Bronson’s Rich: Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987, directed by J. Lee Thompson)


To quote The Main With No Name, “When a man’s got money in his pocket, he begins to appreciate peace.”

Two years have passed since Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) last visited and cleaned up New York.  He is back in Los Angeles, the president of his own successful architectural firm.  Now a rich man, he has retired from killing criminals, though he still has dreams where he shoots muggers in parking garages.  Paul has a new girlfriend, journalist Karen Sheldon (Kay Lenz).  When Karen’s teenage daughter, Erica (Dana Barron), dies of a cocaine overdose, it’s time for Paul to get his gun out of storage and blow away a drug dealer.

Shortly after shooting that drug dealer, Paul finds a note on his front porch.  “I know who you are,” it reads.  Paul then gets a call from a mysterious man (John P. Ryan) who identifies himself as being a reclusive millionaire named Nathan White.  Nathan explains that his daughter also died of a cocaine overdose.  He wants to hire Paul to take out not just the drug dealers but also the men behind the dealers, the bosses.  Using his vast resources, Nathan has prepared a file on every major drug operation in Los Angeles.  He offers to share the information with Paul.

“I’ll need a few days to think about it,” Paul says but we all know he’s going to accept Nathan’s offer just as surely as we know that Nathan White has an ulterior motive that won’t be revealed until the movie’s final twenty minutes.

For the first time, Paul is no longer just targeting muggers and other street criminals.  This time, Paul is going after the guys in charge and trying to bring an end to drug trade once and for all.  (The idea that the best way to win the war on drugs was just to kill anyone involved in the drug trade was a very popular one in the late 80s.)  L.A.’s two major drug cartels are led by Ed Zacharias (Perry Lopez) and the Romero Brothers (Mike Moroff and Dan Ferro).  Along with their own activities, Paul and Young work the turn the two cartels against each other.

It’s not just the criminals that have changed in Death Wish 4.  Paul has changed, too.  Paul used to just shoot criminals and run away.  In Death Wish 4, he gets more creative.  He sneaks into Zacharias’s mansion and bugs the phone so that he can keep track of what’s going down.  When it comes time to kill a table full of drug dealers (one of whom is played by Danny Trejo), Paul doesn’t shoot them up.  Instead, he sends them a bottle of champagne that explodes when they open it.  By the end of the movie, Paul is blowing away the bad guys with a grenade launcher!  How many former conscientious objectors can brag about that?

The biggest difference between Death Wish 4 and the films that came before it is the absence of director Michael Winner.  Winner and Bronson had a falling out following Death Wish 3 and, as a result, Winner had little interest in returning to the franchise.  Instead, Winner was replaced by J. Lee Thompson, who had already directed Bronson in several other Cannon films.  As a result, Death Wish 4 is less “heavy” than the previous Death Wish films.  Whereas Winner’s direction often felt mean-spirited and exploitive, Thompson plays up the film’s sense of airy adventure.

Though it barely made a profit at the box office and has been dismissed by critics, Death Wish 4 is an enjoyable chapter in Paul’s story.  If you’re looking for mindless 80s mayhem, Death Wish 4 gets the job done with admirable efficiency.  It would have made a great ending for the franchise but Bronson would return to the role one last time.

Tomorrow: Death Wish V: The Face of Death!

A Movie A Day #303: The Evil That Men Do (1984, directed by J. Lee Thompson)


Clement Molloch (Joseph Maher) is a doctor who uses his medical training to torture journalists and dissidents in an unnamed South American country.  Holland (Charles Bronson) is a former  CIA assassin, who is content with being retired.  But when Molloch kills a journalist who was also an old friend of Holland’s, it all becomes about revenge.  No one’s more dangerous than Charles Bronson seeking revenge.  Working with the dead journalist’s widow (Theresa Saldana), Holland heads down to South America.  Since Molloch is always surrounded by bodyguards, it is not going to be easy to get him.  But who can stop Charles Bronson?

Bronson was 62 years old when he made The Evil The Men Do and he was still the toughest, coolest killer in the movies.  The Evil That Men Do is a rarity, an 80s Bronson film that was not produced by Cannon.  It still feels like a Cannon production, even if it is a little more interesting than some of the other films that Bronson was making at that time.  Dr. Molloch was clearly based on the notorious Nazi Klaus Barbie and Joseph Maher plays Molloch as being a dignified sadist.  Molloch also has a strange relationship with his equally cruel sister (Antoinette Bower).  That Molloch is so extremely evil makes the film’s final scenes all the more satisfying.

The Evil That Men Do is one of the best of Bronson’s later films.  Charles Bronson, man.  No one got revenge better than Bronson.

Horror Film Review: Cape Fear (dir by J. Lee Thompson)


There are two versions of Cape Fear out there.

The one that most people seem to know and which regularly shows up on cable is the 1991 version.  This version was directed by Martin Scorsese and features Oscar-nominated performances from Robert De Niro and Juliette Lewis.  This is the version that has De Niro speaking in a broad Southern accent and attacking people while speaking in tongues.  If you’ve ever watched a rerun of an old sitcom and wondered why the laugh track was going wild at the sight of a tattooed prisoner lifting weights in a cell while portentous music boomed in the background, it’s because you were watching a parody of Scorsese’s Cape Fear.

That, however, is not the first version of Cape Fear.

The first version of Cape Fear came out in 1962.  It was a black-and-white film that was directed by J. Lee Thompson.  In this version, the recently released rapist, Max Cady, is played by Robert Mitchum.  Sam Bowden, the attorney that Cady blames for his incarceration, is played by Gregory Peck.  Whereas the Scorsese version was highly stylized, the original Cape Fear is brutally straight forward.  (While Scorsese’s Cape Fear goes on for over two hours, the original Cape Fear tells its story in a brisk 100 minutes.)  While I think that Scorsese’s Cape Fear has its strong points, the original Cape Fear is superior in almost every way.

The original is certainly far more frightening than the remake.  What the original may lack in stylization, it makes up for in plausibility.  It’s scary because you can imagine everything in the film actually happening.  Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck may both be iconic film stars but they’re also believable as human beings.

For modern audiences, it’s easy to smirk at Peck with his upright image and his sonorous voice but what made Peck a great actor was his ability to make it all seem natural.  Peck never seemed like he was acting like an honest man who always tried to do the right thing.  Instead, he simply was that man.  It’s perhaps significant that Peck played Sam Bowden the same year that he played another honest lawyer, Atticus Finch, in To Kill A Mockingbird.  The only real difference between them is that, whereas Atticus was always confident and sure of himself, Sam is frequently helpless.  He knows that Max is stalking him and his family and he’s just as aware that there’s nothing he can do about it.  When Max rapes a woman (Barrie Chase) that he meets at a bar, she refuses to testify against him.  When Sam’s dog turns up dead, everyone knows that Max killed him but there’s no way to prove it.  When Sam hires three men to intimidate Max, Max beats them up and promptly tries to get Sam disbarred.  When Sam finally resorts to plotting Max’s murder, we’re seeing Atticus Finch pushed beyond his limit.

As for Robert Mitchum, his animalistic performance is frightening precisely because it feels very real.  Everyone has known a Max Cady, even if they didn’t realize it at the time.  Max gives a fiercely physical performance, often appearing shirtless and strutting through his scenes with a sexual arrogance that’s both frightening and, at times, far more tempting than anyone would want to admit.  The scenes in which Max attacks Barrie Chase and Polly Bergen (who plays Peck’s wife) are absolutely terrifying but, for me, the most disturbing moments in Cape Fear are the moments when Max is silent.  Even when he’s not speaking, Mitchum allows you to see every depraved thought going through is head.

What’s the scariest moment for me?  When the camera catches Max watching Sam’s teenage daughter (Lori Martin).  It’s not just that I know what’s going on in Mitchum’s mind as he stares at her.  It’s because I know what it’s like to be watched.  It’s a scene that’s unsettling because it makes me consider just how many Max Cadys are out there right now.

The battle between Max and Sam is a fascinating one.  In prison, Max studied enough law to become as knowledgeable about how to manipulate it as Sam.  Under pressure, Sam grows more violent and more willing to circumvent his oath to uphold the same law that Max is now using against him.  It makes for a frightening  film, one that will stick with you long after you watch it.

Movie A Day #178: Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989, directed by J. Lee Thompson)


This is the one where Charles Bronson sodomizes a guy with a dildo.

Don’t worry, though.  Bronson does it off-screen and the guy was abusing Nicole Eggert so he had it coming.

In Kinjite, Bronson plays Lt. Crowe, a tough LAPD vice cop who hates two groups of people: pedophiles (which is cool, who doesn’t hate them?) and the Japanese (which is not cool).  Not only does Crowe sodomize a pervert but he also forces a pimp to eat a gold watch and later, with the help of his partner, he holds another man over the edge of a balcony, just to have that man accidentally slip out of his shoes and plunge to his death.  Finally, Crowe tosses a convict into a prison cell, where another prisoner (played by Danny Trejo, in what may have been his film debut) announces that he’s “got something big and long for you.”  Crowe chuckles, “That’s justice” and then walks away.

Danny Trejo in Kinjite

Of the many strange films that Bronson made for Cannon Films, Kinjite may be the strangest.  The main plot involves Crowe searching for and rescuing the kidnapped daughter of a Japanese businessman (James Pax).  Before his daughter was kidnapped, the businessman groped Crowe’s fifteen year-old daughter on a city bus.  The entire movie seems to be building up to the moment that Crowe, who is portrayed as being overprotective of his daughter, discovers what the businessman did but that moment never comes.  There are numerous scenes of the businessman in Japan but they do not have anything to do with the rest of the plot.  Strangely, neither Crowe’s daughter nor his wife (played by Peggy Lipton) are ever menaced by the bad guys.  What type of Charles Bronson movie is this?

In Bronson’s defense, he was 71 year-old when he made this movie and, off screen, his wife Jill Ireland was battling the cancer that would eventually take her life.  Bronson can be excused for not appearing to be overly invested in Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects.  (Since Kinjite means Forbidden Subjects in Japanese, the actual title of this movie is Forbidden Subjects: Forbidden Subjects.)  No one appears to have made much of an effort on Kinjite, though Bronson’s stunt double gets a good work out.  Kinjite is full of scenes where Bronson throws a punch in close-up but his first in never actually shown connecting with anyone.  Most of the action scenes are clumsily filmed so that Crowe keeps his back to the camera.   All Kinjite needs is a supporting turn from Troy McClure and a cameo from McGarnagle and it would be perfect viewing for The Simpsons.

Kinjite would be the final film that Bronson made for Cannon Films.  It would also be the last Bronson film to be directed by J. Lee Thompson.  After Kinjite, Bronson appeared in two more feature films: Sean Penn’s The Indian Runner (which, if not for Penn’s pretentious direction, could have launched Bronson on a second career as a first-rate character actor) and a final Death Wish film.  Bronson returned to television, appearing in three made-for-TV movies before retiring in 1999.  Bronson died in 2003 but, as long as there are people who enjoy a good action movie, he will never be forgotten.

This scene is not from Kinjite but it’s still pretty fucking cool.

A Movie A Day #177: Murphy’s Law (1986, directed by J. Lee Thompson)


What is Murphy’s Law?

Let’s ask LAPD Detective Jack Murphy.

“Don’t fuck with Jack Murphy.”

Normally, having a law named after you would be pretty cool but it appears that this is just a law that Jack came up with himself.  Having to come up with your own law is kind of like having to come up with your own nickname.  Dude, it’s just lame.  Since Jack Murphy is played Charles Bronson, we can cut him some slack.

Murphy’s Law was one of the many film that, towards the end of his career, Bronson made for Cannon Films.  He played a detective in almost all of them.  Jack Murphy is Dirty Harry without the fashion sense.  He is also an alcoholic who cannot get over his ex-wife (Angel Tompkins) and her decision to become a stripper.  Not only has Murphy managed to piss off his superiors with his bad attitude but the mob is out to get him.  Everyone has forgotten Murphy’s Law.  Everyone is fucking with Jack Murphy.

Jack’s main problem, though, is Joan Freeman (Carrie Snodgress).  Years ago, Murphy sent Joan to prison for murder but, because it’s California and Jerry Brown appointed all of the judges, Joan gets out after just a few years.  Joan starts to systematically murder everyone that Murphy knows, framing Murphy for the murders.  Murphy’s arrested by his fellow cops, all of whom need a refresher on Murphy’s Law.  Though handcuffed to a young thief (Kathleen Wilhoite), Murphy escapes from jail and set off to remind everyone why you don’t fuck with Jack Murphy.

Murphy’s Law is a typical Cannon Bronson film: low-budget, ludicrously violent, borderline incoherent, so reactionary than it makes the Dirty Harry films look liberal, and, if you’re a fan of Charles Bronson, wildly entertaining.  Bronson was 65 years old when he played Jack Murphy so he cannot be blamed for letting his stunt double do most of the work in this movie.  What’s interesting is that, for once, Bronson is not the one doing most of the killing.  Instead, it is Carrie Snodgress, in the role of Joan Freeman, who gets to murder nearly the entire cast.  There is nothing subtle about Snodgress’s demonic performance, which makes it perfect for a Cannon-era Bronson film.  In fact, Carrie Snodgress gives one of the best villainous performances in the entire Bronson filmography.  There is never any doubt that Snodgress is capable of killing even the mighty Charles Bronson, which makes Murphy’s Law a little more suspenseful than most of the movies that Bronson made in the 80s.

Whatever else can be said about Murphy’s Law, it does feature one of Bronson’s best one liners.  When Joan threatens to send him to Hell, Murphy replies, without missing a beat, “Ladies first.”  Only Bronson could make a line like that sound cool.  That’s Bronson’s Law.

A Movie A Day #174: St. Ives (1976, directed by J. Lee Thompson)


Raymond St. Ives (Charles Bronson) is a former cop-turned-writer who desperately needs money.  Abner Procane (John Houseman) is a wealthy and cultured burglar who needs someone to serve as a go-between.  Five of Procane’s ledgers have been stolen.  The thieves are demanding a ransom and Procane believes that St. Ives is just the man to deliver the money.  But every time that St. Ives tries to deliver the money, another person ends up getting murdered and St. Ives ends up looking more and more like a suspect.  Who is the murderer?  Is it Janet (Jacqueline Bisset), the seductive woman who lives in Procane’s mansion?  Is it Procane’s eccentric psychiatrist (Maximillian Schell)?  Could it be the two cops (Harry Guardino and Harris Yulin) who somehow show up at every murder scene?  Only Ray St. Ives can solve the case!

Charles Bronson is best remembered for playing men of few words, the type who never hesitated to pull the trigger and do what they had to do.  St. Ives was one of the few films in which Bronson got to play a cerebral character.  Ray St. Ives may get into his share of fights but he spends most of the film examining clues and trying to solve a mystery.  The mystery itself is not as important as the quirky people who St. Ives meets while solving it.  St. Ives has a great, only in the 70s type of cast.  Along with those already mentioned, keep an eye out for Robert Englund, Jeff Goldblum, Dana Elcar, Dick O’Neill, Daniel J. Travanti, Micheal Lerner, and Elisha Cook, Jr.  It’s definitely different from the stereotypical Charles Bronson film, which is why it is also one of my favorites of his films.  As this film shows, Bronson was an underrated actor.  In St. Ives, Bronson proves that, not only could he have played Mike Hammer, he could have played Philip Marlowe a well.

St. Ives is historically significant because it was the first Bronson film to be directed by J. Lee Thompson.  Thompson would go on to direct the majority of the films Bronson made for Cannon in 1980s, eventually even taking over the Death Wish franchise from Michael Winner.

A Movie A Day #56: The White Buffalo (1977, directed by J. Lee Thompson)


whitebuffalo1977The year is 1874 and James Otis (Charles Bronson) is traveling through the Dakota Territory.  Everywhere that James Otis goes, someone tries to shoot him.  This is because James Otis is actually the infamous Wild Bill Hickcock and everyone this side of Deadwood has a reason to want him dead.  Hickcock has returned to the territory because he is losing his eyesight and he fears that he may be dying.  Hickcock has been having nightmares about a giant albino buffalo and believes that it is his destiny to either kill it or be killed himself.

Meanwhile, a young indian chief (Will Sampson) is also seeking the White Buffalo.  The buffalo previously attacked his village and killed his son.  The chief must now get revenge or lose his power in the tribe.  He is now known as Worm.  Before the buffalo attack, his name was Crazy Horse.

Crazy Horse eventually teams up with Hickcock and a one-eyed hunter named Charlie Zane (Jack Warden).  They work out an uneasy alliance but who, of the three, will finally get the chance to kill the buffalo?

When Dino De Laurentiis produced The White Buffalo, he was hoping to combine the popularity of Jaws with the star power of Charles Bronson.  It should have been a hit but instead, The White Buffalo was one of the many flops that temporarily killed the western as a commercial genre.  (Before there was Heaven’s Gate, there was The White Buffalo.)  The reason why is obvious: while audiences loved to watch Bronson shoot muggers in New York, they were less willing to sit through a pseudo-intellectual western version of Moby Dick that featured more conversation than gunplay.  The obviously fake buffalo did not help matters.

I still like The White Buffalo, though.  Because of the movie’s cheap sets, fake snow, and some inconsistent rear projection work, The White Buffalo is sometimes so surreal that it could pass for a Spaghetti Western.  (When I saw Bronson, Sampson, and Warden huddled in a cardboard cave while it fake snowed outside, I immediately thought of Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence.)  Charles Bronson, always an underrated actor, gave one of his best performances as the haunted Hickcock.  The White Buffalo was, up until his small role in Sean Penn’s The Indian Runner, the last time that Bronson would allow himself to appear as anyone other than Charles Bronson on-screen.

When watching The White Buffalo, keep an eye out for several Hollywood veterans in minor roles.  Kim Novak plays a prostitute.  Stuart Whitman is a thief.  Slim Pickens drives a stagecoach.  Clint Walker’s an outlaw and Ed Lauter plays the younger brother of Gen. Custer.  The town’s undertaker is John Carradine.  The cameos don’t add up too much but it’s still good to see everyone.