1974’s Mr. Majestyk arrived during the most lucrative period of actor Charles Bronson’s career; a time when movie-goers attended cinemas to see actioners like Red Sun, Chato’s Land, Death Wish and The Mechanic. 1974 was most likely the best season of all for Bronson, as Mr. Majestyk and Death Wish were running in theatres simultaneously. While Mr. Majestyk lacks the social commentary of the vigilante actioner Death Wish, the film nonetheless packs a wallop and remains an enjoyable, competent showcase for Charles Bronson’s superhero cool. Most interesting about the movie is the fact that screenwriter Elmore Leonard managed to transform the subject of the mistreatment of migrant workers into a vehicle for Bronson’s violent heroics.
Bronson’s character here is the titular Mr. Majestyk; a solemn watermelon farmer in Colorado who does not take kindly to anyone messing around in his watermelon patch. With harvesting time upon him, Majestyk hires a crew of migrant workers to pick the watermelons, but a local weasel named Bobby Kopas (Paul Koslo) shows up demanding that Majestyk hire his men. After opening a can of whoop-ass on Kopas, Majestyk ends up in the local prison where he runs afoul with mafia hitman Frank Renda (Al Lettieri). Predictably, Renda is furious, and vows revenge on Majestyk. Of course, the enjoyment from here on in is watching Renda and Kopas bullying Majestyk, but them being unaware of the danger they’re wandering into by doing so.
Elmore Leonard penned the script for Mr. Majestyk, and the usual rhythms of his hard-bitten prose are evident throughout. No revenge/vigilante cliché was left unused here, too, with Majestyk’s best friend being mortally wounded, the love interest being placed in danger, the police being wholly incompetent, etc. The list goes on. Fortunately, there’s a welcome amount of tongue-in-cheek humour within the film, and plenty of opportunities for Bronson to showcase the capabilities of his usual “don’t fuck with me” screen persona. It’s enough to trigger a few big dumb grins from time to time. Thankfully, too, the filmmaking is of a high standard here; director Richard Fleischer proved competent at handling moments of tension in particular. Coming from the heyday of the 1970s, the action is low-tech by contemporary standards but the violence packs a realistic punch. The climactic shootout is a humdinger, and there are some impressive chase scenes as well. Old school truly is the best school.
Mr. Majestyk additionally proves that a Charles Bronson revenge movie can be made about practically anything. In the Death Wish movies, Bronson avenged the death of loved ones. In Mr. Majestyk, Bronson avenges the death of his watermelon crop. There is even a scene depicting a bunch of gunmen callously blowing holes in a massive watermelon pile. When Bronson sees that his melons have been blown to smithereens, he emotes more than he did in all of the Death Wish movies combined. Sure, he merely lowers his head in anger and clenches his fist, but, considering Bronson’s usual acting standard, this moment represents Laurence Olivier-type shit. As for the rest of his performance, Bronson played Majestyk with his usual quiet, stoic toughness, and his line delivery is frequently contrived. Like John Wayne, however, Bronson’s fans attended his movies to enjoy his badass screen presence, and Mr. Majestyk delivers in this respect. However, it’s Al Lettieri as Frank Renda who truly stands out here. Renda is a vicious brute, and it’s easy to root against him.
The only real problem with Mr. Majestyk is that the set-up is too sluggish and laborious. If the movie was solely about Majestyk fending people off of his land, it would have been far simpler, more focused and all-round superior. Additionally, aside from pacing issues, Mr. Majestyk never truly stands out in any aspect; it’s just an enjoyable, by-the-numbers action movie you will likely forget about a few days after watching. Nevertheless, it’s a fun watch, and fans of Charles Bronson cannot afford to miss it.