St. Ives (1976)
“He’s clean. He’s mean. He’s the go-between.”
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Cast: Charles Bronson, Jacqueline Bisset, John Houseman
Synopsis: Abner Procane, top L.A. burglar, finds that somebody stole his plans for next ambitious heist. He hires Raymond St. Ives, crime books writer, to negotiate the return of those documents.
St. Ives was the first of a run of movies Charles Bronson (Breakout, 10 to Midnight) made with veteran British director J. Lee Thompson (The White Buffalo), and — with a few notable exceptions — pretty much set the tone for both his movie persona and story content for the rest of his career. In St Ives he plays Raymond St. Ives, introduced to us in a curiously disconnected opening scene that informs us, thanks mostly to his agent who disappears for the rest of the film, that he is a former crime writer turned failed novelist with a broken marriage behind him and a bad gambling habit. No doubt, then, that we’re in the domain of the American anti-hero here, although St. Ives’ status as such is a little ill-defined: he might be a loser, but he is without doubt the guy wearing white, no matter how hard scriptwriter Barry Beckerman tries to muddy the waters. More in the style of Sam Spade than Harry Callahan, you get the impression as you watch that St. Ives allows himself to be drawn into the plots of arch-criminal Abner Procane (John Houseman) simply to see what will happen next. He casts an appreciative eye over Janet Whistler (Jacqueline Bisset – Bullitt) Procane’s ravishing protege, but makes no effort to bed her, allowing her, instead, to make the first move. It’s a gratuitous encounter, filmed no doubt more for the trailer than for any plot development, but it supplies a brief diversion for both St. Ives and the audience from a rather far-fetched and convoluted plot.
Bronson’s St. Ives kills time losing money on rash bets as he waits for yet another publisher’s rejection slip to present itself, so is in no position to refuse when he’s offered the position of go-between for Procane, owner of five stolen — and incriminating — ledgers, and the thieves who are demanding $100,000 for their return. St. Ives succeeds in recovering the ledgers, but pages detailing super-criminal Procane’s next heist are missing. St. Ives throws in his lot with Procane and his delicious colleague, Janet Wheeler, in a plan to steal from those who stole from Procane.
John Houseman is a curious choice for the part of Procane, although he seems to be enjoying himself. He’s about twenty years too old for the part, even with what little hair he has dyed an alarming shade of red, and his delivery is vaguely reminiscent of the older Ray Milland. He heads a fine supporting cast for a Bronson film — in fact the story is a little overcrowded with characters, and it seems as if they are queuing up to get knocked off at times. Harry Guardino (The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin) is in there as a cop, partnering the ever-dependable Harris Yulin (Scarface); Dana Elcar (Fail-Safe) broods around, barking loudly with his hands in his pockets as the duo’s boss; Maximilian Schell plays Procane’s psychiatrist in one of the film’s cheesier aspects. He plays it like he thinks he’s making a spoof film, and you expect him to starrrrt rrrrrolling his rrrrrr’s at any moment and ending hiz pluralz viz a zee. Even 40s gunsel Elisha Cook Jr. (The Big Sleep, The Indian Fighter) puts in an appearance as the sleepy doorman at St. Ives’ rundown hotel. And ‘stars’ of the future, Robert ‘Freddy’ Englund (2001 Maniacs, Strippers vs Werewolves) and Jeff ‘twitchy’ Goldblum (Annie Hall, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension) get small roles as a couple of thugs.
Overall, St. Ives is an acceptable movie that isn’t quite as absorbing as its convoluted plot suggests it should be. The central character wanders around with apparently little real concern about what is going on, and even less about who keeps trying to kill him, and consistently fails to ask the questions you would expect a person in his position to ask. While not quite falling into the ‘typically cheesy 70s movie’ category, St. Ives strays perilously close at times. Its only truly memorable scene is the final one, which is an absolute pearler, and which Dana Elcar plays to perfection…
(Reviewed 31st August 2005)