It’s almost the year anniversary of Charles Bronson’s death and I’m still mourning the loss. I’ve got it bad for Charles Bronson. But here’s the question: where will I find anyone like him? Could there be a Charles Bronson in our century? And in the world of film, Bronson as superstar? Doubtful. Though Sean Penn aptly cast him in The Indian Runner, Bronson's a man from a different, more complex time in movies. The 1920-born toughie of Lithuanian heritage, former coal-miner, and World War II B-29 tail-gunner was — and always has been — an unusual movie star. It's odd to think that this real-life bad boy entered the Pasadena Playhouse and eventually wound up in TV and movies, usually as an ethnic ruffian. He played the lead in Roger Corman's Machine Gun Kelly and was dazzling in The Magnificent Seven and The Dirty Dozen, but he left America for a popular career in, of course, Europe — that continent that seems to understand our offbeat talents and strengths better than we do.
Looking at Bronson as the simultaneously beautiful and grotesque versions of true Americana (just like film noir, Jerry Lewis and Mickey Rourke), he was called in France le sacre monstre and in Italy Il Brutto. Not even the talented and inarguably good-looking Benicio Del Toro gets that kind of serious worldwide cred. But critics and moviegoers found Bronson sexy — a craggy-yet-exotic animal of brains and brawn. After European acclaim, he gained mass appeal in America, particularly with Death Wish and other pictures of varied quality. But pictures aside, the guy is one hot hombre, especially when appearing in a director I like to call my own personal pornographer—Sergio Leone (the feelings Lee Van Cleef's Angel Eyes gives me in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly can only be described as rape fantasy, but that's an entirely different column...).
In Once Upon a Time in the West, Bronson's entrance as "Harmonica" was vital to his career (and, when looking at the harmonica holding Bronson scored to the melancholic, poignant theme by Ennio Morricone it must have served as inspiration for Tarantino's flute packing Bill in both Volumes of Kill Bill). Thanks to Leone's tight close-ups of that rocky, gorgeous, squinty-eyed face, Bronson needn't speak a word for the audience to understand that this man has had some experience in life. Experience no other actor or man probably has today. Vengeance will be his (and soon iconic) and for this girl, a serious turn-on.
Watching a real man kill people on film is an exciting pleasure we've lost in this metrosexual world. Sure, guys can try to be cool and some pull it off, but other than old timer ex-cons or Jack White (who had the incredibly correct response of beating the shit out of someone who deserved it—“sassy” indie rockers never see real cold cocks coming), there's rarely anything palatable in male violence anymore. And you ask—is violence palatable? Well, to me, in movies certainly, especially when I watch Takeshi “Beat” Kitano. Yes, I know…that’s just the movies, but aside from catching the occasional homeless guys outside my window bitch slap each other and push over shopping carts (and there’s nothing fun in that) where else am I going to see bruisers going at it? Maybe if I dated Tom Sizemore. But I certainly don't want to get knocked around like Heidi Fleiss (he should have handled it like that other hunk-o-man brilliance--Lee Marvin, when Angie Dickinson loses her shit in Point Blank). And though I admire Sizemore as an actor, I fear Tom Sizemore eats babies. I want Bronson—and to be reserved for another crush discussion, the late Warren Oates.
I drive through Los Angeles, observing men in convertible BMW’s (men should not drive new convertibles) who hold the ridiculous notion that rich equals tough. Really? I would like to see them shake their fist at Bronson if he cut them off in traffic. There’s also the wealthy “hipster” fellow—like the middle-aged dweeb I saw poolside at the Mondrian Hotel sporting a brand-spanking-new Ramones tee-shirt while hollering on his cell phone. Yeah, so punk rock. Then there’s the slouched-over Silverlake White Belt Brigade with Vegan iron deficiency. “Boys” of indeterminate age clutching satchels of artwork or various creative writing/journal "jeremiads." It’s enough to make a girl get a gun. Not to turn on myself but them: “Give me your chick car convertible, hand over the cell phone and take off that fucking white belt! Now!” Then, run off with the loot and promptly fantasize about aiding Bronson as he busts Robert Duvall out of a Mexican Prison in the movie Breakout.
I know he’s an actor and was apparently, a gentle man, so I’m not saying I would ever think Bronson thuggish and I don’t desire an asshole. I don't yearn for vein bulging hot-heads—which explains my wild attraction for Steve Buscemi, Tony Blankley (the Oliver-Reed-ish Washington Times writer on The McLaughlin Group--Dear God, if he asked me out, my head would fill with the song "Oh-Oh-Oh, its magic you know") and that impish bombardment of walking sex appeal, Jack Black. Real "toughs" don’t have to go around threatening people—they know they can knock someone’s block off. Or they can handle a sticky situation with a first-class, bemused Blankley barb. Or better yet, a Vince Vaughn-ism (a comic genius by the way--in his '70s gear in Starsky and Hutch I witnessed my dream boyfriend). If they must fight, they’ll pull a Ray Liotta in Goodfellas (another mad, mad crush), when he marches across the street and pistol whips that preppy loser for attempting to violate his girl. But it’s the confidence they carry that’s so stimulating. The last time I saw this particular confidence was at a gas station outside of Portland, Oregon where some grizzled Sonny Barger clone pumped my gas. I also most recently witnessed it at a Goodwill here in L.A. where the guy ringing up my items resembled Richard Ramirez to the point of alarm (you’re not supposed to find The Night Stalker hot, but…).
So back to Bronson— there's something about that mysterious, rough face, that sweat-stained swagger that makes him so infinitely watchable, so extraordinarily fascinating and so exceptionally attractive. Bronson's just so believably crusty, believably good-willed and believably virile that his grizzled face was made for both the big screen and specific female fantasy. You'd think he'd play sleazy after all these years but he doesn't — there's a core of goodness to the sexy beast that makes it understandable why women like myself got all hot and bothered over this foxy/ugly hombre. His wife Jill Ireland certainly found him exciting: She had seven children with him. Bronson is sadly gone, but...Tony Blankley--are you reading this?