While watching the wonderful Vincent Price film House of Wax (1953) the other night, I noticed an oddly familiar face playing a deaf mute named Igor, a staff member of a wax museum studio. The face bothered me; darned if it didn't look like Charles Bronson.
When I investigated, sure enough it was the great quiet tough guy, in his very early movie career (then named Charles Buchinski), before he assumed what would be his stage name. As I figured, Bronson has been gone for a while, dying in 2003. He's one of those late actors that you just don't hear about anymore, unlike tough guys Lee Marvin or Robert Mitchum, who, despite being dead, live on as muses or idols for a certain type of musician or artist (Tom Waits, Jim Jarmush, etc.)
Though a great icon, Bronson fell a bit on the wrong side of the spectrum. His features were unusual; they were rugged but not concurrently seizing in the correct way (a hint of the asiatic perhaps?) His roles tainted him for the young and hip, dark leather-wearing band crowd (for whom a special political perfume is needed.) He had too much the whiff of rightist vigilantism about him, his most famous role being the protagonist in Death Wish.
And by extension, dare I say... Bernie Goetz, the real life vigilante. This type of vigilantism, once the stuff of folk-hero mythos and TIME magazine covers, does seem somewhat dated. It hasn't aged well in the following decades, what with a changed context of "going postal", Oklahoma City, Militia Movement, and a litany that forever grows.
But back to the early Bronson, mute Igor:
Directors of the Vincent Price horror films really had fun. One ingenious trope is that of the living head amid the inanimate, such as Igor holding watch amid wax dummies. Another great use of this was in a much later film, Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1973), wherein death-head scarred Vincent Price coyly watches Egyptoligists in a tomb, camouflaged as he is by lifeless skeletons.