May 8, 2018

THE VALACHI PAPERS - Starring Charles Bronson, Lino Ventura, Jill Ireland. Directed by Terence Young.
THE STONE KILLER - Starring Charles Bronson, Martin Balsam, David Sheiner, Norman Fell, Stuart Margolin, Paul Koslo, Ralph Waite. Directed by Michael Winner.
BREAKOUT - Starring Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Robert Duvall, Randy Quaid, John Huston. Directed by Tom Gries.
HARD TIMES - Starring Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Jill Ireland, Strother Martin. Directed by Walter Hill.  
(1972-1975/409 min).


Review by Tiger Longtail😼

As a child of the 70s, I can't think of many better ways to spend a Saturday night than binging on some Classic Bronson, which is not the same as watching Charles Bronson classics (only Death Wish might arguably qualify as both).

"Charles Bronson classics" are those unquestionably iconic films we all love, like The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven, Once Upon a Time in the West, and The Dirty Dozen, just to name a few. Great films all, and Chuck is wonderful in them, though their greatness isn't necessarily because of him. "Classic Bronson," on the other hand, are those flicks he did in the 1970s. His tough guy image well-established, Chuck could be counted on to crank out a few action-oriented potboilers every year. Death Wish notwithstanding, few of them were blockbusters or critical darlings, but were usually profitable, economically made and didn't require Bronson to stretch much as an actor.

Most importantly, they were a lot of undemanding fun. This was the Charles Bronson I grew up on, the Liam Neeson of my generation. Hence, this four film collection doesn't contain any classics, but it's chock-full of Classic Bronson. And unlike other Bronson collections - like the crap he coughed-up with Cannon Films in the 80s - there ain't a single pooch in the package.

Chuck learns where babies come from.
The 1972 mob movie, The Valachi Papers, came out the same year as The Godfather, but the similarities pretty much end there. Based on a true story, Bronson plays the titular character, a lifelong mafioso who turns state's evidence after he learns his don has put a contract out on him. Valachi's life is chronicled through flashbacks, and while the film in nowhere near as rich or nuanced as The Godfather, what it lacks in artistry it makes up for with violent sensationalism and pulpy action.

In The Stone Killer, Bronson is a hard-ass cop investigating the public murder of a former mob assassin. He's supported by a solid supporting cast, including Martin Balsam as a mafia don who hires a batch of Vietnam veterans to assassinate his current rivals...revenge for a mob hit that occurred in 1931. The plot is sort-of convoluted and some of the dialogue is decidedly un-PC by today's standards, but Chuck gets to shoot people and drive his car through buildings.

On the set, Bronson has been known to 'breakout'...into song.
I remember seeing Breakout in theaters, which was a slight change of pace for Bronson at the time. He's given the chance to lighten up, even be funny on occasion, as Nick Colton, a scruffy freelance pilot. Ann Wagner (real-life wife Jill Ireland, who co-stars in three of the four films in this set) hires Colton to free her husband (Robert Duvall) from a Mexican prison. It's a bit more laid-back and leisurely paced than the usual Bronson vehicle, but the final act is piles-on the action we signed up for, punctuated by a character who's gloriously dispatched by an airplane propeller.

Finally, Hard Times is the one film in the collection that arguably transcends the Classic Bronson tag, and additional proof that director Walter Hill once made good movies. Taking place during the Great Depression, Bronson is a drifter who eeks out a living with his fists (yay!) in illegal bare-knuckle boxing matches. He hooks up with slick huckster "Speed" Weed (James Coburn), whose much better at wheeling and dealing than he is at managing money. More of a character study than an action film, this one features engaging characters, fine performances all-around and authentic attention to period detail.

Watching these old chestnuts certainly takes me back, as they certainly will for a lot of people. They're definitely representative of the era and hardly masterpieces, but prime examples of Classic Bronson. This collection from Mill Creek doesn't include any additional bells & whistles, but it's a binge-worthy batch o' Bronson for your buck.


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