The party line on Charles Bronson vehicle Love and Bullets is that it’s a stinker; it’s not. One of the better products of Lew Grade’s short-lived ITC label, it’s a film with a chequered history, and would almost certainly have fared better if John Huston has remained at the helm. But there’s quite an assemblage of talent here, starting with director Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke), writer Wendell Mayes (Death Wish) and Oscar-winning cinematographer Fred J Koenekamp, who captures various picture-postcard Swiss locations with some style.
Love and Bullets leans into Bronson’s lack of expression to good effect; as tough Phoenix cop Charlie Congers, he wears pretty much the same expression whether examining a corpse or ordering a cup of coffee. After the death of a colleague, Congers resolves to work with the FBI to bring down a Mafia kingpin Joe Bomposa (Rod Steiger) via Bomposa’s moll, a fast talking lady called Jackie Pruitt, played by Bronson’s soon-to-be-wife Jill Ireland. Pruitt is a fairly exaggerated character, as is the pursuing hit-man Vitorrio Farroni, played with trademark menace by Henry Silva. Congers tries to project Pruitt, dodging FBI and Mafia henchmen alike on a strong sample of trains, cars, funiculars and trams at various Swiss ski resorts.
If Love and Bullets wearied critics by being over-familiar in 1979, Rosenberg’s film feels much fresher now, with genuine chemistry between Bronson and Ireland (one of 15 films together), decent if implausible action (the paper-dart blow-pipe is laughable, but the car-jump from a moving train is still cool) and lots of fringe benefits including a cameo from British sitcom star Lorraine Chase. It’s not as violent as most Bronson pics, but also has a real downbeat, nihilistic stream behind the glamour; it’s a big movie that settles for being an effective B feature.