10 To Midnight

Director: J. Lee Thompson   
Charles Bronson, Andrew Stevens, Gene Davis

It should be pretty obvious by now that I am a movie addict. I am a fan of movies in many different ways. I am a fan of some certain film genres, for instance, such as Hong Kong action flicks. And there are some certain films that I'm such a fan of that they would be top of my list if I was forced to really think and cut down my choices to fit a list. You may think that I am also a fan of certain movie actors. Actually, the answer to that is while there are some actors I do admire and I check out their movies whenever I have the chance, I am not such a great fan that I know everything about them and that I'm almost obsessed by them. It was not always this way. When I was much younger, there were some movie stars that I was a big fan of. One such actor was the little-known Dennis Christopher after I saw him in Breaking Away. Subsequently I tracked down pretty much every one of his other movies and learned all that I could about him. But as the years went by, my devotion to him cooled significantly, probably because his cinematic output slowed down significantly and I had to feed my cinematic appetite with other stars and movies. Another actor that I was a big fan of was Charles Bronson. I should mention that I was a fan of his even before I saw one of his movies. My first real exposure to him was the Mad Magazine parody of Death Wish, which I thought was hysterical and made me want to see the actual movie. When my parents finally got a VCR, it was the first movie I rented, and it didn't disappoint me. It got me wanting to see more movies of his.

During the remaining part of my youth, I rented every Charles Bronson movie that was available in my city. I was a true fan. In fact, at one point I actually wrote a fan letter to Bronson. I never got an answer to my letter, not even a photo with a signature scribbled by an Autopen, the machine lazy celebrities use to send "signed" photos to fans. Actually, I wasn't really surprised that I never got any kind of response. Even at a young age, I had a good idea that Bronson was a very private person who wouldn't respond to the gushing from fans. As the years continued, I kept reading evidence that supported that theory of mine. Not long before he died, director J. Lee Thompson did an interview for my local newspaper where he commented, "[Bronson] could be a gentleman, but he also could be very rude." In the invaluable book Bronson's Loose! (a fascinating look at the making of all five Death Wish films), an actor commented that during the shoot of Death Wish II on the streets of L.A., he witnessed Bronson refusing to turn around and face the crowd of thousands of onlookers that had gathered to try and get a look at him. (The crowd subsequently booed him.) In Richard Fleisher's memoirs, the veteran director remembered during a break on the shoot of Mr. Majestyk when the two men were eating dinner at a restaurant, a young man approached Bronson and invited him to play in one of the local golf clubs. Bronson replied, "You know, where I live in Los Angeles, the back lawn of my house is part of a golf course...And do you know what I do with that golf course?" When the young man asked what he did, Bronson responded, "I let my dogs s**t on it," and resumed eating.

Actually, part of me kind of understands this kind of behavior from Bronson. I am a kind of introvert, and I cherish the private parts of my life - I don't like the idea of people peeking into those parts I don't wish to share with others. Plus, there's the fact that when you are a celebrity, you are 10 To Midnightunder a lot of pressures ordinary Joes don't experience. One of those pressures that Bronson experienced is in fact related to the movie I'm reviewing here, 10 To Midnight. By the early '80s, Bronson's box office attraction had diminished, at least in North America. It may have been because of his advancing age, but whatever the reason, at this stage, he was no longer getting offers from major Hollywood studios, and was working with independents. So you may understand why he signed a long-term contract with Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus of The Cannon Group. They were determined to become major players in Hollywood, and offered Bronson several years of steady work and sizable paychecks. 10 To Midnight was the second movie Bronson made for them, and in many aspects shares the sleazy and ultra violent attributes of his other Cannon movies. In this movie, Bronson plays Leo Kessler, a Los Angeles police detective who is paired up with young partner Paul McAnn (Stevens, Dallas) Not too long after the movie has started, they have a new case on their hands - someone has brutally stabbed to death a young woman and her boyfriend in one of those many wooded areas you find in the Los Angeles area. After some basic detective work, the two detectives have a suspect (Davis, brother of Brad Davis) in their sights. Kessler is totally convinced that this suspect did it. Indeed, the suspect is in fact the murderer -  the audience is shown the murder in the first few minutes of the movie. But the suspect has ingeniously manufactured an air-tight alibi, and Kessler is forced to release the suspect. But as you know, this is Bronson we're talking about, so you probably know he won't let this go...

You are probably thinking that you know what Bronson's character will do next, based on Bronson-played characters in other movies, as well as dozens of other movies with the same basic situation. Bronson eventually does give the audience what they expect of him, but that's at the end of the movie. Before that happens, Bronson's character does pursue the villain, while trying to use normal police procedures. When he gets frustrated, he decides to get the villain in the clutches of the police in a way I think most Bronson fans won't be expecting, a way that I think even some Bronson fans might disapprove of. Because of these questionable actions, he becomes somewhat of a tarnished figure for the rest of the movie, making you wonder at times if you should be rooting for him or not. In fact, near the end of the movie, a bloody tragedy happens, a tragedy that when you think about it, seems to be a result of some other questionable actions Bronson's character made several minutes earlier in the movie. Was all this intentional by screenwriter William Roberts and director J. Lee Thompson? It's interesting to think about this, especially when you also think about how Davis' villain character is portrayed, because there is more sympathy for his character than you might think. He is shown to have a job at an office where he's not thought of much by all the women there. He has bad social skills and seemingly no luck with women anywhere. And there is an interesting scene where, after the double murder he committed, he learns of some key evidence that might put him away. He breaks into a house and frantically trashes the place to find the evidence. Although part of us, the audience, sees him as criminal scum, at the same time in this scene you'll feel his panic and part of you will want him to find the evidence at get out of the area safely.

Thinking about the movie some more, I conclude that Roberts and Thompson were indeed trying to make this Bronson vehicle somewhat different than past Bronson movies and other psycho killer movies. They manage to avoid putting a lot of the usual stuff in movies like these. Early in the movie, there is a scene where Bronson has to tell the parents that their daughter has been killed. Instead of showing us Bronson struggling to tell the news and the parents screaming and crying, we see Bronson stepping into their house, and in the next shot, he's exiting the house in an upset mood. Roberts and Thompson knew we didn't have to see this whole charade again. However, it's clear that Roberts and Thompson also knew what the audience of a Bronson exploitation movie wanted deep down, and they made sure that the movie had some good exploitation. There's a good amount of blood spilled, and there are some nice naked women on display, a couple of them in completely gratuitous and explicit sex scenes. So you women in the audience don't feel left out, Davis' psycho character happens to do all his killing in the nude. In fact, there's one scene where the naked Davis is running after a naked woman so he can kill her - now that's exploitation! The sleaze factor runs very high in 10 To Midnight, which leads to some (unintentionally?) hilarious moments, like how Davis softly strokes the cord of a phone while he's making an obscene phone call. The funniest parts of the movie are when Bronson finds a suspicious-looking device in Davis's bathroom (Bronson's facial expression is priceless), and later, when Bronson brandishes the device under Davis' nose during a hard-edged interrogation sequence. ("You know what this is used for? It's for j**king off!!!")

The outrageousness and hilarity of 10 To Midnight wouldn't have worked so well if the surrounding characters and acting weren't entertaining, either in a good way or an unintentionally funny way. The actors choose to play it straight, and they help to make the characters pretty compelling. The best acting in the movie comes from Geoffrey Lewis, who plays a defense attorney. Lewis plays his character to be so sleazy and a downright scumbag that I was really disappointed that he only has a few scenes in the movie. Stevens does make a nice and honest, if a little befuddled, partner for Bronson. As for Bronson, fans of his will no doubt enjoy him here, even though he gets very little opportunity to really let loose here. If they look a little closer at the movie than they usually do, they will probably find to their surprise that Bronson is in somewhat less of the movie than usual. There are some significant stretches where he's offscreen for some time, as well as with Davis' psycho character. Much of the movie focuses on the relationship that forms between Stevens and the daughter of Bronson's character, a relationship that ultimately goes nowhere and is never properly resolved. There's also a reporter character introduced at the beginning of the movie who is eventually forgotten about. Stuff like that, as well as some unclear moments during the murder sequences suggest that the movie was cut down significantly in the editing room, in order to get a shorter running time (as it is, it runs 102 minutes), and possibly also to avoid getting an "X" rating. Despite those problems, the movie never makes the mistake of ever getting boring at any point. With it constantly changing between sleaziness, unpreditability, and unintentional humor, you won't help but wonder what interesting action the movie will pull out next.

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See also: Chino, Deadly Force, One Man Jury