Then, the guys at Destroy the Brain will be showing DEATH WISH 3 at the Hi-Pointe Theater (1005 McCausland Ave) midnights April 3rd and 4th as part of the Late Night Grindhouse Film Series.
Charles Bronson was the unlikeliest of movie stars. Of all the leading men in the history of Hollywood, Charles Bronson had the least range as an actor. He rarely emoted or even changed his expression, and when he did speak, his voice was a reedy whisper. But Charles Bronson could coast on presence, charisma, and silent brooding menace like no one’s business and he wound up the world’s most bankable movie star throughout most of the 1970’s. Bronson did not rise quickly in the Hollywood ranks. His film debut was in 1951 and he spent the next two decades as a solid character actor with a rugged face, muscular physique and everyman ethnicity that kept him busy in supporting roles as indians, convicts, cowboys, boxers, and gangsters. It wasn’t until he was in his late 40’s, after the international success of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST in 1968 (American audiences wouldn’t embrace him until DEATH WISH became a hit five years later) that he became a worldwide megastar. A man of few words onscreen and off, Bronson was never a critic’s darling and he had no illusions about his own stardom. “I don’t make movies for critics”, he once said, “since they don’t pay to see them anyhow”.
You never know what’s brewing at Webster University’s Strange Brew cult film series. It’s always the first Wednesday evening of every month, and they always come up with some cult classic to show while enjoying some good food and great suds. The fun happens at Schlafly Bottleworks Restaurant and Bar in Maplewood (7260 Southwest Ave.- at Manchester – Maplewood, MO 63143).
This month, they’re brewing up some Bronson! HARD TIMES screens at Schlafly Bottleworks Wednesday, April 1st as part of Webster University’s ‘Strange Brew’ Film Series. The ‘Charles Bronson Exhibit’, a collection of movie paper, figures, models kits, toys, and other odd memorabilia will be on display that night at Schlafly.
No one could touch Charles Bronson in terms of global popularity throughout the 1970’s and HARD TIMES (1975) was his best film from that decade (my favorite for cinema, the only films from the ‘70s I would personally rate above HARD TIMES are TAXI DRIVER, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and THE GODFATHER). Director Walter Hill made a remarkably earthy and entertaining film about illegal fighting in Depression-era New Orleans. HARD TIMES, whose succinct tag line read “New Orleans 1933, in those days words didn’t buy much”, perfectly exploits Bronson’s granite presence and is a concise, almost mythical celebration of men who only communicate with their fists. Bronson played Chaney, a hardened loner who hops off a boxcar in New Orleans where he tries to score some quick cash the only way he knows how – with his fists. He teams up with Speed (James Coburn), who acts as his manager, who sets up the fights, which are are all-out and bare-knuckle, held in warehouses and alleys and open by invitation to men with cash to wager.
Seemingly authentic, rather than over-choreographed, the fight scenes in HARD TIMES are expertly staged and framed by Hill, especially the film’s centerpiece; an underground match in a steel-mesh cage between Bronson and a grinning goon named ‘Skinhead’ played by Robert ‘Mr. Clean’ Tessier. HARD TIMES was the directorial debut for Hill, who had written THE GETAWAY for his friend, director Sam Peckinpah, and would go on to helm some of the smartest action films of the late ‘70s and ‘80s including THE WARRIORS, THE LONG RIDERS, 48 HOURS, and STREETS OF FIRE. Hill said in interviews that enjoyed his experience with Bronson and wanted to work with the star again. But Hill made the mistake of criticizing the performance of Bronson’s wife Jill Ireland, who had a minor role as a hooker who earns Chaney’s affection (at this point, if a producer wanted Bronson, they had to have Jill too – the couple made 15 films together!). Bronson was not thin-skinned, just protective enough of his wife that he refused to work with Hill again because of the sleight, which is too bad because the director’s economic action sensibilities are perfectly in tune with the scruffy street dignity Bronson was capable of and the pair could have made some great films together.
The HARD TIMES cast includes Strother Martin as an opium-hooked doctor, James Coburn as Speed, Chaney’s manager, Ben Johnson, Bruce Glover, and the great Nick Dimitri as Street, Chaney’s final foe. These vets all bring their A-game but it’s Bronson, whose expression never changes, that commands all the attention. Bronson’s Chaney is a man of few words and no past and it’s perhaps his most fitting role. Acclaimed in 1975, HARD TIMES is the perfect Charles Bronson movie for people who claim not to like Charles Bronson movies and even critics who had previously overlooked Bronson’s abilities were impressed.
I saw HARD TIMES in 1975 when it was new, riding my bike at 13 to the Des Peres 4 theater with some friends. In the summer of 1978 I attended wrestling camp at the University of Missouri and one night for entertainment, we were screened a 16mm print of HARD TIMES. I now have my own 16mm print of HARD TIME and also an 18-minute Super-8 condensed version of the film that I’ve shown at my monthly Super-8 Movie Madness show. It’s printed on black-and-white stock and dubbed into German, but it still gets the crowd worked upped. When the gang at the Webster University Film Series suggested I choose a film to show at their monthly ‘Strange Brew’ Cult movie series at Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood, I knew immediately that HARD TIMES would be my choice. It’s the film in my ‘Top Ten of All Time’ list that I have not seen on the big screen in the longest time. Don’t miss HARD TIMES when it screens at Schlafly Bottleworks Wednesday, April 1st at Schlafly Bottleworks Restaurant and Bar in Maplewood (7260 Southwest Ave.- at Manchester – Maplewood, MO 63143). The movie starts at 8pm and admission is $5. A yummy variety of food from Schlafly’s kitchen is available as are plenty of pints of their famous home-brewed beer.
The Facebook invite for this event can be found HERE
And if that isn’t enough Bronson for you, the guys at Destroy the Brain will be showing DEATH WISH 3 at the Hi-Pointe Theater (1005 McCausland Ave) midnights April 3rd and 4th as part of the Late Night Grindhouse Film Series. Next week really is Bronson Week in St. Louis!
The wonderfully preposterous DEATH WISH 3 (1985) sends Charles Bronson to a New York City portrayed as a vast burned-out wasteland with tenements occupied by terrified old people and the entire city dominated by gangs of unwashed thugs (and not a cop in sight). I’ve seen DEATH WISH 3 ma ny times over the years and it becomes funnier as it ages. The action is overblown to comic proportions and I lose count of all the people who are shot, blown up, stabbed, beaten, pushed off of rooftops, and generally maimed during the course of the film. DEATH WISH 3 plays like Charles Bronson’s 90-minute shooting gallery. Thugs pop up from behind cars, buildings, and storefronts, all to be mowed down in a sea of gunfire and the last half hour is pure madness. Bronson, usually a silent killer in his films, makes all kinds of humorous quips before letting loose the carnage and DEATH WISH 3, the last of six movies Bronson made for British director Michael Winner, is the best of the four DEATH WISH sequels.
The Facebook invite for this event can be found HERE
We hope that all of St. Louis gets out nest week and celebrates the career of the one and only Charles Bronson!
Here is how some of my Charles Bronson memorabilia looks as it’s displayed currently in my home: