In Top 10 Films That Prove Charles Bronson Was A Legitimate Character Actor, Mark Fraser looked at the “Good” in Bronson’s career. Here he takes a look at the “Bad and the “Ugly”!
It’s hard to believe that Charles Bronson was in the first generation of Hollywood actors to be paid $1 million a movie. Furthermore, he had reached this milestone by the mid 1970s when he was in his fifties. Unfortunately, after establishing himself as something of a character actor over the previous three decades, Bronson’s credibility as an interesting lead man slipped during the 1980s when he became typecast as a Reagan-era vigilante. (It is also interesting to note that the word death appears in no less than five of the offending movies’ titles – this after he made the not-too-bad Death Hunt in 1981 for director Peter Hunt, who later oversaw the film-making duties for this list’s number 10). In the second part of this installment, Mark Fraser looks at ten major black spots in the Bronson oeuvre.
10. Assassination (Peter Hunt, 1987)
Not the most repugnant of CB’s 1980s films, but definitely one of the dullest. Given he was a family man, maybe he wanted to tone the violence down a bit given it also starred his wife (Jill Ireland), who played an uptight US First Lady whom special agent Jay Killian (Bronson) is assigned to protect.
9. Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (J Lee Thompson, 1989)
Kiddie slavery, rape, male sexual repression in modern Japan, teenage suicide – they’re all in this one, with CB playing a vice squad detective who helps bring down a child prostitution ring. Regardless of its content, Kinjite is somewhat mellower than most of Bronson’s other collaborations with Thompson, which ended after this film.
8. Death Wish V: The Face of Death (Allan Goldstein, 1994)
The final film in a franchise that initially made Bronson an American superstar before dragging his career into the Hollywood tar pits. As an architect who seems to have thrived under the witness protection program (he is now a professor who lives in a modest mansion near NYC and has a housekeeper), CB’s Paul Kersey comes out of vigilante retirement when his main squeeze (Leslie-Anne Down), a prominent fashion designer, falls afoul of her ex (Michael Parks), a low rent version of Reggie Kray. This one – in which Bronson assassinates one of the hitmen (Robert Joy) with a radio-controlled exploding soccer ball – marked the 20th anniversary of the original Death Wish.
7. Messenger of Death (J Lee Thompson, 1988)
CB plays the most unlikely of journalists who stumbles across a small town harbouring secrets that involve murder, religious crackpots and a conspiracy to control a water supply. An intriguing premise perhaps, but Chinatown this ain’t.
6. Murphy’s Law (J Lee Thompson, 1986)
LAPD detective Bronson finds himself the victim of a smear campaign perpetrated by a deranged murderer in the form of Carrie Snodgress. In real life, Murphy’s Law loosely states that whatever bad can happen will happen, and this pretty much sums up the film.
5. Ten To Midnight (J Lee Thompson, 1983)
A principled cop (CB) decides to bend the law, and then take it into his own hands, while bringing a woman-slashing serial killer to justice. Needless to say, he gets his man.
4. Death Wish IV: The Crackdown (J Lee Thompson, 1987)
In number five Bronson was fighting organized crime; this time it’s the street scum drug dealers he’s after. Kay Lenz plays Kersey’s-squeeze-who-gets-it – one of her few prominent roles in a Hollywood film since the 1970s. Sadly, this film did not provide her with much of a comeback vehicle.
3. Death Wish III (Michael Winner, 1985)
The artillery gets bigger as CB takes on an army of NYC ghetto thugs after they kill one of his old Korean War buddies. In this installment, the eponymous Kersey turns out to be a strange mix of Harry Brown and Rambo. This was Winner and Bronson’s sixth film together – and their last.
2. The Evil That Men Do (J Lee Thompson, 1984)
When retired CIA agent Holland (Bronson) is asked take leave of his West Indies paradise to kill Central American torturer Clement Molloch (Joseph Maher), he agrees to do it for no pay. He then systematically (and efficiently) starts wiping out all the bad guys in Molloch’s entourage as he works his way to the top. Arguably one of the few non-animation films made – outside of a shark or piranha movie – where the protagonist is seen from a fish’s point of view.
1. Death Wish II (Michael Winner, 1982)
Kersey may have fled to Chicago at the end of the first Death Wish, but the sequel sees him in crime-rich Los Angeles, where his surviving daughter (Robin Sherwood) runs though a plate glass window before being fatally impaled on a railing while being pursued by some hoods. As mediocre as some of Bronson’s roles might have been up until he made this turkey, his characters always managed to maintain a modicum of integrity. Things pretty much changed, however, with this film. Still, he did die a rich man when his health succumbed to a mixture of Alzheimer’s and pneumonia in LA on August 30, 2003 at the age of 81.