Commanding Presence

Commanding Presence

Posted by Mike Finnegan on Nov 3rd 2018

The legend still lingers. Charles Bronson (1921-2003), born 97 years ago today, continues to exert his hold on the affections of movie lovers, one of whom, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Carla Meyer, published this insightful Man of Dimensions appreciation piece concurrent with this past March’s Bruce Willis-led remake of Death Wish, accessible here: https://www.sfchronicle.com/movies/article/Charles-Bronson-man-of-dimensions-Much-more-to-12716896.php. In his 2012 biography Menacing Face Worth Millions: A Life of Charles Bronson, Brian D’Ambrosio laid it all out: “No matter how loudly commentators scoffed, at one point, fans across the globe admired the grim, mystifying screen presence of the father of motion picture vigilantism. With the presence and sensation of the anti-hero – marked by an expressionless mug, seemingly chiseled from the wrathfulness of the gods – Bronson projected a broodingly macho aura, both mildly charming and not so subtly frightening. Essentially an inarticulate Clint Eastwood, his salt and pepper hair streaked with white, and deeply cut lines etched into a hardened forehead, left an indelible impression. It’s correct that his movies were aggressive, usually impersonal and vengeful, and in many cases, not even the least bit watchable. Corresponding to the characters he so frequently played, he was a hardy loner in a world gone wrong. He was a commanding presence in American film, a man who helped mold the way we look at our cinematic history. It was he, in fact, who shaped the action hero, in all his adventure, violence and romance. There was a period when Bronson could appear as almost anything; once upon a time, the name Charles Bronson…was magnetic enough to pull in spectators. In a film career marked by decades of longevity, at least 165 television appearances and nearly 100 films, if you tossed out the mediocre works, produced merely for financial gain…, the body of work becomes healthier, more vibrant.”

Twilight Time has offered high-definition editions of 10 of his movies. Three – The Mechanic (1972), Hard Times (1975) and 10 to Midnight (1983) – have sold out their limited-edition runs. The remaining seven offer a nice survey of his long run as a viewer favorite. From his early Hollywood days as a stalwart supporting player era comes his two-fisted Hawaii-based U.S. Maine in the Rita Hayworth vehicle Miss Sadie Thompson (1953). From the 1960s, when he bounced between wildly popular and mildly successful star-ensemble films, comes his slyly effective turn as Elvis Presley’s devoted boxing trainer in Kid Galahad (1962). The others are prime Bronson – edgy, smolderingly charismatic, pragmatic, tough, and in one instance, raggedly charming – from his marquee-topping 1970s and 1980s. Chato’s Land (1972) casts him as a fugitive Apache half-breed, sought for outgunning a bigoted, trigger-happy lawman, who outmaneuvers and decisively dispatches a hateful posse of pursuers in the hostile Western badlands. The Valachi Papers (1972) smartly matches him with the role of real-life criminal informant Joe Valachi in a gritty, decades-spanning chronicle of a loyal gangland foot-soldier, whose idolization of the Mafia leaders that mentor him turns to crushing disillusionment across years of brutal violence and personal betrayals. He’s a world-weary, take-no-prisoners lawman obsessed with stopping the deadly stratagems of a mob-assembled military-veteran hit squad in The Stone Killer (1973). In a surprisingly deft change of pace, From Noon Till Three (1976) affords him moments of comedy and romance in an offbeat Western yarn about the fanciful legend and the bittersweet reality that ensnares the leader of an ill-fated outlaw gang. Finally, Murphy’s Law (1986) is a taut thriller about an under-siege LAPD detective, framed for murders by a vengeful criminal he once put away, even as he’s on the run and shackled to a foul-mouthed, young-punk fellow jail escapee. For Bronson-on-Blu birthday celebrations, Miss Sadie Thompson 3D/2D [only available here: http://screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/31901/MISS-SADIE-THOMPSON-1953-2D-and-3D/], Kid Galahad, Chato’s Land, The Valachi Papers, The Stone Killer, From Noon Till Three and Murphy’s Law collectively hit the iconic star's sweet spot on TT hi-def Blu-ray.