Film Review – THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960)

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960, USA, 128m, PG) ****
Western
dist. United Artists; pr co. The Mirisch Company / Alpha Productions; d. John Sturges; w. William Roberts; pr. John Sturges; ph. Charles Lang (DeLuxe | 2.35:1); m. Elmer Bernstein; ed. Ferris Webster; ad. Edward Fitzgerald.
cast: Yul Brynner (Chris Larabee Adams), Eli Wallach (Calvera), Steve McQueen (Vin Tanner), Horst Buchholz (Chico), Charles Bronson (Bernardo O’Reilly), Robert Vaughn (Lee), Brad Dexter (Harry Luck), James Coburn (Britt), Jorge Martínez de Hoyos (Hilario), Vladimir Sokoloff (Old Man), Rosenda Monteros (Petra), Rico Alaniz (Sotero), Pepe Hern (Tomas), Natividad Vacío (Villager (as Natividad Vacio)), Mario Navarro (Boy with O’Reilly), Danny Bravo (Boy with O’Reilly), John A. Alonzo (Miguel), Val Avery (Henry), Whit Bissell (Chamlee), Robert J. Wilke (Wallace).
John Sturges’ remake of Akira Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI (1954) is packed with iconic moments delivered with aplomb by a cast of future stars. A Mexican village is at the mercy of Wallach and his band of outlaws. The farming villagers are too afraid to fight for themselves and hire seven American gunslingers, led by Brynner, to help them fight back. The gunmen train the villagers to defend themselves and then plan a trap for the bandits. The film has become immensely popular over the years, largely due to its cast. Brynner is a commanding presence and McQueen the epitome of cool. Bronson and Coburn also get the opportunity to show their potential and Vaughn’s character is an interesting psychological contradiction. Buchholz is a little excitable as a proud Mexican out to prove himself. There are slow patches to navigate, but the shootouts are well-staged and exciting, if slightly over-choreographed. Bernstein’s rousing musical score has become a classic. Followed by three sequels – RETURN OF THE SEVEN (1966), GUNS OF THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1969) and THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN RIDE! (1972) – and a TV series (1998-2000). Remade in 2016.
AAN: Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Elmer Bernstein).

Film Review – THE STONE KILLER (1973)

THE STONE KILLER (1973, USA, 95m, 15) ***
Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller
dist. Columbia Pictures (USA), Columbia-Warner Distributors (UK); pr co. Dino de Laurentiis Cinematografica / Produzioni Cinematografiche Inter. Ma. Co. / Rizzoli Film; d. Michael Winner; w. Gerald Wilson (based on the novel “A Complete State of Death” by John Gardner); pr. Michael Winner; ph. Richard Moore (Technicolor | 1.85:1); m. Roy Budd; ed. Frederick Wilson; ad. Ward Preston.
cast: Charles Bronson (Lou Torrey), Martin Balsam (Al Vescari), Jack Colvin (Jumper), Paul Koslo (Langley), Norman Fell (Les Daniels), David Sheiner (Guido Lorenz), Stuart Margolin (Lawrence), Ralph Waite (Mathews), Alfred Ryder (Tony Champion), Walter Burke (J D), Kelley Miles (Geraldine Wexton), Eddie Firestone (Armitage), Charles Tyner (Police Psychiatrist), Byron Morrow (Station Commander), Lisabeth Hush (Dr. Helen Torrey), Frank Campanella (Calabriese), Gene Woodbury (Paul Long), Robert Emhardt (Fussy Man), David Moody (Gus Lipper), John Ritter (Hart).
A decent gritty action thriller vehicle for Bronson as a police detective who learns a 1930s mobster (Martin Balsam) has formed a killer elite to settle an old gangland score. Winner handles the tough and violent action scenes well, but he is less adept with the actors, who give variable performances. The location shifts from New York to Los Angeles are jarringly edited at times and the screenplay lacks clarity of focus. Roy Budd’s energetic score helps to keep things moving and the climactic shootout is well-staged. John Gardner’s 1969 source novel was set in the UK.

Film Review – MR. MAJESTYK (1974)

MR. MAJESTYK (1974, USA, 103m, 18) ***½
Action, Crime, Thriller
dist. United Artists; pr co. Mirisch Company; d. Richard Fleischer; w. Elmore Leonard; pr. Walter Mirisch; ph. Richard H. Kline (DeLuxe | 1.85:1); m. Charles Bernstein; ed. Ralph E. Winters.
cast: Charles Bronson (Vince Majestyk), Al Lettieri (Frank Renda), Linda Cristal (Nancy Chavez), Lee Purcell (Wiley), Paul Koslo (Bobby Kopas), Taylor Lacher (Gene Lundy), Frank Maxwell (Det. Lt. McAllen), Alejandro Rey (Larry Mendoza), Jordan Rhodes (Deputy Harold Richie), Bert Santos (Julio Tomas).
Enjoyable action-thriller wittily scripted by Leonard and directed with efficiency by Fleischer. Bronson is a Vietnam War veteran trying to keep his watermelon farm afloat when he is approached by Koslo who tries to force him into employing an inept band of farmhands. This incident lands Bronson in jail for assault where he crosses mobster hitman Lettieri when he tries to obstruct his escape plans. Bronson must now stand up for his farm and his workers, led by Cristal, against Lettieri and his men. Bronson is in good form, but Lettieri demonstrably overplays his role resulting in his highly emotive hitman character not ringing true. The action scenes, though, are well-staged and the slight story moves swiftly and entertainingly along to its inevitable shootout finale.

Film Review – BREAKOUT (1975)

BREAKOUT (1975, USA) **
Action, Adventure, Drama
dist. Columbia Pictures (USA), Columbia-Warner Distributors (UK); pr co. Columbia Pictures / Persky-Bright-Vista; d. Tom Gries; w. Howard B. Kreitsek, Marc Norman, Elliott Baker (suggested by a book by Warren Hinckle & William Turner and Eliot Asinof); pr. Robert Chartoff, Irwin Winkler; ph. Lucien Ballard (Eastmancolor. 35mm. Panavision (anamorphic). 2.39:1); m. Jerry Goldsmith; ed. Bud S. Isaacs; ad. Alfred Sweeney; rel. 7 March 1975 (West Germany), 1 May 1975 (UK), 22 May 1975 (USA); BBFC cert: 15; r/t. 96m.
cast: Charles Bronson (Nick Colton), Robert Duvall (Jay Wagner), Jill Ireland (Ann Wagner), John Huston (Harris Wagner), Randy Quaid (Hawkins), Sheree North (Myrna), Jorge Moreno (Sosa), Emilio Fernández (J.V.), Paul Mantee (Cable), Alan Vint (Harve), Alejandro Rey (Sanchez), William B. White (2nd Officer), Roy Jenson (Spencer), Sidney Clute (Henderson), Chalo González (Border Guard), Antonio Tarruella (1st Prison Guard), Don Norgano Frill (2nd Prison Guard).
Vehicle for Bronson in which he plays a bush pilot hired by Ireland for fifty thousand dollars to go to Mexico to free her husband (Duvall), an innocent prisoner. Saddled with a weak script, Gries fails to find a consistent tone as the film veers uneasily between action drama and comedy. This is not helped by using Bronson in a character more suited to the likes of Burt Reynolds. The story is confusing, and the characters’ motives are never fully explored or explained leaving the audience with little to invest in them. The performances are mixed – Duvall has little to do, and his talent is wasted. There are better performances from Quaid and North, who manage to capture the tonal balance best. Huston has a couple of brief scenes as Duvall’s grandfather determined to keep him behind bars. Technical accomplishments are varied, the editing is often clunky, but there are some genuinely hairy stunts performed. Dan Frazer appears uncredited as a US Customs agent. Apparently the film was inspired by the real 1971 helicopter rescue and breakout of Joel David Kaplan from a Mexican prison.

Film Review – BREAKHEART PASS (1975)

BREAKHEART PASS (1975, USA) ***
Mystery, Western
dist. United Artists; pr co. Gershwin-Kastner Productions; d. Tom Gries; w. Alistair MacLean (based on the novel by Alistair MacLean); exec pr. Elliott Kastner; pr. Jerry Gershwin; ph. Lucien Ballard (DeLuxe. 35mm. Spherical. 1.85:1); m. Jerry Goldsmith; ed. Byron ‘Buzz’ Brandt; ad. Tambi Larsen; set d. Darrell Silvera; cos. Tom Dawson, Paula Lynn Kaatz; m/up. Phil Rhodes, Alma Johnson, Evelyn Preece, Vivienne Walker; sd. Gene S. Cantamessa, Frank E. Warner (Mono); sfx. Gerald Endler, A.D. Flowers, Logan Frazee; vfx. Bill Hansard, Don Hansard, William Suhr; st. Yakima Canutt; rel. 25 December 1975 (Finland), February 1976 (UK), 10 March 1976 (USA); cert: PG/PG; r/t. 95m.

cast: Charles Bronson (Deakin), Ben Johnson (Marshal Pearce), Richard Crenna (Gov. Richard Fairchild), Jill Ireland (Marica), Charles Durning (O’Brien), Ed Lauter (Maj. Claremont), Bill McKinney (Rev. Peabody), David Huddleston (Dr. Molyneux), Roy Jenson (Chris Banion), Rayford Barnes (Sgt. Bellew), Scott Newman (Rafferty), Robert Tessier (Levi Calhoun), Joe Kapp (Henry), Archie Moore (Carlos), Sally Kirkland (Jane-Marie), Sally Kemp (Prostitute), Eddie Little Sky (White Hand), Keith McConnell (Gabriel), John Mitchum (Red Beard), Read Morgan (Capt. Oakland).

When diphtheria breaks out at Fort Humboldt, a train is dispatched with medical supplies and relief troops. Also on board are Utah’s governor (Crenna), his mistress (Ireland), a marshal (Johnson) and his prisoner, outlaw John Deakin (Bronson). As the train passes through the mountains, soldiers go missing, telegraph lines are cut, and it is discovered that there is no epidemic. There is a conspiracy afoot, and it is up to Deakin, who is actually a federal agent, to expose it. A mix of traditional Western with Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” and Alistair MacLean’s “nothing is quite what it seems” school of fiction, this is an entertaining and well shot mystery. The confinement of the train setting adds challenges to the narrative as the narrow corridors make it difficult to buy into the skullduggery. However, a game cast is on hand to make the most of the material and the winter location photography adds a bleakness that is in sync with the material. The shootout finale does seem like a concession to Western fans, but the mystery elements work reasonably well. Although set in Nevada, the film was shot in Idaho.

TV Review – RAWHIDE – SEASON 8 (1965)

rawhide cast | TV ACRES: Westerns > Rawhide (starring Eric Fleming ...RAWHIDE – SEASON 8 (USA, 1965) ***½
      Distributor/Production Company: CBS Television Network; Broadcast Dates: 14 September – 7 December 1965; Running Time: 13 x 50m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Executive Producer: Ben Brady; Producer: Robert E. Thompson; Associate Producer: Robert Stillman.
      Cast: Clint Eastwood (Rowdy Yates), Paul Brinegar (Wishbone), Steve Raines (Jim Quince), John Ireland (Jed Colby), Raymond St. Jacques (Simon Blake), David Watson (Ian Cabot).
      Episodes: Encounter at Boot Hill / Ride a Crooked Mile / Six Weeks to Bent Fork / Walk Into Terror / Escort to Doom / Hostage for Hanging / The Vasquez Woman / Clash at Broken Bluff / The Pursuit / Duel at Daybreak / Brush War at Buford / The Testing Post / Crossing at White Feather
      Synopsis: Rowdy Yates is trail boss of a continuous cattle drive. He and his crew runs into characters and adventures along the way.
      Comment: The final season of Rawhide was curtailed to thriteen episodes. Ratings had been on the wane in the previous two seasons and Eric Fleming, who played trail boss Gil Favor, had left the series at the end of season 7 following a dispute on pay. That meant Clint Eastwood was promoted to trail boss. Eastwood by now had filmed the first two of his Italian westerns with Sergio Leone. It is interesting to note that his new found big screen persona began to crossover into his Rowdy Yates character, who is tougher and more mature here. Eastwood’s sqint and laconic approach are in evidence. Despite the flagging viewing figures and loss of the lead actor, the quality of the episodes remained high with some notable guest turns (Simon Oakland, Jeff Cory, Charles Bronson, James Gregory, Bruce Dern, Claude Akins, Rip Torn, Warren Oates, Cesar Romero, Ralph Bellamy, Rory Calhoun). Standout episodes include: Encounter at Boot Hill (stylishly directed by Sutton Roley); Six Weeks to Bent Fork; Walk into Terror; Duel at Daybreak (with Bronson in great form as a sadistic ranch hand). Eastwood can be seen as a much more confident lead than playing second fiddle and he would soon be catapulted to stardom on the back of his third Spaghetti Western, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Film Review – DEATH WISH (1974)

Image result for death wish 1974Death Wish (1974; USA; Technicolor; 93m) ∗∗½  d. Michael Winner; w. Wendell Mayes; ph. Arthur J. Ornitz; m. Herbert Hancock.  Cast: Charles Bronson, Vincent Gardenia, William Redfield, Hope Lange, Stuart Margolin, Stephen Keats, William Redfield, Jack Wallace, Jeff Goldblum. A New York City architect becomes a one-man vigilante squad after his wife is murdered by street punks in which he randomly goes out and kills would-be muggers on the mean streets after dark. Sensationalist crime thriller became influential because of its subject matter and its connection with the public due to the time at which it was filmed, rather than for the quality of the product. Gardenia’s performance adds a level of class to this crowd-pleaser, but Winner’s direction is inconsistent and lacks subtlety. Film debut of Goldblum. Based on the novel by Brian Garfield. Four sequels followed. Remade in 2017. [18]