Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Movie Review: St. Ives (1976)


An attempt to create an ultra-complicated blackmail story in the style of The Big Sleep, St. Ives stumbles early and often, quickly becoming incomprehensible. There is nowhere near enough style or magnetism to rescue the hopelessly convoluted script, and despite some reasonable moments, the film eventually melts into a puddle of irrelevance.

Abner Procane (John Houseman) is old, rich, playful, and in trouble. Someone has stolen some of his important documents, and is demanding $100,000 for their return. Procane hires struggling crime writer Raymond St. Ives (Charles Bronson) as the go-between to handle the pay-out, but what was to be a straightforward swap of cash-for-documents goes immediately wrong, with a dead body twirling inside a laundromat drying machine and police officers Deal (Harry Guardino) and Oller (Harris Yulin) crawling all over St. Ives as their main suspect.

As St. Ives attempts to find the killers and uncover the importance of the missing documents, he delves deeper into Procane's business, and finds the mysterious Janet Whistler (Jacqueline Bisset) and the creepy Doctor Constable (Maximilian Schell) constantly hovering around Procane, seemingly up to no good. From then on, the body count rises, with St. Ives always arriving at the scene of each successive murder in time to be embroiled further into the growing mess.

Although Bronson never looks comfortable trying to portray a man up unwittingly up to his knees in dead bodies and dense conspiracies, he is nevertheless the best thing that St. Ives has going for it. He moves smoothly enough through the carnage while rarely being fully convincing.

Jacqueline Bisset seems fully aware that her role is "the striking beauty with something to hide", and that's all she has to go on. If Janet Whistler's actual relationship to Procane and the missing documents was ever clarified, it came too late in the knotty narrative to matter, mush less register. John Houseman and Maximilian Schell go through St. Ives trying hard to remember which characters from other movies they should be channelling, and generally failing.

Of interest are the brief appearances of Jeff Goldblum and Robert Englund (the future Freddy Kruger) as hoods hired to hunt down and murder St. Ives.

Director J. Lee Thompson, a long way removed from the glory days of The Guns Of Navarone, comes nowhere close to creating the necessary air of mystery or finding a suitable style for the movie. Thompson and Bronson would go on to collaborate eight more times, cranking out increasingly dim-witted and routine action sludge.

St. Ives is left with a few moments of Bronson charm to remind us that he is better than the material, and a reasonable tag line: He's clean. He's mean. He's the go-between. Clever, but it's always dangerous when the poster is better than the film it's trying to promote.






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