He was a man some called Charlie, some called Chuck, but very few called ‘sissy’ – I am of course talking about the legendary Charles Brosnon. A man who chewed coal and spit diamonds. A man so bad his own mother wouldn’t even dare spank him as a child. Well, maybe I’m just talking about the mythological Charles Bronson that I have built in my head after years of viewing his films. There has been, and frankly never will be, another tough-guy action star to rival Charles Bronson. The combination of his beaten down, shady appearance with his rugged way of talking and raw power of his presence just couldn’t be duplicated. Not even with cloning, I mean, sheep are easy – you find me a doctor capable of harnessing the power of Charles Bronson and I’ll show you a funny film starring Carrot Top. It just isn’t happening anytime soon. So, who exactly was Charles Bronson and why was he important? I don’t know whether I plan to answer that question or not. I’ll throw you a info-bone here and there, but really, this is all about entertainment. Bronson has had far better spotlights placed on him than the one some Samford kid could ever try and create.
The Chuck man was born in a small Pennsylvanian town, going by the name of Charles Buchinsky at this point, he didn’t exactly come from money. His parents were Lithuanian immigrants who struggled hard to make it through life, and after completing high school, Charles joined his father in the coal mines which I assure you was no picnic. This was an important time in Charles’ life, as it seemed to stick with him for years and going from this he joined the military to fight during the second World War (the one with the nazis). After laying the beat down overseas, and actually fighting unlike that bogus myth about Mr. Rogers being a navy seal and killing dozens of people, Charles returned home and continued his schooling. Charlie ultimately moved to California, joined a theater group and was finally noticed. His first roles were all bit parts that didn’t catch much attention, but when he made House of Wax with the legendary Vincent Price – he turned a few heads. From there Charlie started making low budget action and gangster films, and actually had his own television series “Man With a Camera” for a while. Charlie really struck gold though when he hooked up with John Sturges to star in The Magnificent Seven in what can only be hailed as a classic of the Western genre. Working from Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai as it’s basis, the transition from feudal Japan to the old west was a simple one – and despite the rule of thumb being that all remakes are terrible (and most are), Magnificent Seven is equally worthy of praise in it’s own right if you ask little old me. Although Bronson’s part wasn’t as huge as say Steve McQueen’s, just being in the same film with such legends helped really launch the man out of the box. The next Sturges picture gave Bronson an even bigger part, in The Great Escape Bronson became a character the audience could really root for. As a tunnel digger with a bad case of Claustrophobia, Bronson was able to sell the role of Danny Velinksi with ease. Bronson kept the streak up with The Dirty Dozen, another WWII epic but with more of an action appeal – and featuring Lee Marvin to boot! After a while it seemed as if Bronson had hit a slump though, and those Italians (and we love those Italians) came calling. The Spaghetti Western subgenre was really big at this time, and importing American actors into these Italian parts was all the rage. Bronson ended up making a few films in Italy, most were huge successes, but the one film he’ll be remembered for during the time will always be Once Upon a Time in the West. Sergio Leone’s film about land stealing, train building and the end of an era and a certain type of rugged man. Bronson played the role of Harmonica, a man who didn’t speak much (not a shock knowing Bronson’s acting style), but sure let his trigger finger do the talking. The film has essentially become even more popular over the years, and many have been introduced to the man simply because of this one magnificent piece of work. In my eyes, it may be his finest work. It may not be his most broad emotionally, but for sure scope and ambition, few films touch it.
After he spent his time in Europe, Charles was ready to head back to the land of Apple Pie and Baseball. He starred in a few films that didn’t exactly set the critics ablaze, but among these films there were a few worth really watching. At this time Charles finally hooked up with Michael Winner who sent Bronson’s career into a whole new pitch – one that would last the majority of his life. They started off with three films together, the first The Mechanic a highly underrated crime film in which Bronson plays a classy hitman who takes a young kid under his wing to show him the ropes. It’s really amazing how the film has been forgotten over time, but trust me, it deserves just as much credit as any number of Bronson’s finest achievements. The Stone Killer followed, silently, but the third teaming of this director and actor turned out to be “the one”. The sort of film that determines someone’s future. Death Wish. No doubt you’ve at least heard of the series. Charles Bronson plays a sissified pacifist who, by way of his wife being murdered and daughter being raped, turns into a machine of vengeance. He hits the streets with a sock full of quarters, but soon gets a gun from out of state and really starts to wreck havoc on the urban leaches of society. Following Death Wish there were actually four sequels made over time, each with seemingly lesser qualities as the films came along. Bronson remained a popular figure throughout the eighties, but sadly couldn’t shake the stigma of being the eternal man of vengeance and was typecast in a majority of his films. During his later years he pulled out a few surprises such as Indian Summer and a family film here or there, but Bronson’s name had been made. After the nineties were over, Bronson’s health started to decline and he opted not to make any more films. He passed away in Auguest of 2003 of Pneumonia.
Although when growing up I wouldn’t have believed it, but even Charles Bronson was mortal. Despite this, he left some truly fantastic films as a legacy, and remains a figure worth knowing for any film fan – with a vast filmography to check out. He played quiet men, men of action, but anyone who ever watched him could tell he had the versatility to take on any project he wanted. His films are his evidence, and really, they just don’t make them as cool as Chuck any more.