Raymond St. Ives (Charles Bronson) is lying in bed in the cheap hotel room where he stays, even at this late hour in the day, when his agent (Michael Lerner) opens the door and encourages him to get up and face life. He has a job for him seeing as how St. Ives has retired from his previous employment as a police reporter to write a book, a plan that has not borne much fruit. It's simple enough: act as a go-between for wealthy eccentric Prokane (John Houseman) who has seen his secret plans for a robbery stolen. But how simple is it really?
After Harper was a hit back in the mid-sixties, the major Hollywood movie stars lined up to step into Paul Newman's shoes, and in that way Humphrey Bogart's shoes to pay a further tribute, and appear in their own efforts as private detectives. St. Ives was not strictly a private dick, yet he certainly acted like one for the whole of this story even though he was at pains to stay on the periphery of the unfolding mystery, and indeed until the end where everything is wrapped up our hero hardly needed to be present at all. But we had to have someone provide an entry point for the plot, and he was it.
Those used to seeing Bronson in two-fisted roles might be shortchanged here, as for the most part he could almost be sipping martinis with one elbow resting on the mantlepiece, which he would sometimes joke about trying as a change of pace from his usual thrillers. There are a couple of action sequences, with the star performing his own stunts including a striking fall down a lift shaft thanks to Jeff Goldblum and Robert Englund ganging up on him (rest assured, they pay for their hubris), but for the most part Stives was a curiously mellow role where he would largely stand back and allow the others to get on with the doublecrossing and so forth.
Actually, with its flat, television movie look and lack of any real violence or bad language, what this most resembled was a feature length episode of one of those detective series so beloved of television audiences of the decade. If you ever wanted to see what The Rockford Files would have been like with Bronson in the lead, then here was your chance, although Stives was on the receiving end of being knocked out far fewer times than James Garner ever was - remember who we're dealing with, after all. As you might have gathered, this rendered the yarn less cinematic than it might have been, but if you did like vintage TV shows then this would be the Bronson vehicle for you.
Adding to the bonus of a decent story fairly well told, if nothing special, was the cast, mainly made up of Hollywood veterans more than capable of breathing life into some undeniably two-dimensional roles. In the first scene alone Michael Lerner was interacting with Elisha Cook Jr, and sticking with it would see the likes of Houseman (sporting dyed red hair, oddly), Maximilian Schell as a psychiatrist, Harris Yulin as a cop, and many more familiar faces even if you couldn't immediately bring their names to mind. There was but one main female character, however, and she was Prokane's companion Janet Whistler, played by Jacqueline Bisset, but making up for the fact the rest of the cast were a bunch of blokes few would describe as eye candy. All this lot make things difficult for Stives, but Bronson was a lot more charming than his accustomed image often allowed, a good enough reason to watch what was second tier material otherwise. The music was unmistakably by Lalo Schifrin.