|Review||10 to Midnight (1983)||Director||J. Lee Thompson|
|Starring||Charles Bronson, Lisa Eilbacher, Andre Stevens, Gene Davis, Geoffrey Lewis, Wilford Brimley and Rober F. Lyons|
“You go in that courtroom and forget what’s legal and do what’s right!” – Leo Kessler
Warren Stacy (Gene Davis) is a disturbed young man who goes about killing women who he can’t make it with. And he does it while nude! And he’s not stupid; concocting solid alibis while he goes about his business and the police is stumped.
Attending the funeral of his latest victim; Stacy soon finds himself being questioned by Detective Leo Kessler (Charles Bronson) and his new partner Paul (Andrew Stevens). Kessler becomes so convinced that Stacy is guilty and once the perpetrator sets his sights on Leo’s daughter Laurie (Lisa Eilbacher) the hard-nosed detective plants evidence to make sure he’s arrested and tried for murder.
Mostly a thriller but seriously dabbling in the slasher genre; “10 to Midnight” is a crackerjack flick that’s one of Bronson’s best 80’s efforts. He’s also allowed some room to give a performance and the veteran actor has a commanding presence and makes Leo a compelling character despite some very questionable behaviour.
In the 70’s and 80’s there were a lot of fed up people criticizing how the legal system protected the perpetrators with endless loopholes and pleas of insanity and many films responded with characters and stories that addressed the matter directly. Bronson became a vigilante legend when he portrayed Paul Kersey in the “Death Wish” (1974-1994) series and Dirty Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) became an icon as the cop who bent the law to punish the guilty party. These are just two examples but there were a lot of vigilante themed movies in these years.
“10 to Midnight” really blends together a bit of Paul Kersey with Dirty Harry as Leo has no qualms with framing Stacy as he knows he’s guilty but he can’t connect the dots properly. But he isn’t pushed to this breaking point (professionally at least) until he fears for his daughter’s life.
But there’s a thinking man’s dilemma in the film in that Leo’s partner is unwilling to bend the law once he finds out about his actions. Leo is forced to admit what he’s done; Leo gets fired and Stacy is set free. That sets the tone for the final showdown as Leo ultimately pursues Stacy which makes the crazy man go after Laurie and all ends in bloody fashion.
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The film is well written and everybody performs well (especially Bronson and Davis) but the real standout here is how the film embraces the exploitative elements and goes for broke with nudity and violence. There’s some real sleaze here with visuals and language and it’s all expertly directed by Jack-of-All-Trades British director J. Lee Thompson. His biggest achievement will always be “Guns of Navarone” (1961) but the prolific director really took a shine to the horror genre late in the game. His film before this one was the terminally weird but nonetheless fascinating “Happy Birthday To Me” (1981) which starred veteran actor Glenn Ford and it displayed well how A-list actors and directors could really elevate trashy material and give it a polished look. Not that “10 to Midnight” should be directly compared to “Happy Birthday to Me” as it’s a much better written movie but the fundamentals are there. Thompson obviously knows how to stage violent set pieces, crack up the tension and get a little bit more out of Bronson as he was fairly stone faced in most of his 80’s efforts.
The ethical dilemma of cops vs. crooks and how far they should go in getting them behind bars or six feet under is always a good one for the movies and…
…Leo’s fate after killing Stacy in the street in front of dozens of cops is left unresolved and that’s for the best. For instance; I wanted Leo to get a medal but my fiancée thought he should be jailed. Can’t please everybody!
-- No spoiler here --
In the end; “10 to Midnight” is a tight thriller. Thought provoking, sleazy, bloody, with lots a nudity and a terrific Bronson performance. What more could a Cult-film lover want for an evening’s viewing!