British director Terence Young made a wide variety of action films and thrillers following his triumphant work on the first James Bond movie, Dr. No (1962), as well as two follow-up 007 adventures. For instance, in the early ’70s, Young made three pulpy flicks in a row with badass leading man Charles Bronson—in addition to this tense crime thriller, the duo made the offbeat Western Red Sun (1971) and the violent mob movie The Valachi Papers (1972). Like the other Bronson-Young collaborations, Cold Sweat is entertaining if not especially distinctive. Bronson stars as Joe Martin, an American fisherman living in France with his European wife, Fabienne (Liv Ullmann). One day, a crook busts into Joe’s house claiming to know the fisherman from some shady episode in the past. Joe shocks Fabienne by calmly murdering the assailant. Then, the minute Joe and Fabienne discard of the intruder’s body, more unwanted visitors arrive, led by cruel American ex-soldier Captain Ross (James Mason). Turns out Joe and several other men participated in criminal enterprises while they were serving in the U.S. military, but Joe bailed during a robbery. Since Joe’s disappearance led to jail time for everyone else, Ross is back for revenge. Caught in the middle are Fabienne and her teenaged daughter.
Based on a story by celebrated fantasy writer Richard Matheson, Cold Sweat actually feels a bit more like a narrative that Elmore Leonard might have contrived, which is a compliment—operating outside his usual supernatural safety zone, Matheson establishes a nasty situation fraught with unexpected complications. For instance, much of the picture involves a race to save a dying man (explaining any more would spoil the story), and this suspenseful element gives Young license to film a crazy car chase through a twisty mountain road. Whenever the movie’s action scenes are juiced by exciting music from composer Michel Magne, Cold Sweat becomes an enjoyable exercise in escapism. Bronson gives an uncharacteristically lively performance, playing a even-tempered survivor instead of his usual sociopathic executioner, and Ullmann’s dramatic chops give a strong emotional counterpoint. Not so impressive are Mason, ridiculously miscast as a refugee from the Deep South, and Bronson’s real-life bride, Jill Ireland, who gives a shrill turn as a hippie chick. Compounding the casting problems, Cold Sweat is easily 20 minutes too long. That said, buried amid the bloat and tonal missteps are plenty of adrenalized thrills.
Cold Sweat: FUNKY