MR.MAJESTYK, enjoyably dumb drive-in fare from 1974, proves that if you could get several pals together, jam into a Camaro or Trans-Am, and smoke enough weed before, during and after (when it wasn’t medicinal but just fun), a modestly produced but energetically directed action flick, starring a charismatic ass-kicking dude with a smile-summoning bad guy (or three) might seed a cult following that would last for decades. Or, to cut the cannoli: do not f–k with Charles Bronson’s watermelons! *
Colorado melon farmer ‘Vince Majestyk’ (The Man) chases off some local thugs trying to force a crew on his harvest time, but lands in jail for his methodology, casual but effective. When an inmate transfer is ambushed, Majestyk escapes the scene with notorious hit man ‘Frank Renda’ (Al Lettieri), then leverages Renda to the cops to clear himself. Enraged, Renda seeks vengeance on Majestyk, using his own men and the locals who Majestyk faced down earlier. Terrorizing his workers is one thing, but machine-gunning his just-picked stash of melons puts Vince over the edge. Since we’re told he’d done time for manslaughter and had been a P.O.W. in ‘Nam, we realize the Mob needs to reckon with “one man…”
Elmore Leonard’s script (which he duly put into a 138-page book) doesn’t scream with logic, but the key characters are vividly realized (pulp style) and Richard Fleischer keeps the pedal on the floor with his direction, plus the plot gives California a break by making Colorado ground zero for common-man revenge, staging the standoffs and chases in various locations around the state, including La Junta, Canon City and Rocky Ford. Speaking of Ford’s, one of the highlights is an over-the-top chase involving Majestyk/Bronson taking his ’68 Ford pickup in airborne calisthenics across terrain that would tear the suspension off a tank: utterly ridiculous, but quite amusing. Stunt driver Craig R. Baxley deserved a round of melon margaritas.
Aiding the hero is take-no-guff crop picker & labor organizer ‘Nancy Chavez’, played by Linda Cristal. It would be obvious, per movie logic, that a lady crop-picker/labor-organizer would be beautiful and fiery, and Cristal, 42, three years off taming The High Chaparral, and 14 away from giving The Duke a reason to defend The Alamo, is still to die for (or at least suffer crop-loss bankruptcy over). One imagines that before Ms. Cristal was picked to pick, due consideration was also given to Rita Moreno and Barbara Luna.
Really making the fiction pulpy is bad guy deluxe Frank Renda, sent up by the great Al Lettieri with fuming impatience on full and constant boil. He’s especially cool delivering put-downs to Paul Koslo’s pitiful punk ‘Bobby Kopas’, who has to learn everything the hard way. **
Bronson fans turned up to tune it into 45th place for the year, grossing $10,600,000, turning a nice profit off a $2,000,000 cost. The rough stuff and wisecracks are outfitted with an okay music score from Charles Bernstein, and feature support from Lee Purcell, Alejandro Rey, Frank Maxwell, Taylor Lacher, Richard Erdman, and several hundred riddled watermelons. 103 minutes.
* ’74 was good for Our Man Charles, with around-the-block lines for Death Wish making his day while he occupied the night as avenger ‘Paul Kersey’. There was an inordinate amount of lawbreaking on view that year—The Godfather: Part II, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, The Longest Yard, Freebie And The Bean, Chinatown, Thunderbolt And Lightfoot, McQ, The Yakuza, The Sugarland Express, Foxy Brown, Truck Turner, The Parallax View, Big Bad Mama, Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia, Law And Disorder, Busting, The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three, Thieves Like Us….The country’s crime rate was up 9.2%, or maybe the national fish just smelled from the head, with Ford replacing & pardoning Nixon, exchanging a mass murderer for a bagman.
** Though Al Lettieri had been acting (mostly on TV) since 1957, he didn’t really score until 1972, chilling us as ‘Virgil Sollozzo’ in The Godfather. That, his nasty ‘Rudy’ in The Getaway and the exasperated hood in Mr.Majestyk forged lasting film fame. Lettieri, who did boast bona fide Mob connections, died in 1975, just 47, from a heart attack.