12 April 2010

St. Ives

United States - 1976
Director - J. Lee Thompson
Warner Home Video, 2005, DVD
Run Time – 1 hour, 43 minutes

Separating the art from the artist is no easy task, particularly in the case of an artist you admire so dearly as I do Charles Bronson. His is a time when many a macho American actor went abroad to seek work in Europe or Asia when the roles for type-cast tough-guys were slim in the States. It was a time of peace, love and like, getting mellow, man. Only in places like France and Italy could craggy faced actors like Bronson get decent work, earning himself the nicknames Monstre Sacre (Holy Monster) and Il Brutto (The Ugly) in each of those countries respectively. Sadly, many of these foreign films lack the bluntness of American narrative and are pretty boring and difficult to watch. Still, this was also a time that earned Bronson several roles that would catapult him to fame; The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Sergio Leoni’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).

It wasn’t until the counterrevolution of the 70's put those dirty hippies back into their proper place that tough guys could make it again in American film. It was the opening of a floodgate that resulted in some of the best films of both Eastwood’s and Bronson’s careers. But before I take this metaphor too far, this post is really about Charles Bronson’s 1976 film St. Ives. After the success of Death Wish in 1974, Bronson could not be stopped. It was to be the dawn of his golden age.

The following year he starred in Walter Hill’s classic first film Hard Times, and a year after that in St. Ives which has Bronson in a much more subdued role. Forgive me if I draw a parallel to Raymond Chandler, but St. Ives centers around a caper in the Marlowe tradition but carries the narrative and setting into a modern (1976) setting rather than trying to update the theme. Thomas wrote a series of novels centered on the Philip St. Ives character, of which the third, The Procane Chronicle was the basis for this film. If it’s any indication of the quality of Thomas’ writing (which some critics deny) It would be unfair to compare him to Chandler apart from their shared genre.

I always got the impression that in the long run, Marlowe thought he was better than everyone else, and was bitter because his lifestyle didn’t reflect it. St. Ives atmosphere is much seedier than anything Marlowe encountered. The lunch counters and residential hotels have continued to accumulate all the wear and detritus of the three decades since the 40's without repair. St. Ives himself seems much more pragmatic than his predecessor, and perfectly at home in the shabbiness.
Returning to the Chandler comparison, St. Ives is a much more tactile and working class way of re-looking at classic noir than was Altman's The Long Goodbye. Bronson is after all a the people's hero.

The still above this spanish one-sheet is from a scene in which St. Ives is attacked by a bunch of goons among whom is Robert Englund as you can see, but also Jeff Goldblum rehashing his role from Death Wish.

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