Death Wish 4: The Crackdown


Street Date 9/26/23;
Kino Lorber;
$24.95 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R.’
Stars Charles Bronson, John Ryan, Perry Lopez, Kay Lenz, Soon-Tek Oh, Danny Trejo.

Charles Bronson would appear in several archetypal paradigms that exceed genre nirvana, but he’s not the first name that comes to mind at the mention of The Dirty Dozen or Once Upon a Time in the West. For a period in the ’70s, Bronson held his own against Clint Eastwood. Terence Young’s The Valachi Papers and Richard Fleischer’s Mr. Majestyk are well made, rigorously entertaining genre pictures, but it was Walter Hill’s Hard Times that gave Bronson his finest hour. Michael Winner’s The Mechanic (1972) marked the beginning of Charles Bronson’s long and steady decline into asinine self-parody. Clint rode on to become his generation’s most respected actor/director while Chuck signed on with low-rent studio pimps Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus for Cannon duty.

A graphic rape in any of the first three Death Wish installments is as commonplace as a faulty third act in a Christopher Nolan picture. We have director and rape connoisseur Michael Winner to thank for his contributions to the series “death or defilement by association” mandate. Winner was known to spend three days putting an actress through the grueling motions of reenacting sexual assault, only a minute or so of which made its way into the finished product. (For those interested in the lurid details, Google the director’s name and “rape” or check out “Alex Winter Introduces Death Wish 3” on YouTube.)

Anyone related to, in love with, or even remotely pulling for Paul Kersey (Bronson) will die, fall victim to sexual assault, get shot and in some cases all three. This applies particularly to womenfolk. In the introductory installment, Kersey’s wife (Hope Lange) is beaten to death by the same robbers who rape their daughter. Part 2 finds Kersey’s housekeeper and his daughter raped and murdered, the latter impaled after being flung from a window. DW3 features Deborah Raffin (adored by Japanese, ignored by Americans) as an expendable social worker. Love interests signal a welcome arrival in any later period Bronson picture if for no other reason than we get to see the thick-tongued ape him play all lovey-dovey. Part 3’s ineptness makes it funnier than 90% of most intentional comedies.

Released in 1987, Death Wish 4 is less of a crackdown than it is a public service announcement. (In truth, Nancy “Just Say No” Reagan deserved a co-screenwriting credit.) The trio of thugs that open the picture aren’t out for money or to steal a car. They’re in a parking garage looking to beat and rape the first female they see. Not unlike Gotham City, Kersey appears as if summoned by a vigilante signal flashing across the nighttime sky. Forget about Kersey or his alter ego Paul Kimball: Our hero now goes by the name of death, saving the day in record time, only to awaken from a dream in which vigilante and victim became one and the same. Kersey is the sociopath next door, the first guy that comes to mind when you hear about a gun nut mowing down a slew of baddies in the name of peace. In the eyes of Cannon Films, he was an all-American hero.

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Bronson was disappointed with Death Wish 3, so much so that Michael Winner took the hint and expressed zero interest in directing another Dirty Kersey picture. J. Lee Thompson took the reins on what would be one of nine collaborations between Bronson and the director. Vigilante by night, architect by day, Kersey is mentoring his girlfriend Karen’s (Kay Lenz) daughter Erica (Dana Barron) at his firm. When picking her up for a date, boyfriend Randy can’t wait to pull out of the driveway before sparking a joint. Kersey, unamused, spies Erica taking a hit. Let’s hope the unstable, ever antisocial surrogate father doesn’t use his Glock to ice the young lovers. Their date begins and ends at the local arcade where the two stop to pick up “special drugs” from a local pusher that result in a lethal dose for Erica. The film’s only legitimate thrill entails a shootout at the bumper cars that lands the pusher dancing on the electrified roof.

Newspaper tycoon Nathan White (John Ryan, giving it his gnarling best) is hip to Kersey’s game and hires him to kill on the side of right. “How many children do we let them destroy before we say it’s enough?” asks White before handing Kersey the gift of a lifetime — a list of every drug pusher and dealer in town complete with their addresses and contact info. Let the body count begin! Kersey, the man who was single-handedly responsible for more deaths than crack cocaine, reassures Karen that it’s not her fault that Erica died. It was the drugs. That won’t deter the intrepid reporter from penning an exposé on why her daughter sought out the services of a pusher. (Too bad Bronson didn’t live long enough to tackle the fentanyl epidemic.) All the action that follows is of a cartoonish nature. Kersey masquerading as a waiter gets caught hiding in a bathroom adjacent to where the goons are mapping out their next step. Kersey is such a cloddish jadrool that he cracks the toilet door loud enough to give himself away. A shootout at a video store raises the question of how an attaché case containing a gun wound up in the back room as if planted beforehand. Kersey’s greatest sin? Meeting White in a movie theater where they proceed to talk during the feature.

Be on the lookout for a young Danny Trejo sporting a shingled, dry look coiffure. The climactic chase through a roller disco a decade after the craze peaked could only have been improved upon had Kersey donned skates. It would be only fitting, inasmuch as Bronson skated through the entire picture. As bad as it is, just say “yes” to Death Wish 4: The Crackdown.

In addition to the theatrical trailer, the special features include a commentary by Bronson scholar Paul Talbot.


Kino Lorber to Release Bronson’s Final Two ‘Death Wish’ Movies on Blu-ray Disc

Kino Lorber on Sept. 26 will release the final two movies in Charles Bronson’s original vigilante “Death Wish” series on Blu-ray Disc.

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, released theatrically in 1987, finds Charles Bronson reprising his role as architect Paul Kersey, who hit the revenge trail a decade and a half earlier after a group of thugs broke into his house and killed his wife and raped his daughter. He tries to put his past behind him, until a dose of toxic “crack” kills the young daughter of his new girlfriend (Kay Lenz). Vowing to wipe out the entire cocaine network in Los Angeles, he skillfully lures two vicious, competing drug empires into a bloody turf war. But there’s a sinister force behind the scenes (John P. Ryan) with his own diabolical plans for Kersey.

The film costars Perry Lopez, Soon-Tek Oh, and Danny Trejo. 

In Death Wish 5: The Face of Death (1994), Bronson moves back to New York. But when his beautiful fiancée Olivia (Lesley-Anne Down) is killed and her daughter is kidnapped by a kingpin of the underworld, Kersey finds himself back in the vigilante business. His plan to live anonymously is shattered when he learns his fiancée was the victim of a protection racket run by her ex-husband, the psychotic Tommy O’Shea (Michael Parks). One by one Kersey hunts down the criminals. 

Bonus features on both Blu-ray Discs include an audio commentary by film historian Paul Talbot, author of the “Bronson’s Loose!” books, and the original theatrical trailers. 


‘Death Warrant’ and ‘Death Wish 3’ Among Actioners Due on Blu-ray Aug. 23 From MVD and Ronin Flix

Death Warrant with Jean-Claude Van Damme, Death Wish 3 with Charles Bronson and Lone Wolf McQuade and The Delta Force featuring Chuck Norris are being released on Blu-ray Disc Aug. 23 from MVD Entertainment Group and Ronin Flix.

In 1990’s Death Warrantfeaturing a new 2020 2K scan — Van Damme is officer Louis Burke, a roguish police detective who goes undercover to investigate a series of inmate murders at Harrison Penitentiary. Posing as a prisoner, Burke encounters brutal inmates, corrupt guards, death and betrayal at every turn. When he unearths the shocking secret behind the penitentiary’s inner workings, Burke must attempt a daring escape that pits him against not only hundreds of murderous inmates but also a deadly enemy from his own past, The Sandman (Patrick Kilpatrick, Class of 1999, Under Siege 2). The film also stars Robert Guillaume (“Benson”), Cynthia Gibb (Youngblood, Modern Girls), Joshua Miller (Near Dark, Teen Witch) and Art LaFleur (Trancers, Cobra). Special features include audio commentary with director Deran Sarafian; an interview with Kilpatrick; an interview with LaFleur; and trailers.

In 1985’s Death Wish 3 — featuring a new 2020 2K scan — Charles Bronson (The Mechanic, Stone Killer, Mr. Majestyk, 10 to Midnight) returns as Paul Kersey, an everyday-man turned vigilante after the murders of his wife and daughter. Paul doesn’t seek out violence. It just seems to find him. But when it does, he never backs down. Road-worn and battle-weary, Kersey longs to leave his fighting days behind him. But when he arrives in New York to visit an old friend, he finds him brutally attacked and gasping for breath in a pool of blood. The silent avenger must wage war once more on the city’s punks, thugs and hoodlums, but this time he’s brought a small arsenal of guns, knives and even a bazooka. The supporting cast includes Deborah Raffin (God Told Me To, The Dove, Once Is Not Enough), Ed Lauter (The Longest Yard, Breakheart Pass, Death Hunt, Midnight Man), Martin Balsam (Psycho, All the President’s Men, A Thousand Clowns, Mitchell), Gavan O’Herlihy (Never Say Never Again, TV’s “Happy Days,” Superman III, Willow), Alex Winter (Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, The Lost Boys) and Ricco Ross (Aliens). Death Wish 3 was the sixth and final collaboration between Bronson and director Michael Winner (Chato’s Land, Death Wish, Firepower). Special features include an interview with actor Kirk Taylor (The Giggler) and audio commentary with Paul Talbot (author of the “Bronson’s Loose!” books).

In 1983’s Lone Wolf McQuade — featuring a 2020 2K scan from the original interpositive — Chuck Norris is McQuade, a legendary Texas Ranger feared by outlaws and respected by other lawmen. When he uncovers a gun smuggling operation led by an American gangster (David Carradine, P.O.W.: The Escape, TV’s “Kung Fu,” Dune Warriors), McQuade wreaks havoc on all those who come between him and the law. The film co-stars Leon Isaac Kennedy (Too Scared to Scream, Body and Soul), Barbara Carrera (Embryo, Never Say Never Again), L.Q. Jones (The Wild Bunch, Bulletproof, A Boy and His Dog), Robert Beltran (Eating Raoul, Star Trek Voyager), R.G. Armstrong (Bulletproof, Jocks), William Sanderson (Blade Runner, Savage Weekend) and Sharon Farrell (The Fifth Floor, Sweet 16) and is directed by veteran Steve Carver (The Arena, Bulletproof, Capone). Special features include audio commentary with Carver, actors Beltran and Jones, and producer Yoram Ben-Ami, moderated by C. Courtney Joyner; interviews with stars Kennedy, Jones, Beltran and producer Yoram Ben-Ami; and the theatrical trailer.

In 1986’s The Delta Force — featuring a 2020 2K restoration from the original interpositive — when a U.S. passenger plane is seized by a vicious hijacker (Robert Forster, Medium Cool, Peacemaker, Jackie Brown) and taken to Beirut, the president calls in the Delta Force — a crack team of commandos led by Colonel Nick Alexander (Lee Marvin, Point Blank, Prime Cut, Academy Award winner for Cat Ballou, in his last film) and Major Scott McCoy (Chuck Norris, The Octagon, Lone Wolf McQuade). Against all odds, the men blast into the compound and — taking no prisoners — rescue the hostages. The film co-stars George Kennedy (the “Airport” series, Deathship, Academy Award winner for Cool Hand Luke), Robert Vaughn (Man From Uncle, The Magnificent Seven, Bullitt), Bo Svenson (“Walking Tall” series, Choke Canyon, Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker), Steve James (POW The Escape, the “American Ninja” series), Martin Balsam (Death Wish 3, Psycho, Academy Award winner for A Thousand Clowns), Joey Bishop (Johnny Cool), Kim Delaney (“NYPD Blue,” Body Parts) and Shelley Winters (Bloody Mama, Tentacles, A Patch of Blue, Academy Award nominee for The Poseidon Adventure). Special features include interviews with Forster, Alain Jakubowicz and James Bruner and the theatrical trailer.

Comedy ‘Clifford,’ Peckinpah’s ‘Killer Elite’ Among Titles Due on Blu-ray From Ronin Flix and MVD June 7

The comedies Clifford and The Heavenly Kid and the action films The Killer Elite, from director Sam Peckinpah, and The Mechanic, starring Charles Bronson, are being released on Blu-ray June 7 from Ronin Flix and MVD Entertainment Group.

Starring Martin Short (Three Amigos, Innerspace) as a smart, hyperactive and dangerous 10-year-old, Clifford (1994) co-stars Charles Grodin (Midnight Run, The Heartbreak Kid), Mary Steenburgen (Melvin and Howard, Time After Time) and Dabney Coleman (9 to 5, WarGames). In the film, young Clifford has a lifelong dream: to visit the Dinosaur World theme park. Happily, his uncle Martin (Grodin) has agreed to take him. But when Martin suddenly reneges on his promise, Clifford hatches a devious plan to get even and teach his uncle that all work and no play makes Clifford a very bad boy.

In The Heavenly Kid (1985), Lenny Barnes (Jason Gedrick, Iron Eagle, TV’s “Boomtown”) gets divine intervention to educate him in the ways of love from a hip guardian angel, Bobby Fantana (Lewis Smith, Wyatt Earp, Southern Comfort, TV’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth”), a former rebel-without-a-cause. Fantana helps to mold Lenny into the king of cool so Fantana can finally earn his entry into Heaven. After Bobby gives Lenny an extreme makeover, Lenny learns that being popular isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The film also stars Jane Kaczmarek (TV’s “Malcolm in the Middle,” D.O.A., All’s Fair), Richard Mulligan (TV’s “Empty Nest,” Soap, Scavenger Hunt) and Nancy Valen (TV’s “Baywatch,” Final Embrace). Special features include interviews with stars Lewis Smith and Nancy Valen; audio commentary by director Cary Medoway, moderated by Jeff McKay; and the theatrical trailer.

In Peckinpah’s The Killer Elite (1975), elite assassins Mike Locken (James Caan, Rollerball, The Godfather, Misery) and George Hansen (Robert Duvall, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather) take on jobs too risky for even the CIA to handle. They’re best friends, superior marksmen and on the ‘A’-list when it comes to killing. But when one high-powered hitman betrays another, the intrigue, the violence and the thrills become more than just a dangerous game of who-kills-whom first. It becomes a very personal war. Directed by Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch, The Getaway, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia), the film also stars Arthur Hill (Future World, The Andromeda Strain, Harper), Bo Hopkins (A Small Town in Texas, Mutant, Midnight Express), Burt Young (Rocky, Amityville II, Convoy), Mako (The Sand Pebbles, An Eye for an Eye, Conan the Barbarian), Helmut Dantine (The Story of Mankind, The Wilby Conspiracy) and Academy Award winning actor Gig Young (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, Game of Death, The Tunnel of Love). Special features include interviews with Bo Hopkins and production assistant Katy Haber; audio commentary with film historians Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and Nick Redman; TV and radio spots; and the original trailer.

In The Mechanic, Arthur Bishop (Charles Bronson) is a mob hit man who operates in an uncompromising world where conventional rules of morality don’t apply and one wrong move could cost him his life. He’s always worked alone; but, as age catches up with him, Bishop takes on a competent and ruthless apprentice and teaches him everything he knows. Together they become an unmatchable team of globetrotting killers until the pupil’s ruthlessness puts him on a collision course with his teacher. Special features include an interview with writer Lewis John Carlino; audio commentary with author Paul Talbot (“Bronson’s Loose” book series); audio commentary with cinematographer Richard H. Kline, moderated By Nick Redman; and the theatrical trailer.



Kino Lorber;
$29.95 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13.’
Stars Charles Bronson, Robert Duvall, Jill Ireland, Randy Quaid, John Huston, Sheree North, Emilio Fernán.

A year after Death Wish made him the king of the vigilantes, Charles Bronson stars as Nick Colton, a private bush pilot hired by a woman (Jill Ireland) to free her husband (Robert Duvall) from a Mexican prison.  Bronson and his crew, Hawk (Randy Quaid) and Myrna (Sheree North), perform said task with the quasi-comic aplomb typical of action films from the polyester decade. Breakout is certainly not Bronson at his best, but it’s a popcorn pleaser, one of those Friday-night-at-the-drive-in movies that probably worked best when viewed by a car full of teenagers sipping Coke and doing whatever.

And for fans of 1970s kitsch, like me, buying this movie is a no-brainer. Is it really something I’m going to watch once, twice, then again a few years later? The answer is an emphatic yes.

The film has been cleaned up nicely for its high-definition debut, arriving on Blu-ray Disc exactly 20 years after it was issued on DVD by what was then Columbia TriStar Home Video. (A 2019 Blu-ray, from Powerhouse Films, was only available in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Australia/New Zealand). 

Released under Kino Lorber’s Studio Classics banner, Breakout comes with an audio commentary by film historian Paul Talbot, author of two books on Bronson: Bronson’s Loose: The Making of the ‘Death Wish’ Films and Bronson’s Loose Again! On the Set with Charles Bronson. The Blu-ray Disc also comes with assorted trailers, TV spots and radio spots.

Kino Lorber Sets May 17 Disc Date for Revenge Thriller ‘Violent City’

Kino Lorber on May 17 will release the 1970 revenge thriller Violent City, starring Charles Bronson, Telly Savalas and Jill Ireland.

The film, which predates his iconic “Death Wish” franchise, finds Bronson playing a former hitman framed by his ex-boss and left for dead. He tracks the shooter and his beautiful mistress (Ireland) to New Orleans. But when he takes both revenge and the woman, he finds himself blackmailed by a powerful crime boss (Savalas) who wants the fiercely independent gunman to join his organization. He refuses, and finds himself the target of another hit. 

Violent City is an Italian-French co-production filmed in New Orleans, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Cinecittà Studios in Rome.

The DVD carries a suggested list price of $14.95, while the Blu-ray Disc retails for $29.95.

Directed by Sergio Sollima, the film also stars Umberto Orsini, Michel Constantine and Ray Saunders.

The two-disc set includes both the original Violent City — in a 2K restoration in English and Italian with optional English subtitles — and the 1973 U.S. cut, The Family.

Special features include an audio commentary by film historian Paul Talbot, the author of the Bronson’s Loose books; an interview with Sollima; and various trailers and TV spots. 

Kino Lorber to Give ‘The Great Escape’ the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Treatment

Kino Lorber Jan. 11 will release the action classic The Great Escape on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, under the indie’s Kino Lorber Studio Classics line.

The 1963 film, with Steve McQueen, James Garner, Charles Bronson, James Coburn and Richard Attenborough, follows a group of Allied POWs who attempt one of the largest and most daring breakouts in history. The acclaimed collaboration between director John Sturges, screenwriters James Clavell and W.R. Burnett, and composer Elmer Bernstein, The Great Escape received a 1964 Academy Award nomination for Best Film Editing and a Best Motion Picture — Drama Golden Globe nomination.

The film is set during World War II in Germany’s Stalag Luft III, a maximum-security prisoner-of-war camp designed to hold even the craftiest escape artists. The Nazis unwittingly assemble the finest escape team in military history. Together, under the guidance of the brilliant Bartlett (Attenborough), the resourceful Hendley (Garner) and the steely, determined Hilts (McQueen), the men plot, scheme and dig their way to freedom.

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc comes with hours of bonus content, including a new audio commentary by filmmaker and historian Steve Mitchell and Combat Films: American Realism author Steven Jay Rubin.

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Also included is an audio commentary with director Sturges and actors Garner, Coburn, Donald Pleasence, David McCallum and Jud Taylor, along with various crew members; a making-of documentary; three other documentaries narrated by Burt Reynolds; a look at the real Virgil Hilts; a documentary by Steven Clarke; additional interviews; and the original theatrical trailer.  

Vintage Charles Bronson TV Crime Series ‘Man With a Camera’ Headed to DVD, Digital

MPI Media Group has set a May 12 release date for Charles Bronson’s “Man with a Camera: The Complete Series” on digital and DVD platforms.

The crime drama ran for two seasons on ABC, from 1958 through 1960, and predated Bronson’s rise to film stardom in the 1970s with a succession of box office hits, most notably Death Wish and its sequels.

Directed by Gerald Mayer (known for “Mission Impossible,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” and “Mannix”), “Man with a Camera” tells the story of Mike Kovac (Bronson), a former World War II combat photographer now freelancing in New York City, who specialized in getting the photographs that other lensmen couldn’t.

His assignments came from newspapers, insurance agencies, and the police and private individuals — and his cases always led to danger and typically involved a good-looking damsel in distress.

Kovac’s police liaison was Lieutenant Donovan, played by James Flavin, who looked to the freelance cameraman for help with the cases the cops couldn’t handle. Kovac employed the latest photographic technology to solve a case, including a Minox III mini-camera fastened to his belt; fisheye and telephoto lenses; and various other cutting-edge technologies. He even converted the trunk of his car into a portable darkroom where he could develop his negatives on the spot. Character actor Ludwig Stossel starred as Kovac’s immigrant father Anton, to whom Kovac frequently came for advice.

Rider on the Rain


Kino Lorber;
$29.95 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13.’
Stars Charles Bronson, Marlene Jobert.

Despite a scene in which Charles Bronson dispatches a trio of polished punks in an upscale brothel, the onetime sleeper arthouse hit Rider on the Rain often emphasizes the actor’s sweeter side. What, you say? Well, OK, this isn’t to deny that Chuck doles some out pretty rough psychological treatment (albeit for a cause) to co-star Marlene Jobert, who plays a woman who has just been brutally raped. But his anti-Death Wish persona here isn’t truly consistent with a Photoshop mash-up I saw last year of a so-called Bronson Christmas album, whose dreamed-up selections included at least three personal favorites of mine: Knock Off Those Jingle Bells, If I Catch You Kissing Santa Claus and Make With the Gifts … Pronto!

There’s a relative minimum of that kind of attitude here. In fact, you can make a pretty fair case — and bonus track commentators Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson do — that Rider is the movie that put Bronson over for international audiences that included a lot of women, which had a trickle-down effect on his lead-actor fortunes in America. Before then, Bronson had been a distinctive face (billed by his real name, Charles Buchinsky) all the way back to George Cukor’s Pat and Mike and a little before, including a memorable turn as the well-named “Igor” in House of Wax. After that, Vera Cruz, The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape and Once Upon a Time in the West cemented his status as an action “reliable.” But this picture was something different because Bronson got to wear a suit, though apparently Bronson had initial misgivings about fancier threads the way that Steve McQueen did when he

In this case, Bronson plays … well, maybe I shouldn’t say because Rider isn’t all that well known these days, though it once got a lot of 3 a.m. showings on TV. Come to think, the entire picture is a spoiler maze of twists and turns as we try to figure out what the hell is going on, though thankfully, the script seems aware that it’s been a bit scatterbrained throughout and does a satisfying job of mopping up during the final scenes. In its defense, the movie does begin with a quotation comparing Jobert as the heroine to Alice in Alice in Wonderland, which can be seen as a ticket for the filmmakers to go full crazy-quilt.

So out of the French rain — this is one overcast picture throughout — comes a bus passenger who’d look pretty scary even without the face mask he eventually dons. And he’s especially so, since he’s stalking Jobert — a puzzling-to-me total innocent who’s married to a loutish airline navigator (and this is near-incidental to the plot) with few redeeming values. With her husband is away on a another of his frequent flights, the stalker breaks into the house, puts on his mask and rapes Jobert — an ugly scene by any standards but one whose specifics are largely suggested (the film now carries a ‘PG-13’ when it originally had a long ago — and long-discarded — ‘M’). The result sets off some mayhem involving corpses — a mystery that for reasons of his own, stranger Bronson shows up to sleuth.

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I’ve been a 50-year Jobert fan, and I suppose it doesn’t hurt that I also think she’s one of the best-looking actresses who was ever in the movies (I have a history of redheads being my downfall). Here, though, I think that despite strong chemistry with Bronson, her attempts to play a mostly guileless hottie who eventually wises up (some) makes her come off as borderline simple — especially given that the character was eyewitness to some rather sordid behavior when she was growing up. This is to say that her still attractive mother (Annie Cordy, rounding out great mom-daughter casting) has, as used to be said, “been around.” She is now, of all things, running a bowling alley, though she’s a lot more chic in appearance than the women who give me my own size-11’s before I prepare to roll a 101. By the way, Wikipedia notes that Cordy’s recording of “La Ballade de Davy Crockett” (which is what you think it is) was No. 1 on the French charts for five weeks. I need a drink.

Rider’s standout virtue is its character dynamics, and the voiceover trio is correct on the bonus track in noting that were this an American TV movie (which would be its more likely Hollywood genesis), the running time would be 74 minutes instead of the two hours we get and would have the guts completely cut out of it. Instead, the great producer Serge Silberman (a slew of super late Bunuel films and Kurosawa’s Ran) found himself with France’s third-biggest grosser of its year and a big-city crossover hit with sophisticated audiences over here, who probably weren’t going to Airport; I saw it first-run in New York amid a lot of buzz. This would have been the dubbed version, which is a yahoo-magnet I generally hate, though the job done here isn’t bad. I’ve written this piece from seeing the Blu-ray’s also included and barely longer French cut, which is still very close to what I saw in 1970, with techno-changes that are on the inside-baseball (or inside-something) side.

Veteran director Rene Clement gave the movie has a soft look, which many French thrillers/mysteries had back then, and the visual rendering is pretty close to what I remember, which was never going to sport a vital color palate in the first place. After taking all the time to learn his French phonetically, it must have irked Bronson when U.S. distributor Avco-Embassy then dubbed the movies for American audiences (and he’d already been a kid, as the son of an immigrant Lithuanian coal miner, who didn’t learn English until he was in his teens). It all worked out, and Bronson became something of a drive-in/grindhouse superstar in the ’70s, but you have to wonder if his initial reaction was to flash on a fourth title that appears on the LP jacket of that fanciful Christmas LP: Meet Saint Smith & Saint Wesson.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Can’t Stop the Music’ and ‘Rider on the Rain’

Never So Few


Available via Warner Archive;
$21.99 DVD;
Not rated.
Stars Frank Sinatra, Gina Lollobrigida, Steve McQueen, Richard Johnson, Charles Bronson, Peter Lawford, Paul Henried.

The odds of my writing about two Gina Lollobrigida movies in the same week are about the same as seeing Frank Sinatra in a goatee on screen (or, matter of fact, anywhere else), but here we are. For whatever reason in Never So Few, a chin-full of Francis follicles shows up early on in this glossy adaptation of a 1957 novel by Tom C. Chamales — but are soon dispensed with once we get to this yarn’s two dominant threads. And these would be: a) fighting the Japanese in 1943 Burma as part of an under-equipped OSS detail; and b) Captain Sinatra’s attempt to pry the more or less “kept” Lollobrigida away from a high-rolling merchant (Paul Henried) who, in one of the not infrequent scenes where the narrative takes a respite from the jungle, throws glitzy bashes for which the MGM set-dresser did a really bang-up job.

Sometimes a bad movie can be passable fun to watch in the home arena when there are historical (or otherwise non-aesthetic) reasons to do so, especially when the print is as immaculate as the one in this Blu-ray from Warner Archive. For the right person in the right mood, this one might be among those, though there’s really only one “must” reason to give this misfire with compensations a cursory whirl, and that’s seeing the emergence of Steve McQueen (then on the heels of TV’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” but not much else) into what now seems like inevitable stardom. McQueen plays the corporal/driver for Sinatra and his British counterpart-in-charge (Richard Johnson), and it’s a kick seeing the youngster, who was then about 28, interacting with his senior in movie rebel-dom, who looks admiringly amused. The two have a lot more chemistry than the future Chairman had with the King on Sinatra’s Welcome Home Elvis TV special from about a year later, and you can almost hear Frank saying, “Henry Silva and I were really digging you in that Blob thing, which is why I OKed you for this caper.”

Sinatra had that kind of clout, and, in fact, the corporal role was originally intended for Sammy Davis Jr. — who got bounced from the project when he went on a radio interview show and hinted that his superstar benefactor sometimes treated people harshly. In addition to keeping this picture from then qualifying as a footnote in the Rat Pack oeuvre (Peter Lawford is cast here as a military doctor), you have to believe that Davis’s firing necessitated a little script-doctoring, given a scene early on where McQueen beats up a couple of fairly burly guys. In fact, given Davis’s real-life ocular situation, you have to figure the army wouldn’t want him peeling rubber on Burmese dirt roads in a government Jeep. The payoff was that Few’s nominal director was John Sturges (probably forced by Frank to phone it in), who then cast McQueen in The Magnificent Seven and (speaking of peeling rubber) The Great Escape.

Getting back to what’s on screen (which isn’t as interesting) and speaking again of chemistry, Sinatra had more of the latter with the Nevada Gaming Control Board in 1963 than with Lollobrigida here, though you’d think that Old Home Country considerations just by themselves might have generated some sizzle. When you combine my comments here with the ones on Trapeze, I likely come off as a disser of “Lollo” (as I seem to recall she was termed), though I suspect the actress’s pre-Hollywood career in Italy was a lot more potent. For one thing, Kat Ellinger says so on the Trapeze commentary, and she thoroughly knows the material. For another, I fairly recently saw the actress’s substantial career-makers Bread, Love and Dreams and sequel Frisky for the first time, and both are delightful. (I’m pretty sure Bread was the first foreign-language film I wanted to see as an 8-year-old during my weekly devourings of the Sunday Cleveland Plain Dealer movie page). Lolo just didn’t register well in domestic productions, and December 1959 was a bad month for her all around when she also co-headlined one of the era’s most snake-bit undertakings, Solomon and Sheba, which gave the originally cast Tyrone Power a fatal on-set heart attack and further ended King Vidor’s five-decade directorial career. I did like Lollobrigida’s 1961 Come September, though substantially because Bobby Darin sang “Multiplication,” which we about-to-be ninth graders thought was a dirty song.

Few is more fun when Sinatra’s captain tosses out the book and stays sassy: talking back to nurses, combatting institutional racism against the campaign’s Kachin colleagues and risking an almost certain court martial for defying orders to combat Chinese renegades who’ve been killing American soldiers. The last confirms a couple things we already knew — that Brian Donlevy was great at playing grizzled old army generals and that when Whit Bissell was a child, the pediatrician must have said to his parents: “This lad was put on this earth to grow up and play army psychiatrists.” A most handsome picture, Few was shot by Sinatra favorite William H. Daniels, who before that had been an Anthony Mann favorite and a Greta Garbo favorite and before that had photographed Greed. In an alternate universe, one can imagine Sinatra on location in Death Valley for the famed climax of the Stroheim picture, with Daniels saying, “Don’t worry Frank; we’ll fly in Dean with the liquor cart for your trailer-with-a-pool — plus some Vegas showgirls who want to get a really deep tan.” Either it was this kind of excess or simply the impressive Burma-Thailand-Ceylon location shooting, but Few’s swollen budget prevented it from covering its costs, even though a lot of people did end up paying to see it. Sinatra was Ruler of the World at the time, and Come Dance with Me had been a monster hit earlier in the year on LP.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Trapeze’ and ‘Never So Few’