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Charles Bronson is gone, his films remain as the harmonica plays on.

Village Boy 2
We're ashamed to live here. Our
fathers are cowards.

Bernardo O'Reilly
Don't you ever say that again about
your fathers, because they are not
cowards. You think I am brave
because I carry a gun; well, your
fathers are much braver because
they carry responsibility, for you,
your brothers, your sisters, and your
mothers. And this responsibility is
like a big rock that weighs a ton. It
bends and it twists them until finally
it buries them under the ground.
And there's nobody says they have
to do this. They do it because they
love you, and because they want to.
I have never had this kind of
courage. Running a farm, working
like a mule every day with no
guarantee anything will ever come
of it. This is bravery.

This scene from THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN was the one that defined and set apart Charles Bronson from the other “Action” guys for me. Bronson was a man that never had a choice, driven to violence and sad that his life could be no other way on screen. Envious of simple things like family, which if his characters had, were inevitably taken away from him. Today the opposite came to pass, today Charles Bronson left his family, taken by death.

He leaves behind not only a grieving family, but for me at least, the hope that his next great film was out there somehow eluding him, soon to be captured… dashed.

He has passed away, only a week after the release of the new HOUSE OF WAX DVD, while not the film he’s best known for, it was the first film I saw “Charles Buchinsky” in. It was at this movie theater (I believe the Northcross Theater) in San Antonio, Texas… I was just a little boy at the time and I remember how cool I thought these cellophane glasses were to wear. My father kept insisting that the movie would come out and get me if I put them on and I thought he was silly. Then… that paddle ball kept coming close to hitting me in the face and I was entranced. HOUSE OF WAX was an ENORMOUS hit. So much so, that in adjusted dollars… it is still one of the top 100 films ever made. My favorite Bronson moment in the film is the scene where his head was pretending to be a wax head staring at our helpless heroine. The odd part was… his head was creepily unlife like in the shot till it moved. Scared me silly at the time.

Quickly after this film, he formally changed his name to Charles Bronson, so that there would be no chance of being confused in with the Red Scare McCarthy Sweep that was brushing away just about any life that could even possibly be Russian sounding.

Surrounding HOUSE OF WAX he was playing small parts of all sorts. Military men, Indians, Criminals… basically anything manly.

Bronson had a machismo about him… a masculinity that set him apart. Looking back on these tiny roles… you knew that he was destined to break out. As an audience member, ya just can’t not look at him.

Fate grabbed Bronson by the scruff of the neck and hurled him to a star-making role in Roger Corman’s MACHINE-GUN KELLY. Originally, Dick Miller (aka the god of ROCK ALL NIGHT), was set to play MACHINE-GUN KELLY, but an argument between Roger Corman and the screenwriter over casting made Corman, begrudgingly cast “the third option” which was Charles Bronson. You might remember seeing the 3-sheet for this movie in PULP FICTION, me… before I did this site, I was a Movie Poster dealer and the artwork for the MACHINE-GUN KELLY poster screamed “WATCH ME NOW!” In my opinion… it is still my favorite Charles Bronson poster. It is a film, ya just never really get to see, the flick isn’t available on Video or DVD… and when I found a 16mm print on Ebay one glorious day, I leapt at the opportunity to buy it to screen at BUTT-NUMB-A-THON 4 last year. Shot in 13 days, this film is an electric performance by Bronson. Not really playing it as a tough guy, but as a yellow-bellied chicken shit with Tommy-gun courage. The idea that in this flick you get to see Bronson turn yellow, exhibit sadism with relish, chop with a Thompson and… Goddamn, you should see how this movie starts off. Absolutely classic cracker jack operation of a bank job and getaway. Bronson teemed with confidence in this flick… throwing out so much charm that you can’t help but see him in Technicolor though the film is in bristling black & white.

That was in 1958… Bronson was churning the material out, 5 films and a crime tv series starring him called “MAN WITH A CAMERA.” However, after the release of MACHINE GUN KELLY – Bronson slowed down a bit. In 1959 he made only one flick… NEVER SO FEW directed by John Sturges… It was a war film placing him alongside Frank Sinatra, Steve McQueen, Peter Lawford and Gina Lollobrigida in an A-film. His work was good enough that John Sturges cast him in his re-make of the Japanese classic… SEVEN SAMURAI, which was converted into a Western we all love known as MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. Again, Bronson was being placed alongside the other heroes of the day… and frankly he was given the most interesting character to me. At this point… Bronson was truly an A-list character actor, but not really a star. He was landing nice roles in films like MASTER OF THE WORLD, where he was no longer a silent mute to Vincent Price’s magnificent villain, but the Government Agent and Romantic leading man combating him. Note – This is a wonderful genre effort by the king of Serials and B-Westerns William Witney.

Bronson, in this period, even got to work with the King, Elvis Presley, in one of his best films… KID GALAHAD, his assistant trainer was kinda cool. But frankly… I would’ve killed to have had Bronson be the boxer that Presley had to fight, and let Bronson beat the living tar out of the man with the magic hips. Oh, to see Bronson go medieval on Elvis would have ruled the world. Alas… he was just the assistant trainer, but we all know Bronson deserved to knock Elvis’ block off.

His next great flick was THE GREAT ESCAPE… another ensemble piece that really made him exude cool. I mean, if just for his line, “Ia vas liubliu,” he would have owned, but his rowboat sequences are for me… greatness. As cool as Coburn’s bicycling French getaway was… the simple beauty of just rowing your way out of the shit… the beauty he rows past… I love it. There is a majesty to it that I love. John Sturges surely had a soft spot for Bronson.

The next great one was Robert Aldrich’s THE DIRTY DOZEN. Bronson is pretty great in the film, though my personal favorite member of the Dirty Dozen has always been John Cassavetes’ anti-social Franco. But hey… I’m a Cassavetes freak and he didn’t do enough films like these. I got the idea though… that Bronson was tired of this type of part. He was being pushed into the background of supporting characters and was never really being given the showy roles… the stuff that could make him a star. Eastwood had just completed his MAN WITH NO NAME trilogy for Leone, which Bronson had passed on when Leone offered him the Eastwood role in FISTFUL OF DOLLARS... and with the trilogy's release in the United States… Clint had become a superstar.

Bronson saw the writing on the wall and knew he’d get the chance to star in European films which could catapult him the rest of the way to stardom. In 1968 he made 3 Italian films… the lukewarm GUNS FOR SAN SEBASTIAN albeit with an amazing Morricone score ‘natch… FAREWELL, FRIEND (aka HONOR AMONG THIEVES) which is actually a pretty damn good French Foreign Legion flick with Alan Delion, but… well his third foreign film was the work of a god. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST was just… is simply magnificent in every conceivable fashion. It all started with that script and story. Chiseled upon the blank page by Sergio Leone, Sergio Donati, Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento. With Mickey Knox (see if you know that name) doing the English dialogue version. “Inside the men were 3 bullets.” God I love that.

With their script they got a cast that starred Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda and Jason Robards. Bronson’s HARMONICA was the “Eastwood” role. Tonino Delli Colli’s cinematography was astonishing. Bronson’s eyes seemed to sweat… his skin cracked and his hair… everything about him was painterly. Backed by Morricone’s score… playing opposite a Henry Fonda that just still blows me away with his malice and cruelty… Bronson finally had an Iconic role that just burned into the consciousness of the world. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is my person favorite Bronson movie. He just looks so damn cool, acts so cool, is so cool that I’m frozen to my seat every single time I watch it.

His next great film is one… mostly unrecognized by folks at large, but if you see it… you’ll love it. THE FAMILY (aka VIOLENT CITY aka CITTA VIOLENTA) as directed by Sergio Sollima (who Quentin considers the second to Leone in terms of Spaghetti Western direction… though personally I’m a Corbucci Whore… THE GREAT SILENCE owns any and all Sollima flicks!) in what is essentially a remake of the classic Noir film, OUT OF THE PAST. Although as Tarantino put it when introducing this film at QT5, “The Italians didn’t do fucking remakes, they just fucking steal it. ‘Hey you put it out there, its ours now!’” Telly Savalas and Bronson rule in this flick… first time acting together since THE DIRTY DOZEN, there’s this great scene where Savalas is making Bronson a coconut mixed drink and offers it to Bronson who responds with relish, “I don’t want that sissy fucking drink! Do I look like I’m wearing satin undies to you gal?” Oh yeah! That’s Bronson! Maybe not a completely “GREAT” film, but a damn good one no matter what. The operatic ending with Bronson is classic and it also set up all the precedence for his work in films like THE MECHANIC and DEATH WISH that came later. To me, while ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST was the definitive Bronson Western, this film set the standard and pattern for what Bronson perhaps best became known as… A modern vigilante death-dealer for personal justice.

There is a film I’ve always wanted to see… one that I’d kill to see first on the big screen… RED SUN. This was one of those crazy East meets West flicks. A spaghetti western starring Charles Bronson and teeming him up with a Japanese Samurai in the west as played by TOSHIRO MIFUNE and as the gorgeous babe… Ursula Andress. I must see this film. The DVD is apparently out of print and I can’t seem to find where to order it, though there are a couple of Region 2 DVDs on Ebay… sigh… I’ll get it someday! I just hope it is even an ounce as cool as the premise and promise.

The next Bronson flick that I really love, though I am a bit partial to CHATO’S LAND, is THE MECHANIC. I love THE MECHANIC. I absolutely love the relationship between Charles Bronson and Jan-Michael Vincent. I love the action sequences, the twists, the no dialogue opening and the ending… I fucking love the ending. It’s like… when Ricardo Montalban said, “From Hell’s Heart I stabbath thee!” in WRATH OF KHAN, it’s like that personified. Wonderful film… Really great!

THE STONE KILLER also kicks ass and leaves an impression. Watching Bronson’s detective taking on the Sicilian Mafioso and a team of Vietnam vets. Sure it is a bit dated, but there’s just something simply perfect about Bronson killing everything he aims at. It is very satisfying, especially when you see how bad the aim of the average action hero today is. I mean… you can’t count how many times Will Smith or Martin pulls their triggers, but Bronson usually only needed about 25 bullets for the whole film. That’s efficient. I like that.

Then Bronson made the modern action flick that just kicked the living shit out of everything he did before or after. MR. MAJESTYK. Directed by the great Richard Fleischer, written by Elmore Leonard and scored magnificently by Charles Bernstein. This film owns. Absolutely one of the best films Bronson ever made. The dialogue is popping, the action great. I mean… Try this on… “You make sounds like you’re a mean little ass kicker, only I ain’t convinced. You keep talking and I’m gonna take your head off.” I LOVE THAT! Bronson exhibits some of the best damn machismo chauvinism ever exhibited on the screen. It isn’t that he just says outrageous things… he says them and you fucking buy every single word cuz… well he’s Charles Fucking Bronson and he is THE MAN! There is a bit of mad genius at work on the mere concept of this flick. I mean… A film about a Watermelon farmer pushed to the breaking point is… CLASSIC! I mean, nobody fucks with Charles Bronson’s watermelons lest they want him to get Gallagher on his ass, and Bronson does go fucking Gallagher on many asses in this flick. One of the finest films Bronson ever made. GREAT!

And finally – the film that gave Bronson perhaps his greatest fame as well as basically ending his career. DEATH WISH. I love DEATH WISH. Yes, I understand that as a liberal Austinite that is bizarre as hell, but Bronson essentially is a superhero here. He has the typical tragic superhero origin of his family being taken from him cruelly. Then he sets out to punish all evil doers. That sock of quarters… One time, before I went to Vegas, my sister was saving quarters so I could gamble in slot machines for her. She put them all in a sock, and when she gave it to me… the first thing I did was wrap the sock around my hand a couple of times and did just a light swing of the sock into my leg and it left a bruise like a prison rape gone wrong. HURT LIKE HELL, and when I see those quarters slam into that jaw… OUCH! This film was one of those films that I remember from my earliest memories. I saw it at drive-ins double featured with DIRTY HARRY at least 6 times with my parents. Bronson was never really able to overcome the typecasting of being Paul Kersey. He made other great films… notably Walter Hill’s badass HARD TIMES or Don Siegel’s TELEFON or the underrated BORDERLINE… all three of which I really love, but due to him doing the sequels to DEATH WISH… he continually reinforced the character in the mindset of the public.

I was always pulling for a modern director to reinvent Bronson one last time on the screen. The man was a helluva performer and actor. And while I liked MURPHY'S LAW and the DEATH WISH sequels and MESSENGER OF DEATH and KINJITE, but these were not particularly great flicks. I remember when the rumors came that he was being considered as an elder Jedi back before THE PHANTOM MENACE, I literally thought George Lucas was going to be a God again, alas it was nothing but rumor. Bronson had some of the best eyes and chiseled features in the history of cinema. His voice could send a gravely chill down one's spine and make a bad guy's balls sweat. His name meant badass and frankly, we don’t get to see actors like him any more. Perhaps someone will come out of the woodwork, but Bronson… Bronson had his own brand of cool. I’m afraid we won’t see his like again. In fact, I know it.

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