When Charles Bronson passed away a few years ago, I was sad to notice that it caused barely a ripple in the entertainment press. This was a guy that in the 1960s was in the three greatest action adventure films of the decade. No one else was in both “The Magnificent Seven” and “The Dirty Dozen”. In addition he was featured with his Magnificent Seven co-star Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape”. He was also in the Sergio Leone classic, “Once Upon a Time in the West”. So from an historical point he represented a connection to cinema history that was unparalleled at the time. In the 1970’s, Bronson was the go to action star of his day. Bruce Willis will have to make movies for another ten years to come close to the output of Bronson. He was the star of the controversial “Death Wish”, which was the focus of more media attention and press in 1974, then any of the so called cutting edge films of today. His passing was noted in a few small articles and a couple of clips. He deserved a retrospective on his career. That may actually be the next blog I start.
This is one of the many mid-level action films he made that populated my teen years. If “The Mechanic” had been a summer film, I would probably have done that film first. I knew the dialogue and plot down pat. I saw it dozens of times, Mr. Majestyk, I probably only saw three or four times. I have not revisited it since those days and it was a pretty good trip to take. The story concerns a melon farmer, who crosses paths with a contract killer, and he has to maneuver the police and the bad guys for the duration of the film. This movie has a high action content but it is not as violent as many of the other Bronson films of the seventies. There is a little bit of a migrant worker story, but you don’t get Charles Bronson to deliver a social message, you want someone to kick ass.
Al Letteri plays the killer. He is best known as Solozo, the drug importer than is the sparking point in “The Godfather”. He was a big, beefy looking guy with ethnic features and he seemed to get pigeon-holed into heavy parts. He also showed up in the Steve McQueen vehicle “The Getaway”. It is maybe somewhat a stretch because he delivers many of his lines with a speech impediment. He sounds like he has a heavy lisp. His character is after Bronson for personal reasons that stem from some of the events in the movie. Sometimes he seems single minded about getting even, and other times, it appears he is rushing to get it out of the way so he can move on. There is not a lot of consistency in the character. His girlfriend shows up but is barely a part of the story, and we wonder what would draw her to him in the first place. Steve Kolso, plays a local thug trying to strong arm Bronson into hiring his picking crews. This guy was in dozens of early 70’s movies, usually playing a sneaky bad guy. He plays one of the cops after Kowalski in Vanishing Point.
Most of the tough guy characters that Bronson played had some background that explained why they could be so badass. Mr. Majestyk is supposed to be a former Army Ranger and a Silver Star winner, he has drifted into Colorado, to become a watermelon farmer and all he is concerned about in the movie is getting his crop in. I remember seeing a Dirty Harry movie where killing his partner got him irritated but someone kicking his dog sets him off and the bad guys suffer more for the dog then anything else. Here there is a similar trauma, the thing that most sets off Bronson is the bad guys machine gunning his watermelon crop. That scene is the one thing I remembered best about this movie. The watermelons are exploding all over the warehouse and it just looked cool.Of course there will be a comeuppance. There are a lot of good chases through the mountains and pastures of the farms in the area. The crooks try to free the killer in an attack on the streets of a small town and all kinds of hell breaks loose. When Bronson finally takes a shotgun to the riff raff we are very satisfied with the outcome.
I made the comparison to Bruce Willis earlier. Bronson usually played stoic characters that had their own code. Today, the protagonist is full of quips and comebacks that sound like they could have been written for a sketch comedy show. There is only one such line in this movie, it is set up early on and then it makes up the final confrontation with one of the bad guys. In-between, we had very few lines from the star but plenty of star presense. Bronson made films up until just a few years before his death. They were never as great as the stuff that came out in the 1970’s, when Charlie Bronson ruled the matinees and deserved to be the big star that he was.