Charles Bronson remembered

By Alun Thomas 

Action movie fans were in mourning on September 1st when it was announced that legend Charles Bronson had died from pneumonia at the age of 82. It went mostly unrecognized, aside from some obligatory pieces on T.V. and the internet, but it didn’t diminish the fact that Bronson is perhaps the toughest man to ever set foot on the silver screen. For real action fans, Bronson was the bottom line in screen machismo, a man who didn’t even appear to be acting. It just seemed natural.

All the media reports recounted Bronson’s harsh upbringing in an impoverished section of Pennsylvania, and his experiences in WWII that led to his desire to act and make a living out of it. It’s an uplifting story, but its Bronson’s films I want to remember here, the reason he was so loved in Europe and eventually the US. For starters has there ever been anyone as menacing looking as Bronson? The face seemingly made out of rock, stony faced, one tough bastard. Bronson appealed to people like myself who have no need for the bullshit Hollywood glamour scene, something he ignored happily. He was a loner on screen and off. The way to be.

Bronson made a name for himself in all time favorites like ‘The Magnificent Seven’, ‘The Great Escape’, ‘The Dirty Dozen’ and ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’, all screen classics. But where Bronson excelled was in the endless parade of one man army action films he made his own. Who can forget Bronson bullying bully Al Lettieri in ‘Mr. Majestyx’ after Lettieri destroys his water melon crop? The sight of Bronson pushing him around is priceless, especially when blows him away with a shot gun out of a window. There is barely any film Bronson starred in where he was made foolish. It was suitable that he starred in 1975’s ‘Streetfighter’ as bare knucker, a job he could do in real life one assumes. Bronson made his share of duds, ‘Telefon’, ‘The Evil That men Do’, Assassination’, Breakheart Pass’, Murphy’s Law’....actually too many to mention. But as prolific as he was that was to be expected. Just ask Clint Eastwood.

One scene which sums up Bronson’s on screen persona like no other comes from 1984’s crude ‘Two Minutes To Midnight’, in which Bronson played a cop hunting down a serial sex killer, who murders his female victims in the nude. In the climactic scene Bronson chases the naked killer down a street after he has gone on a killing spree of some nurses, Bronson’s on screen daughter the only survivor. The police catch the killer before Chuck can mete out his personal vengeance. The killer taunts Bronson screaming things like ‘I’ll get off because I’m sick in the head, I’ll be out in no time’ angering Bronson more. So what does he do? Says ‘fuck you’, pulls out his gun and blows his head off in front of everyone. Words can’t do it justice. That’s hardcore.

Out of all his films, Bronson became associated with the character Paul Kersey more than any other. Kersey was the main character of the ‘Death Wish’ series, in which Bronson starred in five of, the first in 1974, the last in 1992. The large amount of classic scenes from these movies could fill a book alone, but they were the best of Bronson’s career. In the 1974 original he portrayed Kersey as a regular guy whose life is ruined when some goons murder his wife and rape his daughter. His subsequent vigilante acts seem difficult for him at first as he is a non violent guy, but by the end he’s settled in well. ‘Death Wish II’ appeared in 1982, and like the original tried to be somewhat serious, but was full of hilarious scenes like the one where he confronts one of the punks who raped and murdered his maid (as well as helping rape and cause his daughters death). Kersey notices the hood wearing a cross. ‘You believe in God?’ he asks him. ‘Yes’ answers the frightened offender. ‘Well you’re going to meet him’ he responds before executing him.

‘Death Wish 3’ and ‘4’ were the pinnacle of Bronsons career for me. With absolutely no attempt to be halfway serious like the first two, Bronson kills untold truckloads of street thugs and drug dealers. In the final fifteen minutes of ‘Death Wish 3’ (the best fifteen minutes of film ever) he kills about seventy goons. Watching he and aging cop Ed Lauter run down the street gunning down hapless morons like a shooting range is pure class. Or the finale of ‘Death Wish 4’ where he blows up John P. Ryan with a rocket launcher/machine gun after Ryan murders his girlfriend in front of him. ‘I told you I’d kill her Kersey!’ he screams before Kersey obliterates him. How many times this scene was rewound! Another favorite is the occasion where he is chased through a fish factory with a hundred guys chasing him as he mows them down. This fare has never been topped.

The only sort of guys who could hang with Bronson are other old school stars like Eastwood, Steve McQueen, Marlon Brando and Timothy Dalton in ‘License To Kill’. They were more believable than guys like Schwarzeneggar, Stallone, Van Damme, Seagal etc. because they weren’t muscle bound martial artists or whatnot, just straight hard men. No matter how impressive Van Damme’s skills, Bronson in his prime could have taken him any day. Just watch Bronson walk the streets in ‘Death Wish 2’ dressed as a bum and tell me who looks more fearsome. Maybe Lewis Collins punching a training bag at the start of ‘The Professionals’? I don’t think so.

Thanks to his many movies Bronson will always be around one way or another. It’s only fitting that he was paid a tribute in some form. Forget John Wayne. He doesn’t even rank. Yet he’ll always be an American icon. Bronson will be an icon for those of us who appreciate the real action star, a guy who had presence, didn’t rely on fancy gimmicks and most importantly took no prisoners. Just for that I salute him.