What happens when you combine the great tough guy writer Elmore Leonard with the great tough guy actor Charles Bronson?
You get Mr. Majestyk, one of Bronson’s finest films.
Vince Majestyk (Bronson) may be a former U.S. Army Ranger instructor and a decorated Vietnam vet but now that he has returned home to Colorado, all he cares about is running his watermelon farm. With a lucrative harvest approaching, Majestyk hires a group of unionized Mexican migrant workers, led by the fiery Linda Chavez (Linda Cristal), to pick his crops. When a local criminal named Bobby Kopas (Paul Koslo) shows up and demands that Majestyk hire his drunken crew instead, Majestyk does what Bronson does best. He gives Kopas an ass-kickin’ beat down.
After Kopas charges him with assault, the local police arrest Majestyk and, despite his request that he be allowed three days to finish harvesting his crop, Majestyk is thrown in jail. Also in the jail is a Mafia hitman named Frank Renda (Al Lettieri). Renda may be a tough guy but nobody’s tougher than Vince Majestyk. When Renda’s associates attempt to hijack a prison bus, Majestyk ends up hijacking it instead. Majestyk plans to hold Renda hostage until the police agree to give him his three days of freedom so he can get back to his farm. Renda even offers to pay him off but Majestyk doesn’t care about his money. He just cares about melons.
Because he was the only 1970s action star who could be believable as both a decorated combat veteran and a no-nonsense watermelon farmer, Charles Bronson is the only actor who could have brought Mr. Majestyk to life. Before he became an actor, Bronson worked for a living. From the age of ten until he enlisted in the Army, Bronson worked in the Pennsylvania coal mines, earning one dollar for each ton of coal that he mined. Though Bronson was never a great actor, his legitimately working class background allowed him to bring an authenticity to a role like Vince Majestyk that most other actors would have lacked. When Bronson says that all he cares about is bringing in the harvest on time, you believe him just as much as you believe him when he’s beating up Paul Koslo or hijacking a prison bus.
The rest of the cast is full of good 1970s actors who have never really been given their due. Al Lettieri may be best known for playing Sollozzo in The Godfather but he also does a good job as Frank Renda. Paul Koslo plays another one his sleazy villains here and does a great job as Bobby Kopas.
Mr. Majestyk was directed by Richard Fleischer but, with its colorful characters, working class hero, and modernized brand of frontier justice, the film is clearly the work of Elmore Leonard. Though Mr. Majestyk is credited as being based on a novel by Leonard, Leonard actually wrote the screenplay before the novel.
The combination of Elmore Leonard and Charles Bronson makes Mr. Majestyk one of the best action films of the 1970s.