Monday, April 30, 2012

My Appreciation of Charles Bronson

USA Today did a nice tribute to Charles Bronson in this September 1, 2003 article. Bronson had passed away on August 30, 2003 at the age of 81. The actor had been suffering from pneumonia and Alzheimer's Disease. I am not aware of when the Alzheimer's Disease was diagnosed but I can say his final film was the made-for-TV offering, "Family of Cops, III", which aired in 1999. Bronson, having been born in 1921, was 78 that year. I first heard of Charles Bronson through my grandparents. In the mid '80s VHS video was on the cusp of becoming a mega money maker as people were buying or renting movies on video to watch in the comfort of their homes rather than venturing out to a theater. There was also movie channels available, too, but most of the time those movie channels didn't get a contemporary movie on their line-up until nearly a year after it was released. Some movies, after their theatrical run ended, would go directly to home video...and later make their way to television airing.

My grandparent's rented videos every weekend...and quite a few were Charles Bronson movies. As a child in the '80s I didn't comprehend a lot of what I was seeing...but as time went on I'd catch a Bronson movie airing on TBS or the USA Network all through the '90s and I would often watch it. Fast-forward quite a few years later...the early 2000's specifically. I started to revisit the Bronson movies I had seen as a kid and a teenager by purchasing video tapes of his films...those that were available at the video store. I was not on-line at that point in time and so I didn't have the advantages of an Amazon or an I could only purchase what was available on the video rack.

Once I got on the internet I came across a video store that specialized in getting hard to find VHS tapes. I had a list of Charles Bronson movies that I'd copied off a web-site at the time and I used it as a check-list. I didn't end up getting a lot of his movies because some of them hadn't even been issued on VHS and therefore were unavailable. The new item at the time, the DVD, was still way too expensive and that's why I was still buying video tapes as late as 2005!!  As I was saying I only ended up getting just a handful of his movies on video tape and I taped quite a few off of movie channels.

I happen to like Charles Bronson's movies...and I appreciate the talents that I felt he had. Nobody could set a mood like he could...and often times he didn't have to say a word! He had that look...and I know that's a cliché...but he really did. He could turn his head a certain way, get that look on his face, and it would convey a lot more emotion than words perhaps could have. Also, he had a certain smirk...often seen whenever his character felt he was pulling one over on somebody or if he was at the receiving end of a lecture from a superior officer (such as in the string of vigilante-type films that I absolutely LOVE!!). He'd give that smirk and you, as a viewer, could sense that Bronson's character was letting the lecture go in one ear and out the other. Although widely known for those vigilante movies, he did star or co-star in his fair share of Westerns, Military epics, and melodramas, too.

If you look at his filmography you'll see that every year or every other year, up until the late '70s, he'd be featured in one of those kind of movies. He appeared, and or, starred in "The Dirty Dozen", "The Great Escape", and "The Magnificent Seven" as well as "4 For Texas", "Guns for San Sebastian", "Chato's Land", "The White Buffalo", "You Can't Win 'Em All", "Guns of Diablo", "Villa Rides", "Red Sun", "From Noon till Three", "Breakheart Pass", and "Once Upon a Time in the West".

In the internet and DVD age his earlier movies have become just as synonymous with Bronson as the ones that he became well known for in America. The irony of all of this is Charles Bronson was born in Pennsylvania...right here in the United States of America. His birth name was Charles Buchinsky and he went by that name for a period of years in his early movies until the name was changed to Bronson. Given his body type...the athletic/muscular could've easily spelled his new name as 'Brawnson' instead of 'Bronson'.

Anyone can look his movies up on You Tube or better yet, purchase them on Amazon or other on-line stores, but those not familiar with his body of work will be surprised by how talented he truly was considering that, in his latter career, movie critics would have you believe that his contemporary films weren't worth watching...but I liked the movies of his that I've seen so far. In this image it's "Family of Cops, 3: Under Suspicion", from January 1999. The Made-for-TV movie was filmed in 1998 and it's his final starring role. The series of films started in 1995 as "A Family of Cops" and the first sequel aired in 1997, "Breach of Faith: A Family of Cops, 2" which was filmed in 1996. As mentioned, the final installment was in production in 1998, the year he retired from acting following hip-replacement surgery. I taped several of his movies off of TV, as I mentioned earlier. The movies I taped off of TV were: "The Evil That Men Do", "The Stone Killer", "Telefon", "Death Wish, 2", "Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects", "Borderline", and "Murphy's Law". I saw "Breakout" on television but didn't tape it...the same goes for "Mr. Majestyk" and "Death Hunt". I didn't have a blank video tape at the time!! I have "Messenger of Death" and "Cold Sweat" on DVD. In the latter film Bronson's co-star is James Mason. Lee Marvin is Bronson's co-star in "Death Hunt". As you saw earlier, I have "Death Wish" on home video...I purchased it at a local video store which has been out of business for years. That particular movie pushed Charles Bronson into super-star status and it spawned 4 equally great sequels. The sequels began in the '80s with the arrival of "Death Wish, 2" in 1982, "Death Wish, 3" in 1985, and "Death Wish, 4: The Crackdown" in 1987. The fourth sequel arrived seven years later in 1994, "Death Wish, 5: The Face of Death". These are the films that most people think of when Charles Bronson's name is mentioned. Although there were just 5 Death Wish films made, critics and detractors alike often jokingly claim that there were hundreds of Death Wish films made, but only 5 escaped and made it to theaters. The Death Wish series isn't as long as other franchises, though. How many Police Academy films were made? I think there were seven altogether!? There were many Star Trek films (sequels and prequels)...the same goes for the Indiana Jones franchise, the Harry Potter franchise, the James Bond franchise...but the short 5-part Death Wish franchise remains vilified pretty much. It makes no sense to me. 

In this image there are the videos of "10 To Midnight" and "Assassination", from 1984 and 1987 respectively. These films come at the peak of what I call his vigilante film success...even though the 1987 film features Bronson as a Secret Service agent protecting the wife of the President. Bronson's wife, Jill Ireland, co-starred in more than a dozen of her husband's movies. The 1984 film is wonderful, too! The thing that's perhaps satisfying to many Charles Bronson fans is despite the venom that movie critics had for much of these kind of films, the public had their say. If you check the box-office tallies for pretty much all of the Bronson films that had lots of action, adventure, and violence you'd see that the movies raked in millions upon millions at the box-office...turning a substantial profit. In addition to the box-office sales there was profitability in the home video market...I don't have any official numbers to quote but it's easy to assume that Bronson's commercially successful movies were popular video rentals at that point in time...I came across those two movies from that site I wrote of earlier that specialized in hard to find films. It's also the site where I purchased "Caboblanco", which an image of that particular film is located at the end of the blog entry.

In the previous paragraph I mentioned that critics spewed venom by this point in Bronson's career. Movie critics began to be dismissive of his films somewhere around the mid '70s onward...I've looked through archived movie reviews from the late '70s and the '80s throughout the last number of years and have seen the kinds of slings and arrows that they'd shoot at his movies. The reviews really started to turn ugly by the mid '80s. As I mentioned earlier, I appreciate Charles Bronson's films...and it did annoy me when I'd read scathing reviews of movies that I happen to enjoy watching. As I've always said, critics do not influence my movie-watching or music-listening habits...which is why I consider myself an enthusiast, not an amateur critic. In the image below, I am shown with the video tape of "Caboblanco", an incredibly obscure 1980 movie starring Charles Bronson. Jason Robards co-stars. I had to take the picture with the side of the cover showing more prominence because the yellow lettering of the title on the front, against the white background, didn't show up that great in the first picture I took. Critics described this particular film as a remake of "Casablanca" and regardless of whether that's true or not, Charles Bronson's the main attraction...he's the star and that's who the viewers who saw this film the first time around ultimately spent their money to see. He really did have that kind of impact.  

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