Career High Points: The Hospital (1971) + The Valachi Papers (1972)

January 23, 2018 | By

Although Paddy Chayefsky’s Network (1977) and breakthrough hit Marty (1955) are among his best-known works, The Hospital (1971), new on Blu via Twilight Time, certainly ranks among his best – he nabbed the second of three Oscars for best Writing – and one of the darkest black comedies ever written.

One could probably make the film today, but with Chayefsky functioning as co-producer and his massive talent, his use of words is untouchable by any contemporary scribe.

Years ago I read his 1981 novel Altered States, which Ken Russell turned into a cult classic, and not unlike his vicious screenplays, Chayefsky absorbed technical jargon and recombined the terminology into monstrous paragraphs that often had me giggle for their outrageousness.

Nobody crafts paragraphs, and especially dialogue, with such heft, and relied on seasoned actors to give the words the momentum and weight of a fast-moving projectiles aimed squarely at audiences’ open mouths and wide eyes.

Hospital is a different savage beast than Network, but boy, does it have fangs.

George C. Scott was arguably at the peak of his powers in terms of language, measured rage, and ebbing from outrage to a self-deprecating smile in fluid seconds. An incredible pro.

The hunger by studios to find movies that would click with fickle audiences by gambling with known risky talents was never so intense than the 1970s, and even indie producers would take a crack, albeit by playing safe and toplining their production with an international star.

Charles Bronson’s career choices during the late 1960s through mid-1970s show a talent who knew his value and appeal, but now and then would gamble on a project because the actor in him needed to feel alive.  The Valachi Papers was ‘the other mafia film’ of 1972, and although not as epic and elegant and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, it’s still a fine film in spite of its commercial construction.

Bronson is great, and although not Oscar-worthy, it’s among his best roles and proves he could handle dialogue; he just hated it as the years went on, and I’d argue that teaming with Michael Winner was the best and worst thing that could happen.

Winner gave him the tough street detective with a vengeance streak that would become Bronson’s de facto (and highly profitable) screen persona, and with rare exceptions, he took too many vengeance films, sticking to tried mannerisms and minimal emoting and dialogue. He’s great in The Stone Killer (1973), but the mean cop is nowhere as risky as playing real-life mob informant Joeseph Valachi. Bronson talks, reacts, and is wholly believable as a low-level mob member who realizes finking is the only way to save his skin.

Like Hospital, Twilight Time’s Blu lacks their usual historian-loaded commentaries, but Valachi is an important title for Bronson fans wanting to see the icon stretching himself with great success.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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