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The Films of J. Lee Thompson

Murder Without Crime

The Yellow Balloon

The Weak and the Wicked

For Better, for Worse

As Long as They're Happy

An Alligator Named Daisy

Yield to the Night

The Good Companions

Woman in a Dressing Gown

Ice Cold in Alex

No Trees in the Street

Tiger Bay

North West Frontier

I Aim at the Stars

The Guns of Navarone

Cape Fear

Taras Bulba

Kings of the Sun

What a Way to Go!

John Goldfarb, Please Come Home!

Return from the Ashes

Eye of the Devil

Mackenna's Gold

Before Winter Comes

The Chairman

Country Dance

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

A Great American Tragedy

Battle for the Planet of the Apes

Huckleberry Finn

The Reincarnation of Peter Proud


St. Ives

The White Buffalo

The Greek Tycoon

The Passage

Cobo Blanco

Happy Birthday To Me (May 13/15)

Happy Birthday To Me, in typically yawn-inducing slasher-movie fashion, details the bloodbath that ensues after several students begin disappearing under mysterious circumstances, with the primary suspect in the case a young woman (Melissa Sue Anderson's Virginia Wainwright) who is still recovering from a traumatic childhood event. At a running time of close to two hours, Happy Birthday To Me suffers from an almost extraordinarily tedious atmosphere that holds the viewer at arms length from start to finish - with the film's many problems compounded by an incongruously deliberate pace (ie there is absolutely no reason that a movie of this sort should move this slowly). Screenwriters John Saxton, Peter Jobin, and Timothy Bond bog the narrative down with a whole host of needless instances of plot and backstory, and it's clear, too, that the scripters prove utterly unable to offer up even a single compelling or interesting character. (For the most part, these people seem to have emerged directly from a template for slasher flicks.) Happy Birthday To Me's sole saving grace is its proliferation of admittedly decent kill sequences, as filmmaker J. Lee Thompson infuses such moments with a gleefully over-the-top gusto that proves impossible to resist - which ultimately ensures that one would be far better off watching a YouTube highlight reel rather than the movie itself.

out of

10 to Midnight (May 16/04)

In between Death Wish 2 and 3, Charles Bronson appeared in 10 to Midnight - a routine police thriller that is, for the most part, slow moving and uneventful. Bronson stars as Leo Kessler, a detective who plays by his own rules (at least he's not a hard-drinking cop, I suppose) and is attempting to catch a seemingly unstoppable murderer. The case becomes personal for Kessler after the perp begins stalking his daughter, at which point he decides to do whatever it takes to bust this guy - despite the objections of his new, by-the-book partner (Andrew Stevens). It's hard to determine who 10 to Midnight is supposed to appeal to - not Bronson's core fanbase, who'll be turned off by the lack of violence and one-liners, and certainly not to aficionados of the police procedural (an episode of Barney Miller contains more realism) - though Bronson himself can't be blamed, as the actor delivers a typically stoic performance.

out of

The Evil That Men Do

The Ambassador

King Solomon's Mines

Murphy's Law

FireWalker (July 1/12)

FireWalker follows a pair of wisecracking treasure hunters (Chuck Norris' Max and Louis Gossett Jr's Leo) as they agree to help Melody Anderson's Patricia Goodwin track down a rare artifact, with the film subsequently (and perhaps inevitably) detailing the trio's ongoing efforts at both finding said artifact and avoiding the advances of several nefarious figures. Filmmaker J. Lee Thompson, working from a script by Robert Gosnell, kicks the proceedings off with a silly yet fast-paced action sequence that effectively establishes the lighthearted dynamic between the two protagonists, with the movie's shot-on-the-cheap appearance and proliferation of less-than-appealing elements, as a result, initially not quite as problematic as one might've feared. (Norris' grating and hopelessly underwhelming performance, on the other hand, remains problematic from start to finish, as the actor is simply unable to convincingly step into the shoes of his larger-than-life character.) It's not long before FireWalker begins to morph into a progressively interminable experience, however, with the stagnant bent of Gosnell's screenplay ensuring that the movie, generally speaking, lurches from one poorly-conceived action set piece to the next (ie the whole thing is just irredeemably sluggish). The ongoing inclusion of eye-rolling bits of irreverence (eg Max takes a sip of beer during a bar fight) only heightens the movie's amateurish feel, and there's little doubt that the seemingly endless third act cements FireWalker's place as a palpably worthless relic of the 1980s.

out of

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown

Messenger of Death

Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (November 15/09)

Though it boasts an expectedly compelling performance from Charles Bronson, Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects never quite becomes the enthralling piece of work one might've expected based on its subject matter - with the meandering storyline ultimately exacerbated by an almost excessively deliberate pace. It certainly doesn't help that screenwriter Harold Nebenzal spends an inordinate amount of time focused on the exploits of a Japanese family that's just arrived in Los Angeles, as the seemingly pointless nature of these scenes results in a hopelessly uneven vibe that inevitably negates the film's overtly positive attributes (although, to be fair, the relevance of this subplot eventually does become clear). The movie - which follows grizzled cop Lt. Crowe (Bronson) as he attempts to shut down a vicious pimp (Juan Fernandez's Duke) who deals exclusively in underage girls - is subsequently at its best when focused exclusively on Bronson's surprisingly misanthropic character, with the actor's hard-edged, unflinching performance often elevating the proceedings above its humdrum sensibilities. (In addition to his ongoing battles with an angry captain, Crowe, at various points within the narrative, sodomizes a perp with a dildo, forces Duke to swallow his own gold watch, and murders Duke's right-hand man by tossing him off a balcony.) It's entertaining stuff that ultimately can't quite compensate for the pervasively lackluster atmosphere, with the thoroughly anticlimactic showdown between Crowe and Duke cementing Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects' place as a disappointingly erratic entry within Bronson's filmography.

out of

© David Nusair