And they couldn’t be more different
A devout Bronsonite, I’ve still got a ways to go before seeing every last starring role from among his 160+ credits listed on IMDb. Though I’ve seen and even written about dozens of his films, it always seems there are new gems to unearth from his extensive repertoire. For instance, while I consider Once Upon A Time In The West to be the greatest western ever made and among my favorite films of all time, it never really sunk in that Bronson had a “European” period where he was largely living and working and starring in films on the other side of the pond. Sure, Once Upon In The West is a Sergio Leone film, but it simply eluded me that he spent years in the late 60s and early 70s primarily starring in films financed with European money. And so, I have Kino Lorber to thank for releasing back-to-back a couple of French films from 1970 that starred Bronson and feel quite illustrative of that period of his career. They’re both damn good thrillers as well, if quite dissimilar.
Cold Sweat (1970) — Dir. Terence Young
It didn’t occur to me until I looked it up after the fact that Cold Sweat was directed by the man who brought us not only Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Thunderball, but also other Bronson joints Red Sun (amazing) and The Valachi Papers (not exactly The Godfather, though it wants to be). It was also adapted from a Richard Matheson (I Am Legend) novel, and certainly lives up to its name as a white knuckle thriller that almost borders on being an outright action film.
Bronson stars as Joe Martin, a happily married American living an idyllic life on the shores of France renting out his boat to tourists. But, as Bronson always does… he’s got a past. And it catches up to him in the form of an armed man appearing in their kitchen one day with a score to settle. Martin’s wife Fabienne (Liv Ulmann, frequent Ingmar Bergman collaborator) is at first incredulous that Martin had anything to do with this criminal in her home. But soon they’re dispatching a body together, complicit and invested in maintaining the life they’ve built together. Thinking their troubles may be over, soon a whole crew of armed men appear in their home, and an harrowing scenario filled with incredibly intense set pieces ensues.
Among the new arrivals is James Mason as Captain Ross. These men have a score to settle with Martin as he left them hanging as their getaway driver years ago when a job got violent. So they plan to force Martin into assisting them on another job whether he likes it or not… and they’ll use his wife and daughter as leverage.
Cold Sweat actually feels like a pretty modern film. It’s a stripped down, high concept narrative that’s really more about perching you on the edge of your seat and never letting you relax than it is about character development or anything like that. The tables are constantly turning as our villains gain the upper hand and then Martin’s family turns the tables and then back again. Things culminate in a truly fantastic car chase that deserves a place alongside Bullitt and The French Connection and actually came, historically, right between those two chronologically.
Certainly the less complex of the two Bronson films discussed today, Cold Sweat is nevertheless quite hard boiled, which suits Bronson extremely well. I loved Cold Sweat and could see myself revisiting it and recommending it to Bronson fans for the rest of my days.
Rider On The Rain (1970) — Dir. Rene Clement
What could be more disturbing than a constantly smiling Charles Bronson menacing and stalking you, showing up in your home and in your social life repeatedly, without any signs of letting up? Not much, frankly. A constantly smiling Charles Bronson is extremely disturbing, it turns out.
Rider on the Rain is a very challenging thriller that puts its star and lead character (Marlene Jobert as “Melie”/Melancolie) through hell and back. Watching the film today it feels a little bit cruel to put a woman through so much agony without seeming to have much to say about the modern challenges women face. But who’s to know? Perhaps director Rene Clement and writer Sebastian Saprisot did have that in mind. They certainly handed Jobert a challenging, complex, starring role.
Melie has a harsh marriage as her jealous and petty husband Tony (Gabriele Tinti) is a pilot and is often gone for long stretches of time, leaving her alone in their lavish isolated home, but also constantly accusing her and suspecting her of infidelity. It’s an unenviable marriage. Melie soon finds herself stalked by the titular character, a silent man who appears on the bus in the rain and quickly latches onto Melie. Within just a few minutes of screentime Melie has been violently raped in her own home, then gotten the upper hand and killed this stranger. Her decision to cast his body into the sea and pretend nothing has happened becomes the lynchpin for the rest of the film. This man’s disappearance brings Charles Bronson to town with his relentless pursuit for answers and that never ceasing “Cheshire cat” grin.
But what is Bronson’s character (at first unidentified, but soon known as Dobbs) after? Who is he? Will he be the one to bring down Melie, or will he ultimately prove to be her savior? Whereas Cold Sweat offered an action-film take on the cat and mouse formula, Rider On The Rain is largely a two-hander, with Dobbs and Melie in a constant dance over the disappearance of this silent dead man. Melie, not prone to trust, absolutely refuses to admit any kind of guilt to Dobbs, and holds out under extreme, often disturbing duress. Dobbs’ motivations seem ever-shifting. Is he a hit man on the hunt for the money which The Rider apparently had in a bag? Is Melie his next victim? What’s his relationship to the cops? All of this is kept close to the chest as the filmmakers dole out crumbs to the audience and allow their mystery to play out bit by bit.
The chemistry between Bronson and Jobert is essential here, and it pops. Bronson is confident, chatty, and menacing. It’s a very different role than his typical taciturn heroes. Dobbs is undeniably cruel to Melie, frightening even. But the two of them seem to spark an attraction as their cat and mouse game plays out, so things feel even more complicated from there.
Is there any possible way Melie can get out of this alive and free? After all, she was simply defending herself in her own home from an attacker. We’re rooting for her because while she made a “legal” mistake in disposing of the body, any sane person would have protected themselves against a rapist in their home. One could almost call Rider On The Rain playful if the brutality brought into Melie’s life wasn’t so significant and if the consequences of the mystery didn’t feel so dire for our heroine. But that uneasy tone really allows Bronson to shine as the film’s looming question mark.
Probably a better film than Cold Sweat in its complexity and unique use of Bronson, I nonetheless had a more breezy and entertaining experience watching that film. Cold Sweat delivered what I want precisely: A new-to-me action-packed Bronson role that fits nicely with dozens of his other works. Rider On The Rain delivers something fairly unique, however, and while its darkness is unpleasant at times, it’s probably a better showcase for the multitudes that Bronson truly contained.
And I’m Out.
Cold Sweat and Rider On The Rain are now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics