Major John Reisman (Lee Marvin) is in charge of a suicide mission during World War II. Because of the extreme danger a plan is devised to turn death row inmates into a fighting squad to handle it. In the unlikely event that they survive, their sentences will be commuted. Needless to say, they don't anticipate having to hand out many pardons. In a film almost absurdly full of tough guys including Lee Marvin, Telly Savalas, and Jim Brown, Bronson made his mark. coming across as one of the most formidable of the group. It gave an interesting spin to the role of the "good guys" as all of the dozen were imprisoned for good reason. A suicide mission isn't as grave when you're due to executed anyway. The concept has been used many times since then, but "The Dirty Dozen" paved the way for movies such as "The Wild Bunch" showing a more complex world than white and black hats.
Red Sun is a very early cross cultural buddy cop movie. Teaming up the American Charles Bronson, Japanese star Toshiro Mifune and French star Alain Delon (as well as Swiss star Ursula Andress) Bronson plays Link, a member of Gotch's (Delon) outlaw gang who intend to rob the train carrying the Japanese ambassador and his valuables, under the protection of samurai led by Kuroda (Mifune) Of course, Gotch double crosses Link in order to keep his money, causing Link and Kuroda to team up to take him down. Bronson delivers a great representation of the gunfighter half of the duo. There have been enough of these culture clash cop movies since, that it won't be any surprise that their initially somewhat hesitant alliance eventually leads to a more friendly rivalry, each learning from and accepting the others different methods while working to get the same guy. Worth a watch just to see Bronson and Mifune together.
No movie tough guy's career is complete without a proper gangster movie. For Bronson it was his first lead role. Loosely based on a true story, George Kelly is a petty crook looking to be big time, in order to impress his girlfriend Flo (Susan Cabot.) He robs banks to make money and headlines. Bank robbery leads to a grand kidnapping scheme. Flo pushes his buttons causing him to take risks despite his paralyzing fear of death and prison. Kelly's courage (or lack of courage) is tested when the FBI shows up to take them down.
Pardon Chato is a half Apache man, visiting a town that doesn't care for Indians. He's forced to kill the Sheriff to protect himself before leaving town. Capt. Quincey Whitmore (Jack Palance) gathers a group to pursue Chato. They do't realize until it's too late that Chato is leading them into Apache territory which he knows like the back of his hand. When members of the posse start dying one after another, they start to realize they've made a mistake, but things only get uglier from there. A notable film in that Bronson barely speaks at all, letting his glares and his actions do the talking for him, certainly a talent seen to a lesser extent in all of his roles.
Vince Majestyk is an ex Army Ranger who served in Viet Nam, now simply trying to run his watermelon farm. Local mobster, Bobby Kopas (Paul Koslo) realizing that Majestyk needs to harvest his crop, tries to make some money by having Vince use his useless and drunk workers. Vince strongly refuses instead gets his own workers. Koslo, however, has Vince arrested for assault. In jail, he runs into mob hit man, Frank Renda (Al Lettieri) and ruins Renda's escape plans, deciding to ransom Renda to the authorities for enough time to harvest his crop, even turning down Renda's offers to pay him off handsomely to let him go. Not surprisingly Renda hold a grudge and when he does escape, he joins up with Kopas and makes the mistake of going after Vince.
The KGB started operation "Telefon" a scheme which relied on Russian sleeper agents, who believe they're Americans, hearing code words (from a Robert Frost poem) which will trigger them into acts of sabotage against the US. When Russian activist Dalchimsky (Donald Pleasance) goes rogue with the "Telefon" plans, intending to use them, the Russian military has to act to avoid starting a war. They send KGB Major Grigori Borzov to locate Dalchimsky in America and stop Telefon. Assisted by CIA agent, Barbara (Lee Remick) he races to outsmart Dalchimsky before it's too late. Bronson was the perfect KGB agent, his silent stoicism really fitting the part. He handled espionage as well as he handled action films.
Death Wish begins with Kersey as a mild mannered architect, who lives in a city teeming with violent crime. He thinks little of it, as he's in the habit of defending the underpriveleged in the area, being labelled a bleeding heart liberal by co workers. However, the crime wave soon hits close to home costing him his wife and leaving his daughter in critical condition. The cops offer little hope for catching the criminals, and watching his daughter's condition get worse, he resolves to start taking care of it himself. He gets a gun and starts going out at night and luring criminals to attack him, only to shoot them when they do. The police start looking for the vigilante, although he's celebrated by much of the public. We find that while the police can't allow his activities, they're not entirely unsympathetic either.
Arthur Bishop is the best hit man around. He's a meticulous planner skilled at making his hits look like accidents. He's been in the business a long time due to his family history, and one day gets an assignment from "The Organization" to kill Harry, an old friend who was close to his father. Harry's son, Steve (Jan-Michael Vincent) starts hanging around with Bishop after running into him at his father's funeral. Bishop reluctantly takes him on as a protege. This make the Organization unhappy as he didn't clear it with them. It soon becomes clear that Bishop himself is not above having a contract put on him, and the Organization is likely to pick a killer close to him to do the job. It's also likely that they underestimated Bishop.
Chaney is a gifted bare knuckle brawler, who can take a hit as well as give one out. During the Depression, he ends up in New Orleans without any money and stumbles onto the underground fight circuit. He's quickly noticed by Speed (James Coburn) who promotes him and quickly puts money in Chaney's pocket, while he gets a cut for himself. In arranging fights, Speed gets himself in debt to the mob. Chaney doesn't need to fight anymore, but has no choice when Speed's life is at stake for one final bout, the toughest one he's ever had. A riveting look at the depression era and the fight game, where men are treated like animals and money is everything, but some still keep their dignity.
The man knows as Harmonica appears at a train station where he's greeted by a group of outlaws that work for "Frank" (Henry Fonda.) He shoots them all down and heads for the next town. We see Frank killing the whole McBain family in the meantime, including a little boy. McBain's new bride, Jill is on her way to the ranch. Harmonica runs into an outlaw named Cheyenne (Jason Robards) who's gang is being framed for the McBain murder. All of their paths intersect leading up to a final showdown where we learn why the mysterious Harmonica won't stop until he faces off with Frank. Perhaps the best Western of all time, Harmonica is the part that Bronson was born to play.