J. Lee Thompson was a hard working craftsman from Ye Olde School of British filmmakers personally responsible for a series of “thinking-man” action/adventure/suspense films such as ICE COLD IN ALEX (1958), NORTH WEST FRONTIER and TIGER BAY (both 1959).
His continental crossover productions such as THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961) and CAPE FEAR (1962) initially stoked the fires of promise, but almost immediately, the cinema gods pissed on Thompson’s inferno of favorable critical reception and the flames were extinguished with productions like TARAS BULBA (1962), JOHN GOLDFARB, PLEASE COME HOME (1965), MACKENNA’S GOLD and THE CHAIRMAN (both 1969).
Thompson, though working mainly from Hollywood dictates, always remained the good British soldier -- marching on, listening to orders, offering strong command and carrying out the mission come what may.
By the early 1980’s Golan-Globus’ Cannon Group would match-up Thompson with box office superstar killing machine Charles Bronson, following Bronson’s loss of flavor with his previous guide to 1970’s action film success -- Michael Winner.
Bronson was already in his 60’s and looking more-and-more like a Cabbage Patch Kid, but his box office appeal still held a strong niche-market.
Thompson and Bronson’s “marriage” lasted 6 films in the ‘80’s -- not including the 3 more esoteric pre-Cannon productions -- ST. IVES, THE WHITE BUFFALO and CABOBLANCO in the mid-to-late ‘70’s -- and the impact was profound. This, we here at DM feel, is due to the near reverential faith in and copious use of the dummy-death!
The most beloved vessel for the the good-ole double D in the Bronson/Thompson/Cannon canon would hands-down be DEATH WISH 4: THE CRACKDOWN which serves up 5 delicious helpings in 3 hearty groupings!
Thompson eases the audience into the idea that body substitution will figure prominently in the next 99 minutes by starting off the story with a scene in a parking garage.
A woman is approached as she sits in her car by three stocking-masked men.
They proceed to terrorize her, pull her from her car and beat her in preparation for a potential gang rape.
Their fun is silenced by the arrival of a gun-toting Bronson.
He kills two of the bad guys and stalks the third who tries to escape.
When asked by the surviving member of the gang who he is, Bronson proclaims himself to be “Death” and promptly plugs the evildoer full of holes.
The first deception/transformation -- when unmasked, the bad guy is revealed to be none-other than Bronson himself! --
-- which turns out to be a (recurring?) nightmare of Bronson’s (recurring) character, (from three previous Michael Winner Death Wish films) architect/vigilante Paul Kersey.
Thompson hands over his first 2 dummy-deaths practically back-to-back within the first 45 minutes the story!
“Bottle of wine on the house...”
Bronson has been “hired” by millionaire John P. Ryan (who probably meant to hire Bronson’s character from Michael Winner’s THE MECHANIC,1973) to dispose of a bunch of bad guys. Working literally from a handy list supplied by Ryan -- and channelling his own grief over the crack-induced death of his girlfriend’s daughter -- Bronson meticulously goes to work.
First off -- he hides an explosive device in the base of a wine bottle (a deception in itself) --
-- goes to the ristaurante where the first three baddies (including a young Danny Trejo) favor lunch --
-- and proceeds to deliver a vintage deception/substitution/demolition -- a classic aperitif bottled especially for the rewind button!
“I wish he'd drop dead...”
Next up -- after a bloody fight with “the number 1 hit man” for the bad guys and “upwardly-mobile super-achiever” Frank Bauggs -- Bronson/Kersey hurls him through a sliding glass door and into a freefall some 20 stories off the balcony of his Wilshire Boulevard apartment building.
-- note that the glass cracks BEFORE Bauggs goes through it --
-- perhaps symbolically signifying the replacement of actor David Fonteno for stuntman? --
-- and then --
-- here comes the dummy!
-- and there goes the dummy! --
-- back to the stuntman --
-- back to the actor --
-- an expert shell game perpetrated by skilled screen magicians!
Thompson certainly has upped the cinematic stakes for himself. 50 minutes left to go and four extraordinary dummy-offings already leaving the audience purring for more.
But master screen prestidigitator Thompson has some cards left up his sleeve --
-- and he pulls out some serious balletic stuntman carnage to dizzily distract the audience until he can set up his final Grand Deception!
J. Lee would make Jerome Robbins proud!
“I warned you I’d kill her!”
And now... drum roll please... the piece de resistance!
And without further ado...