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April 24, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #16 - Mr. Majestyk

"All I want is to get my melons in."

That quote, as odd as it sounds, is the central theme of Mr. Majestyk, an action/crime film that's one of the most refreshing and cool bits of cinema of the early '70s. Though I generally tend to stick with horror and sci-fi (and more horror) when picking a Midnight Movie of the Week, I couldn't resist using this week to laud one of my favorite films from ultimate butt-kicker Charles Bronson. (Which also has to be one of the very best character-named titles of all-time.)

Directed by veteran Richard Fleischer (The Narrow Margin, Fantastic Voyage, Soylent Green) and written by legendary crime author Elmore Leonard (3:10 to Yuma, Get Shorty, Jackie Brown, Out of Sight), Mr. Majestyk is the tale of Vince Majestyk (Bronson), a watermelon farmer whose only goal in life is "to get his melons in" from his Colorado fields. This sounds like a simple, yearly task, but when your name is Majestyk, you're destined for great battles. This begins when local punk Bobby Koppas (Paul Koslo) tries to replace his force of migrant workers with less qualified local people. Majestyk doesn't appreciate his help, and after he whacks Bobby in a sensitive area with the butt of a shotgun he ends up in the county jail on an assault charge. Majestyk doesn't care much about the charge because he's got bigger concerns - like getting his melons in.But, luck is not on Majestyk's side, as his incarceration leads to him meeting a mentally unstable Mafia killer named Frank Renda (played by Al Lettieri of The Godfather), who has orchestrated a violent escape attempt during a routine prison transport. (Off-topic question: Have you ever seen a prison transport go by the "routine" in a film? I don't think it's humanly possible.) This leaves Majestyk needing to get past Renda if he ever wants to see his melons again, and a battle of wits follows.

Lettieri, with his disheveled hair and fantastic mustache, fills the role of the hitman perfectly. It's the kind of role Dennis Farina would have filled in a Leonard adaptation 20 years later, with a psychotic, over-the-top twist. Lettieri does a great job of creating a dangerous and interesting villain here, and we quickly buy in to his obsession with revenge. Majestyk is under his skin, and he passes on bolting the country because he wants to get back at the melon picker who made his escape difficult. This leads to a lot of brutality toward people and - you guessed it - melons.In my eyes, this film represents the middle of a triple shot of toughness from Bronson, being released between my other two favorite films from his lead career, Death Wish and Walter Hill's underseen Hard Times. And while the plot seems silly, I can relate. I grew up on a small hog farm, and all it took to bankrupt my family and force us out of the family home we'd kept for 100 years was a generation of pigs being affected by a fatal disease. While perseverance and sacrifice by my parents helped us get out of the situation safely (and gave me the chance to learn about the internet and go to college, too!) there's no guarantee Majestyk can survive without that melon crop. (Plus, Renda could shoot him, which is also not good. I'm glad my family didn't have to face that.)

Mr. Majestyk, as I mentioned in the intro, is as cool an action film as is possible. With a fresh plot, a groovy musical score by Charles Bernstein, and a slew of quirky side characters led by Lettieri and Koslo, the film never has a dull moment. And with Bronson doing his thing in the lead, we want to see those melons get in, and even get a bit affected when the prized crop is targeted by Renda. In the end, all I want is to see Majestyk defend his melons with extreme prejudice, and Fleischer's film doesn't disappoint.

And how often do you get to watch a film entirely about melons? That's alone is enough to make Mr. Majestyk (Can I type that more? I sure as heck hope so!) a fine addition to the Midnight Movie of the Week collection.
HorrorBlips: vote it up!

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