Archive for Charles Bronson

Hamburger Hill

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2014 by dcairns

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When I first began to read film reviews regularly, back in the eighties (gasp), a puzzlement was the high regard that (male) British critics had for figures like Clint Eastwood, John Milius and Walter Hill. A puzzlement because (a) the films didn’t seem to me to be that good and (b) the macho, what we would now call libertarian ethos (Hill & Milius I think called themselves right-wing anarchists) seemed like it would probably contrast fairly strongly with the politics and personalities of newsprint critics writing for The Guardian or The Independent or even The Sunday Times.

Allowing for simple variations in taste and that maybe I was just missing something, there could wel be a sort of nostalgia for the man’s-man drectors of the forties and fifties, who made some really excellent films, on which those critics were weaned. So maybe, if you’re starved on Ford and Hawks in the current releases, you would be more inclined to embrace Milius and Hill as the best available substitutes. But if the films are RED DAWN and EXTREME PREJUDICE, isn’t it a rather unsatisfying feast?

But having recently been blown away by DILLINGER, I get a better sense of the redeeming qualities of these gruff, cigar-chomping sociopath types. And Hill’s HARD TIMES, though not in the same league, is not bad. Handsome damn film, in fact.

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Maybe there’s a weakness in the ending – basically bare-knuckle fighter Charles Bronson never loses a fight in the whole movie, which does eat away at the sense of jeopardy. Still, I felt undeniable tension at times. Maybe it’s not a question of jeopardy, so much as a feeling that if the good guys win, it neutralizes the title and robs the film of a sense of purpose. The all-round happy ending says “Everything’s fine!” in a way that bothers me. It ain’t CHINATOWN.

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Still, the Coburn/Bronson voluble/taciturn double act is fine, and Strother Martin as “Poe” — supposedly a relative and certainly a fellow spirit of the famed writer — is a joy. Maybe Coburn is too cool to convince as, basically, a loser, with great dreams but a weakness for cards. Coburn is always effective on screen but not always complex — Peckinpah could muster some confusion and inner conflict, but I didn’t buy him as self-destructive here, except for plot reasons.

But I was impressed by how Melvillian it all was – Bronson in his hideous apartment with his stray cat – it’s clear that Melville was inspired heavily by THIS GUN FOR HIRE in which Alan Ladd gives milk to a cat, leading to Alain Delon’s canary in LE SAMOURAI. I wondered if Hill & co were also thinking of the milk & kitten motif in Sternberg’s UNDERWORLD, and given that James Coburn’s character here is called Weed, I think they probably were. What a complex interlacing of influences is at work!

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LOVE Bronson’s apartment.

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Price Fixing

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on March 28, 2014 by dcairns

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Seem to be having an unplanned J Lee Thompson session. I can’t love him — I’m too aware of his horrible late work with Charles Bronson which seemed to be omnipresent during my teenage years. But his early work has great energy, and after a few films he could harness that to a decent story and make sensible choices.

MURDER WITHOUT CRIME was J. Lee Thompson’s first film, based on a play what he wrote. Interestingly, the film has all the snap and thrust and oomph of his best work, directorially, but is a fairly wretched piece of writing: a tricksy plot devised to jerk pasteboard characters through their paces. Nobody is sympathetic, and the casting is so on-the-nose that even Dennis Price, the one “name,” can’t breathe much life into his oily aristo role. But the visuals are fun. It’s the kind of movie where you can lay odds within minutes of the start that somebody will knock a lamp over in a struggle, and half an hour later they do.

It also has a weird VO but an unnamed yank who doesn’t appear, half in the vein of Carold Reed’s chummy THIRD MAN narration, half simply describing what we see with startling literalness. It doesn’t help anything. Giving the VO to Price might’ve been nice, but that would have made his decadent toff even more of a second-string Waldo Lydecker.

The low-angle shots and dutch tilts are lovely, though so persistent that alien archeologists recovering this film from the ruins of human civilisation will be forced to conclude that British movies were photographed by a dwarf with one leg shorter than the other. There’s also a lovely transition, and I can’t quite decide how planned it was. Generally in movies, though, if something looks like a happy accident, you find it was entirely deliberate.

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oh my god there’s a car coming out of my eyes help I hate this kind of thing

Three Thugs, Three Ugly Mugs

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 18, 2009 by dcairns

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Who’s the guy on the left with the strangely extensive head? I’m not sure. Front and centre is the legendary actor, filmmaker and mentalloid Timothy Carey. On the right is a young and distinctly handsome Chuck Buchinski, AKA Charles Bronson.

The movie is CRIME WAVE, shot on location in 15 days by Hungarian cyclops Andre De Toth, a bullet-headed martinet with a passion for life and cinema. At the film’s climax, Carey and Gene Nelson (extremely good in what should be the boring good-guy role) crash end over end down a staircase together, no stuntmen in sight, meaning that either Carey can add masochist or wannabe suicide to his wide range of character malfunctions, or De Toth was indulging in his psychopathic tendencies again. Despite Carey’s undoubted eccentricity, I think the latter is more likely. De Toth seriously wanted his leading man in HOUSE OF WAX to lie under a guillotine while a props man sat on top of it, holding the blade between his boots. At De Toth’s signal, the hero was to roll aside, narrowly averting decapitation as the props guy parted his legs…

The actor politely but firmly said “No.” De Toth complained to the front office.

Aged 90, and having broken his own neck twice (once may be deemed unfortunate…), De Toth attended the Edniburgh Film Festival, still brimming with fire and gusto. A scouse friend, impressed by his energy levels, then  saw him try to descend three steps into the bar, with the aid of a hand rail. “It took him fookin’ ages.”

Truly, Time, though known as the Great Healer, will eventually kick the crap out of all of us.

Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 4 (Act of Violence / Mystery Street / Crime Wave / Decoy / Illegal / The Big Steal / They Live By Night / Side Street / Where Danger Lives / Tension)