Revisiting Mr. Majestyk (1974) with Charles Bronson

Plot: Charles Bronson stars as Majestyk, an ex-con and Vietnam vet whose efforts to run a farm are thwarted by narrow-minded locals and corrupt cops. But when a Mafia hitman (Al Lettieri) destroys Majestyk’s crop, the farmer’s fuse is finally blown. With his rifle in hand and his girlfriend (Linda Cristal) at the wheel, he goes after the syndicate assassin. And from high-speed back-road chases to an explosive backwoods confrontation between mobster and maverick as they stalk each other: two-of-a-kind antagonists to the death. Directed by legendary director Richard Fleischer (Compulsion) and written by the great Elmore Leonard (Out of Sight). The wonderful supporting cast includes Linda Cristal, Lee Purcell, Paul Koslo and Taylor Lacher.

Review: Who would have thought the profession of being a melon farmer would be so dangerous? For Vince Majestyk (Charles Bronson) it proves to be deadly!

Mr. Majestyk is one of Charles Bronson’s best films; he is as always a man of few words and Vince is an easy man to like but a harder man to kill (to quote the classic Die Hard tagline). Majestyk is struggling to get by financially using migrant workers to help pick melons from his fields. A local crime boss wants Vince to use his people (who are mostly a bunch of winos) and when some hoods are sent to intimidate Majestyk they only succeed in pissing him off so he assaults one of them. He ends up in jail and when being transported on a bus with vicious hitman Frank Renda they are attacked so for some reason Vince escapes with the bus and takes Frank with him; Frank tries to bribe him but is bemused that Majestyk keeps messing with him.

This is Bronson at his icy coolest never cracking under pressure nor is he easily intimidated, always seemingly one step ahead of everyone. His decisions don’t always make sense but they do to him which is what makes him such an endlessly fascinating character.

Al Lettieri nearly steals the show as Frank who immediately comes across as someone you shouldn’t get on the wrong side of; he has an explosive temper and makes for an incredibly threatening antagonist. Sadly Al Lettieri died the year after this movie was made, which is a great loss to cinema as you may remember him from The Godfather.

The script is as sharp as you’d expect but considering it’s penned by crime maestro Elmore Leonard, it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The music score has one of those earworm theme tunes that sticks in your head long after watching; it’s a product of the time but it still works in establishing the mood.

It’s action-packed with shoot-outs, chases and fights with the last 20 minutes demonstrating that Vince has had enough and decides to turn the tables on the hitman and his cronies.

I love the character of Nancy (Linda Cristal) who is one of the migrant workers and isn’t afraid of the intimidation tactics the thugs use throughout the film; she’s ever bit as stubborn and tough as Vince making them perfect for each other.

Movie sets can be stressful places especially when dealing with stars and their egos and it sounds like Mr. Majestyk was no different. I was reading on on IMDB that on the first day of production, Charles Bronson got angry about a delay caused by a late transport truck carrying cars necessary for the scene that was to be shot. Finally, he yelled to director Richard Fleischer within earshot of the entire crew, “You know what this company needs – it needs a European first assistant and a European crew!” The crew was so insulted by this remark that at the end of the day, they told Fleischer they would be leaving the production. They were persuaded to stay, but for the rest of the shoot they never spoke to Bronson unless they absolutely had to. Later in the shoot, Bronson commented to Fleischer, “I just don’t understand it. Nobody calls me ‘Charlie’ on this picture. They only call me ‘Mr. Bronson’.”

Overall, Mr. Majestyk is widely regarded as one of Bronson’s finest hours and rightly so as this is him at his absolute badass best with fights, chases and shoot-outs making for a profoundly satisfying and entertaining action picture.