Friday, April 30, 2010

Mr. Majestyk

I don't know if I'd agree with that movie poster.  This came out in 1974, so if I had to recommend only one movie for that year, it would be The Godfather: Part II.  It's only one of the top five movies ever made.  Or Chinatown.  Or Mel Brooks' best work in Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein.  Or Coppola's best non-Godfather work,  The Conversation.  Or two of the best horror movies of all time, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Black Christmas.  Hell, I might even recommend Foxy Brown over Mr. Majestyk.  I'm not saying that this is a bad movie; I'm just questioning the validity of the movie poster's claim.

Mr. Majestyk is the story of Vince Majestyk (Charles Bronson), a former military bad-ass that is now a struggling watermelon farmer.  I'll give the movie brownie points for the unusual movie crop.  Majestyk needs to bring in his melons before it starts to rot in order to stay financially solvent.  Logically, he likes to hire experienced melon workers, so he hires migrant Mexican workers.  However, a local hood tries to bully Majestyk into using his men, mostly inexperienced drunks.  What the profit for the hood is remains unclear, but he really wants those drunks to pick Majestyk's melons.  Majestyk doesn't like that, so he beats up the hood and scares him off with the hood's own shotgun.  The hood files a complaint against Majestyk, and Majestyk is jailed.  I would have thought that swearing a complaint would not lead to immediate incarceration, especially if Majestyk could counter-complain that the man was trespassing on private property, but I'm no lawyer.  Majestyk's prison transfer bus is hijacked en route to delivering Majestyk to court; the hijackers are trying to rescue fellow bus passenger and Mafia hitman, Frank Renda (Al Lettieri), but Majestyk has other ideas.  He re-hijacks the bus and takes Renda hostage.  The idea is for Majestyk to negotiate with the police for Renda's return to custody, in return for Majestyk's freedom, so he can bring in his melon crop.  Well, Renda gets away and vows revenge on Majestyk; to allow for this revenge, the local hood drops the complaint against Majestyk, making him a free man.  Renda tries to intimidate Majestyk and promises to kill him, but Majestyk remains unruffled.  Only when Renda's men take machine guns to Majestyk's crop do things get serious.  Majestyk decides to fight back against Renda and his men, but does so on his own terms.  The rest of the movie is a cat-and-mouse game that is surprisingly well-executed.  The car chase scenes are even more impressive knowing that Majestyk's Ford truck was not modified for its use in the film; Ford even used clips from the movie in commercials to hsow how tough their product was.

I don't know how many Charles Bronson movies you've seen, but there are generally two types: young Bronson (sans mustache) in ensemble action movies, and mustachioed 1970s leading man Bronson action movies.  Generally speaking, the former are better films, at least in part because the primary acting does not rely on Bronson.  Despite this obvious handicap, Mr. Majestyk is a pretty entertaining movie.  The first half is not very good, I'll admit.  There is little action and Bronson has a hard time delivering lines from Elmore Leonard's reliable script.  Oh, and if you've ever wanted to hear the hero in a movie say "melons" over forty times in one movie, you're in luck.  The supporting cast is pretty low-rent, so they don't help out much.  Bronson's love interest (because someone nicknamed "The Ugly One" in Italy --- true story --- is a convincing romantic lead), Linda Cristal, is decent, but she's far from the focus of the movie.  Al Lettieri plays a convincing Mafia thug, but that's more because he looks like an ordinary guy than due to great acting.  Besides, it's nice to see a scary Mafia thug played as an egocentric moron every so often.  This cast is handled decently by director Richard Fleischer, but it's pretty clear that his main focus was on the action-packed ending.

Despite these shortcomings, this film still manages to work.  Once the hijacking attempt takes place, the pace of the film picks up considerably.  Aside from Majestyk's legal position, the movie progresses in a pretty plausible fashion(aside from the romantic angle); Bronson does not have a big shoot-out at any time, but instead does the smart thing and arranges to pick his enemies off, one by one.  Honestly, the final quarter to this movie is pretty great.  Of course, to get the full payoff of those final scenes, you have to deal with Charles Bronson saying "melon" over and over.  It's worth it, especially if you find the word "melon" funny.  Go ahead...say it.  Melon.  Now say it while doing a Charles Bronson imitation.  Now say it while doing a Charles Bronson imitation and shoot a bunch of bad guys.  Now you know how this movie feels.

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