Every good writer turns out an occasional flop, which is exactly the kind of film Wendell Mayes conceived as 'Love and Bullets.' By 1979, Mayes was at the end of a prolific career in which he wrote screenplays for three Otto Preminger films (including 'Anatomy of a Murder'), Ronald Neame's blockbuster 'The Poseidon Adventure,' and the adaptation of 'Death Wish.' His next-to-last film credit, however, was this dull, meandering chase story from Lew Grade's ITC Entertainment firm that he co-wrote with John Melson, a scribe only noted for 1965's 'Battle of the Bulge.'
'Love and Bullets' was one in a series of disappointing roles for Charles Bronson as the 1970s closed. Bronson was a favorite actor of Sir Lew Grade, but their collaboration proved mostly a failure. While 'Love and Bullets' and 'Borderline' made chump change at the box office, Bronson dropped out of the entertaining 'Firepower' and paired up with director J. Lee Thompson for the sleazy political thriller 'The Evil That Men Do.' 'Love and Bullets' is an ordinary crime film, casting Bronson as a police lieutenant, his wife Jill Ireland as a damsel in distress, and Rod Steiger as a European-based Mafioso. While it is impossible to figure out how much of Mayes's work actually reached the film, 'Love and Bullets' feels like an incomplete project, with most of its 103-minute run time following Bronson and Ireland across the Swiss Alps. Very little happens to keep a viewer interested and the movie feels much longer than it actually is.
Bronson plays Charlie Congers, an Arizona police lieutenant who is asked by the FBI to track down Jackie Pruit (Ireland), a Southern call girl. Pruit is the devoted lover of mob boss Joe Bomposa (Steiger), who rules from his Swiss villa. The feds believe that Pruit knows everything about Bomposa's operations in the U.S. and can be forced to testify against him if returned to the country. Congers, having seen a police officer murdered by Bomposa's drug ring, agrees to the job and gets sucked into a cat-and-mouse game with Bomposa and Vittorio Farroni (Henry Silva), an assassin hired to kill Pruit before she tattles. The film is a standard chase drama; Bronson engages in hand-to-hand combat, throws an axe, and fashions a dart gun from the rod of a floor lamp.
Considering the amount of talent that Wendell Mayes had, this plot is incredibly underdeveloped; for Bronson addicts, it can be a trying experience. There are occasional action scenes and your odd explosion, but we are mostly treated to Bronson and Ireland trudging across snowcaps and riding on trains, dragged out even further by Stuart Rosenberg's horrendous pacing and constant dissolves from one scene to the next. Rosenberg, who directed 'Cool Hand Luke' and replaced John Huston on this film, either had no idea of how to develop the material or completely misfired in trying to give it life. The film has underlying humor that works at times, but is mostly centered on Jill Ireland's character, which is one of the most annoying I've ever seen.
Like Love and Bullets' scriptwriting, its actors are deep in talent but underutilized. Charles Bronson gives the only decent performance, simply because he's the lead actor and has more to work with. Ireland portrays a blonde, Southern bubblehead who dons wigs and passes her time by making dolls; her character is grating and as a fan of Ireland, I resent the fact that she is made so unlikable in this film. Ireland also falls conveniently in love with Bronson during the movie's second half and it doesn't look very convincing. Rod Steiger bombs as a stuttering Mafioso, rarely talking below a yell and undergoing his grammar school audition for 'The Untouchables.' Henry Silva and Paul Koslo play decent smaller roles but never supply enough menace for a viewer to care about them. The only element that truly stands out is breathtaking photography by Fred Koenekamp and Anthony Richmond, which captures the Swiss Alps' enveloping qualities. Lalo Schifrin, known for his sleek music throughout the 1970s, disposes of 'wakka-chicka' and uses a more conventional style that is pleasing, but at times mushy.
While Bronson is very likable, 'Love and Bullets' feels like a project that was abandoned before ending up in ITC's hands as a last resort. Compared to other gems like 'Death Wish,' 'The Mechanic,' 'Hard Times,' and 'Breakout,' 'Love and Bullets' easily ranks as one of Bronson's more forgettable credits. Bronson, unfortunately, would step down from these glossier projects to begin his run at the Cannon Group, starring in workmanlike films like 'Death Wish II,' '10 to Midnight,' and 'Murphy's Law.' Jill Ireland maintained her presence in Bronson's films until dying of cancer in 1990. Stuart Rosenberg later directed the Robert Redford vehicle 'Brubaker' in 1980 and 'My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys' in 1991.
At the moment, 'Love and Bullets' is only available in VHS copy on the Internet and, considering its dubious place on Bronson's résumé, may take a while to reach DVD. CBS/FOX Video retailed a VHS tape with good color and mediocre sound in 1989. The 'big box' presentation ruins all of the scenery that was intended for theaters, but these same images can be seen in a travel guide or by hopping on a plane to Europe. Unless you're a Bronson die-hard or admire his relationship with Jill Ireland, 'Love and Bullets' is a negligible film that only deserves a rare showing on late-night TV.
* ½ out of 4
Roving Reviewer - www.geocities.com/paul_johnr