Welcome to The Prime Sublime, a weekly column dedicated to the underseen and underloved films buried beneath page after page of far more popular fare on Amazon’s Prime Video collection. We’re not just cherry-picking obscure titles, though, as these are movies that we find beautiful in their own, often unique ways. You might even say we think they’re sublime… and this week we revisit one of Charles Bronson’s greatest films.
“Sublime /səˈblīm/: of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe”
The legendary Charles Bronson had a healthy career, mostly playing tough guys, across a forty-three-year career. From an uncredited role in 1951’s You’re in the Navy Now to the final entry in his most popular franchise, Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994), the actor’s relatively unique appearance and badass charisma made him an unforgettable star.
Fans would be hard-pressed to pick a favorite from his filmography with some of mine including Red Sun (1971), Chato’s Land (1972), and The Mechanic (1972). Pressed to pick a single title, though, I’d probably go with 1974’s Mr. Majestyk. Great action, fun character beats, and Bronson’s extremely determined protagonist make for one hell of good time, and it’s now our Prime Sublime pick of the week.
What is ‘Mr. Majestyk’ about?
Mr. Vince Majestyk (Bronson) is a melon farmer, a proud melon farmer at that, who just wants to get his goddamn melons picked and sold this season. His 160 acres won’t pick themselves, though, so he hires a group of men and women, mostly immigrants, to work his field for a healthy wage. Trouble arrives when some local thugs, racist bigots to boot, try to insist Vince use their white workers instead of the Mexicans and Latinos he’s already hired. A couple bruised nuts later — belonging to weasley character actor-extraordinaire Paul Koslo — he’s arrested for assault and loaded onto a prisoner transfer bus at which point his troubles kick up a few notches further.
A crime boss named Frank Renda (Al Lettieri) is on the bus too, and when his men attempt a rescue it quickly becomes a bloody shitshow of bodies, exploding cars, and all around mayhem. Rather than let Frank go, Vince attempts to turn him in — his effort fails, and it also leaves the mobster angry enough to want revenge. With the local police being less than worthless, Vince soon finds himself in a one-man war against an army of melon-hating thugs intent on ruining his day, destroying his business, and leaving him for dead.
What makes ‘Mr. Majestyk’ sublime?
Mr. Majestyk premiered almost at the peak of Bronson’s popularity, but it’s failed to garner the same kind of love and recognition as afforded more popular titles like Death Wish (1974) and Hard Times (1975). The former actually hit theaters just one week after Mr. Majestyk and most likely played a role in burying the superior film even deeper. It’s a shame as Bronson’s performance here is a balance of tough and tender, and everything else falls into place around him delivering a compelling and entertaining action/thriller.
The film features an original script from writer Elmore Leonard who actually penned it for Clint Eastwood. The two had just worked together on John Sturges’ Joe Kidd (1972), Leonard’s first original script, but producer Walter Mirisch optioned it with Steve McQueen in mind instead. Neither men got their first pick, and instead it fell to Bronson. He steps effortlessly into the role and delivers with a guy who only wants to lead a good life in both his word and deed — well, that and harvest his goddamn melons. Like the protagonist of Donald Westlake’s The Hunter, Vince just wants what’s his, but he’s stymied at every turn by racist goons, prickly cops, vengeful mobsters, and bad luck. Leonard’s script offers a tight little tale that unfolds over a few days and builds a solidly thrilling standoff between our hero and some bad guys who aren’t expecting much push back from a stupid “melon farmer.” Fools.
“You make sounds like you’re a mean little ass-kicker, only I’m not convinced,” says Majestyk, and Koslo’s Bobby is soon taking it to the nuts and the head. Koslo passed away in 2019 and never quite got the recognition he deserved for a filmography filled with mean, sleazy, cowardly villains who always left viewers hungry for comeuppance. He co-starred alongside Bronson twice more, in The Stone Killer (1973) and Love and Bullets (1979), and caught beatdowns elsewhere from the likes of Eastwood, John Wayne, and Paul Newman.
Director Richard Fleischer captures both the grand beauty of Colorado and the more intimate destruction in the action scenes. Bloody shootouts, short brawls, and car chases fill the screen, with that last one going on to land acclaim from an unlikely source. Vince’s work truck is a 1968 F-series pickup from Ford, and Fleischer puts it through its paces with some of the chase scenes including a bruising jaunt across the bumpy, rocky landscape with bad guys in pursuit. Ford actually used footage from Mr. Majestyk in television commercials to demonstrate just how tough their trucks were.
One thing that stands Mr. Majestyk apart from much of Bronson’s filmography — and from the bulk of action/thrillers in the 70s — is its PG-rating and overall likeability. Vince makes a new lady friend named Nancy (Linda Cristal) who gets caught up in the action, but at no point is she threatened with sexual violence. That might seem like a small thing, but the decade (along with the one that followed) is pretty rife with rape as a narrative beat. Similarly, the good people who Vince is looking out for are left mostly undisturbed aside from one guy whose legs are crushed. Vince is motivated in part by their safety, but it’s the carnage visited upon those goddamn melons that fuel his rage.
And in conclusion…
Mr. Majestyk is just a terrific ride with thrills, spills, and a fun, engaging turn by Bronson. He cracks wise, busts some chops, and stands up for other people along the way. Sure, it lacks the nasty grit of his more popular fare, but instead, this is a feel-good action/thriller where it’s almost exclusively the bad guys who get the shit kicked out of them. So yes, that does mean Mr. Majestyk is suitable for family viewing.