Tuesday 5 November 2019

Movie Review: Mr. Majestyk (1974)

A simple but well-executed action film, Mr. Majestyk is a story of two uncompromising men from different worlds meeting at the wrong time and in the wrong place.

In rural Colorado, Vince Majestyk (Charles Bronson) is a melon farmer with a chequered past, now mostly worried about finding enough labour to bring his harvest in. He befriends a group of migrant workers led by union activist Nancy Chavez (Linda Cristal), then tangles with upstart crew boss Kopas (Paul Koslo), who tries to muscle in on the melon picking action.

Arrested for setting Kopas straight, Majestyk finds himself in the middle of a wild gun battle as a gang of goons attempts to free mafia hitman Frank Renda (Al Lettieri) from a police transport bus. Majestyk exploits the confusion to flee the scene and takes Renda as his prisoner, hoping to hand in the hit man in return for the Kopas assault charges being dropped. But the intervention of Frank's partner Wiley (Lee Purcell) disrupts the plan. Frank escapes and pledges to get his personal revenge on Majestyk for all the trouble and humiliation he caused.

An original story written by Elmore Leonard, Mr. Majestyk strikes a stubborn streak of boldness consistent with its central character. Locating a hitman in nowhereseville Colorado then finding uncompromising heroism within a melon farmer takes courage, but director Richard Fleischer grabs the concept and runs with it. Not only are the melons an occupation, they feature repeatedly in the plot: Majestyk's main worry in life is to bring his melons to market, and Renda gets partial revenge by venting his bullet fury at...a mountain of melons.

More traditional is a rowdy car pursuit featuring Majestyk and Nancy in a yellow Ford pick-up truck escaping from three chasing cars through rough terrain, a unique take on the must-have high speed exploits of the cinematic era.

The plot is an uncomplicated clash of wills between two men who refuse to be pushed. Both Majestyk and Renda are comfortable with violence and refuse to back down from anything or anyone, and it does not matter how big the Colorado sky is, once they cross swords this territory isn't big enough for the two of them. They take turns playing the hunter and the hunted, culminating in an effective close quarters siege and climax.

The music by Charles Bernstein playfully complements the action, and even sneaks in echoes of the harmonica theme once Majestyk decides enough is enough.

The attempted romantic subplot featuring Majestyk and Nancy is as ridiculously clunky as a relationship between a jaded melon farmer and a determined union organizer is supposed to be. Fleischer eventually abandons any pretense of courtship and surrenders to the reality that these two are more compatible as all-action partners in the bad guy eradication business.

And whenever the film hits a rough patch Charles Bronson rides to the rescue, here delivering a smooth performance fully compatible with his typical persona as a man happy to live a quiet life but more than ready to swing into action as needed to shove villains into their place. Al Lettieri provides an effective foil as the sweaty Renda, although his propensity for spluttering exasperation is not necessarily consistent with a hitman's temperament.

Mr. Majestyk is deceptively smooth and calm green on the surface, but explodes to reveal red rage on the inside.

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