Not Your Usual Bronson Wild West
By 1975, Charles Bronson had worked with some of the best Western moviemakers ever: Robert Aldrich (Apache, Vera Cruz and 4 for Texas), Delmer Daves (Drum Beat and Jubal), Samuel Fuller (Run of the Arrow), John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven and Chino), Sergio Leone (Once upon a Time in the West), Michael Winner (Chato’s Land) and Tom Gries (Breakheart Pass). The next Western project he would undertake would be a collaboration with the award-winning playwright/screenwriter of The Subject Was Roses and The Only Game in Town (the latter offered on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray). What kind of sun-baked, guns-blazing, hard-riding oater would this be? Perhaps the shaggiest, quirkiest, most meditative study of Old West mythmaking in his or anyone’s career, writer/director Frank D. Gilroy’s funny and unexpectedly moving From Noon Till Three (1976). It’s probably the least-known “revisionist” Western from its year of release, as its home studio of United Artists also brought The Missouri Breaks (Arthur Penn directing Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson) and Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (Robert Altman directing Paul Newman and Burt Lancaster) to cinemas in the months preceding its fall arrival. (None among that Bicentennial Year trio would draw large audiences.) Compared to those two, it’s virtually a chamber piece but perhaps in retrospect, it’s also the most fun. Lean, mean newly-minted Death Wish action superstar Bronson gets to kick back, crack a smile and enjoy the charms of his frequent leading lady and real-life wife Jill Ireland. He plays a small-time bandit who elects to sit out a planned robbery he’s sure will end in a bloody ambush, and she plays the proper lady with whom he spends that strategic downtime. Sure as shooting, the bank job proves a disastrous reckoning for his fellow gang members, and he craftily escapes; in the process, he swaps clothes with an easily duped dentist, who is apprehended and killed in his place. Afterward, the respectable ladylove becomes a notorious woman of the world, transforming the “legend” of her assignation with the outlaw into a thriving business with a best-selling penny-dreadful memoir along with what would be termed today as “merchandising by-products,” and the resourceful, scruffy fugitive returns to get a piece of the action. One of the film’s admirers at the time was The New York Times critic Vincent Canby: “Mr. Gilroy, who not only directed the film but also wrote the screenplay based on his own novel, has a nice, light way with irony that prevents From Noon Till Three from tripping over its own rather large intentions. He's also obtained two remarkably attractive, absolutely straight performances from Mr. Bronson, who is funny without ever lunging at a laugh (as Burt Reynolds often does under similar circumstances) and from Miss Ireland, whose cool, somewhat steely beauty are perfectly suited to the widow who manages almost immediately to transform a real-life experience into mass-media material with plenty of spin-offs. Mr. Gilroy, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright (The Subject Was Roses) and a director of talent and taste (Desperate Characters), has made a film of unusual beauty, with the help of Lucien Ballard, the cameraman, and Robert Clatworthy, the production designer.” Add to those assets the alternately wistful and rambunctious score by the great Elmer Bernstein (including the lovely Hello and Goodbye, with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman) and the result sneaks into the corral of Best Bronson Westerns unexpectedly and delightfully. Lasso From Noon Till Three on TT Blu-ray September 13. Preorders open August 31.