Bronson Cracks a Smile – Breakout (1975)

Robert Duvall is sentenced to 28 years in prison for murder, framed by his grandfather.  The only way to survive is to serve the time or escape and Duvall’s wife, Jill Ireland, enlists Charles Bronson to break him out.  After a couple of failed tries, Bronson gets it in his head to use a helicopter to fly into the prison courtyard and pick him up from there.  It could go right or it could go very wrong.

Now this film is no Great Escape or Papillon nor is it a Stalag 17 or even a Cool Hand Luke, but it is entertaining and in fact made more so by the humourous turn by star Charles Bronson.  There was a reason Bronson was nicknamed Old Stoneface as he often played everything pretty straight-laced and serious, though it also often had to do with the roles he chose.  You will notice that in his earlier work he would sometimes choose much happier characters, like in Kid Galahad and the Sandpiper, more so than he did in his later films, though he can be seen to crack a grin every now and then.

This film sees Bronson take on the role of a small aircraft pilot.  He is a bit of a con-artist, is friends with Randy Quaid and has an ex played by the beautiful Sheree North, who is all sex and come hither and is now living with the local sheriff.  When Jill Ireland comes knocking to hire Bronson to rescue her husband from prison, how can he say no?  Unless it was for free, he would not of course.  A man has to get paid does he not?  So over the course of the film we are privy to some hilarity between him and Quaid as well as North and turns the film from what could have been just a standard action film into a really enjoyable action-comedy.

Bronson is funny as well.  Actually funny and it shows that the man was more than just a two-dimensional actor.  Over his career he did play a lot of roles that could be labeled cookie-cutter as they were often very similar, but when he stretched his wings so to speak, he could really shine.  His comedic timing is perfect in the film and it never seems like he is forcing it, or as if he was trying too hard.  It was as if the role came second-nature to him and really, you would almost like to be his friend as he is so easy-going in this picture.

Randy Quaid had a small role, but he was good nonetheless.  It was quite funny to see him get dressed up as a woman and head off into a prison full of men, not knowing exactly what would happen.  It was also hilarious to see him getting continually duped by his best friend, Bronson, and brought a smile to the face nearly every time he was on screen.

As part of the central plot, Duvall had very little to do except literally sit in prison and wait for Bronson to get him out.  It was almost a waste of the man’s talents to be in the film, but at least he was in good company with the rest of the cast.  His wife, Jill Ireland, who was Bronson’s real-life partner in marriage, had a much larger role and you could see the chemistry more between those two than between her and Duvall.  She plays her part well as the distraught wife, being frail and vulnerable who then grows in confidence and strength as the film goes onwards.  It may not be the best role she has ever had, but whenever she plays against Bronson, she really seems to be just a little more radiant than when she does not.

Inspired by a novel that was based on a true story of an escape that happened the same way, it seems like something that might be impossible, or at least implausible.  The fact that it actually did happen is quite incredible.  When the prisoners were all swarming around the helicopter though, it is a wonder they did not try and take the pilot out or all try and hang on, thereby grounding it and getting everyone busted.  Of course, it could never happen in today’s society, even getting near to a prison much less inside of one.

If you do not like your Charles Bronson as a lighthearted everyman, there are always the Death Wish films, the Mechanic, Mr. Majestyk and many more should you like him the merciless killing machine.  But for something truly different from the man, then this is the film for you.  He did not often break the mold, but when he did, those films were often some of his best.  Any Bronson movie though, is a good movie.

4.5 out of 5

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