Bronson squares off against Alain Delon and Anthony Perkins
Kino Lorber has been taking this Charles Bronson fanatic to school lately, with their home video releases of a number of Bronson titles coming out of his European period in the late 1960s and into the early 1970s. This period of Bronson’s career had gone largely unexplored by me personally, and it seems these titles haven’t remained in the public consciousness the way some of Bronson’s films such as Death Wish or Once Upon A Time In The West have. Those films, depicting a vengeful vigilante or a strong, silent avenger, went on to cement Bronson’s legacy as a stone cold tough guy. And while the on screen reputation is well-earned as the focus of Bronson’s later career (he did five Death Wish films, after all), Bronson had a shocking amount of range for those willing to dive deep into his career. Earlier this year Kino Lorber released Cold Sweat (1970), directed by 007 frequenter Terence Young and serves as a fairly edge of your seat thrill ride. Rider On The Rain (1970) showcases a menacing and constantly-smiling Bronson in a complicated cat-and-mouse thriller with a female co-lead.
Perhaps the two hander format was particularly bankable, or simply en vogue in Europe during this era because both Farewell, Friend and Someone Behind The Door (released just before and just after the previous pair) seem to have been greenlit based on a killer star pairing.
Farewell, Friend (1968 AKA Honor Among Thieves) — Dir. Jean Herman
Charles Bronson and Alain Delon. No more needed to be said, frankly, for me to want to see this film. That was likely the same line of thinking the film’s funders had in mind, even if Bronson wasn’t yet the screen legend he would soon become… in part thanks to the success of this film. A few years later in their careers (and in a film I’m personally far more familiar with) Bronson and Delon would add Toshiro Mifune into the mix for an East-Meets-West action romp called Red Sun. But here Bronson and Delon truly spark against one another as clashing mercenary soldiers stuck together through a twisting and turning bank heist who ultimately come to a shared sense of honor among thieves (the frankly better title given to the US VHS release of the film).
Farewell, Friend isn’t coy about its appeal. It’s a thriller-mystery that feels like a proto-buddy-cop film where equally smart and tough male leads will engage in one-upmanship until a begrudging mutual respect is formed. At one point they’ll also both need to have their shirts off during a prolonged sequence when they’re stuck in a bank vault with one another. Sure, the 1980s represented the culmination of body builders as action stars, but the late 1960s were not above a few good glistening muscle shots.
Reports vary on whether or not Delon and Bronson actually got along in real life. Director Herman and Bronson apparently clashed and in a bonus feature interview with Herman on this disc, he makes clear that there was quite a rivalry between the two leads. However, our film historians who present a highly informed commentary track also included on this release seem to indicate that the two got along well, and they did indeed worked together again on Red Sun.
Regardless, Farewell, Friend is the better of the two films being discussed here today and it’s quite an engaging and beguiling story. Bronson’s Franz Propp is a bit of a fly in Delon’s (Dr. Dino Barran) ointment. They’re both mercenaries in search of their next gig. Propp is no saint, willing to engage in some troubling borderline sex trafficking to find his next big paying gig. He seems to glom onto Barran and ultimately waltzes right into a heist that Barran had lined up, resulting in a long weekend of the two locked in a basement together trying to crack a safe and avoid detection by regular guard patrols. Things go south, however, when they finally crack the code only to find an empty safe and a dead guard. These two are going to need to rely on one another if they’re going to get out of this alive.
Delon, the famously handsome and ice cold star of French masterpiece Le Samourai, feels a bit more like the straight man here, with Bronson’s grinning Propp constantly annoying him. I love the little flairs to Bronson’s character, such as his tendency to say “yeah” almost like a catchphrase, and a game he plays where he drops coins into his drinks to get to the rim of the glass without spilling. But their interplay is the star of the show, and fans of either star will find a surprisingly twisty (if troublingly misogynistic viewed through a modern lens) two hander.
Someone Behind The Door (1971) — Dir. Nicolas Gessner
Very much the inferior film in comparison to Farewell, Friend, Someone Behind The Door is nevertheless a fascinating film for Charles Bronson fans. Almost play-like in its largely singular location, Bronson stars alongside Psycho’s Anthony Perkins in a murderous thriller. Bronson truly surprises as a blank slate amnesiac known only as The Stranger, confused and malleable to the sick whims of Perkins’ Dr. Laurence Jeffries. Usually calm, cool, and collected, Bronson displays a vulnerability with this character that those who follow his career will note is extremely rare indeed. It’s frankly the best element of the film overall.
With a feel somewhat similar to Rider On The Rain, there’s an isolated mansion as a primary location where twisted battles of the sexes play out. Perkins is the protagonist of this film, and at a brisk 93 minutes, Someone Behind The Door focuses almost entirely on Dr. Jeffries’ plan to ruin his wife’s extra marital affair through violence perpetrated by the amnesiac he will manipulate. It’s a far fetched premise that involves a lot of scheming. It all feels just a little too scripted and, even though Bronson’s real life wife and frequent co-star Jill Ireland breathes a bit of life and freedom into the proceedings, the film also has a troublesome woman-hating feel to the thing. While Bronson’s stranger remains a mystery throughout the movie, and is portrayed with amazing puppy dog eyes by Bronson, we as an audience know almost nothing about him beyond that he’s a rapist and murderer who somehow got amnesia and stumbled into this beach town after his brutal crime. No one is innocent, it seems, and we’ll all ultimately fall prey to our guilty fates. It’s just unfortunate how staged this all feels at the hands of Gessner.
Ireland is cheating, sure, but it’s clear that her character is the most sane of the bunch. Perkins’ Jeffries is a controlling ego maniac, but there’s little else to the character and one (sadly) almost assumes Perkins will be a murderous psychopath when he shows up in a film. So while there’s a strong interplay between the leads, with Bronson’s performance as the absolute standout, Someone Behind The Door shows its seams too frequently for my tastes.
Both of these Kino Lorber Charles Bronson Blu-ray releases offer a beautiful presentation of the film and a commentary track for those looking to dig deep. I found Farewell, Friend to be not only the superior film but to also have the more engaging commentary track (as well as an interesting director’s interview). Both films, along with the previously released Cold Sweat and Rider On The Rain, have genuine merit for fans of the legendary Charles Bronson.
And I’m Out.
Farewell, Friend and Someone Behind The Door are both available on Blu-ray November 19th, 2019 from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.