• 10 To Midnight

    Released by: Twilight Time
    Released on: September, 2015.
    Director J. Lee Thompson
    Cast: Charles Bronson, Lisa Eilbacher, Andrew Stevens
    Year: 1983
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    Despite being blasted by Roger Ebert as misogynistic trash, I've always found 10 TO MIDNIGHT to be both a compelling thriller and one of Charles Bronson's strongest late period vehicles. It boasts a fully committed performance from the star, an excellent supporting cast (Wilford Brimley is in here!), taut script and surefooted direction from CAPE FEAR veteran J. Lee Thompson. It has some genuine exploitation spirit and a few unforgettably sleazy quirks like a nude male killer, salacious phone calls and the legendary appearance of the accu-jack (more on that later).

    LAPD Detective Leo Kessler (Bronson) is on the trail of a killer. A beautiful young woman has been brutally murdered, along with her boyfriend, in a highly sexualized crime. Further complicating matters is the fact that the victim was a childhood friend of Kessler's daughter Laurie (Lisa Eilbacher). All signs point to a handsome but mentally unstable young man named Warren Stacy (Gene Davis of CRUISING), but his unusual M.O. and ability to construct seemingly bulletproof alibis are hindering the case. To top it off, Kessler is saddled with an idealistic and green rookie partner - Paul McAnn (Andrew Stevens). As the killer starts to target Kessler's daughter, can Bronson's detective figure it all out and stop him in time? And just how far will he have to go to do it?

    10 TO MIDNIGHT, despite some editing issues, has held up remarkably well over the years. It manages the neat trick of marrying a police procedural narrative to a slasher film but also focuses enough on character to keep the viewer engaged. It has a gangbuster ending and some startling violence that works contextually while dancing close to the edge of the sleazily gratuitous. Calling a movie like this "fun" might raise eyebrows in certain quarters, but to fans of a certain genre sensibility (I'll raise my hand here), that is precisely the word I would use.

    The two strongest aspects of the film are its characters (and attendant performances), and its willingness to go full gonzo exploitation at key points. Bronson, playing the world-weary cop, invests his cliched character with both gravitas and humanism. Playing a widower with a strained relationship with his only daughter, he is completely believable in their scenes together. But the real heart of 10 TO MIDNIGHT is in its depiction of the relationship between Bronson's Kessler and his younger partner. Stevens was always a criminally overlooked actor who had a lot more going for him than just cute dimples and chiseled abs. Here he not only holds his own with Bronson, he plays off him beautifully. There's a begrudging respect that the older detective bestows upon his partner as we see the younger cop reject Kessler's methods. It's an interesting dynamic. When McAnn essentially ends the senior Kessler's career for ethical reasons based on evidence manipulation, the ensuing fallout isn't quite what we expect. Eilbacher - who would also feature in the blockbuster BEVERLY HILLS COP - has a nice naturalistic quality and good chemistry with Bronson as well. Then there's Gene Davis. His nude killer (an outrageous conceit that amps up the film's sleaze factor to 11) makes your skin crawl. He's a creepy misogynist utterly incapable of interacting with women normally. The fact that he's quite conventionally handsome makes the whole scenario all the more effective.

    And those exploitation elements? Start with the stuff that irked the esteemed Roger Ebert so deeply: the violence against women and sexualized murders. Rarely has the "knife as penis" metaphor been so blatant. In fact, in one of Bronson's more memorable lines, he says just that. The early 1980's was also a far cruder era in terms of the general understanding of sexual pathology so Bronson's dime store analysis fits. Then there is the Accu-jack. Few will ever forget the image of star Charles Bronson holding up this penis pump-sex toy and regarding it with the kind of disdain usually reserved for soiled underwear. Of course, 10 TO MIDNIGHT also features a bevy of lovely student nurses (the eagle eyed can spot a young Kelly Preston in the cafeteria scene) in various states of skimpy dress. Interestingly however, and in direct opposition to the charge of misogyny against the film, Bronson's detective passes no moral judgement on the sex lives of the female victims. When he says, sadly, "All those dead girls" at a key point, you really do know where his sympathies lie.

    The ending of the film is where the creative team behind this film truly get their exploitation mojo on. In a sort of recreation of the infamous Richard Speck student nurse killing spree that occurred in Chicago in 1966, Davis' killer enters the girl's dorm and starts horrifically stabbing them to death. It's a genuinely disturbing sequence and well shot. The scene may have a slasher movie aesthetic, but Thompson's natural skill brings the whole thing up a notch from a mindless FRIDAY THE 13TH setup. Then there's a quick switch to a dramatic street chase on foot with a butt naked knife wielding killer featuring helicopters and screeching cop cars thrown into the mix, and finally the last minute where Bronson delivers one of his career best lines. This is what we call delivering the goods in an action film.


    Twilight Time's 1080p 1.85:1 AVC encoded transfer is a typical upper mid-level affair. We've been seeing quite a few titles hit HD from the MGM vaults of late between Twilight Time, Kino and other labels and most have been decent to very good. This one is no exception. Despite some softness in a few shots that's clearly inherent to the source materials, this represents a significant increase in detail and quality over the old MGM DVD. The print itself is in good shape and the black levels strong - particularly during the third act's nighttime action. I also detected no intrusive digital corrections or tinkering.

    The English 1.0 DTS-HD MA mono track is quite solid. Though limited in range, it's robust enough to deliver a quality audio experience. Guns don't sound like firecrackers and the musical score has a bit more muscle than most mono tracks. No complaints here - and English SDH subtitles are included.

    There's one meaty extra: producer Pancho Kohner and casting director John Crowther sit with film historian David Del Valle for a very interesting audio commentary. Full disclosure - I was actually able to listen in on this when it was recorded in Los Angeles and found it just as interesting to hear a second time. What makes this particular track so engaging is that both men knew Bronson very well. In addition to their longstanding professional relationships with him, they were friends who socialized with the star. A lot of the "Bronson mythos" gets dispelled here. We meet the Charlie that adopted tragic children, looked after orphans on movie sets and was a committed husband and father. Crowther - who spent an entire shoot with Bronson on location for a different film (THE EVIL THAT MEN DO) has some very funny stories about Bronson's working methods and Kohner gives great insight into what made the actor tick both professionally and personally. Del Valle probes and has done his homework. There is also some great stuff about the workings of the Cannon Golan and Globus empire and anecdotes about J. Lee Thompson, including the director's legendary drinking which often forced Kohner to be his personal chauffeur. Del Valle is sharp enough to discuss the film's famous ending about midway through the track - so as to avoid running out of time at the end. With so little currently out there about Bronson save for writer Paul Talbot's eagerly awaited upcoming second book on the star, it's important to get down the recollections of those still with us that knew the man.

    Also included is the original theatrical trailer, some radio spots and the isolated score (with some effects) on a separate track. Finally we get the usual high quality Julie Kirgo liner notes. This is an unusually sober assessment of this exploitation beast, with the writer tying the film into current events regarding police misconduct but it's an interesting take with a sharp analysis of Bronson's strengths as an actor and well worth a read.

    The Final Word:

    Quite a bit better as a serious film than many of Bronson's other Cannon crowd pleasers like KINJITE and MURPHY'S LAW, 10 TO MIDNIGHT may be a mean bastard of a film with its merciless worldview but it has some heart too. Bronson essays his cop fully in three dimensions and is supported by a top notch cast including the great recently departed Geoffrey Lewis as the killer's hilariously sleazy lawyer and character actor Robert F. Lyons in addition to the aforementioned Wilford Brimley, The sleazy elements just melt right into the mix as long as the viewer is game. Twilight Time have provided solid AV, a terrific commentary, and a couple of other goodies. This one's a no brainer. Recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Martin Brooks's Avatar
      Martin Brooks -
      Good run through. Took me right back to the 80s when I first watched this. I remember being really taken aback when Bronson shouts out "jacking off machine" like it was a crime in itself to utilize it! "too notch cast" should be "top notch cast" btw.
    1. Jason C's Avatar
      Jason C -
      Damn you Horace! This review is going to cost me $30+ bucks.