Charles Bronson’s international success continued picking up pace as he took on numerous diverse roles. He starred in the French action film “Guns for San Sebastian” (1968), sharing the screen with Hollywood icon Anthony Quinn. In the UK, he took on the lead role in “Lola” (1969), playing a middle-aged man in a controversial relationship with a teenage girl.
The actor also traveled to Turkey to make a buddy comedy with Tony Curtis titled “You Can’t Win ‘Em All” (1970). Despite the varied genres of these films, Bronson’s talent shone all the way through, and his performances were well-received by audiences worldwide.
He Stars in Another Classic Western
In 1968, Charles Bronson delivered a masterful performance in Sergio Leone's iconic Western film, “Once Upon a Time in the West.” He played the role of Harmonica, a harmonica-playing gunslinger with a complex backstory. Leone once called him "the greatest actor” he had ever worked with. “Once Upon a Time in the West” was a box office hit in France, where it became the top-grossing film of 1969.
Bronson's portrayal of the enigmatic Harmonica won him widespread acclaim from both audiences and critics alike, and Ennio Morricone's haunting score became a cinema classic. Bronson’s collaboration with Leone helped to redefine the Western genre and served as an inspiration to filmmakers for years to come.
He Rejected a Role That Later Went to Clint Eastwood
Fun fact: Charles Bronson may have inadvertently helped launch Clint Eastwood’s Hollywood career. Director Sergio Leone had initially approached Charles Bronson to play the lead role in his 1964 film, “A Fistful of Dollars.” Bronson declined the offer, paving the way for an up-and-coming actor, Clint Eastwood, to seize the opportunity and catapult his career to stardom.
The film's groundbreaking success changed the course of cinema history and helped establish Eastwood as a Hollywood legend. Although Bronson missed out on the chance to star in the iconic movie, his decision played a pivotal role in shaping the future of film.
Charles Bronson's success continued in the early 1970s with his lead role in the French thriller, "Rider on the Rain" (1970). The film follows a woman who kills her attempted assailant and then finds herself stalked by a mysterious American.
It was a smashing box office hit in France and went on to win the Hollywood Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Bronson shone in the film. Audiences and critics praised his portrayal of the mysterious American GI in the film. The film cemented his status as an international star and a leading man in the thriller genre.
Recognition, at Long Last
Bronson continued working in European films in the early '70s, starring in a series of French and Italian action films such as “Violent City” and “Cold Sweat,” both released in 1970 and directed by Terence Young. He also appeared in the French thriller “Someone Behind the Door” alongside Anthony Perkins, and in the French-Spanish-Italian “Western Red Sun,” also directed by Young.
In 1972, Bronson played Joseph Valachi in “The Valachi Papers,” again directed by Young. His popularity overseas led to him receiving the special Golden Globe Henrietta Award for "World Film Favorite – Male" in 1972, alongside Sean Connery, of all people.