Bronson's Loose Again! On the Set with Charles Bronson Book Review
Written by Robert Gold
Published by BearManor Media
Written by Paul Talbot
2016, 456 pages, Reference
Released in October 2020
Before Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris there was Bronson, Charles Bronson. The man known for his craggy face and laconic persona frequently played cops, vigilantes and gunfighters who wanted justice as much as they wanted to be left alone. Bronson found international stardom in ensemble pictures like The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1963) and The Dirty Dozen (1967) and co-starred in the classic Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). With much success in a string of European films, he scored domestically with The Valachi Papers, Chato’s Land and The Mechanic (all 1972). In 1974, at age fifty-three, Bronson was in top form with the release of Death Wish, an unflinching vigilante picture that would shape his career for years to come.
In his 2006 book Bronson’s Loose! The Making of the Death Wish Films, author Paul Talbot chronicles the making of Death Wish and its four sequels through a series of behind-the-scenes interviews and anecdotes with members of the cast and crew. Ten years later, Talbot returns with a companion piece aptly titled Bronson’s Loose Again! On the Set with Charles Bronson, an in-depth look at the films Bronson made after Death Wish and outside of that franchise. The book is filled with insightful information and colorful production stories, with each chapter dedicated to a particular film presented in chronological order.
Talbot says in his introduction that he only covers titles he was able to secure a primary interview for and bypasses the movies that have been studied extensively elsewhere. Plot synopses are limited to little more than a few sentences but the quotes, anecdotes and information contain spoilers. There are thirty-nine new interviews with actors, producers and screenwriters conducted by the author either in person, over the phone or via email. Talbot also pulls information from relevant books, magazines, newspaper articles, websites and other archival interviews from those involved with the productions.
We also get reflections from additional cast and crew from the Death Wish sequels that were recorded after publication of the first book. The most revealing discussion is with actress Silvana Gallardo (Out of the Dark), who speaks frankly on her graphic rape scene in Death Wish II that was so intense and took so many days to film, the original cinematographer and camera crew quit in protest. Other tales from this shoot come from actress Robin Sherwood (Tourist Trap), who played Bronson’s doomed daughter, and from screenwriter David Engelbach, who talks about how he reluctantly became connected to the film. We also hear anecdotes from Death Wish 3 actor Kirk Taylor (Full Metal Jacket), who played “The Giggler”, and Death Wish V co-star Robert Joy (The Dark Half), who stars as a cross-dressing hitman.
Through these and other transcripts readers obtain a hint at Bronson’s off-camera demeanor. He was notoriously tough on writers and directors that were under-prepared or delivered material not up to his standards. In contrast, by many accounts he was warm and supportive to his fellow performers. We learn of the dynamic forged between the star and such frequent collaborators as directors Michael Winner (The Sentinel) and J. Lee Thompson (Happy Birthday to Me). Bronson was a fiercely private man who avoided trivial conversations, often separating himself from cast and crew until it was time to appear before the camera. This is not to imply he was a jerk or snob, quite the opposite, as some believe he was incredibly shy.
During the 1980s, Bronson made a number of action movies for Cannon Films, the small studio known for its over-the-top productions. The films of this era marked an increasingly violent and sleazy era in his career. In the chapter devoted to 10 to Midnight, actor Gene Davis (Cruising), who played the villain, shares stories of his time with Bronson. He also has a small role in Messenger of Death, as does Kimberly Beck (Friday the 13th- The Final Chapter), who was cast as a victim of the opening massacre scene and she discusses her albeit brief experiences on that shoot. Kathleen Wilhoite (Witchboard) had much more screen time with the legend, as she shared almost all of her scenes with Bronson in Murphy’s Law and paints an endearing picture of the man.
There are a few names that turn up several times throughout the book, including Paul Kohner (agent) and his son, longtime producer Pancho Kohner (The Evil that Men Do), who made ten Bronson pictures. Actor/producer Lance Hool (Cabo Blanco) shares some interesting information with his tales of the taciturn actor. The most important recurring character is Bronson’s lovely wife Jill Ireland, with whom he co-starred in eighteen films. By many accounts he was at his best when she was on the set.
Charles Bronson created an image as a tough guy in classic dramas like the powerful Hard Times (1975), but also tried his hand at comedy with From Noon till Three (1976). In later years he would move to a string of made-for-television movies, including the family friendly Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus (1991), opposite a young Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps), and The Sea Wolf (1993) with Christopher Reeve (Village of the Damned) and Catharine Mary Stewart (Night of the Comet). The bulk of Bronson’s filmography is available on DVD or Blu-ray and continues to attract new viewers as well as longtime fans.
The book is stacked with production notes and other information, including selections from early script pages. There is a generous collection of black-and-white promotional stills and international poster art for each title. With Bronson’s Loose Again!, Talbot successfully pulls back the curtain to provide a comprehensive study of an iconic actor’s indelible place in movie history. Because each chapter is dedicated to a specific title, they can be read independently in any order after viewing a particular film. Talbot approaches the material as a fan and shares his knowledge in a comprehensive yet reader-friendly manner that is well-researched and highly informative without being dry. Casual readers will find a lot to like within these pages and die-hard Bronson fans are likely to learn quite a bit too.
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