It’s fascinating to watch “10 to Midnight” today and explore how dated it’s become and how much the themes and overtones it presents have been somewhat flipped on its head. J. Lee Thompson attempts to appeal to the folks that love their Dirty Harry’s and Lee Marvins by basically trying to turn Charles Bronson in to something of an aged vigilante that we can root for. But he basically comes off as an anti-hero, and “10 to Midnight” ends up becoming a war between a psychopath and a corrupt cop, both of whom never actually come out looking pristine once the film draws to a close.
Based loosely on the Richard Speck murders, Charles Bronson plays Leo Kessler, a aged detective tracking serial killer Warren Stacey, who is suspected of wreaking havoc in Chicago viciously murdering helpless women. Trying to figure out how to foil him despite his ability to hide all incriminating evidence, Leo stops at nothing to stop Warren. Things slowly take a turn for the worse when Warren sets his sights on Leo’s daughter. Leo now races to stop Warren before he murders anyone else, including his daughter. I’m sure in its time the final scene of “10 to Midnight” looked like something of a call to arms where the good guys won out regardless, but it’s remarkable how much the ending bears a similarity to “Seven.”
In David Fincher’s film, once Brad Pitt’s character is confronted by the big reveal and has lost his mind, he finds no other recourse than to murder John Doe in cold blood. Knowing he’s just about hung himself in an act of passion, he’s carted off in the finale. In “10 to Midnight” we basically get the same scenario, except Bronson’s character is an unlikable dinosaur, in a vicious world, that tries to get his problems solved and only makes things worse. Inadvertently, “10 to Midnight” watches now like a movie about how the old days are over, and a new generation of law and order was rising. Bronson’s character Leo never can quite fathom how serial killer Warren Stacey manages to wreak havoc on women and never feel much remorse.
Rather than try to dissect his mental state and play at his game, Leo takes a downward spiral that inevitably gets so many people murdered. It also puts his daughter at danger. Director Thompson tries to paint Kessler’s corruption as something more heroic than it seems, but instead it watches now like a man with no savvy on the modern methods of law and order who resorts to absolutely inconceivable corruption just to put a man in jail. It becomes a fascinating downward spiral where the final scene, I imagine, continued with Leo being handcuffed and carted off. All the while spending the rest of his life trying to justify his unethical acts of evidence tampering, and utter harassment and provocation.
Intentional or not, “10 To Midnight” watches like a final gasp of the films where men solved problems with big guns and bending the law a bit, and Bronson handles the role well, for the most part. It’s not one of Bronson’s best, but it’s a definitely engaging thriller that with considerable style and a slimy villain. It is revels on being as nasty and vicious as possible, and feels like a big turning of the tide for Bronson’s character, who unlike other action heroes of the period, might have had to face harsh repercussions in the end.
The new release from Shout! features an audio commentary with writer/historian Paul Talbot of “The Bronson’s Loose! Books,” and there’s an audio commentary with producer Pancho Kohner, casting director John Crowther and film historian David Del Valle. There’s the twelve minute “Producing Bronson,” an interview with producer Lance Hool who discusses working on the film, and getting the film together, and how Cannon Films gradually shrank the budget for the film.
“Remember Bronson” is a six minute interview with actor Robert F. Lyons, “Knife and Death” the seven minute interview with actress Jeana Tomasina, who discusses going from modeling to acting, her passion for film, and how “10 to Midnight” helped her question her own personal security as a woman. “Charlie’s Partner” is a ten minute interview with actor Andrew Stevens, who discusses meeting Bronson on another film, shooting the film, and the number of people he’s worked with throughout his career. Finally, there’s the theatrical trailer, radio spots, and an image gallery.