A marathon of films starring Charles Bronson.
MR. MAJESTYK (1974)
Max Fleischer is one of the most popular animators of all time, and his son Richard Fleischer was no slouch in his chosen profession of film directing. The junior Fleischer's 61 directorial credits include 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Fantastic Voyage, Doctor Dolittle, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Soylent Green, The Jazz Singer, and this action movie, which he directed from an original screenplay by author Elmore Leonard (who wrote a novelization of his own script).
Leonard had written Mr. Majestyk with Clint Eastwood in mind for the lead character, Vince Majestyk. Producer Walter Mirisch was hoping to get Steve McQueen for the role. They didn't get either of those cinema icons, but they did get another icon to star in the film - Charles Bronson.
If you're familiar with the works of Leonard, you'll definitely recognize the writer's voice while watching Majestyk. As is often the case with a Leonard story, things start off small and then blow up as the main character gets into an insane situation largely because he's a man of principle who won't be diverted from his own reasonable, low-key agenda. In this case, Bronson's Majestyk is a watermelon farmer who has just hired a migrant crew with watermelon experience to harvest his crop, but when he escorts them out to the field he finds a crew already working there. A guy called Bobby Kopas (Paul Koslo), a stranger to Majestyk, has taken it upon himself to hire an inexperienced crew to work the field for lower pay. When Majestyk opts out of Kopas's scheme, things take a violent turn... and Majestyk ends up in jail for assaulting Kopas, despite it being self defense.
One of Majestyk's fellow inmates is infamous hitman Frank Renda (Al Lettieri), who got caught while committing his latest kill. During a prisoner transfer, Renda's associates mount a daring rescue attempt that results in several casualties and a lot of property damage but is unsuccessful - Majestyk ends up driving the prison bus away with the handcuffed Renda as his sole passenger.
Majestyk is very concerned about getting his melons harvested. If he can get the melons in on time, he's going to make a lot of money. If he can't, his days as a farmer are over. So he wants to make a simple trade with the authorities - he'll turn Renda over in exchange for having the charges against himself dropped. Renda gives him a counter-offer of $25,000, but Majestyk isn't interested in that - he asks only that Renda pay the $3.85 he owes a local shopkeep for a couple beers and the phone calls he made from the store to negotiate.
Things don't work out for Majestyk. Renda escapes from his custody before he can hand him over to the police, and the hitman is so upset at what Majestyk tried to do that he is determined to destroy Majestyk's life. And then take his life. He even convinces Kopas to drop the assault charge so he'll be able to carry out his mission of revenge.
Even with a killer breathing down his neck, Majestyk finds the time to strike up a romance with unionized field worker Nancy Chavez (Linda Cristal) on the way to the extended final confrontation action sequence where he fights back against Renda and his lackeys.
The casting of Bronson as Majestyk worked out, as the character is very uniquely and unmistakably Leonard, and Bronson does an excellent job bringing him to life. You couldn't ask an actor to more perfectly get across the Leonard feel than Bronson does in certain moments here.
Bronson's supporting cast also does a fine job. Cristal makes Nancy a likeable love interest. Renda is a rather typical villain, but Lettieri makes you want to watch him crash and burn, which is exactly what he needed to do. He's somewhat overshadowed by Koslo's Kopas, simply because Kopas is such a detestable weasel, dangerous in his aspirations and more dangerous because he keeps getting knocked down a peg. He could snap or he could wimp out, and you just have to keep watching to find out which it will be.
Fleischer shot the film in a straight forward, no nonsense manner that is wonderfully simple and '70s. When the action kicks in, he really delivers - the attempted prison break and the climactic sequence are both purely awesome while also being quite down-to-earth.
Mr. Majestyk is a really fun movie to watch, a great little crime thriller. Be warned, however: many watermelons were harmed in the making of this film.
I've been a fan of Mr. Majestyk since I first caught it on VHS in the late '90s, but my most recent viewing of it was as part of a Charles Bronson movie marathon I had with my friends Priscilla (my Remake Comparison collaborator) and Esten. The marathon also included the following movies:
MURPHY'S LAW (1986)
There's a good chance that I had seen Murphy's Law before this marathon, but if I had I didn't have any recollection of it. I was, however, very hyped to take in this viewing, because the movie was written by Death Wish 4: The Crackdown's Gail Morgan Hickman and directed by Death Wish 4's J. Lee Thompson, who was also at the helm of the 1983 Charles Bronson film 10 to Midnight, a film Priscilla and I wrote an article about a couple years ago. The plot description on the Murphy's Law DVD case made it sound like this could be an incredible spiritual successor to 10 to Midnight, a highly entertaining film in which Bronson played a cop who goes up against a serial killer.
The description that got me excited promised a "thrilling game of hide-and-seek between a clever psychopath and a lone lawman hellbent on reaping justice." That sounds very much like 10 to Midnight, but to expect this unrelated film to live up to that one was unfair. It's no 10 to Midnight, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have its own merits.
Bronson stars as LAPD detective Jack Murphy (which is why the film is named after the "If anything can possibly go wrong, it will" Murphy's law adage), an alcoholic whose biggest concern in life is his stripper ex-wife until he becomes the target of two separate threats. After he guns down a murderer in a scene containing a shocking moment of nihilism, Murphy is marked for death by the guy's criminal kingpin brother, since their mom wants Murphy killed and crucified for ending the life of her "good, decent" little boy. As if having heavily armed goons after him wasn't enough, Murphy also has to contend with the aforementioned "clever psychopath", Carrie Snodgress as Joan Freeman. Having been put away by Murphy before, Freeman is now out for revenge.
Freeman frames Murphy for the murder of his ex, getting him locked up in a jail cell and handcuffed to young car thief Arabella McGee (Kathleen Wilhoite of Witchboard and Road House). When Murphy escapes on a mission to clear his name, he's forced to bring Arabella along, making them a pair of very mismatched partners. Arabella is a ridiculous character, in a fun way. She's a foul-mouthed street punk, but she doesn't let loose with the typical vulgarities, she crafts her own, spouting insults like "bug-sucking booger", "dinosaur dork", and "snot-sucking garbage dump."
More than half the film is dedicated to showing Murphy and Arabella on the run with cops and killers on their trail, and a good amount of action and gunfire ensues. The most interesting things about this movie to me, though, are the locations they end up at. After making a quick stop at the Veluzat Motion Picture Ranch, which served as the Higgins Haven location in Friday the 13th Part III and is here occupied by assault rifle-toting marijuana farmers, Murphy and Arabella seek shelter at a home that I know as the Jarvis house from Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. Yes, we see Charles Bronson in two different places where my favorite horror icon Jason Voorhees has stalked and killed people. In fact, Murphy passes out at one point and we see Bronson fall on the same floor Jason falls on at the end of The Final Chapter! My Friday the 13th-loving heart was filled with glee.
If you want to take in a Charles Bronson action flick you could make better choices than Murphy's Law, but it's an entertaining time killer.
MESSENGER OF DEATH (1988)
The Friday the 13th connections bled over into the next film in the marathon, another Bronson/J. Lee Thompson collaboration. Messenger of Death begins with a mysterious assassin gunning down the wives and children of a Mormon man named Orville Beecham. Among the sister wives is a character played by Kimberly Beck, who was heroine Trish Jarvis in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. Beck's screen time here is severely limited, her role requiring her to run into a house in a panic, encounter the killer, damn him, and get shot dead.
Bronson's character in this film is Denver Tribune crime reporter Garret Smith, who is so disturbed by the Beecham murders that he conducts his own investigation into the situation. The story's trail leads him right into the middle of a dangerous feud between Orville's father Willis and uncle Zenas, but also unearths clues that the entire Beecham clan may be getting manipulated by outside forces. People with an agenda. People who could profit from the Beechams destroying themselves.
Eventually, we find out who that shadowy killer was at the beginning, but the more satisfying revelation was seeing the actor who played the killer's lookout: Gene Davis, who turned in a fantastic performance as the psycho in 10 to Midnight! It was great to see Davis here, while at the same time disappointing that his role is so small. Davis didn't have the success he deserved after 10 to Midnight, and I don't know how Thompson didn't give him lead roles left and right after working with him on that. At least he put him in the movie somewhere.
Based on a novel by Rex Burns, Messenger of Death isn't exactly fun. It's a rather subdued, a serious mystery that deals with the deaths of children and is wrapped in religion. Still, it's intriguing, and action and thrills break out on occasion. It might not give you what you're expecting when you put on a Charles Bronson movie, but if you set aside expectations and stick with it you might get some enjoyment out of it. I had seen it before and didn't think much of it, but after this viewing I was left feeling that it's an underrated entry in Bronson's filmography.
KINJITE: FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS (1989)
And then we watched Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects, which may be one of the strangest films on Charles Bronson's filmography. It's another of his collaborations with director J. Lee Thompson, and in it Bronson plays an LAPD cop named Crowe, a man who plays by his own rules. This is plainly evident from the very first scene, which culminates in Crowe using a dildo to anally violate a man he caught with an underage prostitute.
Not surprisingly, the job is really getting to Crowe these days and he's considering retiring.
Kinjite is a sleazy, uncomfortable movie to watch, because that underage prostitute at the beginning isn't the only victim of sexual crimes in this film, the entire focus of the story is exploitation and molestation.
One of the leads is James Pax as a Japanese man named Hiroshi Hada, who moves his family (a wife and two children) to Los Angeles. Unsatisfied with his sex life, Hada is going down a dark mental path that begins with hiding porn from his wife and reaches a whole other level when he sees a girl being molested by a stranger on a subway train in Tokyo. He is turned on by the sight and fascinated by the fact that the girl doesn't cry out for help. He assumes she likes it. So when he finds a young girl standing beside him on a bus in Los Angeles, he attempts to recreate what he saw.
This doesn't go well for Hada, and karma instantly hits him with a devastating blow: one of his daughters is kidnapped to be forced into prostitution by the very same pimp that Crowe has been after.
And so Crowe goes on a quest to rescue the young daughter of the man who groped his own teenage daughter on that crowded bus. Yes, the girl Hada tried to molest was Crowe's daughter Rita, who Crowe has recently been disturbed to realize has started rounding the bases with her boyfriend. However, Crowe never finds out that Hada was the one who touched Rita, so Hada is spared the comeuppance of a Bronson beating. He still suffers.
"Forbidden Subjects" is certainly a fitting title for this film, and I'm not quite sure why Thompson and screenwriter Harold Nebenzal felt the need to delve into its subject matter in this way. The very existence of this movie is somewhat baffling.
But hey, it has Bronson playing a tough cop and knocking around bad guys, and it builds to one hell of an explosive finale, so at least it has all that going for it.
Kinjite wasn't the last movie in the marathon, we capped things off with an umpteenth viewing of 10 to Midnight, but it was the last movie Bronson and Thompson made together, bringing to an end a collaboration that lasted thirteen years and nine films. It was actually Thompson's last film, period. He didn't direct any more movies between 1989 and his death in 2002. Thompson's was a career that spanned thirty-nine years and nearly fifty directorial credits. Kinjite is one odd movie to go out on.