10 To Midnight (1983)

JANUARY 21, 2019


Back in 2010, I had planned to make 10 To Midnight my movie for the day via a midnight screening at the New Bev, but the film (or projector itself? Can't remember) broke and I didn't get to see how it ended. It wasn't available to rent at the time (and I had already started trying to pare my collection down), so I had to wait until another screening happened, but when it did something came up and I couldn't make it at all. So now it's been so long that I couldn't even really remember the part I had seen or where I left off; watching via the new Scream Factory blu-ray was pretty much like seeing the film for the first time. Incidentally, I also revisited Predators this week for my BMD column; it was 2010 where I had my one viewing of that film and that too jogged almost no memories. Long story short, it seems my memory only goes back (at most) eight or nine years now, so maybe I can just start re-reviewing all the movies here since I won't remember any of them.

Anyway, this is a delightfully odd little movie. It's from Golan and Globus, and was somewhat hastily made after the success of Death Wish II prompted the Cannon gents to stay in the Charles Bronson business, but what they made wasn't exactly a "Charles Bronson movie". But if you're an astute movie viewer you can probably tell that just from watching the trailer, as they use the same shot of him firing his gun like six times because it's the only shot he fires in the entire film. See, there's only one bad guy in the plot, and he obviously can't be killed until the very end, so there's not much opportunity for Paul Kersey-esque action beats, and instead Bronson just spends most of the movie bickering with his partner and - in the second half - taunting the killer in order to get him to screw up.

Why does he need to do that, you ask? Well I'll tell you - it's because the killer is too damn good at covering his tracks, but since Bronson is blessed with Bronsonian skills, he just KNOWS the guy is the killer but lacks the hard evidence needed to put him away. So he plants some, but screws up because of all the things he could have done, he opts to douse some of the victim's blood on the killer's clothes - which couldn't possibly be legit because our guy strips to his birthday suit when he commits his crimes. Actor Gene Davis should have won a bravest actor of the year award for sure, because while they usually obscure his junk we can tell perfectly well that he's running around in the woods, around the sets, and even on city streets with the thing dangling around where it could be easily mangled if he tripped or zigged when he should have zagged. So anyway, Bronson has to admit he planted the evidence, and gets fired while the guy goes free.

So for the rest of the movie we watch these two guys antagonize each other - Bronson follows him around to make sure he doesn't do anything, and in turn the killer calls him up and leaves vague threats. Caught in the middle are Bronson's daughter (the incredibly charming Lisa Eilbacher) and his younger partner, McCann (Andrew Stevens) who is also involved with the daughter but keeps blowing her off for reasons I can't quite follow. The film's a bit long for its type, running over an hour and forty minutes when 85 would have done just fine, but it rarely bores and switches gears so many times it's hard to even notice. It's a procedural! It's a serial killer thriller! It's a courtroom drama! It's a buddy cop movie! Hell if they spent a little more time on it it could even count as a character study, since Eilbacher's character has a rocky relationship with her dad on account of his commitment to policework, yet pursues Stevens' character hard, possibly working through some daddy issues.

Alas, we don't get much time with that sort of thing, because director J. Lee Thompson is happy to cut back to Davis doing his thing. He's got a pretty great alibi for the opening kill sequence - he goes to a movie, makes his presence known to a pair of girls, talks to the box office clerk, etc. before sneaking out of the bathroom window and killing a woman. He then returns to the movie (the Aero theater in Santa Monica, to be exact) and again bugs the same girls, so when he is inevitably brought in for questioning, they are located and confirm that he was at the movies during the time of the murder. But after that we rarely see that much cunning - he does something similar with a hooker in the film's final reel, but naturally Bronson's on to him by then so he doesn't get a chance to put the alibi to use, and in between he's mostly just making creepy phone calls (with a bad Mexican accent for "good" measure) and going about his day, where he seems to be the only male employee in an office full of women who rightfully hate him.

In other words, the actual plot/narrative thrust kind of meanders and isn't particularly interesting, but all the weird little details make the movie a blast. You get Bronson angrily presenting a sex toy for men (called an "Acu-suck" - use your imagination), Bronson mocking a guy for being a virgin (actually that's the same scene), Bryan Cranston's brother as a goofy party attendee, Carmen "Reverend Sayer" Filpi as the world's least effective hotel clerk, and - if you're a Los Angeles resident or aficionado - lots and lots of vintage scenery, including the reveal that the Aero hasn't really changed much in 35 years even though the area around it is nearly unrecognizable. Ditto the LA Courthouse, which I recognized instantly despite not having been there for ten years (for jury duty, don't get too excited). Less fun but still interesting - it pretty much boils down to a guy killing women because they won't go out with him, which is still a huge (bigger?) problem today, and unfortunately in the real world we don't have Charles Bronson risking their career to keep these clowns off the street. Some old movies have a weird charm because we see things that aren't really an issue anymore; it's a bummer this can't join that crowd.

Scream's Blu-ray comes with a few interviews and a pair of commentaries. One has a guy I can't stand so I skipped that one, but the other, by Paul Talbott (author of two books on Bronson) is chock full of fun info about the film's production and stars, including the reveal - one I could have guessed myself - that the film's opening scene with Bronson was not intended to be the film's opener, but moved up because the producers were afraid that audiences wouldn't like having to wait a whole ten minutes to see Bronson. So the film opens with this dull scene of him typing out a report, then cuts to a murder, then we get a traditional introduction to the actor when he comes to investigate. It's a bit of a dry listen since Talbott is by himself and reading from notes, so it can be a bit hard to stay focused on, but he goes all out - noting car models, street locations, the wardrobe selections, the whole nine yards. He also offers script passages of scenes that didn't make it for one reason or another, so it's a highly recommended listen if you're a fan. Stevens' interview is also pretty fun; he relates a great anecdote about getting the notoriously quiet Bronson to open up and shoot the breeze with him, clearly (rightfully) proud of his accomplishment.

So it's a pretty nice release for the sort of movie that fans would be happy to just finally be able to own on high def, which is the sort of thing Scream Factory excels at. I'm still on the fence about keeping it, however; it's a fun movie but not one I'm likely to watch over and over, since most of its charm stems from the out of nowhere wacky moments as opposed to its compelling characters or crafty narrative. In fact, I suspect the film's reputation is largely due to how the audience gets sent out of the theater; I won't spoil the particulars, but I will say I'll never forgive myself for missing out on that rescheduled screening and losing out on the chance to watch it unfold with a crowd. I laughed and cheered by myself *at home*, so with the energy of the crowd I might have started crowd surfing or something, it was just that great. Even if the rest of the movie was junk it'd be worth watching for that moment alone, so enjoy!

What say you?


  1. I love this little slice of sleaze!

  2. The first time I saw this, I laughed at the villain's total lack of depth or any redeeming or interesting characteristics. It was kinda like that scene in The Simpsons where Homer tells Bart nobody's as evil as the McBain villain IRL right before it cuts to Mr. Burns.

    The movie itself is pretty decent. I'm a slasher die-hard, so those elements are what brought me in, but it's not really fun to watch since the villain's such a piece of shit. Mostly, it was the odder bits that kept me with it, like that sex toy scene(I could only think of the Naked Gun 2 & 1/2).


Movie & TV Show Preview Widget