Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Ives (1976)

          I’ve done a fair amount of digging over the years into the deepest, darkest corners of Charles Bronson’s ’70s filmography, not only because he was so damn prolific during that decade (23 movies between 1970 and 1979!), but because his projects were all over the map creatively, from his signature meat-and-potatoes action flicks to occasional character-driven thrillers. St. Ives straddles these extremes, so it would be heartening to report that it’s a lost gem. Alas, it is not. Bronson plays against type as Raymond St. Ives, a crime-book author who moonlights as a courier for assorted disreputable types; the character is a sophisticate instead of the usual Bronson savage. Unfortunately, Bronson doesn’t alter his style to suit the character, so his performance is ordinary at best, and the picture itself churns along strictly by the numbers, delivering one uninspired scene after another until tedium rules. Helmed by regular Bronson collaborator J. Lee Thompson, St. Ives had all sorts of potential to become a pithy mystery complete with a smart-ass hero and a smoldering femme fatale (Jacqueline Bissett). Because that potential is squandered, however, St. Ives is merely an action movie bogged down with ineffective dialogue scenes.
          The movie starts promisingly, layering on interesting character details about the protagonist (he used to be a crime reporter, justifying his nonplussed attitude toward crooks), but once the story gets humming, St. Ives gets stuck in the machinations of a confusing and uninteresting plot, endangering the lead character in ways that don’t have much credibility or impact. The story has something to do with St. Ives being hired by a nefarious figure (John Houseman) to recover stolen ledgers containing incriminating evidence, although the filmmakers never quite explain why the bad guys go to the trouble of hiring an outsider for a simple job. It’s novel for while to watch Bronson get into a different kind of trouble, but soon enough St. Ives falls into the actor’s usual violent groove. Worse, the movie completely falls apart when it tries to present a complex pattern of double-crosses that dull the drama and muddy the narrative. So even though the cast is filled to bursting with fun performers (in addition to the leads, the picture features Dana Elcar, Dick O’Neill, Maximillian Schell, even a young Robert Englund), and even though the fabulously dated jazz-disco score by Lalo Schifrin has spunk, St. Ives is a dud.

St. Ives: LAME

1 comment:

Chaarles said...

Have to agree, it's a dud. Pity, could have been a cracker. But the story just didn't gel, and there was no momentum.