This blog post is in tribute to the recently deceased director Richard Fleisher, who passed away over the weekend at the age of 89. Fleisher gave us some of our great early noir and later camp classics. He started out in B-Movies with tight little crime capers like Narrow Margin and Armored Car Robbery, both of which would be later remade into far inferior remakes. He would soon move into the sci-fi and sword and sandal arena with movies like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Fantastic Voyage and The Vikings before going on to even larger epics like Tora! Tora! Tora! and Barabbas.But what I know Fleisher for is the camp. Soylent Green, Mandingo, Conan the Destroyer, and Red Sonja -- the last two of which I loved as a kid. Turns out I was an early Fleisher fan and didn't even know it.
I decided to pay my respects by watching a mid-career Fleisher film still leftover on my VHS shelf...Mr. Majestyk. Yes, the Charles Bronson flick. This is the one where he plays a quiet Colorado melon farmer just trying to get his crop in for harvest until...guess what...he's forced into violence.
Bronson's partial to hardworking, honest Mexican laborers when it comes to picking his fields. Yet the local white townfolk don't take kindly to this and try to force him into using white scabs...at gunpoint. This results in a fight, which results in Bronson getting jailed, which results in him meeting a hired killer played by Al Lettieri (of Godfather and The Getaway fame) who's in the midst of perpetrating a very violent breakout plan that brings about the death of numerous cops. After much bloodshed on the part of Lettieri's gang, Bronson and Lettieri get away but Bronson wants none of it. "I just want to get that melon crop in." And from there on he risks life and limb (his own and everybody else's) in order to do just that.
Seriously, Mr. Majestyk's got melons on the brain. Even more so than Mr. Meyer and Mr. Ebert. Whenever Bronson takes off that little beanie he wears throughout the movie, I'm expecting to see a striped green watermelon rind in place of his scalp. Majestyk's prized melons become even more of a character than most of the people who get blown away in this movie (and there are many). You almost wanna cry when Lettieri and his thugs take a machine gun to Majestyk's harvest, melons spurting and bursting in slow-mo as highly melodramatic (melon-dramatic?) music plays. When the crops die, you cry. When the cops do...eh...not so much.
I don't know if Fleisher and his partner in crime -- novelist Elmore Leonard slumming as a screenwriter -- want you to take these melons (or this movie) seriously. But it doesn't really matter. There's some fun to be had here, more fun than the usual Bronson-takes-revenge flick of which there are scores and scores. So, Mr. Fleisher, I break melon in your honor. May you rest in peace.