Thursday, September 05, 2013

Clean, Mean Go-Between

ST. IVES was the first of nine movies Charles Bronson made with director J. Lee Thompson (THE GUNS OF NAVARONE). It’s interesting that after a couple of decades of playing brutal heavies and other blue-collar types, many of his biggest movie star parts were as men of culture (DEATH WISH’s Paul Kersey was an architect, for instance. And a liberal!).

ST. IVES casts Bronson in the title role, a professional writer named Raymond St. Ives, who drives a Jaguar and sleeps in a bed lined with fancy books like ONIONHEAD. Wealthy hood Abner Procane (John Houseman from THE PAPER CHASE) hires St. Ives to ransom four leather-bound ledgers that were stolen from his safe. St. Ives shows up at the ransom site with $100,000, but nobody is there except a corpse in a clothes dryer. Instead of the quick payday he was hoping for, St. Ives becomes both a murder target and a murder suspect as more bodies begin dropping (literally). He does get to sleep with Jacqueline Bisset, which may make the whole ordeal worthwhile.

What's really cool about ST. IVES, in addition to the punchy Lalo Schifrin score, is the supporting cast. If you watched at least five movies made during the 1970s, you've seen most of the performers before. Harry Guardino (THE ENFORCER), Dana Elcar (MACGYVER), and Harris Yulin (NIGHT MOVES) play cops. Maximilian Schell gets "guest star" billing as a shrink. Michael Lerner (BARTON FINK) is a lawyer. Daniel J. Travanti (HILL STREET BLUES), Burr DeBenning, Val Bisoglio, Dick O'Neill, George Memmoli (PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE), Olan Soule, Robert Englund (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET), Jeff Goldblum (also in Bronson’s DEATH WISH), and Elisha Cook Jr. are in it too.

ST. IVES may be less outrageous than the Bronson/Thompson collaborations for Cannon in the 1980s, but it still has some whoppers. As Bronson and Bisset prepare to get down to business, Thompson cuts away to fireworks (!), which are revealed to be part of the film Houseman is watching in his home theater. And some suspense is drained from a heist set at the Pickwick Drive-In once you realize the film being projected is the same short loop of a cattle stampede running over and over. How ST. IVES could be so sloppy in some details, yet just right in others (I love the downtown Los Angeles locations and the smoky cafeteria where St. Ives hangs out) is beyond me.

1 comment:

August West said...

All of the five Philip (Raymond was used in the film) St. Ives novels by Ross Thomas are terrific. But that goes without saying because all of Ross Thomas' work is top self.
The novel "The Procane Chronicles" which the film was based on is way better than the movie, but I still liked it because of Bronson.