Charles Bronson, a name that carries considerable weight, is an actor who has starred in countless action classics. I consider myself a movie fanatic, so I presume I’ve committed some form of blasphemy by admitting that this is my very first Charles Bronson film. I know; it’s pretty ludicrous that I haven’t seen these timeless classics. If Richard Fleischer’s Mr. Majestyk is any indication of Bronson’s existing canon, I can safely say that I am altogether hooked. Bronson truly deserves his iconic status as an action hero.

Bronson plays Victor Majestyk, a Vietnam veteran who chose a peaceful lifestyle of farming after his service. He spends his days producing the plumpest, juiciest melons you ever laid your eyes on and his nights salting his beers to taste. He wears cowboy boots, a driver’s cap, and a denim jacket. He demands little attention, but that is the way he wants it. He’s perfectly happy with his placid lifestyle, finally rid of his violent past. He even meets a beauty named Nancy (Linda Cristal) to lend a helping hand on his farm. What could go wrong?

The action comes fast and brings with it a nasty bite. Bobby Kopas (Paul Koslo), a young member of an extortion racket, sits atop his car with a shotgun placed gently on his lap. His demands are simple: “Replace your workers with mine. Period.” Bronson says no and kindly asks them to leave his land. Of course Bobby refuses. If only he knew better, then maybe his nose wouldn’t be bleeding and the horn atop his car wouldn’t be shot to bits. Next time, he’ll listen to what he’s told, I’m sure.

Majestyk is taken into custody on charges of assault and is to be transported to the nearest prison while he awaits trial. It’s only convenient, then, that the bus he’s on is carrying an infamous mobster named Frank Renda (Al Lettieri), who so happens to affiliate himself with the hapless Bobby. I underestimated Bobby, though, as he and his team of thugs orchestrate an explosive hijacking. They nearly capture Frank, but Majestyk is just too cunning. He makes off with the bus (not before releasing the injured cops, of course) and Frank, taking matters into his own hands. This is a fantastic set piece filled with numerous explosions, impressive stunt driving, and high tension. It whet my appetite, for lack of a better term. I was lucky because there were plenty more thrills to be had.

Frank eventually escapes and re-teams with his mob. Enraged, he demands Bobby to drop the charges against Majestyk so he can have him all for himself. What follows is a nonstop onslaught of thrills, suspense, and even a soapy romance. The plot really doesn’t matter so much in pulpy medium like this as does breathless action and gritty characters, and this film has it in spades. Al Lettieri is unabashedly evil as Frank and inflicts damage on almost everything that lay before him. He is a controlled chaos, a sociopath who utilizes his craze to fuel his actions. Bronson is reliably fantastic as Majestyk, lending his character the only depth it really needs: A gun, a deadpan stare, and a wit that gives him a fighting chance. Supporting characters such as Nancy and Mr. Mendoza (Alejandro Rey) as the leading farmhand perform nicely, filling their roles as love interest and punching bag, respectively.

My favorite line in the film (which, by the way, was written by Elmore Leonard, a prolific scribe) was “I’ve got a melon to pick with this guy,” uttered by Frank. It’s such an obvious characterization, but it’s part of what makes this film so entertaining to watch. It’s a cookie-cutter story that is almost impossible not to predict, but it was made with such polish and care that I can’t imagine a viewer not finding something to enjoy.

Kyle Kogan is a film critic living in Chicago.

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