Rightwing Film Geek

Charles Bronson remembered

bronson.jpgBy coincidence, I saw Charles Bronson’s greatest film for the first time in a theater, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, just a week or so before his death at the weekend. Bronson was not a great actor, in the histrionic sense (he had no range, subtlety or wit), but he could do something just as difficult and (in the hands of the right director, like Sergio Leone) just as good. He could *be* on screen. He embodied in himself an image, a screen persona with consummate comfort, as if he was just being himself. And if you doubt that even literally playing yourself on screen is not as easy as it looks, check out Brett Favre in THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY or Monica Lewinsky in her SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE appearance.

Bronson’s character, which almost never changed, was taciturn and brooding like John Garfield, stoic and tough like John Wayne. He followed trails blazed by Clint Eastwood, both in Leone’s spaghetti Westerns, and then later in the urban-vigilante genre. He was a man you didn’t wanna mess with, but was righteous enough not to mess with you for no reason. In other words, it was an image of pre-therapy masculinity. This summa cum laude graduate of the School of Hard Knocks (in real life as well as a screen persona) had all this chiseled onto a face that was perhaps the ugliest ever on a Hollywood leading man. But that leather face was perfect for Leone’s grubby, dusty, gorgeously-lit and -framed pictures. And the harmonica.

Besides being raw material for the virtuoso Leone, Bronson was also good in solid unpretentious 60s action films like THE DIRTY DOZEN and THE GREAT ESCAPE (the latter of which is one of the few films I remember seeing and liking quite a bit before the cinephilia bug bit in the late 1980s). I also think the first DEATH WISH film is not bad (it got boring by repetition; the reputation of the original ROCKY suffers for this same reason). But Bronson’s great late role is his lead character in the Walter Hill tough-guy picture HARD TIMES. The climactic bare-knuckle-boxing fight at the end could star nobody else but Bronson, because it *was* Bronson. Its virtues were his virtues. It’s an aging man, scrapping through the Depression with nothing but his bare hands, and doing it with no histrionics or self-analysis. The fight is shot like no other climactic fight that I can recall. It takes place in real time, with no music and not much editing or any form of flash. There’s a lot of grunting and pushing, and is grubby and tough. The fight has both a logical trajectory and is competitive enough for long enough (and then increasingly less so) that you see how difficult it is to beat up somebody who’s just as tough as you. And it ends as it does because of an understanding of masculine honor and virtue. You may lose the game, but there’s still honor in playing by the rules. Don’t pretend you won’t lose though. Bronson finally lost the game of life, like we all do … eventually. RIP.

September 3, 2003 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,

27 Comments »

  1. I agree that the fight between Cheney and Street in Hard Times was probably the best ever choreographed. But if you look closely it is anything but realistic, for reasons I regard as obvious but won’t go into now. It just shows you how exciting something can be, how seemingly realistic it can be without being realistic at all.
    Questions:
    How tall was Bronson?
    When and how did he start to work out?
    Did he use rope climbing as exercise?
    Was he a [heavy] smoker?

    E-mail me! A.C.

    Comment by Arch Campbell | March 27, 2008 | Reply

  2. I can’t find a source that I trust, but Bronson couldn’t have been very big. Remember the early sequence in “The Dirty Dozen” when Lee Marvin makes all the convicts line up in size order? Bronson was near the far left, with the short guys (like John Cassavetes and Trini Lopez).

    In part, of course, he looked small because Jim Brown, Donald Sutherland and (especially) Clint Walker were very tall. But I’m guessing Bronson was 5’8″ at most.

    Comment by astorian | April 4, 2008 | Reply

  3. Having grown up in Mumbai India,on Spaghetti westerns,The Westside Sories,Dr.Zhivago,Dr.No,My Fair Lady and so many other films,i do not why i took a special liking to Charles Bronson.Maybe,the way he conducted himself on the screen without much shouting or ranting,without being ruffled by any problem,is what made me feel that i also wanted to be like him.His projection of a strong screen personality was maybe something i was wanting to be in real life.The Strong Macho Man.

    Comment by subhash sirur | August 20, 2008 | Reply

  4. Do you know what charles bronson’s work out routine was?

    Comment by Michael Phillips | December 17, 2008 | Reply

  5. I read once, during the making of Breakout Pass, Bronson did rounds on the heavy bag and ran two miles a day. From looking at his early work ie. Man with a Camera, he had a naturally athletic physique.

    Comment by Justin Matin | December 20, 2008 | Reply

  6. Thanks Justin! I always admired bron’s physique, especially in his later years. Is their any comments from other actors, about bronn’s workout routine, because I remember that tony curtis, and jim brown raving about physical fitness. Thanks justin for replying to my message.

    Comment by Michael Phillips | December 26, 2008 | Reply

  7. Man justin, forgot to say bronson’s physique, and bronson’s workout routine, instead of bronn’s or bron’s. Man that drinking on christmas can mess you up! thanks man, and take care.

    Comment by Michael Phillips | December 26, 2008 | Reply

  8. Yes, it was Bronson that got me interested in Bodybuilding. However, latter on I realized, it was not so much that he had huge muscles like Arnold, it was that he had very little body fat. Look at his films like “You can’t Win them All” at the beginning, or Violent City (Also known as The Family) This man was then nearly 50 years old. Amazing that know one ever convinced him to write a fitness book.

    Comment by nicolas | January 26, 2009 | Reply

  9. Yes, and the most amazing thing was, that his body never really detoriated ever, until he suffered from that illness, at the end of his life. If he didn’t have that disease, I belive bronson, would still have the same physique that he had from the sixties! Was wondering if anyone else had info on charles bronson’s workout routine.

    Comment by Michael Phillips | January 29, 2009 | Reply

  10. Just saw Chato’s land. He must have had one heck of a workout routine. Him and Bruce Lee had the most lean and muscular builds I have ever seen. Would be interested in the routines followed by Charles Bronson.

    Comment by Mac | March 3, 2009 | Reply

    • I understand he did Isometric Exercise. There is some inmate in England who changed his name to Charles Bronson and is a devotee of Isometrics, but John E. Peterson (Isometric Power Revolution) referred to the actor Charles Bronson as being the product of Isometrics. If you men want to follow suit and get in that sort of shape we woman would be very happy.

      Comment by Tina | June 16, 2009 | Reply

  11. Charles Bronson not only had a hell of a physique, he behaved like old-fashioned WWII generation men did. He was a veteran of service as a gunner in the air force, and I believe saw combat. Guys like him, and Lee Marvin always had an extra authenticity to me in war films, because they’d experienced it firsthand in real life. Sorry to disappoint, folks, El Bruto just took good care of himself, and had very good genetics.

    Speaking of guys with amazing builds, Clint Walker was (still is) giant, and I have never seen such a huge chest on a man. What a beast that guy is! Nice guy, too, from what I hear. Anyway, look up Clint on Google and see if you don’t agree that Walker puts all these pretty boys today to shame in masculine terms.

    Comment by Pete | August 8, 2009 | Reply

    • I totally agree. Clint had a fantastic build & was incredibly handsome. He was one of a kind & in my opinion he does put all of the pretty boys to shame. And he IS a very nice man. I’ve met him a few times at the western festivals he attends. He’s a very humble, kind man. They dont make them like him anymore. I’m proud to have had the opportunity to have met him, talked to him & shaken his great big hand! It was an honor.

      Comment by Kim | October 14, 2010 | Reply

  12. Jack Klugman used to room with Charlie while both were struggling actors in N.Y.,NY.

    According to him, Charlie did push-ups between milk cartons (for added range of motion, and resistence), and also rigged a rope in their backyard to climb. Climbing a rope is more difficult than chin-ups, or even pull-ups. I assume he did some form of sit-ups too. He also ran a few miles.

    Comment by DM | December 12, 2009 | Reply

  13. I remember reading that Bronson was 5’10” and weighted about 165lbs when he was in his mid-40’s. Which is taller than someone above speculated. He was my main motivation for getting and staying in shape. I started working out and watching what I eat when I was 16. I’m 52 now and still lift weights and do cardio for an hour and a half 4 or 5 times per week.

    He also took a ton of vitamin supplements and smoked heavily. Kind of a stark contradition if you think about it.

    In addition to the movies listed above, Death Hunt (with Lee Marvin) was another really good Bronson movie.

    Comment by Marco | September 3, 2010 | Reply

  14. Charles Bronson was and is one of my HERO’s
    growing up . THEY DON’T MAKE MEN LIKE HIM
    ANYMORE …………….

    Comment by SAM | April 26, 2011 | Reply

  15. A note to Steven – I expect that it would make things seem strange at first, but the majority of people I have spoken to reckon it is still worth trying.

    Comment by genetic denim | August 22, 2011 | Reply

  16. According to Michael Winner Charles Bronson was always training in between shooting and was apparently quite inventive using things like bungee cords etc. to exercise his arms and legs.

    If you look at films like the Mechanic when he was already quite old he was running and even working his fingers so that he could break a glass just by pushing his fingers inside – he used elastic bands to develop his finger muscles.

    It should be remembered that Charles Bronson was a miner, a boxer and had done other physical jobs in his life as well as being in the navy. You only have to look at how he held himself to realise how well muscled he was. Although unusual for the day there were other well built and athletic stars such as Yul Brynner (an ex circus trapeeze artist, hatha yoga expert etc.), Woody Strode (ex decathlon, football star etc., Ron Ely who was a swimmer and boby builder.

    Comment by kEITH pEIRSON | September 26, 2011 | Reply

  17. Bronson was 5’8″ tops and I can tell by looking (as a long-time boxer and trainer) he would have weighed high 150s in his prime (he had lean legs). His muscular definition was 95% genetics.

    Comment by matt bowen | February 21, 2012 | Reply

  18. BEST ARM DEVELOPMENT IN CHOPPING WOOD IN The Magnificent Seven

    Comment by paul nelson | June 29, 2012 | Reply

  19. best scene in the Magnificent Seven-Bronson chopping wood

    Comment by paul nelson | June 29, 2012 | Reply

  20. There is no doubt that one would have to be blind to not perceive Bronson as a major badass. His physical build was beyond impressive and he seemed like a humble man. I defy anyone on this blog to come up with a name of an actor in current entertainment that would hold a candle, with respect to aura, physical build and hard core macho man portrayal ability to Bronson. It simply, pathetically, is not politically correct. Yeah, I like Neeson but he is not in Bronson’s league. Hard Times was and is a “Top 10” entry on my badass films list. At least that’s my opinion.

    Comment by Walt | October 25, 2012 | Reply

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  23. The fellow that was in the movie Silverado and Urban Cowboy reminds me of Bronson….can’t recall his name but he was muscular with quite reserve…

    Comment by gary7gary russell | May 7, 2013 | Reply

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  25. 12 years ago I was working on a job with a man who was 61 at the time. We got to talking. He said had once seen Clint Eastwood and Charels Bronson in a bar somewhere in the mountains in California. (I don’t remember when he said this happened.) He said the two of them were sitting at a table and drinking and smoking. I asked, “Oh, did they smoke?” He answered, “Like trains. But, they smoked those little cigars….not cigarettes.”

    He said some drunk, biker guy at the bar said something to them about being, “Movie tough guys.” He said that Eastwood ignored him, but Bronson didn’t. When the guy walked over to the table, Bronson stood to meet him. He said the guy said something else (I forget what); and Bronson said, “I’ve been fighting assholes like you all my life.” Then Bronson hit him just one time and knocked him down. The bartender broke it up.

    I said, “It was probably a set up. Probably one of their stunt buddies.” But, the guy said he saw it, not 10 feet away, and that it was not fake.

    Comment by Sam | June 21, 2013 | Reply


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