My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.
This week focuses on four films starring Charles Bronson.
Someone Behind the Door (1971)
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
This is an atypical project for Bronson. It has little to no action, focused on psychological battles rather than physical ones. It’s completely character driven and stretches the movie star’s range.
It many ways, Someone Behind the Door reminds me of Memento and other such psycho-thrillers. For that reason, I won’t ruin any of the plot and simply recommend that you watch it to find out. Anthony Perkins drives the story in another creepy performance, although completely different from his most iconic one. I love the way he teases the audience with his secrets and slowly lets us see them, truly the work of a great actor. As mentioned before, Bronson is pushed in new directions here and mostly meets the challenge. Even if his performance lacks some depth, it works because he is a great foil to Perkins.
The film shows that Bronson was capable of much more than his action-fare and I wish he’d experimented more often with films like this and From Noon to Three.
Watched on Tubi.
The Sea Wolf (1993)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
This Jack London adaptation was far better than I expected, though a completely different take on the material than Michael Curtiz’s version. A quick aside: it’s interesting that Bronson remade two Curtiz pictures, this and the quasi-Casablanca remake titled Cabo Blanco which I intend to watch soon.
The major difference between the older film and this TV remake is Bronson. As the tyrannical captain Wolf Larsen, Edward G. Robinson played him pretty much in the vein of the more famous literary sea monster, Captain Ahab. In the hands of the iconic action star, Larsen is far more sympathetic. Whether by choice, the limitations of his range, or his natural like-ability on screen, Bronson is unable to make Larsen unlikable. Surprisingly, this doesn’t hurt the picture; it’s just a completely different read on London’s material.
The effect is that Larsen becomes an anti-hero of sorts alongside Christopher Reeve’s Hump while Marc Singer’s Johnson (a major role played by John Garfield in the older film) is given a backseat and no romantic connection. I don’t know London’s book so I can’t comment on which film is closer to the source but both adaptations I’ve seen have their own merits and flaws. Reeve wasn’t the greatest actor but he had movie star presence, something that lacks so much these days. He carries the picture like an actor of the golden era.
If you enjoy the work of Charles Bronson and/or Christopher Reeve, the film is worth seeing just to watch those two icons of the past one more time.
Watched on rarefilmm.com
Cabo Blanco (1980)
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Cabo Blanco can’t be called a true remake of Casablanca but more of a remix of certain elements. It has the setting and right atmosphere to work but there’s a big problem, two actually: J. Lee Thompson is no Michael Curtiz and Charles Bronson is no Humphrey Bogart.
This pair made a ton of movies together and didn’t bring out the best in each other. Thompson never made a film with Bronson that compared to his better work like The Guns of Navarone and and Bronson never made a movie with Thompson that lived up to Hard Times or Mr. Majestyk. Here at least, they attempt something ambitious, to recreate the magic of Curtiz’s classic. To compare the two gets exhausting and disheartening but even if Cabo Blanco is taken on its own merits, the film has plenty of issues.
First off, the casting is misguided. Jason Robards does not play a convincing Nazi. His attempt at an accent (is he actually trying?) is shameful and he’s just wrong for the part. Robards would have been a better choice for the lead. His tired quality could have played well for the hotel owner in the third world country. Instead, Bronson is our leading man and however much I like the actor, the cracks show in this performance. He doesn’t bring the subtext, the depth to this character. He only excels when the movie leans towards action and becomes a typical Bronson vehicle. The rest of the cast is forgettable except for the always reliable Fernando Rey, but except for a couple scenes, even his performance feels like a dull do-over.
It isn’t a bad film, hence the rating, but it’s incredibly underwhelming.
Watched on DVD
The Stone Killer (1973)
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
No one directed Charles Bronson better than Michael Winner in my opinion but this collaboration of theirs is a miss.
Often described as a Bronson rip off of Dirty Harry, I found the comparison to be totally wrong. First, The Stone Killer is more of a mob movie meets police procedural than Don Siegel’s classic. Second, the film is overly complex, stuffing more plot than three movies put together in its runtime. That is Winner and Bronson’s biggest mistake. The action star was always best with very simple stories (Hard Times, Mr. Majestick, Chato’s Land) but when he and his collaborators tried to weave an intricate plot (Valachi Papers for instance) the films fell apart. Such is the case with The Stone Killer which plods along, barely entertaining, until its anti-climactic fizzle of an ending.
Also, I take issue with the use of Vietnam veterans as the villains. The picture paints veterans of that war as unstable, not distinguishing the wide variety of men who went and came back from that notorious debacle. I felt uneasy with how the movie presented these soldiers as antagonists and it ultimately left a bad taste in my mouth.
Watched on Tubi.