Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Kino Lorber Studio Classics - BREAKHEART PASS and MR. MAJESTYK on Blu-ray ""

Friday, August 8, 2014

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - BREAKHEART PASS and MR. MAJESTYK on Blu-ray

BREAKHEART PASS (1975; Tom Gries)
There are just some movies I have trouble being objective about. I'm a fella who likes a lot of 70s character actors and I am a sucker for when bunches of them show up in the same movie. This movie is bursting with classic character actor faces and that is a true joy for me. Let's run them down shall we. You've got Ben Johnson, Richard Crenna, Charles Durning, Ed Lauter, Bill McKinney, Robert Tessier and Roy Jenson and for fans of THE BIG LEBOWSKI, you've also got David Huddleston. I think that part of the reason cinephiles like Peckinpah so much is partially due to the stock company he used and the way he would cast faces. BREAKHEART PASS is very much of that wonderful school of thought as far as casting goes. The film is also blessed with two lovely ladies in Jill Ireland and Sally Kirkland.
One of my early introductions to Charles Bronson was in DEATH WISH III. I'm not sure If I'd seen the other two films yet, but it made no difference really in terms of me loving this overblown sequel. One thing I loved about it was seeing Ed Lauter as  a hard-nosed cop who ends up teaming with Bronson to fight a riot filled city full of scumbags. Lauter and Bronson had a great chemistry together there, but I had no idea they'd worked together before. A few times actually. BREAKHEART was perhaps their first film together, followed by THE WHITE BUFFALO and DEATH HUNT prior to DEATH WISH III. 
This western is pretty neat in that it is written by Alistair MacLean (WHERE EAGLES DARE, THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, FEAR IS THE KEY). That being the case, it should be no surprise that this movie has some intrigue and twists and turns. It's kind of a 'mystery western' or a westernized version of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXRESS. The setting here is a train bound for an army fort caught up in the throes of a diphtheria outbreak. This train has a military garrison (with medical supplies), the state governor and a few other stragglers (an outlaw played by Charles Bronson being one of them).  When passengers aboard the train start dying, it's made clear that something sinister is afoot. The train locale makes for a wonderfully claustrophobic and paranoid atmosphere which I was not accustomed to in a western context. It all makes for a nice mix though. No supernatural stuff going on but I can't help but think of Carpenter's THE THING and other self-contained thrillers. I also couldn't help but think of Anthony Mann's excellent film THE TALL TARGET, another great train movie (this one is highly recommended if you're a BREAKHEART PASS fan). The whole thing seems well suited to fans of Peckinpah films though just as far as the remarkable cast goes. Maybe a broad way to describe it would be along the lines of Peckinpah meets Hitchcock? Perhaps Peckinpah meets Pakula would be more accurate actually. Either way, the ensemble alone is one of those "could be reading the phone book and would still be entertaining" kind of scenarios that fans of films from the 1960s and 70s will undoubtedly be hooked by.
One thing I neglected to mention is the music in the film. That's nearly a travesty because the score was done by the great Jerry Goldsmith. It has an interesting western instrumentation to it and a rollicking adventurey vibe. Check out the main title for a sample:

MR. MAJESTYK (1974; Richard Fleischer)
There's a reason why revenge films have been and continue to be a thing that crops up again and again in popular cinema. There's clearly something absolutely primal about the human desire to get even. The desire right the wrongs that have been done to us. Those wrongs can be as great as a loved one being taken from us or as small as some asinine jackass cutting us off and giving us the finger in traffic. Charles Bronson is kind of an iconic figure with regard to this type of film as he had one of his most memorable roles in one of them (that being DEATH WISH of course). His performance as Paul Kersey is not only one of his best, but also maybe the best in this "subgenre" over all. Let's be honest, MR. MAJESTYK ain't no DEATH WISH, but then again, that's setting the bar pretty high. MAJESTYK is a solid revenge flick though and it is one that has it's impassioned supporters. Quentin Tarantino is obviously a big fan of this film. I was basically unaware of it until I heard Gary Oldman's infamous pimp character Drexl mention it in TRUE ROMANCE (in reference to Christian Slater's character being motherfn' Charlie Bronson). As big a Bronson fan as I was at the time, I had to go and finally see it. I went through several action actor phases as a kid. Firs there was Clint Eastwood, then Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson, Steven Seagal and others. I was happy to dig deeper into Bronson's 70s filmography and see this one. Tarantino had guided me well and he would show one more nod to MAJESTYK in KILL BILL a few years later (a one-sheet for the film can be seen on the wall of a trailer home at one point). Based on the fact that I know Tarantino to be a huge fan of Elmore Leonard, it would seem likely that he might have come to this film via his love for Leonard (I've heard him tell a story of being picked for shoplifting some Elmore Leonard paperbacks at one point). He may also champion it as the lesser known Bronson revenge film that lives in the eternal shadow of DEATH WISH (which came out the same year). Tarantino has to be a fan if Richard Fleischer as well. Fleischer is a darned interesting fella with some variety in his filmography. He was active  in the late 40s and early 50s directed solid noir films like FOLLOW ME QUIETLY and THE NARROW MARGIN. Soon after that he did 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA for Disney. VIOLENT SATURDAY, THE VIKINGS and COMPULSION would follow and then he'd detour into fantasy briefly in the 60s (with FANTASTIC VOYAGE and DOCTOR DOOLITTLE) before plunging headlong into a run of grittier films that would stretch through most of the 70s (THE BOSTON STRANGLER, 10 RILLINGTON PLACE, THE NEW CENTURIONS). In 1973, just before MR. MAJESTYK he did the sci-fi classic SOYLENT GREEN with good old Chuck Heston. I've always loved the relative variance to Fleischer's films. They aren't all masterpieces, but there's certainly enough quality there to get me excited whenever I see his name pop up in the credits. MR. MAJESTYK is a pretty straightforward story of a melon farmer who is strong-armed by the mov and decides to fight back. It features car chases, shootouts and fistfights. It's almost the prototypical Bronson film really and it's a pretty fun time.

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