“Beach Blanket Bronson” week continues with this crisp tale of a lonely killer who takes on an apprentice and a whole world of trouble when he fails to clear his new hire with his secretive boss.
The opening scene here sets up the action as Charles Bronson, playing a cat named Bishop’, emerges from a car and thrusts his lean hatchet face into the lens as he scans his surroundings. The next fifteen minutes proceed without dialogue as he breaks into an apartment and methodically studies the space. Next he sets up an elaborate trap that involves booby trapping the pilot light on a stove before placing an explosive substance between the pages of a brightly covered book.
That night he watches patiently as the apartment’s resident arrives home and makes a cup of tea. Eventually he nods off just as the pilot light goes out and begins filling the room with gas. Bronson patiently waits until the moment is right before aiming his high powered rifle at the book and blowing the entire room to kingdom come. It’s a terrific opening that tells us he is serious about his work and has spent countless hours studying his subject. This isn’t just a rub out it’s high art.
Bishop’s next job comes via courier. He is to kill an acquaintance ,Harry McKenna. Turns out this is easier to set up than killing a stranger since he already has the guy’s trust. He arranges a faux business meeting on a remote beach. He even volunteers to go along.
Once McKenna is on the sand Bishop begins shooting at his friend from some bushes all the while urging his friend to run as fast as he can (uphill no less) to his car. McKenna’s weak heart can’t take the strain and he is soon gasping for air. Bishop opts to help his friend along by gently smothering him.
He doesn’t even have time to count his money before Harry’s son, Steve, shows up. He is a cool customer who figures daddy had it coming and has already figured out that Bishop probably did it. The guy isn’t mad though-he’s curious and kind of excited about learning the trade himself.
Bishop responds to the kid and begins schooling him in the fine art of assassination while teaching him about his philosophy towards the work. He avers that it is a higher calling that places them outside the mainstream. Steve takes to the work and is soon doing an assignment alongside his mentor. The pair are tasked to take out three drug dealers though things get a bit wonky when one escapes. This leads to an excellent high speed motorcycle chase through the backyards of the rich and famous and ends with a spectacular explosion.
Their next assignment is even trickier. Go to Italy and rub out mobster turned informant before he can spill his guts to the police. The job is especially hard because it is a rushed one. Further complications for Bishop include setting up on foreign soil and wondering when his partner plans to kill him.
It all comes down to multiple betrayals as the job blows up, literally, and leaves the men with a hit squad on their heels which puts trying to kill each other on the back burner.
This is excellent 70’s nihilism thanks to hard edged direction by Michael Winner(Death Wish). It is also the most layered role Bronson got to play in all of his tough guy movies. His Bishop is a lonely guy who mercilessly squeezes his stress ball and role plays a deeper relationship with a call girl (acted by his real life wife Jill Ireland). In a low key monologue we learn he was ritually abused by his father and still bears the emotional scars of that torment. Bronson is reaching for something better here and totally achieves it in the scene where he shares his rationalization about the lifestyle he has chosen with Steve.
He is well matched by Jan-Michael Vincent as Steve. Vincent can play ice cold on a par with Bronson which raises the stakes as you are never sure who will win this battle of wills. Keenan Wynn is seen briefly as Harry McKenna while Frank DeKova (F-Troop’s Chief Wild Eagle) has a brief but cold blooded cameo as Bishop’s boss.
Winner also manges to work in several explosions, car chases, and enough cat and mouse games to satisfy any suspense fan. This was so good that they remade it with Jason Statham. He is a fine actor and was good in the role but he seems to be doing a lot of 70’s remakes where he has subbed for David Carradine (Death Race 2000) and Burt Reynolds(Wild Card- which is a line for line remake of “Heat.)”
Best Lines: “Murder is only killing without a license.”
“You’re,um, gonna be dead in five minutes.”
“My father gets uptight when I ask him for money he steals from other people.”
Tom Doty is a columnist for The Floyd County Times.