BRONSON’S LOOSE AGAIN! A TOP-NOTCH TRIBUTE TO A TOUGH GUY
BRONSON’S LOOSE AGAIN!: ON THE SET WITH CHARLES BRONSON by Paul Talbot. Published by Bear Manor Media. 468 pages. $28 retail (softcover), $38 retail (hardcover).
Charles Bronson (1921-2003) was a unique star. He wasn’t conventionally handsome, he wasn’t a particularly versatile actor, and he was never a critic’s darling. Indeed, more often than not he was a critic’s punchline. Yet at the age of 50 he was the world’s most popular film star – except in the United States. That changed with Death Wish (1974), a blockbuster hit that perfectly captured the zeitgeist and catapulted him into superstar status.
Author Paul Talbot is clearly a Bronson fan, having earlier written Bronson’s Loose!: The Making of the Death Wish Films (2006). Here, he expands his focus to include other Bronson films, beginning with Hard Times (1975) – one of Bronson’s best films – through the made-for-TV Family of Cops trilogy (1995-’99).
Talbot combines his affection with solid storytelling, making this book a must for Bronson fans. It’s not strictly a biography, although there’s plenty of biographical data included, and Talbot doesn’t hesitate to criticize some of the films. But he’ll also point out the virtues of many, including the excellent HBO drama Act of Vengeance (1986) – in which Bronson played the real-life United Mine Workers union leader Jock Yablonski – or the sentimental holiday TV movie Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus (1991), or the 1993 TNT adaptation of Jack London’s The Sea Wolf, all of which allowed Bronson to expand his range.
Nearly 15 years after his death, Charles Bronson remains a larger-than-life figure, with a solid (and eclectic) worldwide fan base. He remains a one of a kind. My college roommate Dean Galanis is a die-hard Bronson devotee, as is his mother (!), who often took young Dean to see the latest Bronson shoot-’em-up. And although yours truly has joked about Bronson’s stoic screen persona, I consider myself a fan, too. He wasn’t the greatest actor, but his very presence was indomitable. I even have an original Death Wish poster in my home.
One of the more embarrassing, though undeniably amusing, personal aspects when reading Bronson’s Loose Again! is being reminded how many of these films I saw during their original release, many on opening weekend! Yes, it’s true: I saw Murphy’s Law (1986), Assassination (1987), Messenger of Death (1988), and all the Death Wish sequels in the theater.
Bronson, born Charles Buchinsky and raised in the coal town of Ehrenfeld, Penn., spent his youth in poverty. After Death Wish, he cranked out action film after action film, one right after the other. The one time he deviated from the formula, with the romantic-comedy/Western From Noon Till Three (1976) – the best film he and actress wife Jill Ireland ever starred in – the end result was a (mild) critical success and a (major) box-office misfire, not helped by the inability of United Artists to promote, or even release, the film properly. Talbot’s chapter on From Noon Till Three is almost a revelation, given how few people know the film, and because he secured an interview with writer/producer/director Frank D. Gilroy (who died just a year later).
So, it was back to action for Bronson, and Talbot covers a good number of them: Love and Bullets (1979), CaboBlanco (1980), Borderline (1980), 10 to Midnight (1983), The Evil That Men Do (1984), and so on. Following the success of Death Wish II, which restored some of the actor’s box-office luster, he contracted with Cannon Films, the ubiquitous and infamous low-budget film factory run by Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, for whom Bronson made most of his ’80s features. Cannon specialized in lowbrow action films, and at this stage in his career Bronson was content to keep making them (at $1 million a pop). He believed in giving his audience what they wanted, even to the detriment of his reputation.
Despite having covered the Death Wish films in his earlier book, Talbot revisits them through interviews with screenwriter David Engelbach (Death Wish II) and such actors as Robin Sherwood and the late Silvana Gallardo (Death Wish II), Kirk Taylor (Death Wish 3) and Robert Joy (Death Wish 5). The very title Bronson’s Loose Again! was the catchphrase on the Death Wish II poster.
Whether good or bad, successful or not, Talbot provides a concise “making-of” history for each film – even if said film wouldn’t initially seem to warrant it. There aren’t many people who regard Assassination, Messenger of Death, or Kinjite (1989) as first-rate (or even second-rate!) Bronson vehicles, yet they are given their due, often in wildly entertaining fashion.
Bronson’s screen image was not unlike his personality: Gruff, blunt, and hard-boiled. He boasted about not having friends – and not wanting them, either. Yet there was a sensitive side to the actor, especially when it came to Ireland (“She thinks I’m the best-looking man in the world, but I think I’m the ugliest,” he once said). Throughout the book, their devotion to each other is noted repeatedly by those interviewed. The main reason, perhaps the only reason, to revisit Assassination is their chemistry. That film would turn out to be Ireland’s last, as she died of cancer in 1990 at only 54 years of age, a cruel ending for an amazingly beautiful actress whose talents were often overlooked.
Bronson would find love again, with actress Kim Weeks, whom he wed in 1998, but this union would prove short-lived, as he soon began displaying symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease and died in 2003 – itself a cruel ending to the life of one of the screen’s immortal tough guys. We love ya, Charlie, wherever you are.
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