Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Charles Bronson 4 Movie Collection On Blu-ray From Mill Creek (Part Two)

Yesterday I reviewed one of the two discs in the "Charles Bronson 4 Movie Collection" Blu-ray set from Mill Creek. Today I'll look at the other one, which features THE STONE KILLER and THE VALACHI PAPERS.

This movie is a perfect representation of a 1970s violent , gritty, urban crime melodrama. Charles Bronson plays police detective Lou Torrey, who at the beginning of the film relocates from New York to Los Angeles--his crime-fighting methods are not very well appreciated in the Big Apple. He winds up not being all that popular in the City of Angels either. Torrey becomes involved in a plot instigated by an aged Mafia chief (Martin Balsam) to get revenge for a 40 year old gangland massacre, using Vietnam veterans as the hit men.
This movie packs in all sorts of wild elements into its 95 minute running time (including a bizarre visit by Torrey to a hippy commune), but at least it's never boring. Producer-Director Michael Winner has a controversial reputation, but at this point in his career he was turning out hard-edged effective films that made the most out of Bronson's tough persona. Lou Torrey is one of those many movie cops that get things done in their own way--such as causing thousands and thousands of dollars' worth of damage with a car while chasing down a perp on a motorcycle. The script is about as subtle as a kick in the ass--it's the only one in the set rated "R"--and it even tries to incorporate some social commentary with the Vietnam veteran angle and Ralph Waite's character, a dopey racist cop. Among the other noteworthy members of the cast are Norman Fell, Stuart Margolin, a very young John Ritter as a rookie police officer, and a cameo by Angelo Rossitto!
THE STONE KILLER is in my opinion the best movie in this set. The action scenes are staged and edited for the maximum amount of impact, and Lou Torrey is a character made to order for Bronson--one wishes the actor had played the role in other films. If you're looking for a politically incorrect, tough, action-filled cop movie, this is it.

This movie purports to tell the story of real-life Mafia member Joe Valachi (how much of the script is "true" is open to interpretation). Charles Bronson portrays Valachi as a working-class low-level gangster who seems to be in over his head during most of the story. (If you go into this film expecting Bronson to kill all sorts of people, you're going to be disappointed.) The film begins with Valachi going to prison in the early 1960s, and then flashing back to various times in his life as he tells his story to a FBI agent. Because of this narrative structure, the story is very episodic, and Bronson as Valachi spends most of his time observing things instead of taking part in them.
THE VALACHI PAPERS was produced by Dino De Laurentiis, and most of the production was filmed in Italy, with a mainly European cast. Nearly every performer was dubbed, and there's so many phony Italian accents one expects Chico Marx to show up. There was some location shooting done in New York, but this didn't help matters--at one point, the twin towers of the World Trade Center are clearly visible during a scene set decades before they were constructed! (There's also a few scenes in which 1930s jalopies drive down the street past 1960s and 70s era cars.) The dubbing and the anachronisms give the movie an out-of-kilter feel.
The story incorporates historical gangster legends such as Lucky Luciano and Vito Genovese, but the European actors playing them don't inject enough menace into their roles. Joseph Wiseman plays Valachi's mentor, an aged refined mob boss (the actor played a very similar role in the 1980s American TV show CRIME STORY), and Anthony Dawson has a small role as a Federal agent. The reason I mention those two is that THE VALACHI PAPERS was directed by Terence Young, who helmed DR. NO--which featured Wiseman and Dawson. Jill Ireland (Mrs. Bronson in real life and in this movie) isn't very believable as an Italian-American.
One can't help but feel that this movie was influenced by THE GODFATHER. THE VALACHI PAPERS is nowhere near that level--it plays more like a greatest hits medley of gangster movie cliches. Bronson is good as an ordinary blue-collar type of made man, who winds up wondering what his loyalty to "The Family" has actually accomplished. Euro cult fans will appreciate the music score by Riz Ortolani.

Both films are presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and 2.0 stereo, and like the other films in this set, the video and audio quality is excellent.

I would recommend getting this set, especially at its current price. The four movies here are not prime classics, but they are all worth watching. Charles Bronson fans should definitely take advantage of this set.

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