Tuesday, 1 November 2016

St Ives (1976)

J. Lee Thompson’s 1976 crime thriller St Ives is notable for featuring a fairly amiable Charles Bronson.

Bronson plays Raymond St Ives, a very successful crime reporter turned not-so-successful novelist. With an ex-wife bleeding him dry and a gambling habit to support St Ives jumps at the chance to earn $10,000. Wealthy eccentric Abner Procane (John Houseman) wants to buy back some journals that were stolen from him and he wants St Ives to act as the go-between. It seems like easy money but the exchange doesn’t go smoothly. And then people start getting killed and they keep getting killed.

Abner Procane is not quite what he seems to be and obviously those journals contain something very valuable. Something worth killing for.

The other members of Procane’s household are definitely a curious lot. Firstly there’s his live-in psychiatrist Dr Constable (Maximilian Schell). Like most psychiatrists he seems a good deal odder than his patient. And then there’s the beautiful Janet Whistler (Jacqueline Bisset). At first we assume she’s Procane’s mistress but she isn’t.

The number of corpses that seem to keep appearing wherever St Ives goes causes him a few problems with the police but they are never able to pin anything on him.

There’s a lot of money changing hands, some but not all of it directly related to those journals. There’s another much bigger crime behind all this than a simple burglary and St Ives seems likely to get caught right in the middle of it.

While there’s a bit of a film noir vibe to St Ives it’s really more of a caper movie. And despite the body count it’s a fairly lighthearted movie. This being the 1970s even what should have been a lighthearted caper movie has to have a lot of corpses.

Raymond St Ives is a tough guy but he’s a long way from the dark and brooding Bronson character of movies like Death Wish. He’s tough but only when he absolutely has to be and on the whole he’s a pretty easy-going kind of guy who regards the world with a certain degree of amusement. Bronson proves himself to be quite adept in the role, playing it with a bit of a twinkle in his eye. He was always more versatile than he was given credit for.

Jacqueline Bisset looks lovely but doesn’t quite have the acting chops to pull off a femme fatale role. She does her best and she’s OK but one can’t help thinking that a more accomplished actress could have done a lot more with this role.

John Houseman is splendid as the fundamentally gentle and romantic if not especially honest Procane. Maximilian Schell gives a gloriously overripe performance as the creepy psychiatrist. It’s always great to see Elisha Cook Jr in any movie even if his character does  spend much of the film sleeping. Look out for Jeff Goldblum in a tiny role as a hoodlum - exactly the same role he played in another Bronson flick, Death Wish, a couple of years earlier.

Thompson was an experienced and very competent director and does a fine job here.

The movie reaches its climax in a drive-in movie theatre. It’s great setting and it’s surprising that drive-ins weren’t featured more often in thrillers.

St Ives was paired with another Charles Bronson thriller, Telefon, in a double-header DVD release (with the two movies on one double-sided disc). Telefon is an excellent movie so it’s a pretty good value-for-money release.

St Ives is by no means a great movie but it’s solid entertainment and Bronson is as watchable and magnetic as ever. Buy the two-movie set for Telefon and give St Ives a watch as well.

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