When Tough Guys Ruled the Cinema- Episode Five: Telefon
Charles Bronson (“The Mechanic,” “Murphy’s Law”) has to stop a terrorist whose greatest weapon is the telephone in the pulse pounding thriller, “Telefon.”
While it may not be the most enthralling premise for an action flick, it’s easily one of best of the ‘70s.
Bronson is magnificent in one of his greatest roles as Major Grigori Borzov, an agent for the KGB, who is sent on a secret mission to America to stop an international terrorist named Nicolai Dalchimsky (Donald Pleasence, “Halloween,” “Power Play”).
The KGB has set up 51 secret time bombs across the United States in case of a war. The bombs are actually initiated by former Russian agents that were hypnotized into believing they were U.S. citizens. One phone call and the reciting of a classic Robert Frost poem will set them off on their personal suicide missions.
Director Don Siegel (“The Beguiled,” “Dirty Harry”) showed a plethora of versatility in his career, whether he was working with Eastwood or Bronson, and knew how to utilize a star to create the best action experience for the audience. He always seemed to know what the audience wanted in a picture and usually provided just the right amount.
This film is no exception.
The other great addition behind the camera is Stirling Silliphant’s (“The Towering Inferno”) screenplay, which crackles with originality. The concept is nightmarish, but never a far cry from reality, with a similarity to films such as “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” with a dash of Cold War tension.
In front of the camera, Bronson delivers the type of performance we love and know him for, as the silent, no nonsense hero. Give him a gun and a mission and you can be sure that it will be taken care of – swiftly.
He also creates a character that doesn’t linger on the question what is the right thing to do is. He knows what it is and is confident. That makes for a wonderful film experience, because if an action star stops to think it can slow the momentum of the entire picture.
Bronson has stated in the past that the job of an actor is to use his body as much, if not more than, just the words. To him, acting came from the use of the entire body and here that fact is evident.
The only flaw in his performance is that he doesn’t have a Russian accent, but when a film delivers on this level, that can be ignored.
To match the good guy’s performance, you need an equally impressive actor to play the villain. Character actor Pleasence was the perfect man for the job. He creates a scary and complex character that is hell bent on destroying the United States. He is cruel and heartless and never for one second do you believe that he can be reasoned with.
His performance is on par with that of Alan Rickman in “Die Hard,” which is that of a truly frightening villain.
Now, all one needs to add is the beautiful and talented Lee Remick (“Days of Wine and Roses”) as Barbara. She is Borzov’s American contact when he arrives. “Are they going to be lovers or rivals” is a question the film constantly asks the audience.
You’ll have a good time trying to figure that out, as well as absorbing the comical ending that provides one of Bronson’s best film quotes ever.
Armed with dozens of heart-stopping moments and the toughness and candor Bronson is known for, “Telefon,” easily strikes a chord with tough guys everywhere, but its the sum of its parts, including the solid script that make it a special film.
So if you’re not into today’s current stream of loud, obnoxious action movies, then this “Telefon” is for you.