RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST ARTICLES FROM CINEMA RETRO'S ARCHIVES
It's no secret that American actors have been making TV commercials for the Japanese market for decades. In years past, there was little chance these would be seen in English-speaking countries where it would have been considered tacky for stars of great magnitude to appear as pitchmen for various products. However, the age of the Internet has opened up a King Tut's tomb of buried video treasures including a real gem featuring Charles Bronson in a bizarre TV spot that looks like it was funded by the old gay erotic magazine Blueboy. That's right - the most macho of leading men appeared in an ad that looks like an outtake from William Friedkin's Cruising.
Cinema Retro's Dean Brierly plays Jimmy Olsen to investigate this rarity: but first check out the video by clicking here
Once Upon a Time in the East, Charles Bronson was the pitchman on a Japanese TV commercial that we suspect he felt would never be seen by western audiences...
The year 1970 was a hot one for Charles Bronson. After grinding away for decades as Hollywood’s toughest character actor, he was on the cusp of international superstardom thanks to a breakout performance in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West and several gritty Eurocrime films. 1970 was also the year that a Japanese corporation sought a Hollywood star to headline an ad campaign for its new line of “Mandom” men’s-care products. Whether through fate, serendipity or cocaine-fueled inspiration, Mandom and Bronson were brought together in a brilliant conflation of the actor’s self-aware hyper-masculinity and over-the-top Japanese film aesthetics. The result was the most mind-blowing television commercial to ever scorch the airwaves.
The spot begins with a close-up of a pianist feeling his way through a bluesy, cocktail lounge number oozing with after-hours ambience. The camera slowly pulls back to reveal a nattily attired Bronson sitting alone in a swank nightclub elegantly defined by heavy curtains, soft lighting and tables discreetly spaced for romantic tête-à-tête. Bronson isn’t seated at one of the tables, however, but at the piano, where he directs a disturbingly intimate smile at the piano player as his gravelly voiceover intones: “All the world loves a lover. All the world loves…Mandom!” The homoerotic emanations are already starting to thrum.
There’s a quick dissolve as Bronson strolls out of the club, where he’s greeted by bit-part actor Percy Helton playing Sam the doorman. (Helton was the obsequious pipsqueak in countless films, most famously Kiss Me Deadly, in which Ralph Meeker slams Helton’s hand in a drawer until he screams like a little girl.) Helton is at his slobbery, sycophantic best as he escorts the icon to his car, whereupon Bronson claps the little guy on the back in a gesture of masculine bonhomie and wishes him good night. “Thank you, Mr. Bronson,” Helton fawningly responds, his tongue practically up Bronson’s arse. “Goodnight, Mr. Bronson. Sleep tight!” Helton then cackles insanely as Chuck zooms off into the night to the swelling strains of a Love Boat-style chorus. Buñuel couldn’t have staged this scene any better.
Another dissolve shows Bronson dramatically entering his penthouse and immediately begin undoing his tie as a Jack Jones-type croons the Mandom theme song. After selecting his favorite pipe from his pipe rack, Bronson strips off his shirt and with a quick pirouette flings it into the air as if he’s auditioning for a road show of The Sound of Music. His pecs proudly displayed, Bronson struts over to his Mandom shrine, grabs a phallic-shaped can of aftershave and spins the top off to the sound of spaghetti western-style gunshots. If the ad had ended at this point, it would still be the defining moment of Bronson’s career. But there’s more. Oh, so much more.
As Bronson starts slathering on the Mandom like he’s taking a shower in it, there are several quick cutaways to shots of his inner cowboy—tricked out in fancy fringed buckskin—fanning the hammer of a Colt pistol in a flurry of manly action poses. As if that weren’t enough surrealism for thunderstruck television viewers, an off-screen stallion starts whinnying like he’s about to mount a filly. (Or maybe that’s just the sound Bronson makes during the physical act of love.) Having fully marinated himself in Mandom, Bronson leans back in his leather easy chair, pornstache impeccably groomed, and narcissistically caresses his face as he pours every ounce of his artistry into the ad’s tag line: “Ummm. Mandom!”
Even repeated viewings of this two-minute slice of television nirvana can’t diffuse the Mandom magic, something that can’t be said about all of Bronson’s subsequent cinematic endeavors. It’s sheer class on every level: from the A-game performances of Bronson and Helton to the overwhelming homoeroticism to the impeccable evocation of a superficial, sybaritic lifestyle. It’s impossible to single out a defining money shot, as every frame dazzles with a brilliance that Orson Welles could only dream of. Perhaps the best part is the ending, with Bronson sitting alone in his tastefully decorated apartment and nary a female in sight. The narrative implications are left intriguingly open-ended, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s saving his money shot for Sam and the piano player.