I guess we all have a favorite when it comes to movie stars and growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, Charles Bronson was and remains my go to answer when asked to name my favorite film star. As a collector of films on home video, I’ve amassed his entire film catalogue from 1951 onward aside from one early bit (1952’s Torpedo Alley) and as many of his early television appearances as I can locate. Movie Posters? Yeah most every one of his North American release posters are here in the vault at Mike’s Take.
To celebrate the 100th birthday of the screen’s most famous vigilante, I’ve squeezed as many topics as I could into this latest addition of From A to Z.
Have a look and enjoy some of the facts and trivia I’ve selected to share.
A is for …. Apache.
Released in 1954, Apache, starred Burt Lancaster in the title role and cast Bronson as the lead Apache scout working for the military in the manhunt for Lancaster. Billed 4th below Burt, Jean Peters and John McIntire, the film represented Bronson’s first with director Robert Aldrich. Our leading man would go on to appear in Vera Cruz (1954), the Rat Pack western 4 For Texas (1963) and most importantly the box office smash, The Dirty Dozen in 1967 under Aldrich’s direction. Aldrich was in line to direct 1981’s Death Hunt but his participation fell through leaving Peter Hunt to take over as director. Among Aldrich’s many fine films you’ll find Kiss Me Deadly, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, The Flight of the Phoenix and Emperor of the North. Aldrich passed away in December of 1983.
B is for …. Buchinsky/Bronson. Charles Dennis Buchinsky was born November 3, 1921. Following WW2 the youngster found his way to Hollywood under his birthname. He’d appear in 20 films using the name Buchinsky. Many of those found him unbilled. Others like House of Wax and Miss Sadie Thompson had him billed below the title and mixed in with the rest of the cast. The final release using Buchinsky came in 1954, the western adventure Vera Cruz. By the time Vera Cruz was released to theaters, he’d already changed his name to Bronson and had costarred opposite Alan Ladd in 1954’s Drum Beat scoring some great reviews for himself as the chief heavy, Captain Jack.
C is for …. Chato’s Land. Long before Rambo led a posse into his own back yard, Bronson, as the Apache warrior, Chato, did it first. Previously featured so have a look at my spotlight on the first film of six Bronson would make with director Michael Winner. The others being The Mechanic, The Stone Killer and the first three films of the Death Wish series.
D is for …. Death Wish.
Was there any doubt? Well, maybe The Dirty Dozen. Michael Winner claims to have had this conversation with Bronson following the completion of the 1973 film, The Stone Killer. Charles Bronson and I wanted to make another film together, and we’re discussing further projects. “What do we do next?” asked Bronson. “The best script I’ve got is ‘Death Wish’. It’s about a man whose wife and daughter are mugged and he goes out and shoots muggers,” I said. “I’d like to do that,” Bronson said. “The film?” I asked. Bronson replied, “No . . . shoot muggers.” Death Wish was the film that finally put Bronson over the top in North America spawning four sequels and even a reboot. Following the success of the 1974 movie, Bronson, took on a variety of film roles for the balance of the decade but once he made the first sequel, he became forever identified as the avenging vigilante of cinema through the 1980’s as his career wound down. Winner would direct the first three films of the series with J. Lee Thompson stepping in on the fourth and Allan Goldstein helming the fifth film which was directed just up the road from me in Toronto, Canada. For my full spotlight on the first, second and third films, click the links to each.
E is for …. Elvis. Who better than Bronson to coach the King of Rock ‘n Roll in the manly art of the Sweet Science. That’s boxing for the unaware. Charlie who played many a boxer by this point in his career between movies and television starred alongside Elvis in 1962’s Kid Galahad and turned in one of his best performances in a supporting role. No Charlie doesn’t make like he’s a member of the Jordanaires but he does smile and move his head to the music as the King swings in the driver seat of an old car with Bronson and Gig Young riding in the back.
F is for …. Fierro.
In 1968 Bronson was cast opposite Yul Brynner and Robert Mitchum in the film, Villa Rides. I’ve always felt he stole the picture in the role of Fierro, Yul’s second in command. Aside from being an enjoyable Peckinpah like western,(Sam had a hand in the script) Bronson donned his signature mustache for the first time on camera which has always had me wondering what if he’d sported one years earlier? Would he have risen to leading man status quicker?
G is for …. Graham Dorsey. This character played by Bronson in 1976’s From Noon Till Three represents the only comedic role the actor undertook as a leading man and he more than holds his own in this western farce with some dramatic overtones towards the end. It’s more or less a two part play on screen fleshed out at both ends that has Charlie once again costarring alongside wife Jill. I’d like to think they had a great time making this one. A rare title to be sure but well worth tracking down for the Bronson completists.
H is for …. Hard Times.
In 1975, Bronson, starred in what many consider his strongest performance of the decade. That of Chaney the streetfighter in Walter Hill’s superior depression era tale. A film that reteamed Charlie with old pals James Coburn and Strother Martin. Both of whom appeared opposite Bronson early on his career. Coburn in The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape while Martin dates back to 54’s Drum Beat and 55’s Target Zero. Hard Times is fondly remembered by fans not just for the fight scenes including the famous bout with Robert Tessier in a fenced in cage but for the overall look and feel that Hill brought to the film that sends the viewer back in time to the early 30’s. A must see for those that may have overlooked this one.
I is for …. Igor.
Bronson was fortunate enough to have a sizable role (though mute) in the iconic 3D classic of 1953, House of Wax, starring the legendary Vincent Price. Still going by his birthname Buchinsky, Charlie, plays Price’s aide who doubles as both a sculptor and Price’s chief goon who memorably shadows poor Phyllis Kirk towards the end of the film as she makes her way through the shadowy museum of wax figures and ghoulish heads propped up on a shelf. Charlie even gets the final scene when a bust of his own head is thrust into the camera for the final 3D effect of this must see thriller that gave Price one of his greatest roles under the direction of Andre De Toth. It’s also notable that when the film was released theatrically in the ensuing years Bronson’s billing on the movie poster became more pronounced and no longer was he billed as Buchinsky but rather Bronson to capitalize on his world wide fame.
J is for …. Jill.
Charles Bronson married Jill Ireland in October of 1968 and they’d remain together up to her sad, untimely death in May of 1990 following a courageous fight with cancer. He first met her on the set of 1963’s Great Escape. At that time she was married to David McCallum. Jill would go on to appear in 16 films opposite her leading man husband beginning with a minor role in 1968’s Villa Rides and ending with her playing a lead role as the First Lady under his Secret Service Agent’s protection in 1987’s Assassination.
K is for …. Killer of Killers.
Not a movie title you’re familiar with? How about The Mechanic? Yes Bronson’s memorable turn as Arthur Bishop in The Mechanic was subsequently rereleased under the title Killer of Killers. The opening sixteen minutes of the movie alone are worth tuning in for if you’ve never seen this Michael Winner directed effort. Not a single line of dialogue is delivered yet the film draws you in through the eyes of Bronson as he goes about stalking and ultimately killing his target. If that isn’t enough to recommend this gangland thriller then be sure to see the fade out which is pure dynamite. Jan-Michael Vincent costarred with Bronson as the youngster in training under Charlie’s capable tutelage in the art of killing. Keenan Wynn and Jill Ireland costar. As for the Jason Statham remake? Flashy I suppose in today’s rollercoaster action style but you just knew going in it wouldn’t have the guts to end like the original. And yes, I was proven right.
L is for …. Lee Marvin.
While Bronson has always been identified with Jill by his side, Lee Marvin is the one male actor we can connect him with repeatedly over the course of his career. They both made their film debuts in the 1951 Naval comedy, You’re In the Navy Now. They’d play unbilled parts in 52’s Diplomatic Courier and it’s also worth noting that both movies were directed by Henry Hathaway. Bronson would guest star on Marvin’s 1958 TV series, M Squad in the episode titled The Fight. Their biggest hit was The Dirty Dozen released in 1967 with Lee the star and Bronson offering solid support. By the time 1981 rolled around there was great fanfare for their final pairing, the action packed outdoor adventure, Death Hunt. A side note would be the so called “movie” that turned up on VHS starring Lee and Charlie. Titled The Meanest Men In the West, it’s really just a pair of episodes of The Virginian strung together into a feature film making it look like they’re in the same film when in fact that they were not in the same episodes at all. Lee also stepped in to star opposite Chuck Norris in The Delta Force. A role that Cannon Films had originally slated for contract star Bronson. Sadly, it proved to be Lee’s final role.
M is for …. Machine Gun Kelly. Hired by director Roger Corman, this 1958 gangster flick cast Bronson in the title role. Having previously featured this early Bronson must see, click here for more on the film that garnered a cult following overseas long before it and the actor caught on here in North America.
N is for …. Number Nine. Bronson played the ninth member of The Dirty Dozen during sound off. The twelve convicted G.I.’s were lined up in order of height with the towering Clint Walker leading off at Number One. Charlie’s placement and number in line leads to two memorable scenes in the film. One is when he is assaulted by two goons in a latrine sent by Robert Ryan to beat information out of our leading tough guy. All they get out of him is his Number Nine rank in a scene that ends with a hell of a fight thanks to Walker and Jim Brown coming to his aide. The second scene I get a kick out of is when the dozen are lined up passing the word from Walker down to Bronson that the goons are back alongside Ryan for some more questioning. It ends with an excited Number Eight, Telly Savalas, getting word from Number 7, that the goons are present. He turns to Number Nine, Bronson, to relay the message only to be greeted by a scowl from Charlie who is well acquainted with Ryan’s hoods. Telly stops midsentence “Those are the two guys…..”
O is for …. Once Upon a Time In The West.
Greatest western ever made? My youngest son thinks so. Bronson finally connected with Sergio Leone after according to legend turning down for one reason or another A Fistful of Dollars, For a few Dollars More AND The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Thankfully he didn’t pass on the role of Harmonica. I could go on and on when it comes to OUATITW singing it’s praise from the story slowly unfolding to the performances of the four leading players to Morricone’s amazing score. Each character has their own theme song whether it’s Bronson, Jason Robards, Henry Fonda or Claudia Cardinale. Probably my favorite piece of music from the composer is the theme to Claudia Cardinale’s character Jill McBain. Just a stirring composition that raises the hairs on my neck every time I hear it. Funny, I recall staying up late to watch this on TV when I might of been 10 or so and watching the first 15 minutes before falling asleep from a lack of interest. Now I catch so much as a second or two and I’m hooked. I’ll not play spoiler here but will encourage those who have never seen it to take the time and in this case, repeated viewings are encouraged as the film only gets better each time giving up more of it’s secrets with each look. Maybe afterwards you’ll be telling those who have only seen Leone’s more popular Good, Bad, Ugly to be sure to see this one as well. There’s little doubt it’s reputation as a classic has only increased with the passage of time.
P is for …. Paul Fein. Not the Paul one would assume when looking over the list of characters portrayed by Bronson. Fans of course will know that his Paul Kersey was better known as The Vigilante in the Death Wish series. I went with the character Paul Fein due to the fact that the final three films Bronson appeared in were made for TV affairs centered around the Fein character, The films were a trilogy known as A Family of Cops parts 1,2 and 3. Bronson played the patriarch who’s offspring were all on the force working alongside Dad. The films were broadcast two years apart in 1995/97 and 99.
Q is for …. Quaid.
Yes indeed, Cousin Eddie himself, Randy Quaid, played Bronson’s dimwitted sidekick in the 1975 film, Breakout. The pair run a flying operation and get tangled up in rescuing Robert Duvall from a Mexican prison with the use of a helicopter. Quaid is perfectly gullible opposite Charlie’s scheming operator and they play well off each other. At this point in time, Randy, was on the rise having just scored an Oscar nomination for his role opposite, Jack Nicholson, in The Last Detail. The rest as they say, is history.
R is for …. Red Sun.
This 1971 western has developed a cult following over the years and much of that has to do with the casting of four icons sharing the screen together though it’s the Bronson/Toshiro Mifune teaming that shines the brightest. Directed by Terence Young, Bronson and Alain Delon portray train robbers who happen upon a golden sword in Mifune’s care. A falling out leaves Delon with the sword and Bronson as Mifune’s captive. Mifune and Bronson take center stage for much of the film and slowly develop a mutual respect for each other as they hunt down Delon and his outlaw gang. That fourth icon? The original Bond girl, Ursula Andress, reuniting with the director to portray Delon’s gal who might just as easily follow Bronson if he ends up with the treasure. There was talk of a Bronson/Mifune reunion at one point but sadly nothing came of it.
S is for …. Sturges. Like Robert Aldrich, John Sturges, is a director who seemed to excel at movies dominated by a male cast. Bad Day At Black Rock (1954) instantly springs to mind as does Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957). Bronson first worked for Sturges back in 1951’s The People Against O’Hara in a bit role. With a little seasoning, Bronson was back for 1959’s war time actioner, Never So Few opposite Frank Sinatra and upstart Steve McQueen. His next go around for Sturges was a major role in 1960’s The Magnificent Seven followed by 1963’s The Great Escape. Again, both with McQueen. Once Bronson achieved leading man status of his own, Sturges, directed him one last time on 1973’s Chino, aka The Valdez Horses. Sturges would direct just two more films afterwards, McQ (1974) and The Eagle Has Landed (1976). He’d pass in away in 1992.
T is for …. Thompson. Director J. Lee Thompson whose career dates back to some fine films of the British film industry including Ice Cold In Alex (1958) went on to guide two classics of the early 1960’s, The Guns of Navarone and the original (and far better than the remake) Cape Fear. Fast forward to 1976 and he teamed with Bronson for the first of 9 films they’d work together on as actor/director. The films are as follows …. St. Ives (1976), The White Buffalo (1977), Cabo Blanco (1980), 10 to Midnight (1983), The Evil That Men Do (1984), Murphy’s Law (1986), Death Wish 4 : The Crackdown (1987), Messenger of Death (1988) and lastly Kinjite : Forbidden Subjects (1989). Among J. Lee’s other well known films you’ll find Taras Bulba (1962), Mackenna’s Gold (1969), Conquest For the Planet of the Apes (1972) and the final film in the original series, Battle For the Planet of the Apes (1973). He even directed what might be the most enjoyable of all Chuck Norris flicks, Firewalker in 1986. J. Lee passed away in 2002 at the age of 88.
U is for …. Unbilled/Uncredited.
Years ago before the internet changed everything, I used to keep a keen eye on the TV screen at all times when watching a movie made in the 1950’s. Just in case I spotted my hero turning up in a minor role early on in his career. Films like The Clown where he shares a scene with Red Skelton. Watch closely and you’ll see Bronson as a fighter in the backdrop of a Mickey Rooney/Bob Hope military comedy, Off Limits. On the front lines in Battle Zone. Working the docks with Broderick Crawford in 1951’s The Mob. Even TV appearances on The Roy Rogers Show or Bonanza would turn up and while billed, it was still a journey of discovery considering we had nothing to reference more often than not. Thankfully the book The Films of Charles Bronson hit the market to assist this youngster at the time, even if all the film appearances were not accounted for.
V is for …. Vincent ….. Majestyk or Price?
Take your pick. Vincent Majestyk is one of Bronson’s best remembered characters from the film, Mr. Majestyk, based on an Elmore Leonard novel. He’s an unlikely watermelon farmer who gets tangled up with a brutish mafioso, Al Lettieri. For more on the film and Lettieri, give this a look. My love for all things Vincent Price compels me to include him here. Bronson twice appeared opposite the legendary star of horror films who was really so much more than that. Of course there was 1953’s 3-D classic, The House of Wax and the lesser, Master of the World which hit theaters in 1961. I believe that of all the films Bronson made, Master, is one of a select few that stand out as a piece of miscasting on Charlie’s part.
W is for …. White Buffalo. Though Michael Winner is the obvious choice, I’ve already spoken of him in some detail in the trivia above so instead I’m including this 1977 effort because I believe it to be a vastly underrated film. Previously featured so please have a look to read my thoughts on this Bronson outing from producer Dino De Laurentiis that was considered a box-office let down at the time.
X is for …. X-15. Released in 1961, X-15 starred Bronson as a pilot working in the exploration of rocket powered aircraft. Mostly a forgotten film it was actually directed by first timer Richard Donner who would go on to a highly successful career behind the camera. The Omen, Superman, Lethal Weapon etc. Charlie once again proved he was a first rate character actor here having just elevated his industry status in The Magnificent Seven. Perhaps this movie is more interesting for those involved. It was narrated by Jimmy Stewart, no stranger to the skies off screen or on, and costarred Brad Dexter, James Gregory and Kenneth Tobey. Best of all for you trivia hounds, though she had done some TV work and a small bit here and there previously, X-15, served as the official film debut of an actress who would become one of the most beloved of her generation and beyond, Mary Tyler Moore.
Y is for …. You’re In the Navy Now.
Also known as U.S.S. Teakettle, this 1951 naval comedy starring Gary Cooper turned out to be the film that Bronson made his film debut in. There’s a bevy of talent involved in this mildly entertaining film that had Bronson putting on the boxing gloves as he would do numerous times in the ensuing years. You’ll spot Jane Greer, Lee Marvin, Jack Warden, Jack Webb, Eddie Albert, Millard Mitchell, and Ed Begley among others. Charlie’s first on camera line comes after a dressing down from Cooper for brawling. When asked what he’s got to say for himself he begins with, “Nothing Captain.” before launching into a full speech on just why he was willing to “take on the whole navy in a brawl.”
Z is for …. Zuleika. Well, not being able to come up with anything resembling a Z as far as Bronson’s on screen career goes, I found this picture on line of Charles, Jill and their daughter Zuleika.
Charles Bronson November 3rd, 1921 – August 30, 2003.