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ST. IVES (1976) ** ½

In the wake of Chinatown’s success, Hollywood went detective crazy.  When they weren’t remaking movies old detective movies like Farewell My Lovely, they were doing flicks that channeled the detective films of the 30’s and 40.  St. Ives is such a film.  The main character isn’t exactly a detective but he’s involved in a case that isn’t too far removed from the sort of predicament Phillip Marlowe frequently found himself in. 

 

St. Ives (Charles Bronson) is a crime reporter turned author who is hired by a millionaire (John Houseman) to act as a go-between to retrieve some stolen ledgers.  Every time he tries to make the drop-off though, someone winds up dead and St. Ives is caught (literally) holding the bag.  St. Ives has to think on his feet and figure out who’s bumping everyone off before he becomes the next victim.

 

St. Ives isn’t entirely successful but it’s peppered with enough good moments that help keep it afloat.  I think my favorite bit came when St. Ives goes to a hotel desk clerk with his wallet in hand like he’s going to bribe him for information.  Then once the guy gives up the info, St. Ives just coolly puts his wallet away without paying him.

 

Very few people could pull off a little scene like this one and turn it into a nice character moment.  Charles Bronson is one of them.  Since Charlie B. is a man of few words, he can make small gestures seem bigger than life and thoroughly badass.  The Bronson persona fits the detective mold like an old (gum)shoe and it’s a shame he didn’t make more flicks like this.

 

The supporting cast is equally good.  Jacqueline Bisset makes for a foxy femme fatale and Houseman has a number of good scenes.  Then there are the up-and-coming co-stars such as Robert Englund and Jeff Goldblum who are able to do a lot with their miniscule roles.  I particularly got a kick out of seeing Bronson finally getting revenge on Goldblum for killing his wife and raping his daughter in Death Wish.

 

The film suffers greatly from several lapses in logic.  Like why would the millionaire hire St. Ives, an unemployed writer to be a bag man for a big money drop-off?  Probably because if he didn’t; we wouldn’t have a movie.  If you can get past that little bit of contrivance, you’ll enjoy the flick.  The stolen ledgers don’t really matter anyway.  They only act as the MacGuffin and it’s detrimental to think of them as anything else.  (If it makes you happy, just imagine they’re a Maltese Falcon or something.)

 

Director J. Lee (Death Wish 4:  The Crackdown) Thompson also allows the film to get bogged down at several junctures.  The lulls in the action aside, the movie isn’t about the meat; it’s about the marinade.  And Thompson does a good job at creating a moody film noir, despite the fact that the flick is so brightly photographed.  Besides, no matter what shortcomings a film may have, I’ve got to like any flick that’s centerpiece dramatic moment happens at a drive-in.

 

Naturally, Bronson gets the best line of the movie when he says, “Mornings are for getting over the night before!”

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