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One of the strangest and most overlooked film westerns, From Noon Till Three (1976) begins with a nightmare, ends with madness and in between unreels as both a light romantic comedy, a send-up of heroic period pieces and a revisionist look at the making of myths of the Old West.
Charles Bronson plays a desperado who, despite an eerie premonition, sends his gang off to a bank robbery as he wiles away an afternoon wooing a rich widow, played by Bronson's then-wife, the late Jill Ireland. Bronson rides off, Ireland believes, to rescue his men. But he has actually gone in the opposite direction and switched identities with another man who is killed in his place. Thinking he has died a heroic death, Ireland decides to turn their brief affair (the three hours bracketed in the film's title) into fodder for popular legend, making the memories of their romantic tryst into a flourishing tourist industry of sorts. Bronson eventually returns, but he is so different from the idealized image she has built, she doesn't recognize him at first. (Interestingly, this is also the basic plot device of the 1934 Douglas Fairbanks film The Private Life of Don Juan.) And when the truth is discovered, it ends badly for both of them.
Perhaps the commercial disappointment of From Noon Till Three can't all be placed on the film; its director, Frank Gilroy, who also wrote the screenplay based on his own novel; or its star team, who had a hit a year earlier with Breakheart Pass. Apparently 1976 wasn't a great year for oddball, revisionist westerns; neither Arthur Penn's Missouri Breaks, starring Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson, nor Robert Altman's Buffalo Bill and the Indians, with Paul Newman, fared much better.
In this film, Bronson gamely parodied his own action-hero image indelibly established in such work as Mr. Majestyk (1974), Death Wish (1974) and Hard Times (1975). But when this picture tanked, he returned to the laconic, violent roles audiences were more familiar with in such movies as Telefon (1977), 10 to Midnight (1983), all the way up into the 90s with four Death Wish sequels.
Never exactly a critical darling, Ireland was generally criticized for her portrayal in this film, but again much of that might be credited to a general distaste at the time for movies that debunked the heroic myths of American history. She only made five more pictures after this before her death from cancer in 1990. But she left behind 15 films with Bronson, making them a sort of Tracy and Hepburn of action flicks. In From Noon Till Three, she sang the Golden Globe-nominated theme song "Hello and Goodbye," with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, who wrote the songs for Yentl (1983), and music by award-winning composer Elmer Bernstein, who also wrote the score for this picture.
To date, Gilroy has only directed four other feature films, none of them big successes, but viewers may be more familiar with his name as the screenwriter for the Elizabeth Taylor-Warren Beatty vehicle The Only Game in Town (1970) and The Subject Was Roses (1968), both based on plays he authored. What viewers may not know is that he is also the "Bert Blessing" credited for the screenplay of the (some would say appropriately named) Jinxed! (1982), starring Bette Midler.
Director: Frank D. Gilroy
Producer: M.J. Frankovich, William Self
Screenplay: Frank D. Gilroy, based on his novel
Cinematography: Lucien Ballard
Editing: Maury Winetrobe
Art Direction/Production Design: Richard Lawrence, Robert Clatworthy
Original Music: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Charles Bronson (Graham Dorsey), Jill Ireland (Amanda Starbuck), Douglas Fowley (Buck Bowers), Stan Haze (Ape), Damon Douglas (Boy), Hector Morales (the Mexican).
by Rob Nixon