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St Ives (1976)
Charles Bronson worked his way up through the ranks of actors making memorable characters in many films during the 50s and 60s. By the 70s, with Death Wish Bronson became a superstar and made a couple dozen actioners that are still watchable today. Bronson usually played hardboiled characters, but with a glimmer of humanity peaking out, giving him great audience appeal. Following Death Wish he was usually cast as an avenger with equal portions of intelligence and action. About his popularity with fans but not with critics, Bronson wryly commented, "We don't make movies for critics. They don't pay to see them anyhow."
St Ives was one of Bronson's early successes and it followed a more classical film noir detective story pattern than his later action pictures for Cannon. If you've seen some of the classic detective movies like The Maltese Falcon, Murder My Sweet, or The Big Sleep you will have an idea what to expect with St Ives.
Charles Bronson plays Ray St Ives, an LA private dick or actually a crime reporter turned unsuccessful writer who prowls the mean streets like a detective looking for material for his failing to materialize novel. He lives in a fleabag hotel with a desk clerk played by film noir staple Elisha Cooke, Jr. who spends most of his time asleep at the front desk as a sort of running joke throughout the film.
It is for his street knowledge that St Ives is hired by a LA multimillionaire (John Houseman) to negotiate the return of some stolen ledgers of unspecified content. We later learn the ledgers are the annals of the long criminal career of said multimillionaire. Several meets are attempted but despite following the directions meticulously, the meets fail and somebody winds up dead with St Ives left with egg on his face and having to explain to the police why he is at the scene of a crime.
The rest of the characters make the story worth seeing with sexy Jacqueline Bissett as one of Houseman's sidekicks and ultimately Bronson's bed mate. Dana Elcar, Harry Guardino, and Harris Yulin play the LA police detectives that keep rousting St Ives and spoiling his fun.
Bronson did a few of his patented gestures and I think he did a nice move that I've seen repeated in other films; perhaps this was the first. Bronson was questioning a hotel desk clerk trying to obtain some information and had his wallet in his hand riffling through the bills with the clerk leaning over leering longingly. Once he gives up the information, Bronson folds up the wallet and puts it back in his pocket without giving the guy anything. The trick was done with real finesse and humor. Jeff Goldblum and Robert Englund play a couple of thugs who try to work Charlie over and find the tables turned when the mean little guy gets frustrated with their attentions.
The story has a few lapses in logic but is pretty good as far as these detective movies go and shows that Bronson had the chops to do a serious detective movie. If only he had done more like this one!
Directed by J. Lee Thompson and shot by Lucien Ballard with nice camera angles that give it a noirish atmosphere despite being in widescreen and color. The modern jazz score by Lalo Schifrin is also top notch and worth hearing.
From the Warner Bros DVD with a running time of 94 minutes in 1.85:1 theatrical format in Technicolor. Well worth watching.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening