By: Anthony Francis
When Action Movies Had Balls!
10 to Midnight- 1983
Written by William Roberts/ Directed by J. Lee Thompson
10 to Midnight is one of the best cop films of its decade and the best of Bronson’s later career efforts during his time at Cannon Films. It is a great cop thriller and a great serial killer film.
The plot is simple as can be. A sadistic killer of women is on the loose and Bronson catches the case. He is paired with a younger cop played by Andrew Stevens. They butt heads on police procedure as Stevens wants to play it by the book all the way. The killer goes after Bronson’s daughter, so damn the rules as Bronson gets tough.
There are a couple of tender moments with his daughter while William Roberts’ screenplay allows a couple of moments that poke fun at Bronson’s tough guy persona. The best example being when he mistakes a quiche for a slice of pie. When informed it is quiche, Bronson abruptly puts it back. Real men, they just don’t.
What separates this film from the hundreds of “cop chases killer” films from the Eighties is the fact that, within it, exists a truly fine performance from Charles Bronson. Of course, the actor is still his tough self but there is a heart to his character. He is a man who breaks rules to catch a killer but does so in the name of saving lives. His character knows the parents of one of the victims and he has a daughter of his own that he wishes to keep safe.
J. Lee Thompson’s direction is crisp and no-nonsense. This is a director who knows his way around crafting an exciting film, having helmed such classics as the original Cape Fear, The Guns of Navarone, and the final two (and quite undervalued) Planet of the Apes films. The filmmaker and his star also collaborated on the great Seventies films The White Buffalo and St. Ives.
One aspect of 10 to Midnight that works in its favor is the complete dedication to being as hardcore sleazy and brutal as it can be. Gene Davis (giving what should havebeen a star making performance!) is fantastic as the killer, Warren Stacey.
Stacey has been humiliated by too many women in his life and now he is killing them. To do so, he gets completely naked and brutally stabs them over and over with a noticeably big knife. The ultimate domination for an oft scorned would be Romeo. Stacey does not understand women nor does he have the social skills to make any kind of connection. The character resembles an aloof pseudo-Travis Bickle but he is no savior. Warren Stacey is a violent psychopath and Davis strikes all the right notes in his performance.
Director Thompson shows all the killings in gruesome, bloody, detail and most of the time the victims are nude.
Cannon Studios required the filmmakers to show as much nudity as they could muster from their actresses to meet the demands of the kind of audience that went to these types of films. Thompson certainly obliged and the film was criticized for its exploitation. Whether it hurts of helps the film is up to the viewer.
Bronson decides to “stop at nothing” to put this killer behind bars. The police bring Stacey in twice but can never get any tangible evidence, so he is let go each time. That isn’t good enough for Bronson. He has a daughter and there is a psycho out there killing women so he decides to stop this creep in his own way, going so far as to plant evidence on the killer’s clothes that will link him to one of the murders. When confronted about it later he confesses to it and says the great line, ” forget what’s legal. Do what’s right!”
That line would not fly with today’s PC audiences. Our modern screen heroes are not the anti-heroes we grew up on and movie police of today’s Hollywood would never cross the line to get their man. The audience, the studio, and today’s society would not allow it.
People would jump all over this film today. With its extremely brutal violence towards women, the “its okay to break the law to do what is inherently right” mantra, and its right wing take on violence, this is a film very much of its time.
Roger Ebert gave this the dreaded zero stars, calling it “a scummy sewer of a movie.” and claimed it was the worst film of both Bronson and J. Lee Thompson’s careers. I feel he was way off on his assessment and unfair to the film.
10 to Midnight is extremely entertaining from start to finish. There are many entertaining moments in this firecracker of a film. It starts with a bang during a short pre credits sequence where Bronson, talking to a reporter, says “I’m not a nice person. I’m a mean, selfish, son of a bitch. I know you want a story, but I want a killer and what I want comes first.” Boom! Credits and music. It is a great way to start!
And what a score! Robert O. Ragland mixes pounding guitar riffs with tightly wound orchestrations that amp upthe film’s suspense.
From the very beginning we are thrust into a dark and violent world for 90 or so minutes. J. Lee Thompson and Charles Bronson are brutal in their quest to entertain here and they succeed.
The two would go on to make five more films together for the great Cannon studios. A couple of them are particularly good but 10 to Midnight works on all levels and stands as their most successful collaboration during the 1980s.
It is cop thriller mixed with 80s slasher film and both pieces work extremely well.
10 to Midnight is one of the Charles Bronson films and certainly one of the ballsiest of them all. There is nomessage in this one. The killer is there to be evil and kill. Bronson is there to talk tough and shoot. Perfection! This is pure entertainment.
With good supporting performances from Lisa Eilbacher, Wilford Brimley, Geoffrey Lewis, and the undervalued Robert F. Lyons, this film is a violent and exciting 80s classic!
People would picket this film today. I like that.
About The Author: A long-time film connoisseur and son to a father who ran a movie theater, Anthony Francis rightfully grew up to be a journalist, filmmaker, writer, and film reviewer. His latest reviews/interviews/articles can be found at screencomment.com