Film Review: 10 to Midnight (dir by J. Lee Thompson)

The 1983 film, 10 to Midnight, opens with LAPD detective Leo Kessler (played by legendary tough guy Charles Bronson) sitting at his desk in a police station.  He’s typing up a report and taking his time about it.  A reporter who is in search of a story starts to bother Leo.

“Jerry,” Leo tells him, “I’m not a nice person.  I’m a mean, selfish son-of-a-bitch.  I know you want a story but I want a killer and what I want comes first.”

It’s a classic opening, even if Leo isn’t being totally honest.  Yes, he can be a little bit selfish but he’s really not as mean as he pretends to be.  He may not know how to talk to his daughter Laurie (Lisa Eilbacher) but he is also very protective of her and he wants to be a better father than he’s been in the past.  He may roll his eyes when he discovers that Detective Paul McAnn (Andrew Stevens) is the son of a sociology professor but he still tries to act as a mentor to his younger partner.  Leo may complain that the criminal justice system “protects those maggots like they’re an endangered species” but that’s just because he’s seen some truly disturbing things during his time on the force and, let’s face it, Leo has a point.  When one of Laurie’s friends is murdered, Leo is convinced that Warren Stacy (Gene Davis) is the murderer and he’s determined to do whatever he has to do to get Warren off the streets.  “All those girls,” Leo snarls when he sees Warren, his tone letting us know that his mission to stop Warren is about more than just doing his job.

Warren Stacy is handsome, athletic, and he has good taste in movies.  (He’s especially a fan of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Just don’t try to trick him by saying Steve McQueen played the Sundance Kid.)  Warren is also a total creep, the type of guy who complains that a murder victim “wasn’t a good person,” because she trashed him in her diary.  When Leo takes a look around Warren’s apartment, he finds not only porn but also a penis pump.  (“It’s for jacking off!” Leo yells at Warren, enunciating the line as only Charles Bronson could.)  Warren is also a murderer but he’s a clever murderer, the type who sets himself up with an alibi by acting obnoxiously in a movie theater.  Warren strips nude before killing his victims, in order to make sure that he doesn’t leave behind any evidence.  (This film was made in the days before DNA testing.)

Leo knows that Warren is guilty but, as both his gruff-but-fair captain (Wilford Brimley, naturally) and the D.A. (Robert F. Lyons) point out, he has no way to prove it.  When Warren starts to stalk Laurie and her friends (including Kelly Preston), Leo decides that he has no choice but to frame Warren.  But when Warren’s amoral attorney, Dave Dante (Geoffrey Lewis, giving a wonderfully sleazy performance), threatens to call McAnn to the stand, McAnn has to decide whether to tell the truth or to join Leo in framing a guilty man.

10 to Midnight is a violent, vulgar, and undoubtedly exploitive film, one that features a ham-fisted message about how the justice system is more concerned with protecting the rights of the accused as opposed to lives of the innocent.  And yet, in its gloriously pulpy way, this is also one of Bronson’s best films.  It’s certainly my personal favorite of the films that he made for Cannon.

Director J. Lee Thompson and Charles Bronson were frequent collaborators and Thompson obviously knew how to get the best out of the notoriously reserved actor.  Bronson was not known for his tremendous range but he still gives one of his strongest performances in 10 to Midnight, playing Leo as being not just a determined cop but also as an aging man who is confused by the way the world is changing around him.  Stopping Warren isn’t just about justice.  It’s also about fighting back against the the type of world that would create a Warren Stacy and then allow him to remain on the streets in the first place.  Interestingly, though Leo doesn’t hesitate when it comes to framing Warren, he is also sympathetic to McAnn’s objections.  Unlike other Bronson characters, Leo doesn’t hold a grudge when his partner questions his methods.  Instead, he simply know that McAnn hasn’t spent enough time in the real world to understand what’s at stake.  McAnn hasn’t given into cynicism.  He hasn’t decided that the best way to deal with his job is to be a “mean son of a bitch.”  Bronson and Andrew Stevens, who had worked together in the past, have a believable dynamic.  McAnn looks up to Leo but is also conflicted by his actions.  Leo may be annoyed by McAnn’s reluctance but he also respects him for trying to be an honest cop.  Their partnership feels real in a way that sets 10 to Midnight apart from so many other films about an older cop having to deal with an idealistic partner.

One of the most interesting things about the film is Leo’s relationship with his daughter, Laurie.  Over the course of the film, Leo and Laurie go from barely speaking to bonding over liquor and their shared regrets about the state of the justice system.  When McAnn first meets Laurie, she’s offended when McAnn suggests that she takes after her father.  But, as the film progresses, she comes to realize that she and Leo have much in common.  (To be honest, I related quite a bit to Laurie, especially as I’ve recently come to better appreciate how much of my own independent nature was inherited from my father.)  Lisa Eilbacher and Charles Bronson are believable as father-and-daughter and they play off of each other well.  The scenes between Laurie and Leo give 10 to Midnight a bit more depth than one might otherwise expect from a Bronson Cannon film.  Leo isn’t just trying to protect his daughter and her roommates from a serial killer.  He’s also trying to be the father who he wishes he had been when she was younger.  He’s trying to make up for lost time, even as he also tries to keep Warren Stacy away from his family.

As played by Gene Davis, Warren Stacy is one of the most loathsome cinematic villains of all time.  Warren’s crimes are disturbing enough.  (Indeed, the surreal sight of a naked and blood-covered Warren Stacy stalking through a dark apartment is pure nightmare fuel.)  What makes Warren particularly frightening is that we’ve all had to deal with a Warren Stacy at some point in our life.  He’s the sarcastic and easily offended incel who thought he was entitled to a phone number or a date or perhaps even more.  As I rewatched this movie last night, I wondered how many Warrens I had met in my life.  How many potential serial killers have any of us unknowingly had to deal with?  Warren tries to strut through life, smirking and going out of his way to let everyone know that he knows more than they do but the minute that Leo turns the table on him, Warren starts whining about he’s being treated unfairly.  During his final, disturbing rampage, Warren yells that his victims aren’t being honest with him, blaming them for his actions.  The film deserves a lot of credit for not turning Warren into some sort of diabolical and erudite supervillain.  He’s not Hannibal Lecter.  Instead, like all real-life serial killers, he’s a loser who is looking for power over those to whom he feels inferior and for revenge on a world that he feels owes him something.  He’s a realistic monster and that makes him all the more frightening and the film all the more powerful.  Warren is the type of killer who, even as I sit here typing this, could be walking down anyone’s street.  He’s such a complete monster that it’s undeniably cathartic whenever Leo goes after him.

How delusional is Warren Stacy?  He’s delusional enough to actually taunt Charles Bronson!  At one point, Warren informs Leo that he can’t be punished for being sick.  Warren announces that, when he’s arrested, he might go away for a while but he’ll be back and there’s nothing Leo can do about it.  (The suggestion, of course, is that Warren will be back because he committed his crimes in California and all the judges were appointed by a bunch of bleeding heart governors.  Warren may not say that out loud but we all know that is the film’s subtext.  Some people may agree with the film, some people may disagree.  Myself, I’m against the death penalty because I think it’s a prime example of government overreach but I still cheered the first time that I heard Clint Eastwood say, “Well, I’m all torn up about his rights,” in Dirty Harry.)  How does Leo react to Warren’s taunts?  I can’t spoil the film’s best moment but I can tell you that 10 to Midnight features one of Bronson’s greatest (and, after what we’ve just seen Warren do, most emotionally satisfying) one-lines.

The title has nothing to do with anything that happens in the film.  In typical Cannon fashion, the film’s producers came up with a snappy title (and 10 to Midnight is a good one) and then slapped it onto a script that was previously called Bloody Sunday.  Fortunately, as long as Bronson is doing what he does best, it doesn’t matter if the title makes sense.  And make no mistake.  10 to Midnight is Bronson at his best.

Scenes I Love: Charles Bronson Delivers His Greatest One-Liner In 10 To Midnight

10 To Midnight (1983, dir by J. Lee Thompson, DP: Adam Greenberg)

Charles Bronson was born 101 years ago today.  In honor of the man’s legacy, here he is at the end of 1983’s 10 To Midnight, letting Warren Stacy know that “we won’t” be hearing from him.

A Blast From The Past: One Step Beyond 3.15 “The Last Round” (dir by John Newland)

In honor of what would have been Charles Bronson’s 100th birthday, today’s blast from the past is an episode of the old 1960s anthology series, One Step Beyond. The gimmick with this show was that every story was said to be based on fact, no matter how outlandish or improbable the story may be.

In this episode from 1961, Charles Bronson stars as Yank Dawson, an aging boxer who finds himself in haunted auditorium in England during World War II. Bronson was 39 years old when he starred as Yank Dawson and he gives a good performance. The role makes good use of both Bronson’s imposing physicality and also the smoldering anger that would eventually make Bronson a star in both Europe and, later, the United States.

The episode below first aired on January 10th, 1961.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Charles Bronson Birthday Edition

4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of an actor who is very popular here at the Shattered Lens, Charles Bronson!  In honor of the momentous occasion, we now pay tribute to the one and only Bronson with….

4 Shots From 4 Charles Bronson Films

Death Wish (1974, dir by Michael Winner, DP: Arthur Ormitz)

Mr. Majestyk (1974, dir by Richard Fleischer DP: Richard Kline)

Breakheart Pass (1975, dir by Tom Gries, DP: Lucien Ballard)

10 To Midnight (1983, dir by J. Lee Thompson, DP: Adam Greenberg)

Cleaning Out The DVR: The Sandpiper (dir by Vincente Minnelli)

I recorded The Sandpiper that last time that it aired on TCM.  This 1965 film is one of the many films that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made together after they fell in love during the making of Cleopatra.  And while it’s true that Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? won Taylor an Oscar and probably should have won one for Burton as well, the majority of the Taylor/Burton films were overproduced melodramas that often seemed as if they’d been rushed into production in order to capitalize on the couple’s tabloid popularity.  Unfortunately, Virginia Woolf aside, neither Taylor nor Burton seemed to bring out the best in each other as actors.

The Sandpiper finds Taylor playing Laura Reynolds, an artist who lives in a California beach house with her young son, Danny (Morgan Mason).  Laura is a free spirit who believes that everyone, including her son, should have the freedom to make their own choices.  She is resistant to any and all authority.  She’s a bohemian, a rebel, the type who doesn’t care what society has to say and who flaunts her refusal to follow the dictates of respectability.  Good for her!  However, she’s also Elizabeth Taylor, which means that she’s impossibly glamorous and even her “cluttered” beach house looks like it’s a hundred times more expensive than anything that anyone viewing the film will ever be able to afford.  Though Taylor tries hard, there’s nothing convincingly bohemian about her.

Richard Burton plays Dr. Edward Hewitt, who runs the nearby Episcopal school.  Dr. Hewitt is not a free spirit.  Instead, he and his wife, Claire (Eva Marie Saint), very much believe in structure and playing by the rules.  They believe in a traditional education and, when a judge orders Danny to be enrolled at their school, that’s what Hewitt plans to give him.  This, of course, brings Hewitt into conflict with Laura.  Both of them have differing ways of looking at the world and Laura is not a fan of religion in general.  However, since they’re played by Burton and Taylor, they’re destined to fall in love and have a scandalous affair.

Dr. Hewitt is one of the many religious figures that Burton played throughout his career.  In fact, Burton played so many alcoholic priests that I spent most of the movie assuming that Hewitt was an alcoholic as well.  However, he’s not.  He’s just Episcopalian.  That said, Burton delivers every line of dialogue in his trademark “great actor” voice and every minute that he’s onscreen just seems to be full of self-loathing.  Even before he cheats on his wife, Hewitt seems to hate himself.  Of course, once Burton does start cheating on his wife, it only gets worse.  The film presents Hewitt as being something of a hesitant participant, someone who knows that he’s doing the wrong thing but he simply cannot stop himself.  Laura, meanwhile, is presented as being someone who is fully willing to break up a marriage to get what she wants.  One gets the feeling that 1965 audiences probably just assumed they were watching the true story of how Taylor and Burton fell in love during the making the Cleopatra.  That said, it’s all pretty tame.  Just like Taylor, director Vincente Minnelli was too much of a product of the old Hollywood to truly embrace this story for all of its sordid potential.

If you’ve ever wanted to watch Charles Bronson debate religion with Richard Burton, this is the film for you.  Bronson plays a sculptor and an atheist who upsets Hewitt by calling him “reverend.”  Bronson is actually more convincing in the film than either Burton or Taylor, bringing a rough authenticity to his role.  Whereas Burton and Taylor both seem to be going through the motions, Bronson comes across as if he actually has a personal stake in the film’s story.  It’s not enough to save the movie, of course.  Fortunately, a year later, Liz and Dick would be used to better effect in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?


Holiday Film Review: Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus (dir by Charles Jarrott)

The year is 1897 and eight year-old Virginia O’Hanlan (Katharine Isabelle — yes, that Katharine Isabelle) has a problem.  All of her “little friends” say that there is no Santa Claus!  When she asks her father (Richard Thomas) about whether or not there’s a Santa Claus, he suggests that she write a letter to the New York Sun.  “If you see it in the Sun,” he says, “it must be true!”  The letter ends up on the desk of a gruff editor (Edward Asner) who assigns Virginia’s question to Frank Church (Charles Bronson), an alcoholic who is still mourning the deaths of his wife and child. Conquering his own cynicism and depression, Church writes an editorial reply that goes on to become not just a holiday classic but also the most frequently reprinted editorial in history.  Yes, Virginia, Church begins, there is a Santa Claus….

This 1991 film is a sweet-natured retelling of the famous story of Frank Church’s editorial.  Of course, it takes considerable liberties with the actual story.  Here’s just a few examples.

In real life, the editorial was published in September.  In the movie, it’s published on Christmas Eve.

In real life, Virginia’s father was a doctor and she came from a middle class family.  In the movie, Virginia’s father is an Irish immigrant and laborer who is so poor that the O’Hanlan’s might not be able to afford a Christmas!  They live in a tenement and Virginia’s father is frequently harassed by not only the cops but also corrupt labor officials.

In real life, Frank Church was a notoriously cynical atheist who reportedly had little use for Christmas and specifically didn’t sign his name to his famous editorial because he didn’t think much of it.  At the time that he wrote the editorial, he was also a bachelor.  He did marry shortly after the editorial was published but he never had any children.  In the film, Frank is a widower who rediscovers his zest for life and who smiles broadly while listening to Virginia’s father read it aloud.

And, of course, in real life, it’s very probable that the letter was written by Virginia’s parents because how many eight year olds would actually write something like, “Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.”  In the movie, however, Virginia writes the letter herself.

In other words, this is a nice movie that just happens to be terrible history.  The film does end with a disclaimer that clarifies that “certain events have been fictionalized.”  Actually, the entire story has been fictionalized, with the exception of the content of Church’s editorial.  That said, this is a sweet-natured and generally likable movie.  If nothing else, it’s a film that means well and, as tempting as it may be to roll your eyes at the film’s unabashed sentimentality, it’s sincerity feels right for the holiday season.  It’s a made-for-TV movie from the early 90s so don’t expect any surprises but it’s nicely acted and even Charles Bronson seems to be in a good mood by the end of it.

As far as movies about journalists lying to children are concerned, this is a good one.  Just don’t watch it for a history lesson.

Charles Bronson, Hollywood’s Lone Wolf (2020, directed by Jean Lauritano)

How did a former Pennsylvania coal miner who was born Charles Buchinsky eventually transform himself into Charles Bronson, one of the world’s biggest movie stars?

That’s the question that’s examined in this short documentary.  Filled with scenes from Bronson’s films and clips of the tight-lipped interviews that he gave throughout his career, Charles Bronson, Hollywood’s Lone Wolf takes a look at Bronson’s life and film persona.  It attempts to explain the appeal of a notoriously inexpressive actor who, unlike many of his contemporaries, never went out of his way to win any popularity contests.  Unfortunately, the documentary struggles to tell us much that we didn’t already know about Bronson.  Even when, after years of trying, he finally became a Hollywood superstar, Bronson was still known for keeping to himself.  Much like the characters that he played, Bronson was someone who kept his feeling under wrap.  Lacking any contemporary interviews with the people who knew Bronson and who worked with him, the documentary often has to rely on what Bronson said and, unfortunately, Bronson never said much.

Another problem with the documentary is that it doesn’t seem to have been made by people who actually liked Charles Bronson’s films.  While Once Upon A Time In The West, The Mechanic, and Rider on the Rain are all rightfully praised, Death Wish is dismissed as reactionary and many of the films that he made in the 70s — including some of his best, like From Noon Till Three, Raid on Entebbe, and Telefon — are ignored all together.  While it’s true that Bronson’s films were rarely critically acclaimed, doesn’t it seem like a documentary about Charles Bronson should be made by people who actually dig his movies?

The documentary is at its best when it examines how much of Bronson’s career was fueled by his own bitterness towards his poverty-stricken childhood and the many years in which Hollywood refused to give him decent roles.  Bronson comes across as being surly, a little bit mean, and not someone to mess around with.  At the same time, when he’s with his second wife, Jill Ireland, Bronson seems like a totally different man.  He actually smiles!  Ireland brought out Bronson’s nice side.  With Ireland, Bronson relaxes in a way that most of the characters that he played would never have allowed himself to.  After Ireland’s death in 1990, Bronson is described as having been devastated but he subsequently used that pain to give one of his best performances, in Sean Penn’s The Indian Runner.

The documentary ends by noting that Quentin Tarantino dedicated Kill Bill Volume 1 to his memory.  No one, we’re told, knows how Bronson would have felt about it.  That sounds about right.  I think that really was what made Charles Bronson a superstar.  No one knew what he was thinking but everyone wanted to find out.

From Noon till Three (1976, directed by Frank D. Gilroy)

Graham Dorsey (played by Charles Bronson) is an outlaw in the Old West who is eager to get out of his gang’s plan to robb a bank in a small town.  He’s been having nightmares in which he and his entire gang are wiped out by the townspeople.  However, the other members of the gang insist on trying to rob the bank.  Because Graham needs a new horse, they stop off at a ranch owned by the widowed Amanda Starbuck (Jill Ireland).  Both because he doesn’t want to die and also because he wants to spend time with the beautiful Amanda, Graham lies to the gang and tells them that Amanda doesn’t have a horse.  The gang leaves Graham behind, saying that they’ll return for him in a few hours.  The gang, of course, ends up getting captured by the townspeople while Graham and Amanda make love three times over the next three hours.

When Graham learns that the other members of the gang have been arrested, he’s content to just allow them to hang so that he can spend the rest of his life with Amanda.  However, Amanda insists that Graham go into town and rescue his fellow outlaws.  Graham agrees, even though he’s planning on actually just laying low for a few hours until the others have been executed.  Through a series of events that are far too complicated to even try to recount here, Graham ends up switching clothes with a traveling dentist.  When a posse guns down the dentist, Amanda believes that Graham has been killed.  Meanwhile, Graham is arrested for practicing dentistry without a license and is put in prison for a year.

While Graham is away, Amanda writes an idealized account of the three hours that she spent with Graham.  A play is produced.  Songs are written.  Tourists flock to Amanda’s ranch.  Amanda becomes a celebrity and even she begins to believe that, instead of being a cowardly and uncouth outlaw, Graham was actually a tall, handsome, and cultured gentleman.  When Graham finally gets out of jail, he heads for the ranch.  Graham thinks that Amanda will be happy to learn that he’s alive and to see him but instead, there’s another surprise waiting for him.

Speaking of surprises, who would have though that one of Charles Bronson’s best films would be a romantic comedy?  Bronson pokes fun at his own image in From Noon Till Three, playing a laid back outlaw who would rather catch a few extra hours of sleep than spend his time robbing people and seeking vengeance.  The film’s entire third act, in which Amanda is reminded that the real-life Graham is far different from her idealized memory, feels like a commentary on Bronson’s entire film career.  Just as Graham isn’t a typical romantic hero, Charles Bronson was never a typical movie star but, like Graham, he never gave up his dream.  This is one of Bronson’s most likable and appealing performances.  From Noon Till Three also features one of Jill Ireland’s best performances.  She was, of course, Bronson’s wife at the time and their chemistry in this film goes a lot towards making the film’s complex story credible.  Ireland’s best moments come at the end of the film, when she reveals how far she’ll go to maintain the myth of what happened between noon and three.

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” the newspaper editor said at the end of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and that also describes the main theme of From Noon Till Three, a clever romance that will be appreciated by even by those who would normally watch a Charles Bronson film.


When Bronson Met Perkins: Someone Behind The Door (1971, directed by Nicolas Gessner)

Dr. Laurence Jeffries (Anthony Perkins) is an American-born neurosurgeon living in the UK.  One night, as Dr. Jeffries is preparing to head home, he meets a confused and frightened man who is identified in the credits as being The Stranger and who is played by Charles Bronson.  The Stranger has no memory of who he is or how he came to be where he is.  Dr. Jeffries takes the Stranger back to his house.  Dr. Jeffries says that he often takes patients back home for overnight observation but it turns out that he has more than treatment on his mind.  Dr. Jeffries knows that his wife, Frances (Jill Ireland, who was Bronson’s offscreen wife), has been cheating on him with her French lover.  What if Dr. Jeffries can convince the Stranger that Frances is married to and cheating on him?  Could The Stranger, who may have already attacked another woman on the beach, be manipulated into murdering Frances’s lover?

Before Death Wish made Charles Bronson a box office force in the United States, he was a huge star in Europe.  Someone Behind The Door is one of many films that Bronson made in France before he returned to America.  It’s always interesting to see Bronson’s European films because European directors were willing to cast him as something other than just a vengeance-driven vigliante.  In Someone Behind The Door, Bronson actually gets to play someone who isn’t in control of his fate and who doesn’t always have the perfect tough guy quip on the end of his tongue and Bronson gives a surprisingly good performance.  He brings The Stranger’s inarticulate fear and eventual rage to life.  Indulging in his usual nervous mannerisms, Anthony Perkins matches him every step of the way.

Someone Behind The Door largely takes place in just one location and it’s really too stage-bound to be successful.  Still, fans of Perkins and Bronson should find the pairing of the two to be interesting.  The pair play off each other surprisingly well, with Perkins nervy energy bouncing off of Bronson’s physicality.  It’s too bad that this was the only time that these two actors appeared opposite each other.

Bang, You’re Dead!: Charles Bronson in DEATH WISH (Paramount 1974)

cracked rear viewer

Most people think of DEATH WISH as just another 70’s revenge/exploitation flick, right? Nope. Far from it. Sure, there’s loads of graphic violence, but this gem of a movie contains just as much political commentary as ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, with an added dose of black comedy to boot. The film had its finger firmly placed on the pulse of 1970’s America, with all its fear and paranoia about rampant urban crime, and is among the decade’s best.

Director Michael Winner and star Charles Bronson had made three films together up to that time: the revisionist Western CHATO’S LAND, the actioner THE MECHANIC , and the cops-vs-Mafia drama THE STONE KILLER . All were hits with the drive-in crowd, and helped Bronson go from supporting player to major star. Strangely enough, Bronson wasn’t the first actor considered for the part of Paul Kersey. Jack Lemmon was original choice, and that…

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