TV Times


Charles 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).

Remember him 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 of them.

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.

Examples even 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.

In Chato’s 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.

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