Charles Bronson was perhaps the best portrayer of the tough guy in cinema history. This film, released the year before his excellent turn in Hard Times, was one of two Bronson flicks from ’74 (the other being the seminal Death Wish). Director Richard Fleischer had previously helmed such films as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Fantastic Voyage, Dr. Doolittle, and Tora! Tora! Tora! His film Soylent Green was released the year before Mr. Majestyk.
Our film takes place in rural Colorado where Bronson is a watermelon farmer. We see Charles flex his tough guy skills early when he deftly disarms an aggressor and uses the butt of the shotgun to inflict (one would imagine) extreme pain to said punk’s groin region. Tough without a gun… Raymond Chandler immortalized Humphrey Bogart with those words and they are equally applicable here. This is what many love about America. Once upon a time the United States stood for righteous force–defensive force. In this first fight of the film Bronson shoots no one. He teaches a lesson. Don’t play with me or you might get hurt. It is admirable and lovable.
Even before this episode, we see Bronson stand up for the rights of migrant laborers at a gas station. Bronson is the man in black (though he be clad in denim). This is the truly-just justice about which Johnny Cash sang.
But all is not well in Edna, Colorado. I can’t seem to locate such a town in modern day CO, but there is in fact an Edna Mine in Summit County. The county seat, Breckenridge, is about 80 miles from Denver so this may be in fact the region ostensibly depicted in the film.
The police in Edna haul Bronson in for assaulting the man who accosted him with a shotgun. One wonders whether perhaps the assailant (named Kopas) was a blood relative of the law enforcer in question. The whole thing was over a labor dispute. Kopas was trying to angle in on the labor market by coercing Bronson to hire a team of inexperienced watermelon pickers. Bronson preferred to go with the experienced migrants he’d already hired.
As Bronson is languishing in jail, his ripe watermelon crop is going untended. This is his livelihood at stake. One sees a parallel to the character Charles played in Hard Times…a regular guy (both, incidentally, sporting newsboy caps). We even see our workingman with his stock ’70s stache in this movie.
In the course of his incarceration, he becomes acquainted with a rather unsavory fellow named Renda. Renda is a hitman. As the prisoners are being transferred (somewhere) Renda’s organized crime buddies attempt to bust him out by hijacking the police caravan. In the ensuing melee, Bronson and Renda make off in the prison bus. Renda had been the only handcuffed prisoner (no doubt owing to a murder charge).
I won’t give away too much of the plot. [N.B. The film was actually shot in Fremont and Otero counties.]
Perhaps it’s not the best movie ever made, but it further convinces me of Bronson’s talent. Fleischer would go on to direct Conan the Destroyer (1984) starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
One final thought… Bronson eventually blasts a few guys with hunting rifles, but not until the situation is inevitable. I admire the message of restraint. Charles’ character is not out to kick anyone’s ass…he just wants to do his job: honest work. He doesn’t go looking for trouble, but when trouble comes after him he is prepared. Here’s to Charles Bronson: a great actor and a tough cookie!