The good news is that Timeless Video is releasing multiple films in one DVD package. The bad news is that one of these releases, although featuring two highly-watchable leading men, presents two stinkers. Love and Bullets is a 1979 Charles Bronson starrer that Roger Ebert appropriately described at the time as "an assemblyline potboiler". The film initially showed promise. Originally titled Love and Bullets, Charlie, the movie had John Huston as its director. However, Huston left after "creative differences" about the concept of the story and its execution on screen. The absurdity of losing a director as esteemed as Huston might have been understandable if the resulting flick wasn't such a mess. However, one suspects that, whatever the conceptual vision Huston had for the movie may have been, it must have been superior to what ultimately emerged. Stuart Rosenberg, the competent director of Cool Hand Luke took over but was unable to create anything more than a sub-par action movie. The plot finds Bronson as a Phoenix cop who is reluctantly sent to Switzerland on an undercover assignment. The local prosecutor has been doggedly trying to convict a local mob kingpin (Rod Steiger) for years. Now it appears that his moll girlfriend (Jill Ireland) might be a viable witness in terms of spilling the beans about his operations. Thus, Steiger has stashed her abroad and is keeping her under constant watch. Bronson's job is to pretend he is also a mob guy and convince Ireland to return with him to Phoenix to testify against her lover. The movie seems to exist for one reason only: the main participants desired a paid working vacation in Switzerland. This concept is nothing new. The Rat Pack squeezed in filming Oceans Eleven almost as an afterthought while they were performing nightly in Las Vegas at the Sands casino. In the twilight of his years, John Ford famously got his stock company together for a jaunt to Hawaii and released the result as a big boxoffice hit called Donovan's Reef, which still must retain the status of being the most expensive home movie ever made.
Love and Bullets is such a lazy effort you have to believe it must have taken a great deal of effort for the cast to meander to the set every day. The film also illustrates the danger of love-struck leading men force-feeding the lady in their lives into virtually every movie they make. Clint Eastwood shoe-horned Sondra Locke into a string of his films in the 1970s and 1980s and while some of them were artistic and commercial successes, I always greeted their next team with a sense of bored inevitability. (Locke is also a prime perpetrator in the creation of the worst movie of Eastwood's career, The Gauntlet.) In this case, Ireland had been Mrs. Bronson for over a decade following her divorce from David McCallum. She was always a competent enough actress but the couple obviously envisioned themselves as a new William Powell/Myrna Loy teaming. Not quite. Bronson is on full automatic pilot, registering almost no emotion. Ireland overplays the role of bubble-headed moll to an embarrassing level, as though she is a character in a sitcom sketch. She is saddled with intentionally laughable fright wigs but the real joke comes when she decides to discard them for her natural hair style, which proves to be even less flattering. Absurdity piles upon absurdity as the film becomes one long, extended chase sequence with Bronson and Ireland squabbling like Ralph and Alice Kramden, if you can imagine The Honeymooners being pursued by assassins. Steiger is in full scenery-chewing mode and an impressive array of supporting actors (Val Avery, Michael V. Gazzo, Henry Silva and Strother Martin) are pretty much wasted along the way. I'm generally undemanding when it comes to the pleasures of watching an unpretentious Charles Bronson action movie but Love and Bullets represents the latter period of his career where he rarely even tried to elevate his films beyond being vehicles for an easy pay check.
Russian Roulette (originally titled Kill Kosygin!) starts out promisingly enough but ultimately ends up being as unsatisfying as Love and Bullets. Produced by Elliott Kastner, an old hand at making good, populist entertainment, the production was shot entirely in Vancouver. George Segal plays a renegade cop (were there any other kind in the 1970s?) who has been suspended from the local police force for various infractions. Suddenly, he is recruited by Canadian secret intelligence to help thwart a reputed plot to assassinate Soviet Premier Kosygin, who is due to arrive in a matter of days for a high profile conference. Segal learns that he is being set up in an elaborate and confusing plot that involves traitorous KGB agents who want to kill their own premier in order to prevent him from initiating an era of detente with the West. Their plan involves kidnapping a local dissident (Val Avery), drugging him and using him as a human bomb who will be dropped on Kosygin's limousine from a helicopter! (I'm not making this up.) Along the way, Segal finds he's being set up as a dupe and is framed for murder. The entire tired affair ends in a race against time with Segal going mano-a-mano with a KGB killer on the roof of a landmark hotel that Kosygin is en route to (the only sequence that affords the slightest hint of suspense). Absurdly, Kosygin's motorcade is permitted to continue racing to the hotel despite the fact that hundreds of people are watching a running gun battle taking place on the roof. The film was directed by Lou Lombardo, who made a name for himself as an editor of great talent after supervising the cutting of The Wild Bunch. As director, he keeps the action flowing but the plot absurdities soon distract from some otherwise interesting angles and performances. The fine supporting cast includes Gordon Jackson, Denholm Elliott, Nigel Stock and Louise Fletcher, but their characters are rather boring. The film also throws in Christina Raines for sex appeal but she comes across as the dullest leading lady in memory, barely registering much emotion even when finding a dead body in her bathroom. (Although most of us would find such a development a bit disturbing, Lombardo cuts to a scene of Segal and Raines enjoying a spot of breakfast tea- while the man's body remains on the bathroom floor.) Segal is always enjoyable to watch and his wiseguy persona is in full bloom here, but the production is amateurish on all levels considering the talent involved. Maybe, as with Love and Bullets, everyone involved just wanted a paid getaway and had a desire to visit Vancouver. (It should be mentioned that director Lombardo was said to be battling drinking problems during production and that the finale of the film - the only truly effective scene- was directed by Anthony Squire, who did not receive screen credit.)
Both transfers are adequate though not overly impressive. Love and Bullets was shot in widescreen but is presented here in full screen ratio. Russian Roulette is presented in letterboxed format. There are no extras.