This Charles Bronson action picture is the second film that Strother made with the international box office star. Their previous pairing in “Hard Times” is a vastly superior film, and this movie seems like a casual, not very well thought out program filler. It does have a few things going for it, including one essential moment for Strother Martin fans.
Bronson plays a Phoenix cop who heads to Switzerland at the behest of the FBI, to escort a potential witness against the crime boss responsible for bad things happening in Arizona. The witness is the ditsy girlfriend of mobster Rod Steiger, and she is played by Mrs. Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland. To be honest, the degree of action in the film is a little slight, with huge chunks of time devoted to a travelogue of the Alps and Geneva. The pair are fleeing hitmen sent by the mobster to silence her, and Charlie and Jill ride just about every kind of vehicle you can imagine would be used for public transportation. They travel in traditional street cars, inclinators, trains, car ferry trains, motorboats, river cruise ships, car and airplane. You might suspect the whole thing was an opportunity for the two stars to travel Switzerland on Sir Lew Grade’s dime.
One of the things the film has to offer is a big slice of character actors in the movie. None of them get big parts that break out but you will recognize a whole bunch of people. Michael V. Gazzo, from Godfather II breifly appears as a mob guy who sells out to the FBI (typecasting maybe?). Paul Koslo, who made a couple other films with Bronson is another mob hitman, supposedly watching Gazzo’s character. Henry Silva is the famous assassin hired by Steigers mobster to do in Ireland. Albert Salami, a TV fixture in the 60s and 70s is an FBI mid-level manager, and Bradford Dillman is his agent in Charge. Just to round things out, Billy Gray, the child actor from the “Day the Earth Stood Still” and “Father Knows Best”, plays a police officer in the opening moments of the movie.
Strother is Louis Monk, the attorney and consigliere to the stuttering Rod Steiger. He is one of the men, who along with the other mafia bosses, talks Steiger’s character into having the woman he loves killed. Jay first shows up in a film clip of Ireland’s character testifying before a Senate Committee. He has a couple of barely audible words that he whispers in her ear.
Rod Steiger overacts his conflicted situation at his lavish desert mansion, frequently in his bathing suit and surrounded by the mobster flunkies. The choice to make him a stutterer reflects a real life case, and it is actually the one subtle part of his performance. As an illustration of the overblown character, he throws a tantrum while Monk and the other mob guys are at a buffet table next to the pool. He inevitably turns the table over in frustration.
In an earlier scene, that I assume was meant to be somewhat comic, he is in the bathtub, surrounded by a bunch of hardened crooks while they advise him about his situation. Strother bears the brunt of his irritation in this scene.
So far Jay has a scene with two of the three leads, but what about the guy Italians refer to as “The Ugly One” and the French call “The Holy Monster”? Strother does end up having a scene with him and it is the main reason to watch the film. Lt. Congers is tracking down the money used to pay for the hitman, and he locates Monk at a swimming pool.
Those who know Strother Martin’s background know that he was a champion college diver and he started out in Hollywood as a swimming instructor for contract players. I have to speculate that it was this background and his three previous collaborations with director Stuart Rosenberg, that produced this setting. Jay as Monk, does an elegant dive off of a diving board and perfectly hits the water. He then gracefully swims across the pool, but as he starts back, Bronson’s Conger is there with a life hook on a long pole and he uses it to pull Monk underwater. What basically follows is the Bronson version of waterboarding with Strother as Khalid Sheik Mohammed.
So, Charles Bronson walks through the picture, Rod Steiger hams it up, Jill Ireland is terrible I’m afraid, and Strother doesn’t quite get to steal the show, but he comes close with that one graceful dive.