Lee J. Thompson and Charles Bronson wore together several times. Six, to be exact, with this movie, St. Ives, The White Buffalo, Caboblanco, 10 to Midnight and The Evil That Men Do making up the full list of their collaborations.
Writer Gail Morgan Hickman’s (The Enforcer, Death Wish IV: The Crackdown) script was one that Cannon liked, but at this point, they’d started to overspend, so they weren’t forthcoming with the money the film would need, as producer Pancho Kohner, Thompson and Bronson. The team took the movie to took Hemdale and were immediately given the green light with a much better deal.
Cannon sued for breach of contract and claimed that they had already pre-sold most of the worldwide rights and stated that it would damage their company if someone else made it. After all, Cannon often pre-sold movies based on loglines and pasted together ads well before the movies were made.
A lawsuit was avoided, allowing Cannon to financed and released the movie, with Hemdale getting foreign video rights. As for Bronson, Kohner and Thompson, they got a three-movie deal with Cannon, which ended up being the aforementioned Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, Messenger of Death and Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects.
Bronson plays Jack Murphy and at 65 years old, you really get the sense that just like his character, he’s exhausted. Indeed, he was often frustrated at the delays between takes and would shout, “Let’s shoot! Let’s shoot!” as he wanted to get back to his family. As for Murphy, he has no family, as his ex-wife (Angel Tompkins, who was the titular The Teacher and also was in The Farmer) has started dancing at a men’s club frequented by other cops, making him the target of their jokes. So he drinks away his days and wastes his nights watching the woman he chased away attract other men.
Meanwhile, a woman he put away named Joan Freeman (Carrie Snodgress, who Stallone wanted to be Adrian in Rocky, with Harvey Keitel as Paulie, but money was a major issue; she’s best known for her role in Diary of a Mad Housewife; Neil Young wrote the songs “A Man Needs a Maid,” “Harvest,” “Out on the Weekend” and “Heart of Gold” about her) is out of jail and conspiring to ruin his life, as if it can be further ruined. She begins killing those close to him — mostly cops, as she blames them just as much as him — ending with his ex. Soon Murphy’s headed for jail with many of the criminals he put there.
Somehow, as Murphy is first arrested, he’s handcuffed to Arabella McGee (Kathleen Wilhoite, Road House, Fire In the Sky), a potty mouthed homeless girl that he’d recently arrested. As she repeatedly verbally abuses Murphy with phrases like butt crust, monkey vomit, jizm breath, sperm bank, dildo nose and snot-licking donkey fart, Arabella doesn’t speak like anyone in any movie ever, which is why I find her so endearing and this movie just so delightfully odd. Wilhoite was a method actress and felt that probably her character should have looked more homeless, but she got to keep all of the designer clothes that her character wore, so that probably made wearing it in the film much easier.
Before fiming started, Thompson and Kohner coached Wilhoite all about how to best get along with the tempermental Bronson, which worked, because they got along well according to reports.
She also sang the movie’s theme song!
That said, she wasn’t the first choice for the role. Supposedly, Madonna was up for the role but wanted a million bucks. So was Joan Jett, who had just been in Light of Day. While she didn’t get the part, she ended up growing close to Bronson’s wife Jill Ireland. In a Q&A on her official fan site, Jett answered the question “How did the song, “Don’t Surrender” come about? And who is Jill Ireland?” with the following:
“Jill was Charles Bronson’s wife, also a wonderful actress. We met over the possibility of me co-starring with Charles B. in a movie. We became great friends, she turned me on to crystals, etc. and taught me a lot during our friendship. When she died, I was very upset, but channeled that (what I saw in Jill: strength, honor, dignity) and wrote “Don’t Surrender” with Desmond, inspired by Jill.”
Handcuffed together, the two go on the run, stealing a helicopter and landing on — and crashing through, Demons style — the growhouse of some well-armed marijuana farmers, which gives Murphy the chance to save Arabella from a group assault, making me wonder if Michael Winner directed this movie. You can tell he didn’t because it’s quick, they don’t succeed and the camera doesn’t linger like a lunatic.
Then again, Thompson also made Kinjite…
Anyways, the duo ends up getting along better and better, with even the hint of romance by the end. They take up in the home of one of one of his old partners, but the killings move there too.
Of interest to fans of Jason Vorhees, the growhouse is a location from Friday the 13th Part III and his partner’s house is from Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter.
Murphy thinks that the killings are the result of a vendetta between him and mobster Frank Vincenzo (Richard Romanus) before making his way back to the Bradbury Building in Los Angeles, the same place where Freeman was arrested for shooting her boyfriend, a security guard at the building.
The Bradbury is a historic LA building and you may recognize it from noir movies like the original I, the Jury and D.O.A. as well as a more futuristic take on the genre, Blade Runner. The building demanded that no food or drink was permitted on set during filming, but not having craft services was worth it, because the close is tense, with the cops working for Vincenzo gunning for Murphy and Freeman stalking him with a crossbow and then attacking him with an axe.
Murphy’s Law is also filled with roles for plenty of great tough guy actors, like Lawrence Tierney, Robert F. Lyons and Bill Henderson. It’s a movie that both embraces and escapes many of the things you expect from a Bronson movie It’s violent, profane and removed from reality, but I love how it has both a female protagonist and antagonist, lightening the normal testosterone-filled world of Bronson just enough to make things a little different. The dialogue is beyond ridiculous, which made me love this movie even more. It’s beyond quotable, including the line, “Don’t fuck with Jack Murphy!”
You can get the new blu ray release of this film from Kino Lorber. It has some great extras, like commentary by Wilhoite and film historian Nick Redman, an interview with Robert F. Lyons, two radio commercials and a trailer.