Monday, December 27, 2010

Mike Malloy's "Elsewhere on the Web" Files #2 -- CROSS SHOT

Nigel Maskell's Italian Film Review ( is a blog that gives one much the same feeling as cracking open an edition of Leonard Maltin's video guide in days of yore -- it's a good place to expeditiously (a) compare your opinion on a particular recent viewing, or (b) get advanced info on what to expect from an upcoming viewing, or (c) browse so as to bulk up your "to watch" pile. The obvious difference being that Nigel's blog is focused entirely on the cool world of Italian genre cinema (the Eurocrime and Giallo genres, primarily) and skips all that other fluff of MGM musicals, Buddy Hackett comedies and whatever else Maltin and his staff wasted their time reviewing. And while still short enough to qualify as capsule reviews, the Italian Film Review write-ups are about three times as long as the old Maltin-book ones. But even so, your humble writer was still too verbose and wordy when he submitted a review (see, Nigel enlists other reviewers too) of the 1976 John Saxon Eurocrime film, CROSS SHOT. So here's the breezy IFR version at the link, followed by a fuller version....

CROSS SHOT write-up on ItalianFilmReview

Where '70s tough-guy actors were concerned, John Saxon couldn't be beat for versatility. During the decade, the actor played equal amounts of leading and supporting parts, as both heroes and villains –- in a bevy of different countries, as a bevy of different ethnicities. But when Saxon made an incredibly prolific burst of 1976-1977 Eurocrime movies, the roles were a lot more lopsided towards villains and supporting parts –- you need only take a look at his nefarious criminal characters in VIOLENT NAPLES, MARK STRIKES AGAIN, SPECIAL COP IN ACTION, THE SWISS CONSPIRACY and THE CYNIC, THE RAT AND THE FIST. Although occasionally he would play a good guy (BLAZING MAGNUMS), only once did he play a heroic lead during his Eurocrime phase, in CROSS SHOT.

The story has Inspector Jacovella (Saxon) chasing a crew of armored-car heisters who killed a cop during the robbery. Jacovella catches up to some of the crooks (and delivers a nice groin kick to one), but another escapes by carjacking a vehicle. Because this new ride contains a briefcase belonging to a local mobster (Lee J. Cobb), the remainder of the film becomes a race between Inspector Jacovella and the mobster to locate the hiding crook.

CROSS SHOT is yet another DIRTY HARRY-inspired Italian cop movie about an angry-at-the-system police detective, but the script doesn't give Saxon much of a twist on this cinematic archetype, except an unusual (even for Eurocrime) penchant for excessive force (at one point, Jacovella pummels a kid for breaking into a cigarette machine). Perhaps to counter this, the film softens Jacovella by giving him a family, and we see him interacting lovingly with his wife and even racing slot cars with his son (played by Saxon's real-life kid -- awwww).

But the biggest twist that CROSS SHOT offers on the Italian angry-cop formula is that here the cop is not butting heads with his police superiors but rather the local newspaperman (Eurocrime fatty Renzo Palmer), who keeps whining that Jacovella's methods are not strictly by the book. Otherwise, all the genre staples are trotted out, from the hostage getting dumped from a moving car (see also CRIME BOSS, VIOLENT ROME, SPECIAL COP IN ACTION, etc) to the blind kingpin character (see also SYNDICATE SADISTS).

Saxon made another film with director Massi that year, playing the villain in MARK STRIKES AGAIN, which is the third in the “Mark the Narc” series. And who was the villain in the first two? CROSS SHOT's Lee J. Cobb.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A fistful of realistically tough and GRIT-ty female performances

The Coen brothers are notoriously meticulous about the details of their films' production design -- extending to casting -- and they're generally spot on. That's why it's disappointing that their new adaptation of the Western novel TRUE GRIT features a button-cute Hailee Steinfeld as its 14-year-old heroine, Mattie Ross. The earlier, 1969 film version of GRIT gets the Mattie character right, with the awkward, boyish-looking actress Kim Darby in the role. Her Mattie is not adorable or instantly endearing. But it is precisely because she has no cute exterior that the viewer must look to her defining inner quality -- dogged persistence -- in order to admire her. And maybe that''s as it should be. Because realistically tough female performances should have nothing to do with attractive women in spandex catsuits doing backflips while spraying machine-gun bullets into baddies. They should be more about real-looking women braving tough circumstances and pulling through, even if only by the skin of their teeth. Sadly, most lists of tough female film performances feature some combination of the same, tired usual suspects: Linda Hamilton, Sigourney Weaver and "them Lara Croft and KILL BILL girls" (I sometimes wonder if mainstream film journalists should have to pass an equivalent of the Bar).

So in honor of Darby's performance, let's look at some other women who are realistically, convincingly tough:


"I always felt my part was incidental … you have to have a leading lady," Ms. Gray told me during a 2001 interview about her character in this underrated film noir. And sure, she's not a head-turning femme fatale, as would be typical of a hard-boiled crimer, but that doesn't make her part incidental. In fact, Gray's squeaky-clean character (the actress would make a career out of portraying Good Girls) manages to play an integral role in keeping the hero alive. And how does she accomplish this, considering she doesn't fire a shot or throw a punch? Simply by using her law-student smarts to talk their way out of scrapes. And mind you, this is against some of the best screen villains of the 1950s, including Lee Van Cleef and Neville Brand.

Elizabeth James in THE BORN LOSERS (1967)

Before the plainly titled BILLY JACK, there was this lesser-known Billy Jack film, about the half-Indian vigilante's attempt to save a young lady from some bikers who have gang rape on their collective, dim-witted mind. And the girl -- played by Elizabeth James who, sadly, acted in only one other film -- did ultimately need saving. But she fended off their sexual assaults for a good while with her smart mouth ("All together or just one at a time?") and a lug wrench. Sure, her sassy backtalk to the bikers may have been just masking her fear, but she kept her cool (and a brave face) nonetheless. And if James seemed natural delivering the feisty dialogue, it's because she wrote the screenplay under the pseudonym "E. James Lloyd." (According to a 1975 NEW YORK MAGAZINE article, James worked on BILLY JACK too and was intended, for a time, to be the female lead. It's not clear exactly why she wasn't.)


Foster's impressive 13-year-old character somehow lives in a house all by herself and keeps that fact hidden from the townspeople (even the landlady!) -- all while fending off the advances of a pedophile played by Martin Sheen. This scenario would have been too improbable for a suspension of disbelief if any other actress had played the brave kiddo, but a young Jodie Foster possesses such a strength and intelligence here that it becomes credible. If John Hinckley absolutely had to go nuts over a Foster role, it should have been this and not her TAXI DRIVER part.

Linda Haynes in ROLLING THUNDER (1977)

Is a typical cocktail waitress tough enough to drop what she's doing (in this case literally, with drinks crashing to the floor) and head to Mexico to help a former 'Nam POW find the crooks who robbed him? Dunno, but in the capable hands of Ms. Haynes, we are believers -- perhaps because of the character's well-rounded realism: She likes the revenging 'Nam vet and wants to be supportive, but she doesn't mind putting up a fuss if their Mexican jaunt strays too far from what she signed up for. Also helpful is the waitress's background as the tomboy daughter of an Army sergeant (the scene explaining her history was reportedly added by co-writer Heywood Gould after the character played well in the dailies). Haynes is a cute blonde in this, but it's not the sort of cute that exists only in the movies.

Patty Duke in A MATTER OF JUSTICE (1993, TV)

"My hell began the day my son was killed. Your hell is just beginning." With these fighting words, Patty Duke's strong Alabama woman lays down the gauntlet to her former daughter-in-law, whom she eventually gets convicted for a part in conspiring to kill a young Marine (Duke's character's son). I say "eventually" because the process drags out for years, making Duke's character not only intimidating with her toughspeak but also determined as hell (she travels to other states, hires P.I.s, sits through hearings, and gets personally involved in operations). Although this fact-based TV movie made it to DVD as FINAL JUSTICE and continues to play occasionally on Lifetime, perhaps the biggest testament to Duke's crowd-pleasing toughness is the fact that a certain teenaged Eastwood/Bronson fan (guilty as charged) sat captivated in front of his TV on both nights of its original NBC airing, blown away by the Southern bravado he was witnessing.

CONFIDENTIAL and LITTLE GIRL have both been available on studio DVDs, and the former has also had a myriad of budget releases too (it was/is in the Public Domain). THE BORN LOSERS has been available in a couple of different Billy Jack box sets. ROLLING THUNDER is available from the MGM Movie On Demand dvd-r series. A severely cut MATTER OF JUSTICE is available as an R1 dvd entitled FINAL JUSTICE and as a R2 dvd bearing its original title.

And lastly ... how did Martin Sheen manage to turn up acting alongside 40% of the characters listed here?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

When likable tough-guy *adults* used to star in horror films (or, Not just another RACE WITH THE DEVIL review)

In this staged publicity photo, Frank (a fortysomething Warren Oates) and Roger (a thirtysomething Peter Fonda) demonstrate they’re not helpless against the Satanic cult that is pursuing them across the state of Texas. Kelly (Lara Parker) looks on from a more protected spot.

As much as I dig 1974’s THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (and to a lesser extent HALLOWEEN and BLACK CHRISTMAS from that same decade), I begrudge these 1970s proto-slasher films for their legacy: “Teens in peril” as the norm for horror protagonists.

From the early 1980s right up to the time of this writing, we’ve had teenagers and twentysomethings almost exclusively as fright-film heroes, heroines and/or victims. Just look at the youth orientation indicated by titles from the first wave of slasher films: PROM NIGHT (1980), GRADUATION DAY(1981), THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE (1982), THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1982), SLAUGHTER HIGH (1986), SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE (1986). And student characters were also the rule for the slasher revival of the 1990s: SCREAM (1996, high school), I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (1997, college), URBAN LEGEND (1998, college), CHERRY FALLS (2000, high school). And in this new millennium, young characters are still standard in horror cinema, in movies like CABIN FEVER (2003), WRONG TURN (2003), THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003), the FINAL DESTINATION series (2000-2009) and HOSTEL (2006). Hell, there’s even a term — “final girl” — to describe the archetypal lone heroine that survives to the end of these horror movies.

But why isn’t it “final woman” — or final man? Why aren’t more adults cast as the leads of fright films? Perhaps there is no greater argument for overturning horror cinema’s ageism than 1975’s RACE WITH THE DEVIL, a film starring forty- and thirtysomething actors. There’s no final girl here. RACE makes it two final men (Warren Oates and Peter Fonda) and their two final wives (Loretta Swit and Lara Parker). And why does the age of the protagonists matter to the film’s ability to terrify?

Let’s put it this way: Why should we bite our nails for the safety of dumb, self-interested, irresponsible, squabbling teens if we don’t even like these kids in the first place? Isn’t it infinitely more tense to root for mature, likeable characters who are struggling together to battle a horror villain (be it man, monster or somewhere in between) so they can return to the meaningful lives they’re building for themselves? Don’t older and more responsible characters generally have the most invested in life — and therefore have the most to lose?

Whether or not it was the movie’s intention, the likeability of its adult protagonists is what makes RACE WITH THE DEVIL so effectively tense. The film follows Texans Frank (Oates) and Roger (Fonda) as they head for a much-needed skiing vacation in Colorado. Their wives are with them on Frank’s 32-foot RV, and all four (plus one canine traveling companion) trek across the Lone Star state towards their snowy destination.

We learn that this vacation is well-deserved. For the past five years, Frank and Roger have been putting in long hours to build up their motorcycle design/sales business, and it seems they have finally hit upon hard-earned success (“You know what we have done in five years? We have put it together, baby!”). According to Roger’s wife, the vacation is “the first time they’ve really relaxed in such a long time.” Compare this to the young, Goodtime Charlie protagonists of 2006’s HOSTEL — college students who are celebrating four years of partying with a trip full of, well, more partying.

(One wonders if movies like HOSTEL, or any ‘80s slasher flick that follows the “rules” spelled out by Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, are really just punish-the-wicked morality plays. But then again, we aren’t rooting for the knife-wielding villain to win either, so where does that leave us? With a sense of justice borrowed from a revenge film, and with few, if any, characters deserving to live to the end? What good is that? I’m so confused...)

No, the characters in RACE are good people, and we spend the first 17 minutes of the movie getting to know and like this foursome. By minute 18, the action (and the horror) is underway, as Roger and Frank accidentally witness a Satanic ritual — one that ends in human sacrifice — during their first night on the road. The Satanic cult (truly a great movie villain; they don’t need motivations for their evils—they’re Satanists!) chase the two couples, who narrowly escape in their RV. The incident is reported, but the nearby lawman, Sheriff Taylor (perhaps a reference to Andy Griffith?), tries to discredit Frank and Roger’s account of the fatal devil-worshipping ceremony. A paranoia is created in the viewer at this point, as we wonder if all the locals—even the constabulary — are members of the cult.

Frank and Roger take the local law enforcement (R.G. Armstrong

and Wes Bishop) to the site of the sacrificial murder.

But do these local lawmen have their own agenda,

or is it just the viewer's paranoia acting up?

Likeable protagonists are all well and good, but they must be imperiled before we’ll commit to watching them for a feature-length horror romp. And RACE WITH THE DEVIL smartly creates a sense of danger by building on the paranoia established during the Sheriff Taylor scene. As Frank, Roger and the gals head toward Colorado, each roadside person they meet — a filling station attendant, an RV park guest, a country musician — seems as if he could be part of the Satanic conspiracy. To the viewer especially, it sure feels as if the RV is being followed and watched as it traverses the state. The camera lingers on the faces of all the people encountered along the side of the road — perhaps harmless, perhaps not — casting each and every one under suspicion.

It’s not only these minor characters that create paranoia, but occurrences too. Are the phones really inoperative at a petrol station, or were they intentionally disabled to prevent Roger from reporting the human sacrifice to a big-city police department? Is that really a school-bus accident on the deserted back road, or is it an ambush set by the Satanists? Why does that same red pickup truck keep driving by? (We’ll discover the answer to this last question in one of the great reveal shots in all of cinema.)

For all the tension, there is surprisingly little outright malice towards our heroic quartet in the first 58 minutes. After the initial incident on the first night, a rune (or written witch’s curse) is attached to the RV. Later, the pet dog is killed. But for nearly an hour, that’s all. It’s mostly just pending—and possibly paranoid—threats of danger. Today’s horror films (SAW II and the HILLS HAVE EYES remake spring to mind) generally feel the need, in a desperate attempt to be constantly eventful, to fill in any such early lulls with infighting and bickering amongst the protagonists. That way, the film can be unrelentingly noisy, strident, uncomfortable and, yes, tense. But the negative side effect is — (how many times must I say it?) — characters we just don’t give a damn about.

Back inside Frank’s RV, it’s a loving atmosphere before the action begins (“Here’s to friends I don’t deserve”) and a cooperative spirit after the trip takes its Satanic wrong turn. However, these characters aren’t unrealistically mellow or even-keeled. They do quarrel on occasion — about having to bring the dog, about whether to abandon the skiing vacation — but the arguments are always organic to the story. There is no squabbling for the sake of pumping in artificial tension.

Just as the characters aren’t overly quarrelsome, neither are they helpless — and that goes a long way towards fostering likeability. When events start getting too hairy, Frank pulls the RV over and buys a pump shotgun from a general store. Later, Roger climbs onto the back of the motorhome and un-straps the bikes, causing them to become ingenious road hazards for the closely following baddies. The only hysterical screamer in the bunch is Roger’s wife (Parker, apparently cast because of screaming abilities demonstrated on DARK SHADOWS), but she never acts so foolishly as to jeopardize the group.

The last half-hour is a real corker, and it’s full of some of the greatest vehicle-to-vehicle combat ever driven and filmed. This is all the more impressive considering that helmer Jack Starrett was brought in as a replacement director (during production!) and had no preparation. (To fill the director’s chair, Starrett was hired and Lee Frost was fired, although the film is still very much a project moulded by the filmmaking team of Frost and Wes Bishop. Between the two, they receive four credits in the film, including Wes Bishop’s acting credit as “Deputy Dave.” Frost and Bishop also made low-budget blaxploitation, hixploitation and biker movies, but Twentieth Century Fox’s RACE WITH THE DEVIL was their shot at making a studio film.)

At the time of this writing, a RACE WITH THE DEVIL remake has been in development for several years, and one can only hope a new version will not star twentysomething party kids. Of course, no matter their age, the new cast will be unable to duplicate the natural chemistry between Oates and Fonda — surely due to the pair’s off-screen friendship. RACE was the second of three films made together by the acting buddies, who were also neighbors in Montana. On several occasions in RACE, Fonda hints at their friendship by addressing Oates’ character as “Bubba Bear” (if Fonda’s autobiography is any indication, that’s the actor’s real-life nickname for his co-star and friend).

But don’t get me wrong. Despite all my complaints, I do understand the practicalities of why teen and college-aged characters are used as horror protagonists. Young kids can be good looking, and their raging hormones can be an easy pretext for flashing some nudity. Further, their immaturity is a good excuse for a lot of sneak-up-behind-you pranks in a film’s first act, which, in turn, are good for fake-em-out early scares for the viewer. And besides these more practical considerations, some reviewers (especially those given to overanalyzing) will say that boobs-and-blood teen horror films can effectively tap into younger viewers’ anxieties regarding sex.

What I don’t understand is why these young characters have a virtual monopoly on horror protagonism. And don’t give me that bunk that it’s done out of necessity to target the younger demographic of ticket buyers. Where is it written that moviegoers only want to watch their exact peer group on screen?

No, give me responsible grown-ups like Frank and Roger, and let me root for them as I watch their struggle against some form of nefarious evil. Oh sure, I may sit through some modern horror films with annoying kid heroes, but when they get sliced and diced, see if I care — or scare.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mike Malloy's "Elsewhere on the Web" Files #1 -- McGoohanstuffs

Without equal, Patrick McGoohan was THE thinking-man's tough guy. On screens big and small (DANGER MAN, ICE STATION ZEBRA, THE HARD WAY, etc), he behaved with intelligence and efficiency, and all his actions aimed towards completing his objective, never demonstrating his toughness. Even when he unleashed his Irish bark on the eardrums of conversational opponents, it was always for a necessary emphasis or effect, and he was back to his normal speaking voice as quickly as he started shouting (and he certainly never wore a smug "did you see how badly I verbally spanked you?" expression on his face after besting his arguin' adversaries).

And yet he was tough, and we knew this because (and/or despite the fact that) he had the confidence never to need to make grand displays of his formidability. In fact, McGoohan's characters would even endure predicaments while smirking ever-so-slightly, as pictured here, as if to make us sure he was not trying to act ostentatiously tough.

Anyway, enough with my new thoughts, and on with some old: Here are a few pieces I penned in the last couple years regarding the actor and his work:

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Give Charlie a hand

Several years ago, it was all the rage for movie stars -- Ben Affleck, Jennifer Tilly and Jon Favreau, for three -- to profess a love of card playing. But if these actors couldn’t ostentatiously show off their card sharping on such television programs as CELEBRITY POKER SHOWDOWN, would they have even cared?

Late screen tough guy Charles Bronson, on the other hand, seemed to ante up for more genuine reasons: to bond with working-class, below-the-line crew members on his film productions. (He was much less concerned about fraternizing with fellow thespians.)

“Charles Bronson never spoke to any of us,” actor Jay Sayer told film journalist Tom Weaver in a recent interview. “He played cards with the stuntmen, with the extras. Because he had much more in common with them than he did with the actors.”

Sayer wasn't the only actor brushed off by Bronson.

“He ran a little nickel-and-dime poker game with the make-up girls and the hair girls,” echoes later Bronson co-star Robert Axelrod. “I walked in once and said, ‘How do I get a seat?’ He turns up to me and said, ‘You don’t.’”

Sayer appeared with Bronson in 1958’s MACHINE-GUN KELLY, and Axelrod was a supporting player in four of the star’s ‘80s vehicles. So it’s very likely that Bronson kept up these games during his heyday of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

And if the actor dealt, drew and discarded only out of an authentic love for his crew members and for card games, it would make perfect sense. After all, Charles Bronson was likely the most authentic tough guy the big screen will ever see.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

NEWMAN'S LAW -- a less obvious SERPICO

"The life of a cop is not healthy," is a line of cautionary wisdom uttered in the tough (and tough-to-find) 1974 cop film NEWMAN'S LAW. And while it may not be healthy, the life of a certain Los Angeles narc played by George Peppard is certainly interesting enough for a little bit of the ol' reviewin'.

First, the genre. There are, basically speaking, two types of cop pictures from the 1970s: plot driven and character driven. (Yeah, yeah -- I know this dichotomy applies to more than just policiers [and is a little obvious to boot], but it serves our discussion okay.)

Plot driven. The first type includes such films as THE STONE KILLER, THE SEVEN-UPS, and the original FRENCH CONNECTION. These films feature cops exposing complex, sometimes international crime rackets. Each movie has a large cast of characters -- cops, prosecutors, mobsters, hoods -- and the number of names and faces is overwhelming in an initial viewing. The many plot developments (which break only for an extended car chase) come at the expense of showing the complex motivations of the central cop figures.

Character driven. The second variety includes such films as DIRTY HARRY and, ironically, THE FRENCH CONNECTION II. And these movies are almost exclusively concerned with the personality of the lead cop. Plot is secondary, as these films feature simple stories (catching a rooftop killer, in the case of HARRY) that don’t infringe much on characterization.

NEWMAN’S LAW would, at first, seem to be of the complex former type, plot driven. It centers around an American/European drug operation, has copious plot developments (Newman is suspended from the force, then on probation, then fired outright), and boasts a large number of characters (cops, former cops, the D.A.’s office, Lo Falcone’s mob, the Dellanzia family).

But closer inspection of NEWMAN'S LAW reveals that the film’s real interest lies in the character of Vince Newman, not the plot.

So what's so interesting about Newman? The answer has surprisingly little to do with nailing the European drug lord (the plot), but with whether an honest cop can survive on the force (the subplots). All the film's money-related secondary stories add up to offer a more interesting side of the cop than just the "hellbent to bust the villain" protagonist. See, Newman can’t afford to keep his father in a nursing facility, and yet he doesn’t take dirty money or “go private,” as do many of the film's other cops. NEWMAN’S LAW works best as a tale of a good cop surrounded by police corruption.

NEWMAN'S LAW may sound a bit like SERPICO, but the viewer really has to look for the connection. Both the writing and Peppard’s subtle, understated performance keep the subplots from drawing attention to themselves. But if you think about the film (as your humble narrator obviously has -- though not to the exclusion of a social life), these are the story's best moments.

But even though it's of less interest than Newman's personal story, let's take a look at the criminal plot. (In other words: I watched the film multiple times and took careful notes, so you should feel obligated to read the below synopsis.)

While searching a drug house, narcotics cop Vince Newman (Peppard) answers a ringing telephone only to hear the voice of never-convicted gangster Frank Lo Falcone (Louis Zorich) on the other end. Not realizing that Newman is listening, Lo Falcone takes credit for the shipment of 75 kilos. of hashish in the house, and the cop knows he has enough evidence for a conviction.

Lo Falcone is extradited from Naples, Italy, but before Newman can testify against the drug kingpin, the honest cop is discredited and suspended from the force when planted narcotics are discovered in his apartment. Charges are dropped against Lo Falcone, and it begins to look as if the gangster had planned his extradition all along to guarantee legal entry to the United States.

(spoiler city below!)

Furious, and now acting as a private citizen, Newman buys a rifle and fills Lo Falcone’s fancy home full of holes. A retaliatory attempt on the ex-cop’s life only manages to kill Newman’s former partner (Roger Robinson).

Resolved to a suicide mission, Newman infiltrates the gangster’s stronghold, where he kills Lo Falcone and a corrupt cop -- Newman’s former chief -- before being killed himself.

A downbeat ending is typical of the '70s. What's atypical -- and what makes Vince Newman's cop tale worth tracking down -- is the fact that all the scenes that make it so great don't even show up in a typical plot synopsis.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My weird thing about DONATO AND DAUGHTER

I just found the Netherlands disc of the 1993 Charles Bronson television movie DONATO AND DAUGHTER online, and after a few clicks (and shipping days later), I had added it to my "official" DVD collection. For those who've never had the privilege, that part of my collection is what I keep out on display, neatly shelved and alphabetized. These are the films that are supposed to, ahem, "say something about Mike Malloy."

But why DONATO & D.? Am I really so desperate for new additions to my official collection, now that I've acquired such holy grails as the Canadian release of 1979's THE HARD WAY, the German dvd of 1978's RITUALS, or the Swedish disc of 1973's THE STONE KILLER? Should my ultra-cool DVD collection be watered down with a tepid made-for-TV cop film starring a tired Charlie Bronson?

Here's my justification.

DONATO AND DAUGHTER was broadcast on CBS-TV in 1993, and it was the very first new bit of Bronson to debut after my teenaged self had become a rabid mega-fan of Charlie's '60s/'70s glory period (films like RIDER ON THE RAIN and HARD TIMES). That alone -- the fact that I was discovering this new Bronson film along with the rest of the world, and for once, not after the fact -- was enough to give it a special spot in my heart (and now, my DVD collection).

I taped it during its original airing and watched it a number of times that year. Even then, I knew it was no great shakes. The material was sanitized for television. The identity of the serial killer (Xander Berkeley) is revealed way too early. The plotting is improbable ("All the victims look just like you, Dena!"). Some of the music (I'm looking at you, synth-and-muted-trumpet schmaltz) became instantly dated.

But some of the score is decent cop tension music. Further, there are some good supporting performances, and tough-guy film fans will find some interesting connections: Actress Kim Weeks would later become Bronson's real-life wife. Michael Cavanaugh had been a regular supporting player in the films of Bronson's big '70s competitor, Clint Eastwood. And Berkeley would go on to pay homage to Lee Van Cleef in SHANGHAI NOON as the character of, well, Marshal Van Cleef.

And then there's Bronson. I won't go as far as to say this is his last great performance, because it's not a great performance. I do however think that his last great moments -- however brief and isolated -- appear in this movie. There's a fiery little gleam in his eye when he tells off the head nun at the Catholic school. Stuff like that.

But between this '93 television airing and my recent purchase of the dvd, there was more.

In the mid-90s, while your humble narrator was in college, DONATO AND DAUGHTER started popping up again.

First, I found it for rent at my neighborhood mom-and-pop vid shop, under the vhs title DEAD TO RIGHTS. I wasn't planning on renting it (I had taped it off the telly, remember), but then I noticed that the MPAA had slapped an R-rating on this version. "Oh, the film must have had an alternate cut full of gore and nudity for home video and European theatrical release," I thought and happily took it home.

I shoved DEAD TO RIGHTS into my vcr. It was the exact same cut as the TV version of DONATO AND DAUGHTER, leading me to believe the MPAA didn't even watch it. They probably had a standing rule at the time to rubber stamp all Bronson cop films with an R (based off his 1980s schlock for Cannon like KINJITE and 10 TO MIDNIGHT). Fact is, neither DONATO AND DAUGHTER nor DEAD TO RIGHTS had anything worse than a severed finger (which wasn't even shown in close-up) and one utterance of the B-word.

Then, Bronson did his next TV cop film, the uber-bland FAMILY OF COPS (1995). I remember reading an interview with Charlie at the time (in TV GUIDE, I think) where he asserted that FAMILY OF COPS was the first time he had played a father of grown, adult children. What an oversight! That statement neglected his recent role in DONATO AND DAUGHTER (which friggin' mentions his grown daughter in the title, no less!) and his best work of the whole decade, the Sean Penn-directed indie THE INDIAN RUNNER (1991).

(Coincidentally, DONATO AND DAUGHTER is itself about a "family of cops," as Bronson plays an L.A. detective whose daughter is -- and dead son was -- also a cop.)

But although FAMILY OF COPS, which somehow spawned two sequels, became the big success story of Bronson's TV-movie work in the 1990s, it was DONATO AND DAUGHTER which was his best in that category for the decade.

And now, a dvd sits in my official collection to prove I feel that way.