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 Post subject: Charles Bronson
PostPosted: Thu May 08, 2014 3:38 am 
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 Post subject: Re: Charles Bronson
PostPosted: Thu May 08, 2014 3:41 am 
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The name of Bronson has become synonymous with "tough guy of the cinema" or a "hard man." Before Stallone, before Schwarzenegger, before Chuck Norris, there was Bronson, Charles Bronson. He didn't start out with that name; in his earliest film roles, in 1952-1954, he was credited as "Charles Buchinsky," his birth name. His film debut was an uncredited bit in You're in the Navy Now (51), which was also the debut of Lee Marvin (by coincidence). Most people probably best remember him from this early period as the mute assistant to Vincent Price in the horror film House of Wax (53); this was a huge hit but didn't really advance Bronson's career (it did help Price). Bronson did have a good speaking part in next year's Vera Cruz (54), a big western starring Burt Lancaster & Gary Cooper. The story goes, Bronson picked out his famous screen name from Bronson's Gate at Paramount Studios.
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He was cast in supporting roles as both cowboys and Indians in the fifties, sometimes to show off his impressive physique, notably in Apache and Drum Beat (both 1954), Jubal (56) and Run of the Arrow (57). Though many people think he only started to get lead roles in the seventies (when he became a big star), he actually scored a few such roles in the late fifties, though these were in low budget films by producers like Roger Corman, such as Machine-Gun Kelly and Gang War (both 1958). He even starred in a TV series during this period for a couple of seasons, Man With a Camera (58-60). In fact, he did a lot of TV from the mid-fifties through the sixties, meaning guest spots. Back then, Bronson was in a situation that a few big stars, such as John Wayne, had in the past found themselves in: small parts in big films and big parts in small films.
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The small films were the sci-fi Master of the World (1961, which reunited him with Price, though this time Bronson was the hero) and X-15 (about test pilots). The big films are the ones he is remembered for, even though he wasn't the main star: Never So Few (1959, a war film), The Magnificent Seven (60), The Great Escape (63), 4 For Texas (64), The Sandpiper (65), Battle of the Bulge (65), This Property is Condemned (66) and The Dirty Dozen (67, with Lee Marvin). Bronson's roles weren't really small; it's just that he was usually credited 4th, after the big stars. Bronson was closing in on 50 as the sixties were coming to a close and it sure seemed unlikely that his career would get better; his peers - the other macho 'ugly' or homely actors - notably Marvin, Anthony Quinn, Jack Palance, Richard Boone, James Coburn and Ernest Borgnine, had all managed to hit the big time some years before. Why wasn't Bronson able to do the same? Well, the right part hadn't come along and it took a bit longer with Bronson - but when it happened, he would be bigger than any of them, even Marvin.

In a way, the delay might have been Bronson's own doing - he turned down an offer from director Sergio Leone to star as the 'man with no name' in A Fistful of Dollars (64), which made a star of Clint Eastwood. Likewise, Bronson turned down offers to appear in the sequels, for roles eventually played by Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach. Perhaps there was a stubbornness involved in Bronson's decisions, a determination to make it big in American pictures, as opposed to some picture in Italy. By the late sixties, Bronson must have seen the writing on the wall and began appearing in international pictures. There still wasn't immediate success; Guns For San Sebastian (67) and Villa Rides (68) were standard westerns in which Bronson was supporting bigger stars Anthony Quinn and Yul Brynner. Then, Bronson was picked to co-star with French star Alain Delon in Adieu L'Ami (a.k.a. Farewell, Friend) after Richard Widmark was unable to. The film was the biggest picture at the box office in France that year (1968) and made Bronson a European star. It set the tone for his career in the next few years - a huge star internationally but not quite there yet in the USA.
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Bronson finally accepted a role in a Leone film, Once Upon a Time in the West (69), an epic western that still had him billed 4th after Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale and Jason Robards, but, by the end of the film, Bronson's 'man with a harmonica' easily held his own as a charismatic anti-hero in the Eastwood mode. The film was huge in Europe but faded out quickly in the USA due to poor distribution. The film that really 'made' Bronson and which he himself considers his real start as a big star was another French offering, Rider in the Rain (1970), a stylish suspense tale in the Hitchcock vein directed by Rene Clement. It broke box office records in Europe. There were other international films of varying quality - an adventure with Tony Curtis, You Can't Win 'em All (70); The Family a.k.a. Violent City; a thriller with James Mason, Cold Sweat; and Someone Behind the Door (71), another French suspense film. With these films, Bronson also presented himself in the appearance now associated with his 70s career, the long hair and thin mustache.
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Quality didn't matter much at this point - Bronson was the biggest star in Europe and his fame soon spread to the Orient and South America. Some aspects of this new stardom were absurd: some of his TV episode appearances in the sixties were re-edited into fake 'undiscovered' films and released in Europe, such as "The Meanest Men in the West" - a pair of episodes cobbled together that also featured Lee Marvin. One of Bronson's most entertaining pictures at this time - an actual new western - was Red Sun (71), a quest adventure that pulled out all stops for international casts: it also starred Toshiro Mifune, Ursula Andress and Alain Delon. It wasn't just a gimmick, however; the cast worked together very well and Bronson was amusing as a gunslinger forced to team up with a samurai warrior. In 1972, he began a collaboration with United Artists and director Michael Winner for a pair of brutal action films - the western Chato's Land and the unique thriller The Mechanic. Bronson, in the role of a renegade Indian, had hardly any dialog in the western, relying on simply his presence. He played an idiosyncratic hitman in The Mechanic, one with his own unique codes and methods.
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What set Bronson apart in roles like this were the subtle indications that he was far tougher than any average man. The posse which is after him at the start of Chato's Land seems doomed from the beginning, but there's nothing unbelievable about how it's presented - they just never had a chance against someone like Bronson (Chato). His perfectionist killer in The Mechanic displays the strength of his fingers in one scene - it's a sign that Bronson's character follows disciplines which elevate him beyond a normal man. In addition, Bronson wasn't simply playing heroes in this period - he starred in The Valachi Papers (another hit which followed in the wake of The Godfather's success), then The Stone Killer (73), in which he was a cop but using, again, brutal methods. One of his most entertaining performances was in Mr. Majestyk (74), in which his deceptively simple watermelon farmer proves to be tougher than the toughest criminal. It's also one of those roles where-in Bronson was relaxed and mirthful, providing for some genuinely amusing scenes.
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The next breakthrough for Bronson was Death Wish (74), the film which made him popular in the USA. The irony is that Bronson was cast against type in this Michael Winner offering. It was originally intended to star someone like Henry Fonda or Jack Lemmon, in the role of a meek accountant (architect in the final version) who becomes a vigilante in New York City. Bronson begins the film as a very typical, civilized work professional, who later becomes ill in his first instance of actual violence. It's only later in the story that Bronson becomes accustomed to and adept at killing. This film struck a cord due to the real-life increase in urban crime and spawned a franchise - several sequels of depreciating quality - the next one was in 1982. Bronson starred in Breakout (75), an average action pic with him as a pilot breaking Robert Duvall out of a prison.
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Bronson's best role, for which he sheared off most of his hair and mustache, was as a street fighter during the Depression era in Hard Times (75). He was over 50 and this required him to be shirtless for his fight scenes, but he had retained his awesome physique - he was all lean muscle and no one had trouble believing that he could knock out other tough fighters with incredibly devastating precision. No one else could have played such an older fighting man so well - and this is why it remains Bronson's ultimate role. It also paired him with James Coburn and the two were great as polar opposites. Bronson tried to stretch his acting muscles in more atypical roles, in Breakheart Pass (76), St. Ives (as a writer) and in the comedic From Noon Till Three. It also was apparent by this point that he was getting roles for his then-wife Jill Ireland in many of his films. He played Wild Bill Hickok in the strangely mystical western, The White Buffalo (77) and then a Soviet agent in the intriguing thriller, Telefon, which teamed Bronson with producers other than his usual ones and placed him more as a mainstream American star.
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Reportedly, Bronson's insistence that there always be a role for his wife in his films may have reduced the number of films he appeared in. There was a gap in 1978 and his next film was a '79 release, Love and Bullets, which placed Jill Ireland prominently on the marquee with Rod Steiger, who played a mob boss. Caboblanco (1980) was like a rehash of Casablanca, while in Borderline, Bronson played a border patrol agent after some killers. He finally teamed with Lee Marvin for Death Hunt (81), in which he was a solitary trapper in 1931 Yukon being pursued by Canadian Mounties for murder, but he and Marvin didn't really have any scenes together. This was a large budget action adventure picture and Bronson really was the no.1 action star by this point. But, it didn't make money.
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Bronson changed tacks for most of the eighties in his collaboration with Cannon Films and director J. Lee Thompson - the films would be low budget and swiftly made, but Bronson would be high-priced ($1 million). These films followed a familiar pattern - brutal, even perverse killers, with Bronson as the antidote to the wrongdoing: 10 to Midnight (83), The Evil That Men Do (84), Murphy's Law (85), Messenger of Death (88), Kinjite:Forbidden Subjects (90) and all the Death Wish sequels (4 in all). It could be argued that almost all of Bronson's films in this decade were developed on the Death Wish template, the crowd-pleasing theme of vigilantism. The message was that this was the best way - maybe the only way - to combat crime and sadism, and this theme was also prevalent in the films of Bronson's successors: Norris, Steven Seagal, Van Damme and so on.

Bronson capped off his career with a series of telefilms in the nineties, the Family of Cops trilogy of TV movies. He officially retired from acting in 1998 after undergoing hip replacement surgery. He suffered from Alzheimer's disease in his final years. Bronson's main legacy is a number of sixties & seventies films which showcased his weather-beaten, iconic visage of implacable determination - he showed that not only handsome actors can be a tremendous force in the movies. However, he might also be well known as the actor who has the most films with the word "death" in the title. :comegetsome: :uzi:


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 Post subject: Re: Charles Bronson
PostPosted: Thu May 08, 2014 8:33 pm 
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Aaaaarrrrrggghhhhh, you beat me to it, Chrysagon! I was going to create a thread for Bronson, but am glad you did with your terrific (as always) write-up on his career.

After Charlton Heston, Charles Bronson is easily my second favorite actor. I can not stress how much of a fan I am of his. I collect his movies and various Bronson merchandise from all over the world, as well as books about him and soundtracks from his movies.

IMO the best Bronson movie, which I also feel is the best western of all-time, is Once Upon a Time in the West. Harmonica is one of his best characters, too. My vote for second best would have to be the original Death Wish, one of the best thrillers from the 70's IMO. He showed some great acting skills in that one.

Now if we're talking favorites, Mr. Majestyk tops the list. That movie has everything you could possibly want from Bronson movie. Action, suspense, humor, fights and not to mention great lines (You make sounds like you're a mean little ***-kicker... only I ain't convinced. You keep talking and I'm gonna take your head off!)

Then of course, there's the ultimate Bronson performance of them all, Chaney in Hard Times. It truly is the part he was born to play. He had played the strong, silent type before but here he did it to perfection, almost Oscar worthy. Apparently James Coburn and I think Strother Martin lobbied for him to get a nomination.

There's so much more I want to write, but I have to go to bed now, quite honestly. I'll write some more at a later time.

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 Post subject: Re: Charles Bronson
PostPosted: Fri May 09, 2014 10:02 pm 
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Looks like we have the same set of 4 favorites when it comes to Bronson films, Thorn. Maybe it's the same with all Bronson fans. If I had to pick a 5th and 6th favorite Bronson film, these would be Red Sun and The Mechanic. I can't really pick a couple of his great sixties films because he wasn't the main character in those, even though The Great Escape and The Dirty Dozen are among my favorite films of all time; their quality is due to all the other actors in the films, not just Bronson.

One film I never got around to seeing was the key film from 1970, Rider on the Rain (yes, it's Rider on the Rain, not "in the Rain" as I goofed up in my overview post above). Not until yesterday, that is. I decided it was time to finally check it out and ordered a double feature Wild East DVD a few days ago, on which this film was paired with Farewell Friend. It arrived yesterday and I quickly popped it in my player. The usual bad luck - very strange performance issue on my new DVD - the sound would abruptly cease after about a minute of play. The DVD would work in my secondary player but this was not the ideal way for me to finally watch this film. :mad:

The film was a fairly interesting mystery thriller. Bronson showed up only 25 minutes into it. He was part of the mystery - you just weren't sure if he was a bad guy or good guy in this until the final act. It's interesting to see this now, knowing that this film was instrumental in turning him into a superstar. He did have a shirtless scene in it; was that what did it? :-? Maybe with the ladies... :roll: His co-star in this was the cute Marlene Jobert - since he showed up so late, she was the bigger character in some ways.


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 Post subject: Re: Charles Bronson
PostPosted: Sat May 10, 2014 6:57 pm 
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Chrysagon wrote:
Looks like we have the same set of 4 favorites when it comes to Bronson films, Thorn. Maybe it's the same with all Bronson fans. If I had to pick a 5th and 6th favorite Bronson film, these would be Red Sun and The Mechanic. I can't really pick a couple of his great sixties films because he wasn't the main character in those, even though The Great Escape and The Dirty Dozen are among my favorite films of all time; their quality is due to all the other actors in the films, not just Bronson.

Pretty eerie, Chrysagon, pretty eerie. Red Sun happens to be my 5th favorite as well :D But I guess you're right, if we throw in Breakheart Pass and Chato's Land, I think we have a big part of the movies often mentioned in when Bronson fans namedrop their favorites.

Agreed on his 60's movies, I'd add The Magnificent Seven to the list. I usually don't name those for the same reasons you don't, they're not Bronson-starring vehicles. The Great Escape is probably one of my all-time favorite movies, that one is just entertainment in its purest form.

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 Post subject: Re: Charles Bronson
PostPosted: Mon May 19, 2014 12:54 pm 
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The Stone Killer & The Mechanic are two of my favourites. Breakheart Pass is a film I enjoy but for some reason always ( no matter how often I've seen it) struggle to fully understand the plot!

Must admit to being a fan of the Cannon 80's output. Generally in appalling taste with some dubious supporting performances but very entertaining & unpretentious star vehicles for the great man.


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 Post subject: Re: Charles Bronson
PostPosted: Tue Jun 17, 2014 6:10 pm 
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Mark wrote:
Breakheart Pass is a film I enjoy but for some reason always ( no matter how often I've seen it) struggle to fully understand the plot!

Yes, I have the same problem. I plan to watch it again in a few days; maybe this time I'll be able to 'get it' all. :D

Mark wrote:
Must admit to being a fan of the Cannon 80's output. Generally in appalling taste with some dubious supporting performances but very entertaining & unpretentious star vehicles for the great man.

I just encountered this interesting blog post on Cannon Films and Golan&Globus; it focuses a lot on their failures and doesn't delve much into Bronson's films, but it's an interesting look back at eighties cinema: MOVIE FANFARE / Looking Back at Golan-Globus


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 Post subject: Re: Charles Bronson
PostPosted: Wed Jun 18, 2014 12:42 am 
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Mark wrote:
The Stone Killer & The Mechanic are two of my favourites.

The Stone Killer is criminally underrated, even among his fans. IMO it's one of his best movies from the 70's.

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 Post subject: Re: Charles Bronson
PostPosted: Sat Jun 28, 2014 9:16 pm 
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Chrysagon wrote:
Mark wrote:
Breakheart Pass is a film I enjoy but for some reason always ( no matter how often I've seen it) struggle to fully understand the plot!

Yes, I have the same problem. I plan to watch it again in a few days; maybe this time I'll be able to 'get it' all. :D

Mark wrote:
Must admit to being a fan of the Cannon 80's output. Generally in appalling taste with some dubious supporting performances but very entertaining & unpretentious star vehicles for the great man.

I just encountered this interesting blog post on Cannon Films and Golan&Globus; it focuses a lot on their failures and doesn't delve much into Bronson's films, but it's an interesting look back at eighties cinema: MOVIE FANFARE / Looking Back at Golan-Globus

Thanks for sharing that link, a fascinating read.


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 Post subject: Re: Charles Bronson
PostPosted: Sat Aug 09, 2014 5:06 am 
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This thread now takes the customary eerie turn as I just found out that Menachem Golan, head of the famous Cannon Films, has just died in his native Israel, at age 85. Here's a short but intriguing write-up on him: http://nikkifinke.com/filmmaker-menachem-golan-dead/

Golan will be forever remembered for his association with Bronson, Norris and Stallone movies; he was partnered in the film business with his cousin, Yoram Globas. I forgot this, but the two movie moguls were nicknamed the "Go-Go Boys" for their aggressive approach to getting films made (Golan & Globas = Go-Go). R.I.P.


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