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.

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