Thursday, November 7, 2019

St. Ives (1976) Gentlemanly Bronson Badassery

Charles Bronson was THE badass of the badasses. But like all regular working stiffs he liked to take it easy now and then. St. Ives is Bronson taking it easy, he doesn't have to ride a horse or shoot a lot of people or get into TOO many fistfights. No, Bronson wanted to hang around talk-act to people like John Houseman and look at women like Jacqueline Bisset Who could blame him?

There was a time where Bronson was LITERALLY the biggest movie star in the world. He name put people in seats. It seems like such a far-away notion that a man that looks like you made him from chopped rock and who is a "presence" as apposed to an actor could really be that big. Of course it was the foreign markets that really love Bronson. He was a man's man. In an era of hard-case actors he reigned supreme over the likes of Steve McQueen or Lee Marvin, no small feat. The part that doesn't seem to be in the public perspective of Bronson is that he had a lot of laid-back charm, he showcased it some in the 70's this and "Breakout" show a different Bronson, one who gets the job done still but through being crafty as opposed to simply blowing people away. To be fair he only really had to successful gears: he could give you intense ass-kickery or laid-back ass-kickery. This is a Bronson is a author who sleeps late, eats deli meat in a cafeteria, and drives a classy vintage Jaguar. He also works a "go-between" for crooks. Transferring money for good. It pays good enough I guess to keep him in chicory coffee and very wide neck ties. But it doesn't keep him out of trouble.

St. Ives was created by an author named Oliver Bleeck who was actually an author named Ross Thomas who COULD MOTHER-FUCKIN' WRITE A BOOK. Seriously he started late in life, wrote his first book "The Cold-War Swap" in six weeks and won a Edgar for his trouble. Right out the gate. He had a colorful life of  politics, soldiering, corresponding and maybe spying. He went on to write a good number of books that are all damned good, written in a witty style of blood and guts that is hard to come by. Along the way he wrote a series about St. Ives under the fake name, but they are clearly his work. He also had to particularly good series following spies/bar-owners Padillo and McCorkle and another one about con-men Artie Wu and Quincy Durant.  

The 70's had a resurgence of love for the 40's crime/mystery film after "Chinatown" blew everyone's mind. You had "Peeper," "The Late Show,""Pulp," "The Big Fix," "The Outfit," etc. etc. A lot of them had Elisha Cook Jr. (of "Maltese Falcon" fame) in them. This one does too. He's always nice to see.  It's got a old-school ascetic with clear direction from J. Lee Thompson, who I'm forever in debt to for directing "The Guns of Navarone."  There's nasty rich people played very politely, run down hotels, cop-shops, stoolies, killers, the hero getting conked in the head; basically all its missing is a voice over from Bronson and to be in black and white.

Is it a great film? Eh, probably not. The plot is a thin-jumble on loop, parts of it are just going through the motions of "find dead-body, rinse, repeat" but I enjoy the hell out of it though. There is some good old-fashion thrilling sequences, including a elevator gag that made my wife gasp. It's nice to see Bronson have a lighter touch. Jacqueline Bisset is spunky and cool, she seems to be having fun playing Cops and Robbers. It's got call-backs to an era of cinema that I couldn't love more. Add a fantastic cast with the likes of Harry Guardino, Harris Yulin, Dana Elcair and Maximilian Schell hamming it up with a fantastically dramatic moustache. Plus bits parts by Robert Englund and Jeff Goldblum who seems gets his ass kicked by Bronson a lot. St. Ives will never be ranked in the great films of the 70's but rankings are for dicks.

I got through this whole thing without saying "No dice." Shame really.

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