Sunday, November 1, 2009


Charles Bronson’s cougar-like presence, Elmore Leonard’s clever dialogue, and Richard Fleischer’s straight-faced helming makes “Mr. Majestyk” (**** out of ****) an entertaining, sometimes brutal knuckle-buster with some “3:10 to Yuma” thrown in for good measure. When Fleischer and company aren’t demonstrating the durability of Ford tough trunks, our happy-go-lucky mustached hero falls back on his unorthodox combat skills that he put to good use in Vietnam to battle the mob. Indeed, “Mr. Majestyk” exhibits a liberal mind-set grafted onto a meat & potatoes crime melodrama between a couple of titans. The villainous Al Lettieri packs menace like heat in his performance as a syndicate killer. Predictably, Bronson and Lettieri mix it up with satisfying results for action hungry spectators. The way that our hero takes care on the villain in the last quarter hour is literally ballistic. “Mr. Majestyk” shows Bronson at his most charismatic. He wears the dark golf-cap like he had been wearing it his entire life and he looks at home in his denims. Watching Charles Bronson beg to make a free phone call from an innocuous female storekeeper and then get another phone call with a two bottles of beer to go is a rare treat. This is Bronson as his most blue collar.

Shrewdly, scenarist Elmore Leonard and Fleisher align the stalwart hero with the fate of migrant workers and he becomes their champion, even though the rest of the action focuses on the live-and-let-die struggle between the principals. The opening scene establishes the film’s social consciousness roots. Mr. Majestyk has just hired a school bus load of migrants to harvest his 160 acres of watermelons. A carload of migrants wheel in after the bus departs for Majestyk’s farm and he leaves. Nancy Chavez (Linda Cristal of “The High Chaparral”) requests the key to the washroom and the gas station attendant notifies them that both toilets are broken. Majestyk challenges the attendant that he is suggesting that he—Majestyk—broke the men’s toilet. The attendant informs him that his boss wants nothing to do with migrants and forbids him to let them use the toilet. Majestyk suggests that the migrants can use the trash can in front of the gas station, and the grievous gas station attendant capitulates and allows them to use the facilities. “Don’t be in there all day,” he snaps.

Chavez catches a ride with Majestyk out to his fields and Majestyk finds that another batch of workers is picking his melons for him. Bobby Kopas (Paul Koslo of “The Stone Killer”) wears a Roy Rogers outfit and tells Majestyk that he only has to pay his workers a dollar twenty an hour instead of a dollar-forty like he has to pay the Hispanics. When Majestyk tries to clear the field of the cheap worthless labor, Kopas pulls out a shotgun and his buddy tells up a loud speaker to drown out Majestyk. Majestyk disarms Kopas, reverses the shotgun, pops him in the balls with the stock and then blasts the loud speaker. Before he sends Kopas and company running, he says, “You want my opinion, you’re in the wrong business.” No sooner has Majestyk ousted Bobby Kopas than the country sheriff shows up with an arrest warrant charging out hero with assault on Kopas.

At the county sheriff’s office, Detective Lieutenant McAllen (Frank Maxwell of “The Violators”) learns that Majestyk did nine months in Folsom Prison on an assault charge. A guy with a beer bottle attacked him in a bar and Majestyk left him the worst for wear. His wife divorced him while he was in the pen. Later, we learn that Majestyk drove trucks, fought in Vietnam, got captured but escaped with four enemy soldiers. He spent three years as a Ranger Instructor at Fort Benning, Georgia. Eventually, Majestyk encounters his adversary the notorious Frank Renda (Al Lettieri of “McQ”) in the county lock-up. At lunch, Renda refuses to eat his sausage and Majestyk asked for it. Renda dumps his food tray onto the floor and invites Majestyk to scourge for it. When Majestyk tries to bum a cigarette from Renda, an African-American inmate offers him a smoke and tells him that Renda is dangerous. Afterward, the sheriff’s department is transferring inmates and Renda—we learn that he has been arrested nine times with out a conviction—is slated to be taken to the county seat for pre-trial examination on a charge of first degree murder.

At the county seat, Renda’s gunmen, led by resourceful Gene Lundy (Taylor Lacher of “Final Chapter: Walking Tall”), hit the sheriff’s convoy, blow up a cruiser, and kill a number of deputies before things turn sour for them. During the ruckus, Majestyk orders the other convicts to remove the wounded as well as the dead deputies. He commandeers the bus with Renda still in cuffs and hauls ass for a remote safe haven. Renda assures Majestyk that he has no qualms against killing and has killed seven people. He promises to kill Majestyk if Majestyk refuses to make a deal with him. Majestyk is still worried about his melons and cuts a deal with McAllen to get his assault charges dropped in exchange for bringing in Renda. Majestyk calls Renda’s contact, Wiley (Lee Purcell of “Dirty Little Billy”) and she arrives to pick them up in her red Ford sedan. Renda thinks that he has made a deal with Majestyk, but our hero turns the tables on Renda and orders Wiley to drive to the authorities. Wiley slips Renda a gun from her purse. Renda and Majestyk struggle over it. Majestyk manages to escape from Renda and the villain’s people spirit him away to freedom and safety. Majestyk turns himself back into McAllen in Edna, Colorado, but Renda is far from satisfied. He is obsessed with killing Majestyk and orders his associate to get Kopas to drop the assault charges that he can go after him. Mind you, all of this occurs in the first 45 minutes!

“Mr. Majestyk” is the perfect starring role for Bronson who manages to be hard-knuckled but humorous. The scene where the angry syndicate killers obliterate the protagonist’s stacked watermelon makes for a neat metaphor for their plans for Majestyk. Fleischer does a good job of staging a shoot-out in broad daylight between the authorities and the villains at the crossroads of a small city. The scenes were the Ford truck vault over gullies and slam-bang through rough-hewn surroudings is fantastic! As usual, Leonard’s dialogue is wonderfully quirky. The scenery is spectacular and Linda Cristal serves as Bronson’s love interest. Charles Bernstein supplies a stout, flavorful orchestral score. Bronson devotees will savor the way that the villains bend the law like licorice to suits their devious ends. The supporting cast, including Lee Purcell, Paul Koslo, and Alejandro Rey, is first-class.

No comments: