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Director: J Lee Thompson
Writers: William Roberts, J Lee Thompson
Cast: Charles Bronson, Lisa Eilbacher, Andrew Stevens
Length: 101 mins
Label: Twilight Time
Release Date: September 8, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0
Subtitles: English SDH
- Audio Commentary with producer Pancho Kohner and casting director John Crowther, moderated by historian David Del Valle.
- Isolated Film Score
- Original Trailer
- Radio Spots
In 1982 — just three years after the Israeli-born cousins and film producers Menahem Golan and Yoran Globus purchased Cannon from Dennis Friedland and Chris Dewey and began their work turning it into one of the most ambitious (if not flawed) alternatives to the Hollywood studio system — Golan and Globus set forth their plans to revitalize one of the proceeding decade’s most memorable films Death Wish. The film’s star, Charles Bronson, was offered an impressive 1.5 million dollars to reprise his role as the tragic vigilante Paul Kersey and the original director, Michael Winner, was tagged to once again to direct. The film, which was a significant and more violent deviation from the original film, was nonetheless a hit for Cannon and the company was quick to follow up the success with more Bronson titles. While it wouldn’t be another three years before Bronson would once again play Kersey, Cannon began work on a similarly themed, albeit very different vehicle the following year. In typical Cannon form, the film which was to be called 10 to Midnight, was brought to the Cannes marketplace to be sold prior to a script being penned but that wasn’t important…they had their star, they had their title, and they had their poster: the rest would come later.
10 to Midnight was adapted from a script called Bloody Sunday written by William Roberts. The film is loosely based on the real life case of Richard Speck, who raped and murdered eight nurses in 1966, although there is evidence that it is also, in part, modeled after Ted Bundy. The film features the stoic Bronson as the Los Angeles detective Leo Kessler. When a series of young women are found viciously slained, Kessler is forced to take on a younger partner Paul McAnn (Andrew Stevens) in order to quickly solve the case. When one of the victims leads Kessler and McAnn to a young, socially dysfunctional yet handsome office repairman named Warren Stacy (Gene Davis), their case seems on the verge of closing. However, when a series of mishaps finds Stacy back on the streets, Kessler is forced to take matters into his own hands.
Although they do share many similarities, one of the main differences between Death Wish II and 10 to Midnight comes with the depiction of violence. While its director, J Lee Thompson, was never known for a strong stylistic sensibility, 10 to Midnight may be his most artistically crafted film. It is also a good bit sleazier than the average Thompson fair, but in comparison to Winner’s work, it feels almost tastefully handled. Unlike Winner, Thompson never seems to revel in the on-screen violence, its nothing more than a fact of the film. It’s not a needlessly cruel film either, although Stacy is quite a cruel, maniacal figure. And yet, the film has still manages to utter similar message as Death Wish (quite literally, with Bronson spouting off in one scene, “The way the law protects these maggots out there, you’d think they were endangered”).The film sets itself up beautifully with its open. Kessler sits behind his typewriter, systematically chomping away at its keys using only the index finger of both hands while casually all that seem eager to waste his time. His face looks to be carved from the hardest stone but his disproportionately small eyes seem to tell a different story. The image painted shows us that this isn’t a man fit for office work. He is a man of action, a man of the streets but a man with a heart. Over the course of the film, Thompson and Bronson continually repose this question of Kessler’s role in the system, all the way until the film’s brutal but honest conclusion.
Bronson was not an actor known for unyielding performances but he is one that, no matter what the role was cast in, delivered an undeniable presence on screen that could be felt if not always understood. 10 to Midnight is not the exception to this rule, but Thompson (by that point, already a frequent collaborator of Bronson’s) seems to understand how to play to his strengths. 10 to Midnight is quite possibly Bronson’s best performance with Cannon, even rivaling some of his more iconic work outside the studio with directors like Sergio Leone and John Sturges.
10 to Midnight is surprisingly not as dated as one may imagine. There are elements that work a bit less — the big one being the strange homosexual undertones of Stacy —, but, overall, this remains a well-crafted and highly entertaining view. What probably works the best is the way that Thompson (aided by Roberts’s script) blends the genres of police procedural, vigilante thriller, and slasher together. To Thompson’s credit, the array of stylistic tendencies works well in conjunction with each other. While the slasher story is subverted by the early reveal of Stacy as the killer — something not necessarily foreign but less common in the genre — Thompson’s prior work on Happy Birthday to Me seems to be heavily reflected on this work, and that’s for the best.
The 1.85:1 print has been finely preserved by MGM and transferred for this Blu-ray release. Despite a great deal of the film occurring at night or in drab interiors, including the film’s conclusion, the image maintains a strong clarity that is only sometimes compromised but no major instances of compression artifacts or dirt, scratches, or decay are witnessed. Grain is finely intact with no evidence of digital tinkering at play. At times, the image looks a bit soft but it would seem as if this is a reflection of the photography and not a misstep in the transfer. The colors are faithful and the image looks fantastic in some of the brighter shots. All in all, the modest but not exhaustive effort to maintain the film by MGM has been exceptionally presented on Blu-ray for the first time ever by Twilight Time.
Like the video elements, the audio elements presented in this disc are well handled. The score by Robert O. Ragland, while not a rousing effort, is given enough depth to make an impact. Likewise, the dialogue and sound effects are well mixed and clear. The mix does leave a bit to be desired in terms of depth, but all-in-all offers a perfectly acceptable presentation of the aural elements, with no sign of deterioration or distortion in the track along the way.
Anyone familiar with the Twilight Time line will know not to expect a great deal of supplementary features with their releases. The company tends to place their focus more on just getting films otherwise overlooked on the medium. For this release we get another, of course, fine essay by their resident writer and historian, Julie Kirgo, championing the film’s enigmatic spirit and charm. In addition, there is a welcomed commentary track with producer Pancho Kohner and casting director John Crowther, which is moderated by Film Historian David Del Valle (Cinefantastique, Fangoria, Video Watchdog). Rounding out the package, there are radio spots, an isolated film score (composed by Cannon-regular Robert O. Ragland), and the original theatrical trailer.
J Lee Thompson directs quite possibly one of his finest films with 10 to Midnight. It’s stylish without being flashy and features a modest but strong performance by Bronson — really all that you can expect from the late actor. The mixture of genres works strongly in the film’s benefit and makes its one that will work for a wide range of genre and film fans. Perhaps it is not as iconic as some of the Death Wish titles but it is arguably a much better title overall, so it’s a pleasure to see Twilight Time devote the effort towards finally getting this lesser-appreciated film on the format. For its introduction to Blu-ray, it could do a hell of a lot worse.