big difference in their ages, but they also can’t agree on anything nor get along.

This is a fun and lively action flick that manages to put a new spin on the Bronson formula. The pairing of Chuck with a young actress is great and the main reason this is so diverting although the idea of having female psychotic wasn’t bad either. The action is pretty good including a nifty chase inside an airport as well as the exciting climactic sequence filmed inside the famous Bradbury Building that takes full advantage of the building’s multi-level balconies in its central atrium.

Wilhoite is peppy and engaging and seems to have no problem holding her own with a much older and more established actor. The wide variety of insulting adjectives that she uses on everyone and anybody is fun although it ends up getting a bit overplayed.

Bronson looks tired and washed-up, but it works great with his character and I thought this was one of his best latter career performances and when he needs to he can still kick-some-ass which is also fun. My only complaint is the character’s tendency to somehow ‘humiliate’ certain people by implying that they are gay which makes him seem homophobic and the film dated and out-of-touch.

Snodgress is excellent in a rare turn for her as a heavy. The age lines on her plain, but still uniquely attractive face has a certain odd sexual appeal especially as the blood of her victim’s splatters across it. The only issue I had with her character is that she enters one of her victim’s homes without a weapon of her own and instead uses the victim’s own rifle which is hanging on the wall to shoot him and although she is shown loading it with bullets that she apparently brought along my question would be how would she know they were the right bullets for that type of gun especially since she had never been to that place before?

Richard Romanus plays Frank Vincenzo another one of Jack’s nemesis and I got a kick out of his sobbing when Jack plays a game of Russian roulette with him. The character is also unique in that he wears a very visible hearing aid, which is interesting to one extent, but it never comes into play so I wasn’t sure why it was put in.

Despite some interesting variations it still ends up being rather one-dimensional and mechanical. It is entertaining to watch, but nothing memorable. Bronson’s wife Jill Ireland does not appear here, but gets listed as the film’s co-producer.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 18, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated R

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Studio: The Cannon Group

Available: VHS, DVD

Death Hunt (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Running for his life.

Last year during January we reviewed films Charles Bronson did during the 70’s, so this year we will look at some of the ones he did in the 80’s. This one is based on the true story of Albert Johnson who was a fugitive that sparked one of the largest manhunts in Canadian history.

Bronson plays Johnson a loner who lives by himself in an isolated cabin situated in the corner regions of the Northwest Territories and Yukon. He comes upon a vicious dog fight that has been orchestrated by some of the local men. Feeling sorry for the bloodied animal he tells the dog’s owner Hazel (Ed Lauter) that he will buy the animal, but Hazel refuses and Johnson ends up giving him he money and taking the animal anyways. Outraged Hazel goes to the local sheriff Millen (Lee Marvin) telling him that Johnson ‘stole’ his animal, but Millen knowing that Hazel was part of an illegal dogfight does nothing about it, so Hazel gets some men together to form a posse. A shootout ensues at Johnson’s cabin and when one of the men gets killed a reluctant Millen is forced to go after Johnson who goes on the run in the frozen, snow covered rugged mountains.

The film is an exciting high-grade adventure from the very start. The tension mounts perfectly and Jerrold Immel’s pounding orchestral score keeps the pace going. Director Peter Hunt mounts some great action sequences including the shootout and standoff at the cabin and also a heart-stopping moment where Johnson jumps off a steep cliff and onto a tall pine tree. The character’s ragged personalities perfectly reflect the raw climate and the internal bickering that goes on amongst the men as the chase Johnson creates an interesting subtext.

The film was shot in Northern Alberta, which is good because it gives the viewer a taste of the cold climate. The aerial footage of the mountainous landscape shown over the opening credits is breathtaking. However, it was clearly not filmed in the dead-of-winter as the sun was too high in the sky and although there was snow it was obviously thawing thus making the moments were the men complain about the bitter cold not ring quite as true.

Marvin is excellent and pretty much takes over the film. He looks older and tired here, but it works with the character that seems to be coasting and uninterested in getting involved with anything. Having both the main characters likable and relatable makes the chase more captivating and psychological complex from both ends.

Bronson is good in a role that takes advantage of his stoic nature although he only gets shown intermittently and it is Marvin who gets the most screen time and the best lines. I liked the character’s relentless will to survive and ability to adapt to the circumstances, but I wanted some explanation for how he was able to survive inside his cabin when it gets exploded with dynamite, but unfortunately one never comes.

Angie Dickinson who was 50 at the time and looked to have had a facelift and some work around her eyes is wasted in a completely pointless and forgettable part. Andrew Stevens who has proved effective in bad-guy roles plays a very clean-cut, rule-oriented Mountie here and does okay. Durable character actor Henry Beckman has a great small role as a shifty trapper who sits-in-the-shadows only to come out and get involved at the most surprising moments.

The film takes a lot of liberties with the true-life incident and was highly criticized at the time for being too ‘Hollywoodnized’, but it succeeds at being entertaining although I thought it would have been appropriate to have some denouncement at the end.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Hunt

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray

Breakout (1975)

breakout

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Escape from Mexican jail.

Loosely based on the actual 1971 incident involving Joel David Kaplan, who after being framed for murder and stuck inside a Mexican prison for 9 years, was able to escape when his sister hired a pilot to fly a helicopter into the prison yard and allow Kaplan to jump into it and flee. In this movie Jay Wagner (Robert Duvall) is the Kaplan character and Nick Colton (Charles Bronson) is the goofy, but lovable pilot.

Veteran director Tom Gries delivers a compact action pic that has a good mix of humor and excitement. The comedy is not forced and genuinely engaging, but once the action gets going it is entertaining as well. When the helicopter starts flying into the prison with 30 minutes left in the movie I found myself completely riveted. Gries photographs the action in a way that makes the viewer feel like they are inside the helicopter alongside Bronson. The stunts are authentic and done on-location, which is a big plus. One scene involving a man getting sliced up by an airplane propeller is surprisingly explicit and should make anyone wince when they see it.

My only quibble in the direction department is the opening where a man is shown being shot to death while Gries freezes the frame every few seconds as the victim falls down, which came off as being disjointed and distracting. There is also a shot of the dead body lying on the ground with blood stains on his white shirt. However, there are no bullet holes in his shirt and you really can’t have blood coming out of someone’s body unless you have bullet holes and if you have them piercing the skin you most likely would have them piercing the shirt, but none were found in the shot I saw.

Bronson is highly engaging and steals every scene that he is in. I was surprised how comfortable he was in a comedic role and it made me wish he had taken more stabs at comedy in his career. My favorite moment with him is his nervous, anxiety-ridden expression on his face when he tries to pilot a helicopter and finds that it is much more complicated than he realized. The running gag of him trying to pass off a bad check is also good.

Jill Ireland who plays the wife of the Duvall character and is the one who hires Nick for the job is also enjoyable. She is almost as amusing as Bronson especially with the way she becomes increasingly exasperated by the situation. The two seem to work better when they are adversarial and you could never tell that in real life they were husband and wife.

Sheree North is also great in a small supporting role. Although she was already in her 40’s when she did the part she still looks sexy in a full body shot of her in some really, really short shorts. Her very politically incorrect rape conversation that she has with Nick is good.

Duvall is wasted in a part that doesn’t allow for much range and limited screen time. I’m actually surprised that he even took the part. However, his hair style, and I’m not sure if it was a wig, or just a really good comb-over, but it completely covers up his normally bald head and makes him look twenty years younger.

Randy Quaid seems equally underused, but having the chance at seeing him in drag may make his appearance here worth it to some.

I didn’t like the part where Duvall gets buried alive while inside a coffin in his attempt to escape as it is too reminiscent of a classic Alfred Hitchcock episode entitled ‘Final Escape’, which is better and shouldn’t be touched. However, as a whole, this is a good 95 minutes of enjoyable non-think entertainment.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Tom Gries

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Rider on the Rain (1970)

rider on the rain

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chuck is in control. 

Supposedly the inspiration of The Doors song ‘Riders on the Storm’ this stylish mystery deals with Mela (Marlene Jobert) a beautiful young woman who finds herself being stalked by a strange bald headed man carrying a mysterious red bag. He follows her to her home where he then rapes her. She manages to get her hands on one of her husband’s rifles and shoots the man dead. She throws his dead body over a cliff and into the sea where she thinks that will be the end of it, but then an American by the name of Harry Dobbs (Charles Bronson) shows up who seems to know all about it and will not leave Mela alone until she confesses to the whole thing.

Director Rene Clement is a master at his craft. Every shot and scene has an evocatively stylish flair particularly at the beginning. The lighting, camera work, editing, and moody score by Francis Lai are first rate and help grab the viewer in right away and keep them hooked. There are strong shades of Hitchcock, but like with Hitch the performers become nothing more than pawns to the director’s vision. The actors seem a bit stifled and unable to create any nuance to their characters. Everything is done to propel the story, which is fine, but sometimes expanding the scenes to allow the actor’s to expound more gives a film a fresh and natural flow, which is lacking here. The rape sequence relies almost completely on the breathing sounds of Mela and some interesting edits, which I felt was good, but it could have been even more provocative and cutting edge had this part been extended and a little more graphic.

While the script by Sebastien Japrisot is full of intriguing twists and nicely complex the middle part dealing with Harry’s seemingly unending interrogation of Mela goes on much too long and bogs things down. I would have liked to have seen a little more variation of their roles where at times Mela would get the upper-hand, but for the most part Harry remains in complete control and Mela is dominated and confused throughout, which isn’t as interesting.

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Jobert is sexy and adds a definite sparkle to the film. Normally I prefer women with long hair, but her short cut gives her a youthful appeal. Her blue emerald-like eyes make a great contrast to her reddish hair and her freckles helps accentuate the youthful and naïve quality of the character. Her husband Tony played by Gabriele Tinti, has the chiseled boyish looks of a male model with a pair of baby blue eyes that is almost as stunning as Marlene’s making this couple enjoyable to watch for their looks alone for both male and female viewers.

Bronson is at his tough guy best. He takes on seven men in a room and kicks their ass without breaking a sweat. Unfortunately that is all the action that there is and there needed to be more of it. Jill Ireland appears briefly as a character that has little to do with the plot, but looks gorgeous nonetheless.

The film’s final plot twist is rather boring and the conclusion is weak and non-eventful. Mystery fans may enjoy the film’s winding story, but Bronson enthusiasts will be disappointed at the film’s lack of action.

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: January 21, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rated R

Director: Rene Clement

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD

From Noon Till Three (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: This western gets weird.

Graham (Charles Bronson) is a part of a four member bank robbing gang on their way to another hold-up. Before they get there Graham’s horse gets injured and has to be shot. Later on they come upon an isolated mansion sitting all alone in the rolling hills of the west. The gang asks the woman owner Amanda (Jill Ireland) if she has a horse for sale. She says no despite the fact that she does, so Graham stays with her while the other three rides off to rob the bank and assures them they will be back with the money at three. During this time Graham and Amanda fall in-love and when three o’clock hits everything goes off-kilter featuring one wild twist after another in this highly unusual one-of-a-kind western.

This film is so offbeat it is hard to describe any of the twists without giving too much away however, after a rather slow start it does become entertaining in a quirky sort of way and filled with amusingly ironic twists. Writer/director Frank D. Gilroy seems to be challenging himself at coming up with one weird plot device after another and keeping the viewer off balance throughout. While this is basically fun it does end up making it more like a gimmick than an actual plot driven, character motivated movie. Categorizing this more as a fable or fairy tale might be more accurate and Elmer Bernstein’s playful, lighthearted score helps cement this.

Bronson is amazingly game for the offbeat material that goes completely against his persona. The change of pace is refreshing and although the part does not call for any great acting range he is still quite engaging and endearing. The part where he talks to Amanda about his inability to ‘get it up’ and the erectile dysfunction that he has suffered from for the past seven years is priceless as is the scene where years later when he meets Amanda again and he unzips his pants and takes out is shriveled penis to show her in order for her to recognize him.

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Ireland is good and I loved the variety of dresses that she wears and hairstyle that is put up into a bun. This may be her best performance of her career and certainly the best one that she did with Chuck. She actually becomes the star of the story and even ends up with more screen time than him. As an added treat she sings the film’s closing song over the credits, which she does quite well.

I loved the image of this big mansion all alone in an otherwise stark and barren landscape, which has definite shades of Days of Heaven to it. I was interested in knowing if this was an actual house and where it was located, but the closing credits stated that the entire production was filmed at the Warner Brothers studios in Burbank California making it pretty clear that the home was just a prop built for the movie and most likely torn down after filming, which is a shame.

It is clear visually that Gilroy’s background was more in the writing end than in directing. While the story is full of unbridled wackiness the camera angles, editing, and staging is dull. There is also an opening segment where the men ride up on horseback to the bank and sky is completely cloudy. Then as the camera cuts to show them getting off their horses the sky is now suddenly sunny without a cloud in it. I realize most scenes are not shot in synchronized order and it is hard when filming outdoors to make the weather cooperate, so I am usually forgiving in this area, but this did seem extreme.

If you are in the mood for something different this novelty may do the trick and Bronson fans will be interested in seeing their favorite star in a more lighthearted type of role. The movie also makes a great statement at how the legend can sometimes overshadow the reality and at how people will sometimes perceive things the way they want to see them as opposed to the way they really are.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Frank D. Gilroy

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Cold Sweat (1970)

cold sweat

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chuck won’t be intimidated.

Joe Martin (Charles Bronson) is a man living with a past. Ten years earlier he was part of a prison break led by corrupt Captain Ross (James Mason). Joe was selected as the getaway driver, but after he witnesses one of them kill a police man he decides to drive off with the car and strand the others. Now he is living the quiet life in the south of France with his new wife Fabienne (Liv Ullmann) and her daughter Michele (Yannick Delulle), but as he starts to settle into his new lifestyle he finds that the old gang has tracked him down. They want him to be the boat driver in a drug deal they have planned and they won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Fabienne and her daughter Michele are brought along for collateral, but Joe has a trick up his sleeve and instead kidnaps Ross’s girlfriend Moira (Jill Ireland) and puts her in an isolated cabin and when all parties converge onto the place is when the tensions and action boils over.

This is a simple film with the most basic of storylines. The characterizations are standard with no gray areas in-between. The good guys are really good and the bad guys really bad and nothing is ever nebulous as the tried and true formula gets followed from beginning to end. However, I liked it. Sometimes it is nice to have a film that isn’t trying to reinvent the genre and does things in a compact, crackling non-think style where the viewer can sit back and enjoy an old fashioned white knuckler without having to be challenged. After a slightly awkward start the film begins to roll and then never lets up. Chuck puts his gruff, stoic caricature to the hilt here helping propel the viewer emotionally into the action as he finds increasingly novel ways to overpower the baddies just as the odds look stacked against him.

Having him married to Ullmann was offbeat casting, but it works. Ullmann who has quite possibly one of the most expressive faces in all of cinema seems game for the proceedings. It was nice seeing her in something different than a brooding Ingmar Bergman drama. She gets right into the fray and becomes an integral part of the story and succeeds quite well.

The always reliable and many times brilliant Mason sports an American accent and its fun. He also takes part in a great death scene that gets amazingly prolonged until his increasingly pale complexion becomes genuinely disturbing.

Ireland shows flair as a jaded hippie type. Her and Chuck’s sparring clicks and casting the real-life couple as characters with animosity for the other is cute. I just wished that director Terence Young had played it up more and given Ireland more screen time.

Having the second half of the film take place almost exclusively at an isolated locale gives the picture added personality, but what impressed me the most was the action. In particular was a car chase along the long, winding French roads. I know the car chases in Bullitt and The French Connection get the honors for having the best and most famous chase sequences, but the one here comes amazingly close. I found myself turning uncomfortably in my seat as Chuck’s car travels each curve at high speeds and when he takes the auto off the road and onto the rugged terrain I was out of breath. The foot chase between Fabienne and her daughter and one of the lone gunmen along the ragged, rocky landscape is equally exciting and well captured at different angles.

This one is sure to please Bronson fans as it has all the ingredients his films are known for. My only complaint is with the DVD transfer available on Amazon Instant. Normally I love the way Amazon has made available films that are hard or even impossible to find and most of the time picture quality is decent to good, but here it looks like someone’s old home movie with a color that is faded and at certain spots completely washed out. It also very grainy and looks like it was taken from an old film stock, or lost VHS tape. The less than ideal presentation unfairly taints what is otherwise a solid production that deserves a much better looking reissue.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Terence Young

Studio: Fair Film

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Someone Behind the Door (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chuck has no memory.

This review will kick-off a two month long tribute to movies done in the 70’s by Charles Bronson with his wife Jill Ireland. Each Friday I will review one of their films, which will run through April. The only ones that will not be reviewed during this stretch are Love and Bullets, which was already done during our January tribute to Rod Steiger and The Mechanic and Hard Times, which will be done at a later time.

This film is one of the more unusual ones that they did and although not completely successful may still interest Bronson fans simply for a chance at seeing him in an offbeat part. The story concerns neurosurgeon Laurence Jeffries (Anthony Perkins) who takes in a man (Charles Bronson) who has lost his memory and has no idea who he is. Laurence decides to exploit this issue by brainwashing the man into thinking that Laurence’s cheating wife Frances (Jill Ireland) is actually his own and to take action by killing the woman’s lover (Henri Garcin).

The film has a great idea, but the set-up is much too rushed. We are given no backstory to any of the characters. The film opens with Laurence leaving his hospital job and by chance bumping into the man and taking him home before we even know what his motive or plan is. I also found it a bit perplexing that the Dr. character is supposedly conniving and crafty and yet he brings a man into his house while his wife is there sleeping in another room as well as their maid downstairs, which seemed reckless. When his wife awakens the next day and tries to go into the room where the stranger is Laurence panics, but I felt he should have been aware of that potentially happening from the very beginning. He also dictates his plans into a tape recorder, which seemed like prime material to be used for evidence later on.

The psychological side of the story is shallow and transparent. The way Laurence tricks the man into doing his evil bidding was too easy. I realize that the man has lost his memory, but it seems like he has lost his entire brain as well. The character is too child-like and gullible. I also thought that if the man cannot remember his wife and doesn’t know her from anyone else then why would he care if she is fooling around with someone, or get so over-the-top angry about it.

Bronson can be perfect in certain roles, but this is not one of them. Yes, he has a certain likable quality here simply because he plays such a vulnerable and trusting wide-eyed innocent, but the angry emotions that he displays are too rehearsed and over-acted.

Ireland on the other hand is attractive and alluring and comes off well though her part is minimal.  The nude photograph of her lying on a sofa that is shown in close-up is sexy.

The film has very little action especially for a Bronson vehicle though the part where the Bronson character sexually attacks Ireland and then the film intercuts this with him simultaneously attacking another woman on a lonely beach is interesting. The ending though is pathetic as it leaves everything wide-open while resolving nothing. The sequence where the camera cuts quickly back and forth between Perkin’s face and then Ireland’s, which is shown continuously over the closing credits is irritating and almost like the filmmaker’s wanted to drive the viewer as crazy as the kooky characters.

With that said I still found the film to be entertaining most of the way. The idea is a fascinating one and it kept me guessing throughout. Director Nicholas Gessner does an adequate job of taking advantage of the gray countryside to create a nice moody feel. A definite mixed bag.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 28, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Nicholas Gessner

Studio: Lira Films

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video