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August 14, 2014

Mr. Majestyk

mr majestyk japanese poster.jpg

Richard Fleischer - 1974
KL Studio Classics Region A Blu-ray

Anyone familiar with the novel by Elmore Leonard can not help but be a little disappointed that the plot for Mr. Majestyk isn't a little more clever. All Vincent Majestyk wants to do is harvest the watermelons on his 160 acre farm. Things start off badly when a would-be contractor shows up with a crew described as winos who are already working the fields. Chasing the small-time hood off his land, Majestyk gets in deeper trouble arrested with a trumped up charge. Things get worse when a fellow prisoner, a hit man, decides to hang around the town of Edna, Colorado, to extract revenge when the law-abiding Majestyk spoils his plans for escape.

I can pick on this film for a story that defies credibility. The migrant workers' clothing looks too clean and new. But I also like that a film about a Colorado melon farmer was actually filmed in Colorado, mostly in the southeastern part of the state, in Otero County. There's some state pride at work here. And at least that part of Mr. Majestyk is relatively accurate.

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This is unmistakably a Seventies movie. In addition to one of the most iconic movie stars of that decade, Charles Bronson, he is pitted against one of the actors who could well be considered one of the more iconic big screen bad guys, Al Lettieri. Putting aside the question of how a notorious hit man could have been caught by small town cops, Lettieri should have been arrested by the fashion police for those awful checked jackets and matching pants and shirt outfits that he's forced to wear in this film. Also pegging this film to a specific era of filmmaking is the score by Charles Bernstein, part Morricone-lite with a flamenco guitar styled riff, alternating with someone on the wah wah pedal. There's also an indirect reference to activist Cesar Chavez that might fly by younger audiences.

Richard Fleischer's visual style here is straightforward and economical. Much of the action and dialogue is done in group shots, with an emphasis on two-shots. Rather than cutting back and forth between characters, Fleischer takes his time to compose shots informing the viewer of where the characters are in relation to each other, as well as the space they are sharing. Without stretching the point too much, the film is about the dichotomy of shared spaces, Majestyk's open melon field versus the enclosed spaces of the jail, police station, even cars versus open bed trucks.

Keep in mind that Elmore Leonard's novel was written after the screenplay as a movie tie-in, and is closer to what he had envisioned for the story. Leonard was reportedly unhappy with the film, with the characters being a bit over the top, especially Lettieri as the volatile hit man. And yet, and yet . . . it's what makes Mr. Majestyk fun to watch. Sure, there is Linda Crystal as the Chicana union organizer, giving the proceedings a whiff of social consciousness. But there are also guys blown away with shotguns, a couple of car chases, a shoot out in a small town, and thugs blasting watermelons to bit with shotguns. This might not be classic Fleischer, classic Leonard, or even classic Bronson, but I'll take it just the same.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 14, 2014 07:22 AM