Country: United Kingdom
Director: Stuart Rosenberg (and allegedly John Huston)
Starring: Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Rod Steiger, Henry Silva, Michael V. Gazzo, Strother Martin, Bradford Dillman
Music: Lalo Schifrin
Love And Bullets is a good detective thriller, made just before Bronson started making all the gratuitously violent crap in the 1980’s. That’s not to say, that Love And Bullets isn’t violent. It contains it’s fair share. But most of the violence follows the story and is not there simply to titillate. This time Bronson plays Charlie Congers (fantastic character name).
Congers is a Phoenix detective. But what separates this film from the usual detective dramas is that Charlie is recruited by the F.B.I. to go to Switzerland and retrieve a witness for the indictment of a mob boss. Why Charlie? Firstly, he is involved in the case after a fellow police officer is blown to smithereens in a car bomb explosion. Secondly, the F.B.I. can’t work legally outside the U.S.A., so they need a ‘volunteer’ who works outside the system to go and do their dirty work. At a casual glance Love And Bullets may seem like a detective movie, but believe me, the style is pure ‘spy’.
Rod Steiger, in one of his most bizarre performances, is Joe Bomposa, the Mob Boss, who Bronson and the F.B.I. are trying to indict. But Bomposa is almost childlike, prone to adolescent temper tantrums and stuttering incontrollably. Although he is undeniably powerful he tends to come across as a buffoon.
Jill Ireland (Bronson’s wife at the time) plays Jackie Pruit, the ex mistress of Bomposa, who is the witness Congers has to bring back. Of course, the mob do not want Pruit to testify, and will do anything to stop the duo. As you’d expect from a husband and wife team, Congers and Pruit fall in love. But it is not the kind of movie where sex is used to manipulate events. It is more of an old fashioned morality, where the relationship between the two protagonists builds as they struggle through each successive attempt on their life.
Bomposa’s henchmen are an interesting bunch. The first, is Lobo (Michael V. Gazzo), who is a young punk that loves killing so much that he spends most of the film laughing. The second, and most menacing character in the movie is Vittorio Farroni (Henry Silva), the hitman hired by Bomposa to kill his ex-mistress. Unfortunately Silva isn’t given enough screen time, but he is at his evil, glowering best.
Visually the movie is played straight, hard and lean. There is little finessing with the camera work. The most surreal moment occurs when Rod Steiger is bathing in a steaming volcanic hot spring, surrounded by red lava rocks. As the camera pans back, it is revealed that this elaborate spa setting is not an amazing natural beauty, but a construction of his balcony.
Musically, Lalo Schifrin doesn’t let us down again. Another quirky and enjoyable score, which combines the contemporary spy music of the time (a lot of piano), with an almost western feel to emphasise the Arizona cowboy aspect of Bronson’s character.
The real star of Love And Bullets are the great Swiss locations. It’s a fantastic backdrop that takes this detective story out of the usual U.S. city environment and plays out the drama on an international stage. And Bronson is still at an age where he is believable as the hero (he was 58 years old when this film was released). If you are a fan of Charles Bronson, this is one of his better efforts. It’s not high art, but it is a pretty good seventies-style cop thriller with a hint of globe trotting espionage.