The Law and J. Lee Thompson
The director of The Guns of Navarone (1961), Cape Fear (1962) and Mackenna’s Gold (1969) was born today 102 years ago, and at the time of the veteran moviemaker’s death, Adrian Turner in The Guardian characterized J. Lee Thompson (1914-2002) as “a competent craftsman, who served his apprenticeship in the dying days of the British studio system and then, in the early 1960s, turned to Hollywood, where journeymen directors who get the job done quickly and on budget are always appreciated. Thompson was a member of the in-between generation, coming in on the slipstream of Lean and Powell, yet before the arrival of the new wave of Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz and Tony Richardson. All of these might have sneered at Thompson's middle-budget, middlebrow efforts, yet his lack of pretension was his most cherishable asset. He was a man who saw his career as a ripple in a vast ocean.” The career of the World War II RAF pilot rode many waves: in 1950s Britain, where his output noteworthy crime dramas with a topical edge (The Yellow Balloon, Yield to the Night, Tiger Bay), the occasional colorful, underappreciated diversion (a Color/Cinemascope musicalization of J.B. Priestly’s The Good Companions) and the crackerjack World War II action/survival saga Ice Cold in Alex, which brought him to the notice of the big American studios; in 1960s/70s Hollywood and Europe, which in addition to the above star- and action-driven trio included Taras Bulba, Return from the Ashes and two Planet of the Apes sequels; and a late-career, nine-movie association with Charles Bronson, beginning in 1976 with St. Ives and proceeding across the following 13 years with Western, adventure and crime thriller yarns that cemented the Bronson tough-guy screen iconography turbocharbed by director Michael Winner’s original Death Wish (1974). Both he and Bronson were consummate professionals, committed to get the job done effectively and efficiently in the face of tight schedules and budget constraints, mandatory qualities required when working for the Golan-Globus Cannon Group. Two Thompson/Bronson/producer Pancho Kohner collaborations are part of the Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray arsenal, the currently available 10 to Midnight (1983) and the imminently arriving Murphy’s Law (1986). Both are bloody, largely nocturnal capers ingeniously shot all over Los Angeles with particularly insidious psychopaths challenging the wily, world-weary skills of veteran cop Bronson. In the former, it’s a disturbed murderer (Gene Davis) who practices his grim trade in the nude when targeting student nurses. In the latter, it’s a vengeful escaped convict (Diary of a Mad Housewife and Pale Rider star Carrie Snodgress), who’s on a murder spree targeting all those responsible for her incarceration and attempting to frame the lawman in the bargain when she knocks off his ex-wife (Angel Tompkins). Bronson also must contend with something he didn’t bargain for while on the run to pursue the killer and clear his name: he’s handcuffed to a foulmouthed street tough (Kathleen Wilhoite) he’d earlier arrested – and she’s not pleasant company. Murphy’s Law refers to the proposition that everything that could go wrong will, but in the capable hands of Thompson and Bronson, the knockabout action and breathless pacing steer the movie on an eventful course with style and profane humor. Wilhoite fondly recalls her wild and woolly camaraderie with the gentlemen director and star on a Nick Redman-led Audio Commentary for TT’s Blu-ray of Murphy’s Law, debuting September 13, with preorders opening August 31. For more on Thompson’s long career, particularly his contribution to British filmmaking, read the British Film Institute’s online profile here: http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/463923/.