Thursday, August 19, 2010

RED SUN (1971) I'D FRANKLY NEVER HEARD OF. You know the situation: you're watching something on TV and it ends but you leave the channel unchanged until something else begins. This is what happened to me on one of those countless movie cable channels. The movie started -- RED SUN comes on the screen -- OK it looks like a western. The credits begin and it's starring Charles Bronson. OK, I thought. The next name on the screen is Ursula Andress. A little unexpected, I thought, but whatever. The next name on the screen was then Toshiro Mifune. WHAT?!?!?!?!!!!! Toshiro Mifune?!?!?!?! Star of countless classic Akira Kurosawa films not the least of which was SEVEN SAMURAI which was remade as (*surprise*) THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN with (wait for it) Charles Bronson in it! OK, this is really interesting. And then the next name on the screen was Alain Delon. OK, now I've really slipped into some kind of Twilight Zone. The French actor who starred in my favourite film: Antonioni's L'ECLISSE as well as Melville's LE SAMOURAI -- together in one film with Charles Bronson, Ursula Andress and Toshiro Mifune?!?!?! By this point, the appearance of tragic French actress Capucine and British character actor Anthony Dawson were incapable of surprising me. So, needless to say, I was going to have to sit down and watch this movie.
Now, before we start I want to say that this is not a great movie by any means. In fact, it starts out rather . . . well, OK I guess but not spectacular. But the sheer interest level of a western with THIS cast compels one to watch. And the nice thing is that, although RED SUN never becomes a classic Western, it DOES get better and better as it goes along. Thumbnail synopsis: a band of outlaws led by Link (Charles Bronson) holds up a train. On board happens to be the ambassador of the newly-opened-to-the-West Japan; this man is bringing a gift of a gilded ceremonial sword to the U.S. President. Before the train robbery is completed, however, Link's second-in-command Gauche (Alain Delon) double-crosses Link and blows up the train car Link is standing in; Gauche also makes off with the prized sword after killing one of the two samurai guarding the ambassador. Link is not killed, however, and is revived by the ambassador; who tells Link that he must help his samurai Kuroda (Toshiro Mifune) recover the sword in 7 days or else he'll have Kuroda cut Link's head off and the entire Japanese delegation will commit hari-kiri. Link and Kuroda set off on foot tracking the treacherous bandits while sparring with each other verbally and physically along the way. It's basically your "odd couple" thrown together by circumstance. After several deadly encounters, Link and Kuroda abduct Gauche's "girlfriend" Cristina (Ursula Andress) and propose to trade her for the gold and the sword.
Director Terence Young is probably most famous for directing a trio of James Bond films (DR. NO, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and THUNDERBALL) as well as THE VALACHI PAPERS with Bronson and the rather abysmal BLOODLINES. Young's directing here is rather uneven; the bickering relationship between Bronson and Mifune as they travel through desert wastes can sometimes come off a little twee while at other times it works beautifully. Ditto in the form of one awkwardly-done scene alternating with a truly skillful one. Bronson is nowhere near as effective as he was in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST but he is still rather charming and good fun. Mifune, however, is very impressive and his samurai commands the screen just as if he was in a Kurosawa film. Particularly in the fight scenes Mifune conducts himself beautifully with an impressive physical performance; he also provides the single most moving bit of acting in the film as he gives a speech explaining how his illustrious family have fought and died honourably for 400 years and the samurai way of life is slowly disappearing now that Japan has opened itself up to the West. Also there is nothing like seeing a sword-wielding Toshiro Mifune hacking his way through a band of outlaws or charging through attacking Comanches with sword a-flashing. Simply beautiful. Ursula Andress is suitably treacherous and rather badass in her role as basically the villain's moll; she gets her kit off which is also appreciated. Alain Delon seems to be having a good time as he gets to (very slightly) ham it up a little. Stir into this international stew noted film composer Maurice Jarre who did the score. Unfortunately for Jarre fans, this score is rather repetitive and not one of his best efforts. Another interesting aspects is filming the climax in a field of tall grass which surely must force the viewer to recall the waving grasses of ONIBABA.
For the simple novelty factor alone, RED SUN is worth watching. I mean, where else are you gonna find Bronson, Mifune AND Delon in the same movie together. And as long as you're not expecting a classic, this western is something every film fan will probably appreciate.


Weaverman said...

Guess who's had this in their collection for yonks? It ain't great but as you say it is fun and anything with Toshiro in has got to be worth watching.

By the way, I've only been away for two weeks and your blog looks's a bit like coming back from vacation and finding your family has moved!

Cerpts said...

Nothing's sacred, is it?!?!???

Yes, I still can't properly convey my feeling of off-kilter bewilderment at seeing the cast list parade before me: Charles Bronson, Ursula Andress, Toshiro Mifune and Alain Delon. I mean, I was really expecting the next name to be Groucho Marx or something!!!