From Noon Till Three

FROM NOON TILL THREE, a low-key, small-scale western comic fable from 1976, starring Charles Bronson, has some merits and certainly has its heart in the right place, but the bland handling and basic miscasting sink it. His action fans steered clear, those who went were bored, and the piddling box office take of $2,700,000 left it standing on 110th place, alone in the street at high noon, unarmed.

While his fellow gang members pull a job, bank robber ‘Graham Dorsey’ (Bronson) sits out a few hours with just-met widow ‘Amanda Starbuck’ (Jill Ireland) at her plush Victorian home in the country outside town. The manly outlaw and manless lady indulge in a whirlwind 3-hour romance that abruptly ends when the bank heist fails and Graham must skedaddle. Assuming the identity of a travelling dentist, Graham nonetheless ends up in jail (the dentist was a fraudster), and Amanda thinks Graham’s been killed. A legend of their affair arises, she cultivates it, as it produces books, a play and a popular song, making her a bundle while the hombre in question sits in stir. Eventually, Graham turns up again, eager to resume their romance, but fame & fortune trump favor.

The wistful, unconvincing lollygag was written & directed by Frank D. Gilroy, from his novel written three years earlier. The book, a mere 116 pages, sports the aren’t-we-twee? title “From Noon Till Three: The Possibly True and Certainly Tragic Story of an Outlaw and a Lady Whose Love Knew No Bounds”. Maybe it’s a charmer, a cameo sendup of Old West mythologizing, like Cat Ballou, but putting that sort of hybrid farce-fancy onscreen requires a deft touch in casting (paging Lee Marvin and Jane Fonda, for example), and production values that hopefully don’t look made-for-TV: shot in the hills around Thousand Oaks, California, even with veteran Lucien Ballard on camera it looks as phony as an episode of The Virginian. It does give give old hand character actor Douglas Fowley a nice late-career role (brief but flavorful), and Elmer Bernstein provides a pleasant score (and has a cameo as a piano player), which includes an okay song “Hello and Goodbye”.

Bronson was certainly capable of not just presence (always) but with the right director and script, passion (The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape–and to a lesser degree Battle Of The Bulge and The Dirty Dozen), but comic charm? Trying to elbow out of grim mode by playing cute and leaving the fan base shrugging would also prove true with, among others, Eastwood (Bronco Billy) and Stallone (Oscar, Rhinestone).

It doesn’t help that Charlie’s gallant go at being genial is glue-stuck with his wife Jill Ireland, featured with him for the 13th of 16 times. Obviously they were nuts about each other, but as an actress she’s even less appealing than Clint’s girlfriend Sondra Locke, who first showed up with him that same year in The Outlaw Josey Wales, and then gave his fans a case of head-shakes in five more pictures. Love is blind, but the Bronson-Ireland combo doesn’t exactly threaten Tracy-Hepburn. Doubtless she was a great gal (and beloved partner), but how many Bronson loyalists could say they were Jill Ireland fans? Mind you, this is not something I’d say to CB’s face.

In its quiet and inoffensive way, this duffer (it has its stalwart defenders, we add) started the decline of Bronson-mania. He had 20 more movies in his gunbelt, and most did much better business than From Noon Till Three, but after two decades of pulling up from third-mug-on-the-left, the high-water mark of ’74-’75 (Death Wish, Breakout, Hard Times, Breakheart Pass), the downslope had to start somewhere, and this 99-minute misfire takes the fall.

* Incoming! Bronson fans, hold your fire. I liked the guy from way back (Vera Cruz, Drum Beat, Jubal), probably before most of you knew your Death Wish 3 from 10 to Midnight. Heck, I liked The White Buffalo, even.  Mow down some other mugger.

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