Then Came Bronson, Warner Brothers Archive Collection
Sixty-nine was a pivotal time in American history. It was also a beginning of sorts for my love affair with motorcycles, begat in large part by a short-lived television series starting that year—Then Came Bronson. I was 12 years-old and devoured every episode of the lonely stranger and his eye-emblazoned Sportster wandering across the country. This movie introduced Jim Bronson (Michael Parks) to the world.
The film begins with Jim’s friend, Nick (Martin Sheen) in crisis and disillusioned with life — as so many young men are. Part of the “Stompers” motorcycle club, Nick had settled down with a wife and a “real” job—offering much promise for advancement according to his wife—but he knows better. Dead end, dull job, responsibilities, and no resources—is that what life is all about? The only thing he has worth anything is his Sportster, so under the Golden Gate Bridge he asks Jim to buy it from his wife and then promptly jumps to his death,
Jim returns to the office of his once-valued profession, a reporter, only to realize he is facing much the same as his friend—a dull job and an industry hungry for unsavory stories, ones that “show people at their worst.” Jim loads up the Sportster and hits the road.
He doesn’t get far before he eyes a young girl (Temple Brooks, played by Bonnie Bedelia), running away from her pending life of responsibility, shedding her wedding dress and engagement ring on a northern California beach. She runs away sans clothes, but they meet again when she runs Bronson off the road. Jim catches up and lets her driver door have it with a kick of his boot. Off he goes, suitably avenged. At a gas stop, they meet again, where the convertible driver becomes a passenger on the Sportster, abandoning her car as the result of a curious policeman’s questions.
From here on love fitfully blooms. On the road to New Orleans they slowly figure each other out. However, on arrival they realize they need to part, he to continue his quest for meaning and her to return to the very thing that had scared her onto the road with Jim. They part and Bronson rides into television history over the next 2 years and 26 episodes.
What is interesting is the kind of biker Bronson is. He’s not a tear-it-up terrorizer of decent common folk, as so many movies make us out to be. Neither is he the trendy young motorcyclist so many Honda ads of the time purported us to be, riding our little, brightly colored scoots, wearing white slacks and boat shoes, and with a pert college girl on back.
What Bronson was, and what I aspire to be as a biker and a person, is a self-reliant man in charge of his bike and his life, not the pawn of others. He’s quiet and a thinker, and not afraid to get his hands dirty for that next tank of gas and a bit of food, or wrenching his ride on the side of the highway. He’s not a pushover, but neither is he a troublemaker. He leads himself and is not led by others. He lives by his own rules, but they are not thoughtless or selfish rules and he listens more than he talks. What it all comes down to is his choice of going out and living his life, instead of accepting life as other people tell him it is or should be.
Bronson is so soft-spoken I occasionally had to back up to catch quiet bits of dialogue set against the unmistakably late 60s music. Maybe someday that music will attain an aura of classicism, but to my ears it is awkward. The movie, however, makes up for that music by a couple instances of a nice rendition of “Wayfaring Stranger” sung by Michael Parks and Bonnie Bedelia.
For an observant rider, little things like the magical appearance of knobbies on the Sportster (really a Jawa) for the hill-climbing scene may disturb the flow a bit, but the story is worth putting up with little inconsistencies. Many viewers will not even notice the poetic license taken here and there. If you recall the show from your youth and enjoy an occasional blast from the past, pick up this flick. Be warned—you may end up following your viewing with online searches for TV episodes and “Bronson Bikes.” You may even think about your life, your choices, and what you love about riding. This DVD is available from Warner Broadcasting and at Amazon.com.