Friday, October 24, 2014

Bronson of the Day: Death Hunt (w/Lee Marvin & Carl Weathers)

Tucked in my dvd collection has long been a copy of Death Hunt, a flick starring no less than Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin and Carl Weathers.  Released in 1981, I wasn't too keen on watching Bronson and Marvin in the elder years of their lives and careers.  As younger men the two had co-starred in 1966's biggest box office earner, The Dirty Dozen and were the epitome of badassness; quiet, cool,  hard and unflinching.  Back then, Marvin was top dog and Bronson was one of the 12 convicts given an opportunity to acquit themselves of charges by going on a suicide mission.

Cut to 1980 and Charles Bronson has become one of the world's biggest movie stars thanks to action vehicles from the states and Europe.  His bankable days numbered and formerly granite face softening, Death Hunt is a welcome surprise as Bronson would embark on his payday Cannon Films/Death Wish sequel days immediately after. Filmed in and around the beautiful and snowy Canadian Rocky Mountains, Death Hunt was co-produced by Raymond Chow's Golden Harvest, of kung-fu and Bruce Lee flicks then Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fame.  The tale is based on a true story of a trapper who kills a man and then becomes the target of a huge, country wide man hunt in 1931 which of course is highly fictionalized for the big screen.  James Bond veteran Director, Editor and 2nd Unit Director Peter Hunt helms a not great but ruggedly entertaining affair with surprising bursts of old school squib violence.  The vista of nature, log cabins, muddy towns, fur coats and snow give it a very authentic feel and change of pace from Bronson's usual shitty city or European countryside motifs.

Basically, Bronson's Albert Johnson walks into a town one day where a gang of men are watching a dog fight.  Johnson doesn't like what he sees and buys the injured, losing dog off cruel owner Hazel (Ed Lauter) with a smack in the kisser and non-negotiable price.  Loud mouth Hazel approaches the local Mounties, Millen (Marvin) and partner Sundog (Carl Weathers) to do something while new recruit Alvin (future film producer Andrew Stevens) arrives looking to do things by the book.  Of course, the law doesn't always apply to remote areas so Millen and Sundog have to school the eager youngster on what and what not to act on.  While Millen, Sundog and Alvin get to pal around, talk about women and booze, Bronson as Johnson surprisingly doesn't share many scenes with anyone for the duration of the film.  With new dog in tow, Johnson purchases two new rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition before retreating to his secluded cabin in the woods where he fortifies the joint, saws off a shotgun and practices shooting two rifles from the hip.  Some of Hazel's buddies arrive looking for revenge and leave dead.

Things go bad and Johnson hits the trails, trekking across the snowy terrain and living off the land with Millen, Sundog and Alvin in pursuit as well as an angry mob of justice seeking townies.  Millen, being an old school, crotchety fella who's seen a few things may be tasked with bringing Johnson in but Damme it if he doesn't respect him.  He doesn't even think Johnson is guilty of anything and would have acted the same way in the situation.  When things aren't going as quickly as HQ wants, The Royal Air Force is called in, thinking technology will win the day.  Then we learn that Johnson is an old school badass himself, having served in the Great War working intelligence and secret op stuff.  Bronson isn't overly iconic in the role but his calm demeanor and weathered face are more than enough to infuse his portrayal of Johnson as a man looking for peace but unable to stay out of trouble due to jerks and injustice.  Marvin is expectedly crusty and salty, the cool asshole who's seen it all.  Weathers is fine as the buddy who likes to drink, crack jokes and have fun with the ladies with a little snow on the mountains while Stevens is effective as the coiled up new guy.

With a reported budget of $10 million, Death Hunt would only muster $3 million in box office revenue.  On set it's said that Bronson was very to himself which isn't surprising considering he doesn't really share scenes with many actors and you know, he was just like that.  Marvin was the center of attention and entering the twilight of his career, appearing in only 3 additional films. Bronson would go on to star in his first Death Wish sequel then move into his million dollar payday, near parody performances Cannon Film years, reuniting with director Hunt on Assassination.  Fresh off of Rocky II, Weathers would go on to co-star in Rocky III and IV before appearing opposite Arnold in Predator and headlining Action Jackson.  Andrew Stevens would reunite with Bronson shortly after for 1983's 10 to Midnight before becoming a schlock-tastic producer and director for 90's fare like Scorned, Body Chemistry, Virtual Combat and Storm Catcher.

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