Mr. Majestyk (1974) – A Review
Charles Bronson is Vince Majestyk, a Vietnam Veteran, a man who unfairly did some time in the pen and who now owns a Colorado watermelon farm. His main priority is to get his crop harvested, make some money and to keep his farm afloat.
It’s very uncomplicated goals he has. Yet, Majestyk finds himself up against forces that appear hellbent on making that goal anything but easy.
Through an escalating set of circumstances and harassment, Majestyk finds himself charged with assault and a fugitive from the law alongside famed mob hitman Al Lettieri. Eventually this innocent melon farmer finds himself in the sights of this obsessed hood who wants to put an end to Majestyk and is ready to goto any lengths to do it. Majestyk will have to go through him and his gang if he ever wants to harvest his watermelons, something he’s very motivated in accomplishing.
Mr. Majestyk is something of a strange film. The premise sounds plain odd – Bronson as a watermelon farmer??? Ok. The story takes a bit more of a serpentine route than the usual ‘point and shoot’ Bronson action movie. With an original script by Elmore Leonard and director Richard Fleischer keeping a steady hand and building the pace, Mr. Majestyk ends up delivering on some good action, tense situations, an intensifying story and ends up being one of Bronson’s best films he starred in.
It’s a classic ‘you pushed the man too far and now he’s going to push back’ kind of story.
Majestyk is a hardworking every man who we immediately learn is honest and fair, but is quite capable to handle things when he’s pushed. Which is exactly what happens when arrogant slimy local hood Paul Koslo tries to force Majestyk to use drunken hands to harvest his crops.
Majestyk has already hired migrant worker Linda Cristal and her friends for the job. It’s his farm, he makes the decisions and he doesn’t want anyone to tell him who he can hire to work for him no matter how much they threaten him.
This creates a conflict. Majestyk kicks the arrogant ass of Koslo and sends him packing. Majestyk lands in the clink for assault and ends up sitting alongside mob hit man Frank Renda (Lettieri).
Thanks to a botched escape attempt by Renada’s goons, Majestyk finds himself holding Renda and is set to turn him over the cops if they allow him to harvest his melons. You can see how important bringing in that crop is to Majestyk.
However, before he can turn Renda into the cops things go sideways even further. Renda escapes and vows vengeance on this melon farmer and becomes obsessed with killing him no matter how risky it might be to hang around this Colorado town.
Things climax with Bronson and Cristal trapped by Lettieri and his goon squad, but they manage an escape with an exciting car chase that would leave any normal vehicle in pieces. Majestyk turn the tables on the baddies and in the end it’s the mob hitman who’s cornered by the melon farmer
The setup does take a bit of time, but it works remarkably well. The first time I saw Mr. Majestyk after about the first fifteen minutes I still had no idea where the story was headed and how the story twists would pan out. It’s the slow build and the time it takes to set up the characters and situations that make the second half of the film really pay off in a very satisfying way.
It’s pretty impressive that the movie gets us to root for Majestyk so much that we feel just as gutted as he does when he discovers his destroyed melon crop at the hands of Renda. Who would’ve thought Bronson and a stack of watermelons could pack such a punch?
Bronson is terrific in this. He’s his calm, cool screen persona that he excelled at playing, but he gets to be more of a sympathetic character than his powerful clichéd action heroes he would get stuck into playing in his latter years. Mr. Majestyk is what I would refer to as ‘vintage Bronson’.
Majestyk is an honest and loyal man. He’s trying to play by the rules, but when he finds himself in the crosshairs of Renada, that jeopardize his crop he’s fixated when he has to go toe to toe with this mob hit man. He just wants to finish this feud off to get back to his more pressing business back on his farm.
You know how in the Death Wish films it’s his family that motivates his Paul Kersey and they’re the catalyst for the violence he ends up unleashing? In Mr. Majestyk it’s the watermelons. They sort of serve the same function and are the things that he needs to protect.
Linda Cristal plays a spitfire migrant worker, who gets in on some of the action and who is awfully easy on the eyes. She and Bronson make a nice pair. Romance was never Brosnan’s strong suit (even when he was teamed with his wife Jill Ireland), but Cristal ends up being one of my favorite leading ladies he worked with. They somehow click.
Cristal didn’t have a very extensive film career, she mainly did some television work. It’s a shame. Here she’s very good, is very easy on the eyes and becomes one of Bronson’s most memorable leading ladies. I would’ve like to have seen them paired up again.
Al Lettieri is extremely effective as the no nonsense hitman who Majestyk has gotten under his skin so much that he’s willing to risk his own freedom to bury this melon farmer. Lettieri looks like he just arrived from the set of The Getaway.
While he can act so brazenly mean and is really good at making you despise him, some of the scenes I like most are early on when Majestyk seems so blasé about what is happening, so steadfast in what he plans to do and can’t be persuaded by any means and Lettier is left baffled and trying to make sense of this Mr. Majestyk. Why would Majestyk stop to pay the store owner the $1.50 he owes her when he just offered him twenty-five grand to let him go? What’s with this guy???
There is an element of the mistreatment of migrant workers that is touched on. Although there’s discrimination towards the Latinos working for Majestyk by the bad guys, it’s not that focused on and the film doesn’t seem to be wanting to make a powerful statement about it. Rather, it becomes more of a dastardly thing Renada and his meanies are doing to torment Majestyk and anyone around him. There’s really no social commentary here, the concentration here is to be an action movie.
Mr. Majestyk is a perfect role for Bronson and ends up being one of his best films. Perhaps being in the hands of Fleischer and Leonard raised up Bronson’s game. I had read Leonard wrote the story with Clint Eastwood in mind, but Bronson ends up delivering in spades. This is a great Saturday night action movie.
If you only know Bronson from all his latter 1980s Cannon action films and think of him as just the tough looking sullen guy endlessly shooting at muggers and street gangs, Mr. Majestyk is a movie that will show he had much more charisma and talent than what his Cannon period asked him to do. Sure he could pull off an action role, but he could also command the screen starring alongside watermelons.
Definitely one of Bronson’s best!