It’ll keep you on the edge of your saddle.
As someone who grew up on the ‘80s output of Charles Bronson — movies in which he usually played a grimacing cop cleaning up the streets with his own brand of justice, usually for Cannon Films — I sometimes forget that he was once a big movie star who did more than scowl while wasting punks in New York. While fans of his Golden Age work probably know him best for movies like The Dirty Dozen and Once Upon a Time in the West, I’ve been discovering some of his smaller, lesser-known efforts in recent years and realizing that Bronson had a taste for the idiosyncratic and the potential to shine in those kinds of movies. The latest title to add to that list is From Noon Till Three, a charming and offbeat comic western recently released to Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
Bronson plays Graham Dorsey, an outlaw riding into town to pull off a robbery as part of a gang of bandits. Graham is having second thoughts, though, after a nightmare in which he envisions the robbery as a trap that gets him and his friends killed. He opts to stay back and hole up at the home of widow Starbuck (Jill Ireland, Bronson’s real-life wife), whose horse the gang had intended to steal. During the three-hour window before his friends return, Dorsey and Starbuck bicker, talk and eventually wind up in bed together, falling into a whirlwind romance from which Dorsey does not wish to leave. When he’s forced to ride out and check on the fate of his gang, everything changes and new legends are born.
It’s hard to describe the plot of From Noon Till Three in a way that accurately conveys the film’s pleasures. The screenplay by writer/director Frank D. Gilroy is based on his own novel and it fees like it: it’s a movie that continues to unfold in unpredictable ways based on who these characters are rather than establish a premise early on and follow it through in lockstep. The first act features bandits and shootouts and an outlaw taking refuge in the home of a good woman against her will — pretty standard western stuff — while the second act becomes a sweet and gentle romance. The third act…well, I don’t want to say what happens in the third act, as there’s almost no chance anyone can predict where the movie is going based on what has happened so far. When you see as many movies as I do, any movie that’s able to go to unexpected places is a welcome surprise.
While it may be too soon to make this kind of a declaration, I sat through From Noon Till Three pretty certain that it was the best I’d ever seen Bronson on screen. He gets to be funny and charming, sweet and romantic, petty and pathetic. He is more than likely a con man, but the fact that Bronson is able to keep us guessing as to his character’s true motivations is a sign of just how good his performance in the movie is — his Graham Dorsey could be seen in a number of ways, all of them potentially correct. It helps that he’s acting opposite his real-life wife Jill Ireland, with whom he has a genuine chemistry and who always brings out the best in the actor when acting opposite him. Ireland, like Bronson, creates in widow Starbuck a character who is difficult to pin down, and while the first half of the film can be a little tough to stomach by 2016 standards (it is suggested that Bronson makes a woman fall in love with him after having sex one time, and by forcing himself on her no less), the back half of the movie turns the tables on both characters in such a way that it forces us to rethink exactly what has happened. Maybe things aren’t so cut and dried after all.
Twilight Time is releasing the Blu-ray of From Noon Till Three in their usual limited run of 3,000 units. The 1080p HD transfer offers the movie in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio and looks great for a film that’s 40 years old; like most westerns, the color palette is subdued (limited to a lot of earth tones) but the image is bright and clean and filled with good texture and detail. Twilight Time always puts care into the transfers on their releases and it shows even on smaller titles like this. The lossless mono track offered for the main audio option is surprisingly strong, presenting clear dialogue and some lively effects, all mixed well with composer Elmer Bernstein’s lovely and quirky score. That score is actually offered as an isolated option, as is customary for Twilight Time. The only other bonus feature offered is the original theatrical trailer.
From Noon Till Three is exactly the kind of movie I love to discover — one that works within a familiar genre but which carves out its own space by not adhering to any strict rules about what story it can tell or the way it can tell it. It’s a small movie, sure, and could be dismissed as “slight,” but it actually has quite a bit to say about myth making and the way that legends are created and passed down, which is something with which almost all westerns concern themselves. At the very least, it allowed me to see a side of Charles Bronson I had never seen before. What a pleasant surprise this was.