One thing that the internet has allowed me to do since starting Mike’s Take nearly 8 years ago is to connect with fellow film fans and in some cases, writers and historians. I guess it was inevitable that I would cross paths with Paul Talbot who has quickly become the leading authority on the career of Charles Bronson. I guess that makes me second????? He’s been kind enough to visit Mike’s Take on occasion and I’m very happy to have shared some old articles and trivia bits with him when I thought it might be beneficial in his research.
I’m also very excited to have him join me here for this spotlight on Charles Bronson as we celebrate his 100th birthday this month.
Paul Talbot is the author of the books BRONSON’S LOOSE!: THE MAKING OF THE “DEATH WISH” FILMS and BRONSON’S LOOSE AGAIN!: ON THE SET WITH CHARLES BRONSON. He has written numerous film-related articles for print and online magazines. Talbot has contributed to over a dozen Bronson-related Blu-rays by providing commentary tracks, producing video interviews, and/or contributing extras.
On to our Q&A ….
So why Charles Bronson? Why not one of his contemporaries like Palance, Marvin or Eastwood?
PT : I love Palance, Marvin, and Eastwood. But there was already a good deal of information that was available about them. Bronson seemed to be more mysterious. I decided that I had to find his story.
Not to date ourselves but my first Bronson movie at the theater was Borderline in 1980. What was your first Bronson movie on the big screen and were you already a fan by that point as I was.
PT : I grew up in the Boston area in the 1970s, which was the peak of “Bronsonmania.” The local UHF channels always showed a lot of movies and my mother and I would watch a lot of movies and we never missed an Elvis Presley movie. One afternoon we watched KID GALAHAD, which featured Bronson as Elvis’ boxing trainer. It was the first time I saw Bronson and I was intrigued by his presence. I few days later, my father and I watched his favorite movie, which was THE GREAT ESCAPE. Those two movies started my Bronson obsession. Many older Bronson movies were on television at that time and old TV episodes with him also turned up. Sometimes the station announcer would say something like: “Tonight’s episode of BONANZA stars Charles Bronson!” In spring of 1975, I saw numerous, relentless TV ads for Bronson’s new film BREAKOUT and I was desperate to see it. BREAKOUT was the first Bronson movie that I saw theatrically. I was in elementary school at the time and I was able to walk to the Cabot Cinema in Beverly, Massachusetts to see it. After that, I saw every later Bronson movie at a theater except for FROM NOON TILL THREE, THE WHITE BUFFALO, and CABO BLANCO because they didn’t play near me. I had to see those three on TV.
Are you a collector of Bronson memorabilia? Posters, lobby cards, props? If yes, do you have a favorite piece?
PT : I have a huge collection. I was hoping that I could use more of my collection in my books, but there were issues with rights. My original US one-sheet for DEATH WISH and my Spanish one-sheet for BREAKOUT are my favorite posters. I have many lobby cards, pressbooks, presskits, etc. The information in pressbooks and presskits is very important to historians. I also have a huge collection of Bronson-related screenplays. It fascinates me to see how films change during the various drafts. A few years ago, there was an auction of screenplays from the estate of Bronson’s agent. They were the scripts that were actually sent to Bronson’s agent for consideration. They each went for a lot of money, but I picked up a few, including THE VALDEZ HORSES and a first draft of DEATH WISH II. The prize item that I got from that auction was a draft of the script for DOLLAR NINETY-EIGHT, which was Bronson’s never-made dream project. It was a semi-autobiographical story set in the Depression that was to star Bronson as a coal miner. Bronson and Jill Ireland wrote the original script. A few years ago, I did an introduction to some theatrical showings of 10 TO MIDNIGHT to publicize my second show. A friend of mine is a prop maker and he made an exact replica of the “device” that Bronson finds in the killer’s bathroom! The audience loved seeing that item from my collection!
Like many of his acting generation, Bronson, was enormously busy guesting on series television in the 1950’s and 60’s. Are there some appearances that stand out you’d like to recommend to our readers?
PT : Bronson did a lot of great work on TV in his pre-stardom days. Much of his early TV work is lost or hard-to-find, but a lot of great stuff remains. Some of my favorites are: The “And So Died Riabouchinska” (1956) episode of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, which is an eerie story with Bronson as a detective interrogating Claude Rains as a disturbed ventriloquist. “The Killer” (1956) episode of GUNSMOKE with Bronson in a fantastic performance as a cowardly gunman. The “Fight” episode of M SQUAD (1958) with Bronson (teamed with Lee Marvin) as a boxer. The “Butch Cassidy” (1958) episode of TALES OF WELLS FARGO has Bronson as the famous outlaw and pairs him with fellow future legend James Coburn for the first time. The MAN WITH A CAMERA series (1958 – 1960), which stars Bronson as photojournalist. The series is low-budget, but Bronson is in great form in every episode. The brilliant “Two” (1961) episode of TWILIGHT ZONE, with Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery as rival survivors of a future world war. The “Death Tree” (1962) episode of THE UNTOUCHABLES with Bronson as a brutal prohibition-era gangster. The “Duel at Daybreak” (1965) episode of RAWHIDE, which features the only teaming of Bronson and Eastwood.
The 1960’s offered the great trifecta, The Magnificent 7, The Great Escape and The Dirty Dozen. How important were these films in the development of both Bronson’s image and industry standing?
PT : Those movies were massive world-wide hits when they were first released and they still stand as three of the greatest action-adventure epics ever made. When casting those films, the producers and directors cleverly chose a variety of unusual male actors. Bronson stood out with his creviced, memorable face, imposing physique, and unusual voice. That trio of films helped establish him as a major supporting actor of the 1960s. They were all especially-popular in Europe and Asia and inspired foreign producers to consider Bronson for lead roles.
I’m a big fan of Bronson’s Fierro in Villa Rides, I believe he steals the film from Mitchum and Brynner. What do you think of his performance and was Sam Peckinpah ever actually in line to direct?
PT : Bronson is great in that film. I’m not sure if he steals it from Mitchum and Brynner. I think those three all work well together. It’s a great trio. I don’t know if Peckinpah was ever supposed to direct. Peckinpah wrote the early drafts, but the final draft was by Robert Towne. So, if Peckinpah was the original director, he left early in the writing process. It’s too bad that Bronson never worked with Peckinpah. It’s surprising that Bronson was never on Peckinpah’s THE RIFLEMAN TV series. VILLA RIDES was the first film in which Bronson sported what would become his signature mustache and it was the first Bronson film to have an appearance by his this-girlfriend/future-wife Jill Ireland (although she only appears briefly and without Bronson). VILLA RIDES was the last film to have Bronson in a secondary role. While he was filming it, he got an offer to co-star with Alain Delon in FAREWELL FRIEND, which would turn Bronson into a star.
Is Once Upon a Time in the West the best film Bronson ever appeared in as my son would have everyone believe? It’s his all time favorite movie.
PT : I’m glad your son feels that way. Movies and stars only endure when they are embraced by a new, younger generation. I would have to agree that OUTIW is the best film that he appeared in. It is a bonafide masterpiece that must be viewed by anyone interested in film history or film artistry. A friend of mine recently asked for a recommendation for a Bronson Western for him and his teenage son to watch. I suggested OUTIW and they both loved it. It was the first Bronson film that the son had seen.
As far as the Death Wish films go, would you care to rank them 1 to 5? You can approach this either best to worst or most enjoyable to least enjoyable. I always say there is a difference.
PT : My ranking from best to worst: Ranked #1: The original. The first DEATH WISH is a masterpiece and is one of the best films (of any genre) of the 1970s. It is not an action film. It is a gritty, scary, dark psychological drama. The issues it deals with are just as relevant today. The sequels were all enjoyable, but they were disappointing and they became progressively more absurd and more cartoonish, much like the James Bond and Dirty Harry movies did. Ranked # 2: DEATH WISH 3. A surreal, dark comic classic that isn’t really a sequel to DEATH WISH or any other movie. In fact, it’s not like any other movie ever made. DEATH WISH 3 takes place in an alternate reality. At this point, the DEATH WISH movies were no longer shocking and disturbing depictions of real-life urban crime. The movies had become garish fantasies with creative, over-the-top revenge sequences. No longer a complex character, Kersey was now a cartoon superhero with fearsome hand-to-hand combat skills and a constantly increasing arsenal of weapons. I never get tired of watching DEATH WISH 3 and it always brings the house down when I screen it for friends or a public screening. Ranked #3 DEATH WISH 4: THE CRACKDOWN. J. Lee Thompson replaced Michael Winner at this point and this is the best-directed entry since the original. DEATH WISH 4 has a more-involved plot than the first two sequels. This fourth installment stands as a solid, efficient action programmer and is a good example of late 1980s VHS fodder. By this point, Kersey has become more like a trained assassin than a street vigilante and this movie plays more like a sequel to THE MECHANIC than a DEATH WISH sequel. Ranked #4: DEATH V: THE FACE OF DEATH. A decent, fast-paced finale for the series. Bronson looks great, and the film has good stunts and amusing moments of very dark humor, including a scene with a poisoned pastry. Ranked # 5: DEATH WISH II. It is extremely disappointing that Michael Winner didn’t try to make another serious, scary film like the original. DEATH WISH II is nothing more than a sleazy, routine remake. The revenge sequences deliver the goods and the exterior street scenes feature some of the best Bronson images of the 1980s. But the movie’s atmosphere is unpleasant and, even in edited versions, the rape scenes are repugnant and endless and are the nadir of the series. (I should note that many of my fellow DEATH WISH fans do not agree with my order of rankings.)
Michael Winner or J. Lee Thompson?
PT : Tie. I love both of those underrated directors. Both are talented artists and craftsmen. They both made good films with (and without) Bronson.
On the topic of J. Lee, what do you feel is the best film he helmed with Bronson starring?
PT : Tie between THE WHITE BUFFALO and 10 TO MIDNIGHT.
I believe Thompson’s White Buffalo is steadily gathering a well deserved cult following, what do you think of the film?
PT : I love THE WHITE BUFFALO. I remember being excited by the TV commercials and newspaper ads when it first came out. I didn’t get to see it when it was in theaters because it did not play near me. I had to wait until it played on TV under the title HUNT TO KILL. I’ve seen it many times since. It has an eerie, surreal quality to it. It was a costly flop when it was first released and it used to be considered a “bad movie.” But, as you said, it has been building a strong cult following among Bronson, Western, and monster-movie fans. I have done extensive research on the film and on the real-life Wild Bill Hickok and Crazy Horse. I will be doing an audio commentary track for a Blu-ray with a new 2K transfer that will be released in 2022.
When Bronson critics jump on me about his lack of range in picking roles, I love to point to Hard Times, St. Ives and From Noon Till Three. How do you think he fared in these?
PT : HARD TIMES is a genuine, unforgettable masterpiece and one of the more underrated films of the 1970s. It has one of the best scripts and roles that Bronson ever had and Walter Hill is one of the greatest directors that Bronson ever worked with. Bronson is perfectly cast in that with his stoic face. HARD TIMES is a good film to show people who are not familiar with Bronson or who do not like his other movies. Bronson is fine in ST. IVES. That film starts off well with Bronson roaming through sleazy Los Angeles locations, but I think the plot becomes too convoluted and there should have been more action in the climax. FROM NOON TILL THREE ranks as the most unusual of all Charles Bronson vehicles. He is very good in the film and displays a light touch. That was a daring role and film for him to do.
Do you think Bronson’s association with Cannon hurt his chances at landing bigger films with the majors in the 1980’s?
PT : Well, I don’t think he had a choice. The original DEATH WISH was the only Bronson film that was a genuine blockbuster at US theaters. His last film for a major studio was TELEFON, which was a huge disappointment at American box offices when it opened at Christmastime of 1977. His films like LOVE AND BULLETS (1979), CABO BLANCO (1980), and BORDERLINE (1980) sold poorly in the US. Bronson did not want to do DEATH WISH sequels, but Cannon was the only company that was offering him lucrative film deals. After he shot DEATH WISH 3, he accepted a fraction of his normal salary to play a union leader in the straight dramatic film ACT OF VENGEANCE (1986), which was made for HBO. Bronson was hoping that film would lead to more dramatic roles or supporting parts in serious, major films. But those offers did not come and he accepted a lucrative, multi-picture deal with Cannon.
Are you aware of any movies Bronson actually turned down that were made with someone else stepping in to the role he passed on? I’m aware of City Slickers and Firepower but feel free to mention those and any others.
PT : Bronson was offered the role that Robert Mitchum played in THE YAKUZA. Bronson’s agent knew that he had a huge following in Japan, but Bronson’s people was afraid that the film would not play to an international audience.
I need to in jump here and sing the praise of both Robert Mitchum and The Yakuza from director Sydney Pollack. Outstanding film and comes with my highest recommendation.
Any favorite interview that stands out among those who kindly shared their personal experiences working with Bronson?
PT : I’m grateful to all of them. A number of them have passed on and I’m glad that I got their stories. But I guess I would have to say Michael Winner was a favorite. He was hilarious.
If we set Jill Ireland aside, what leading lady do you think had the best on screen chemistry with Bronson?
PT : Linda Cristal in MR. MAJESTYK. They looked good together and were believable as a working-class couple.
Have you been able to unearth any of the deleted scenes I know existed at one time including the missing bare knuckle street fight in Hard Times that was prominent on the film’s lobby cards? Or maybe that scene from Breakout where he’s wearing a Priest’s collar. Any others I’m not aware of?
PT : No. The major studios rarely saved deleted film materials. The additional fight scenes in HARD TIMES were added at the request of some of the investors. Walter Hill has said in interviews that the released version is his preferred cut of the film. I was involved with the extras on the Blu-ray release of BREAKOUT that came out from the UK label Indicator. We asked Sony to look for any deleted scenes, but they found none.
I really enjoyed your commentary on the blu ray release for Cabo Blanco, a film I refer to as the lost Bronson movie, any news of a complete version surfacing since you recorded the commentary for the Kino Lorber release?
PT : No. I was in contact with a European film print collector who was looking for the two-hour cut of CABO BLANCO, but he never found one. The two-hour cut was only released in Italy, France, Sweden, Portugal, Greece, Argentina, and Venezuela. Then the negative was cut to create the shorter, now-standard version. Unless someone finds a longer theatrical print from the initial release, the long version is lost for good.
If you could suggest just one Bronson movie to a newbie in order to turn them on to the Bronson mystique what would you suggest?
PT : I would suggest THE MECHANIC. If the opening dialogue-free 15 minutes of that movie doesn’t turn you into a Bronson fan, then nothing will.
Many might be surprised to learn Bronson filmed a Christmas movie for television, Yes Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus in 1991, I think it’s one of his better roles, any specific performance you’d like to spotlight that others might have overlooked?
PT : I love the cable-TV movie THE SEA WOLF (1993) with Bronson as Wolf Larson, the classic villain from Jack London’s story. THE SEA WOLF is my favorite Bronson film of the 1990s.
Now that you’ve wrote a book on the Death Wish films and a follow up project on a number of his other films, can we expect a third volume on Charles Bronson?
PT : Yes. I have a great deal of material gathered. But I don’t know when I will have it put together. I’ve been concentrating on commentary tracks because that it what I get offered. It seems that people would rather listen than read.
And further to that, any new commentaries coming you can divulge? I for one want to see a special edition of Red Sun restored to blu.
PT : I would love to do a commentary for RED SUN, but I haven’t heard anything about an upcoming Blu. In a few weeks, I’ll be recording a commentary track for a Blu-ray of VIOLENT CITY, which will be out in late 2021 or early 2022. Then I’m doing a track for THE WHITE BUFFALO which will be out in first-quarter of 2022.
Here’s a question I just had to ask……
Did you ever score yourself a bottle of Mandom cologne or maybe even sing the commercial’s theme song in the shower?
PT : I did get a bottle of Mandom from the Japanese Amazon. The scent was surprisingly weak. It’s actually an aftershave (aka “toilet water”), not a cologne. I doused some on my back once and went to a bar. But I don’t look like Bronson, so I got no response.
A special thank you to Mr. Talbot for joining me here at Mike’s Take. The time he has taken to chat with me on several occasions is appreciated as are the books and commentaries on Charles Bronson, the actor that has captured my imagination since Dad let me sit in and watch the Dirty Dozen with him as a youngster on the late show many years ago.
Be sure to grab yourself some copies of Mr. Talbot’s books. They’re both informative and full of facts, interviews and trivia associated with Bronson, the films and those who worked alongside of him.
Follow the links to purchase.