Directed by Richard Fleischer in 1974, Mr. Majestyk stars Charles Bronson in one of his most iconic roles, that of a simple watermelon famer named Vince Majestyk. He's a former soldier, did a tour of duty in Vietnam, but these days he just wants to run his farm and live the quiet life. While tending to his fields one day, a scruffy looking man named Bobby Kopas (Paul Koslo) approaches him and tries to talk him into hiring some of his men to help out. Vince isn't interested, after all he's got his own crew and doesn't need Bobby's guys, but Bobby keeps pushing him. The two men eventually wind up in scrap when Bobby pulls a gun. This lands Vince in the slammer for a little stint, because the cops don't believe his side of the story.
Shortly after, Majestyk is shipped off to prison, riding in the transport bus alongside a mafia hitman named Frank Renda (Al Lettieri). The bus crashes on the way to the prison and Majestyk could escape but instead he stops Renda from doing just that. He basically kidnaps Renda, assuming that if he brings him back to the cops then this will clear his name. After all, he only wants to get back to his farm in time to harvest his crop. Majestyk doesn't know how well connected Renda is though, and soon enough he's not only on his bad side but having to deal with Kopas and a whole lot of corrupt local police officers as well. Majestyk isn't going to just sit back and take it though…
Written by Elmore Leonard and originally intended as a vehicle for Clint Eastwood, Mr. Majestyk might sound a little hokey but for a movie that revolves around such an unlikely hero as a melon farmer, it plays quite well as a straight up underdog story. Bronson, looking every bit the world weary sort he's been cast as in the picture, uses his ‘strong, silent type' personality to great effect here, communicating as much with his body language and eye movements as he does with scripted dialogue (there are shades of his work in Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West in his work here). He completely looks the part and his take on the character suits it pretty much perfectly. Koslo and Lettieri are also quite good as the bad guys in the picture, but this is pretty much Bronson's show and everyone else in the film takes a back seat to him.
Leonard's story stays effectively grounded in a realistic environment we can believe. There are no super heroics here and while there is obviously some gun play, don't expect to see anyone leaping through the air with twin .45's blasting away. Even the violence in the film, and there's quite a bit of it, feels like it could happen. Things would get a little nuttier in Bronson's filmography a few years after this was made, the success of Death Wish (also released in 1974) spurring plenty of sequels, with the notorious Death Wish 3 standing out as a high point in regards to over the top action but the more reigned in approach here is definitely an asset to the film. Fleischer shoots all of this on location, giving the film a welcome feel of authenticity. Majestyk's crew all look like they've really spent time in the fields, the share his weathered appearance and again, it just helps to make all of this click the way a good action movie should.
There's some great camera work on display from Oscar-nominated cinematographer Richard Klein throughout the picture and a strong, effective score that comes courtesy of prolific composer Charles Bernstein. Again, the production values and technical merits really help, but it all comes down to Bronson. Here he's iconic, not yet past his prime and still completely able to kick ass and take names. Upon revisiting Mr. Majestyk it's easy to see why it remains a well-regarded entry in his filmography, as it's fairly perfect in its simplicity and it just all works really, really well.
Mr. Majestyk arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. The image is pretty decent, it definitely offers a noticeable upgrade over MGM's past DVD release. Detail is strong but not quite reference quality, there is some softness here that looks like it might be due to the way that the movie was originally shot. Colors look nice and natural here, the outdoor scenes (which are plentiful) really show some nice blues in the open skies and authentic, dusty looking browns out in the fields. Texture is solid here too and you can pick up in the fibers and cloth elements used in various wardrobe pieces, the best example being Bronson's cap. Black levels are strong but never quite perfect, sometimes looking a tiny bit warmer than you might want. The image is clean, showing only occasional white specks, and shows no evidence of noise reduction or edge enhancement nor are there any obvious compression artifacts. All in all, this is a solid representation of the movie.
The only audio option provided on the Blu-ray is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono mix, there are no alternate language options but subtitles are provided in English as well. This track sounds fine. The levels are nicely balanced and there are no issues with any hiss or distortion. The score has a decent amount of depth to it and the dialogue is always easy to understand.
Outside of a trailer for the feature and static menus offering chapter selection, there are no other extra features on this release.
Mr. Majestyk remains a really strong action/suspense picture anchored by Bronson's no-nonsense approach to the character and Richard Fleischer's efficient direction and knack for pacing. It's a classic underdog story in many ways, but it's given a unique spin and it holds up really well. The Blu-ray release from Kino is disappointingly light on extras features but it does look and sound quite good. If you're a fan of the film or its leading man, consider this one recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.