Bronson: A Tribute
By Harinda Vidanage
Charles Bronson died from pneumonia at the Cedars-Sinai Medical
Center in Los Angeles at the age of Eighty One last August. This
is a late but a much needed tribute to a man who was an action hero
in his own time.
The son of a
Lithuanian coal miner, Born Charles Buchinski in 1921 in Pennsylvania
Charles Bronson claimed to have spoken no English at home during
his childhood in Pennsylvania. Though he managed to complete high
school, it was expected that Bronson would go into the mines like
his father and many brothers. Experiencing the world outside Pennsylvania
during his military service during the World War II Bronson returned
to America determined to pursue an art career.
After a few
scattered acting jobs in New York, Bronson enrolled in the Pasadena
Playhouse in 1949. By 1951, he was in films, playing uncredited
bits in such pictures as The People Against O’Hara (1951);
You’re in the Navy Now (1952), which also featured a young
bit actor named Lee Marvin; Diplomatic Courier (1952); Bloodhounds
of Broadway (1952), as a waiter; and The Clown (1953). When he finally
achieved billing, it was under his own name, Charles Buchinsky (sometimes
spelled Buchinski). His first role of importance was as Igor, the
mute granite-faced henchman of deranged sculptor Vincent Price in
House of Wax (1953).
best for his role as Paul Kersey, architect-turned-raging-vigilante,
in the classic Death Wish. This film presents us with a very easy
to interpret message when Bronson’s wife and daughter are
brutally raped and beaten, leaving his wife dead and his daughter
on life support.
The cops are
incapable of solving the crime due to an overburdened system rampant
with corruption, loopholes, and inefficiency. Bronson soon concludes
that he has got to balance the karmic scales by taking matters into
his own hands. He subsequently provokes thugs and street scum to
try and take advantage of his seeming weaknesses, thus incriminating
them, thus creating the moral justification to blow the hell out
Who can forget
Bronson’s ride on the subway carrying several bags of groceries.
He taunts the seemingly omnipresent vermin into thinking they have
the advantage, then only to crack some rolls of quarters over their
unsuspecting skulls. (He had earlier tucked the quarters into a
stocking, forging a formidable weapon.) By doing this Bronson declares
the system of laws and codes in this country to be simply not enough.
It is up to the individual to dish justice and, most importantly,
know when to act.
include when Bronson plays the role of a cop in 10 to Midnight.
The system doesn’t seem to allow him to nab the guy he knows
is doing the crime so he plants evidence to get a conviction. Of
course the system works in the killer’s advantage, letting
him off scott free. Bronson takes matters into his own hands and
blasts Jan-Michael Vincent naked to the world as he proclaims he
will plead insanity.
Land Bronson plays an Apache half breed just trying to make a living
on his land. He is forced to kill a sheriff in self-defense and
is chased to hell and gone by a posse of 13 men. Why does the system
not seem to ever work in Bronson’s favor? The answer, this
author believes, is because it is inept. The individual must protect
his/her own rights and hope to God that the system doesn’t
get in the way.
In 1967 he
headed across the Atlantic, becoming a box-office draw in Europe
with his role as an avenger in Italian director Sergio Leone’s
1968 spaghetti western, Once Upon a Time in the West. The French
knew him as “le sacre monstre” [the sacred monster],
the Italians as “Il Brutto” [the ugly man]. In 1971,
he was presented with a Golden Globe as “the most popular
actor in the world.”
I would like
to wind up this memory revival tribute by sighting John Sturges’s
remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic THE SEVEN SAMURAI
as the western hit Magnificent Seven where Charles Bronson and many
others rose as stars in their own time. Bronson was the manifestation
of a vigilante’s fury for justice, not a heartless hero will
remain a member of the elite Magnificent Seven in Hollywood stardom,
and nominations for the other six are free for all.