Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on August 8, 1973
Directed by Michael Winner
Written by Gerald Wilson, based on the novel by John Gardner
Cast: Charles Bronson, Martin Balsam, Norman Fell, David Sheiner, Jack Colvin, Paul Koslo, Ralph Waite, Stuart Margolin, Alfred Ryder, John Ritter, Eddie Firestone, Kelly Miles, Charles Tyner, Robert Emhardt, Hoke Howell, Barry Cahill
It’s time once again for another Video Store Action Heroes blogathon, where Mike over at Mike’s Take on the Movies, Gary at Destroy All Fanboys, Mikey at Wolfmans Cult Film Club, and myself here at Cinema Monolith take a look at the best and/or worst of the drive-in and video store action films of the 1970s and 1980s. For this installment, Mike drew the lucky card to choose our theme, and he decided to have us review films starring his favorite actor, Charles Bronson, albeit with one caveat: the films could not include his then-wife, actress Jill Ireland.
Thank heavens the four-pack of Bronson films I’d purchased a while back (successfully predicting that Mike would choose this particular actor as his theme) included at least one—and only one—Jill-less film, and that was of course The Stone Killer, the third of six collaborations between Bronson and action director Michael Winner. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I’ve only seen three of Bronson’s films from this era (Mr. Majestyk, Death Wish, and Breakout), but trust me, I’ve always been eager to add more to the list. I just wish it had been a better example of his work.
Bronson plays Lou Torrey, a tough and independent-minded New York City police detective, who transfers to Los Angeles after killing a teen gunman during a stand-off in an abandoned tenement building, resulting in public outcry and negative publicity. Months later, during a seemingly routine drug bust in LA, Torrey begins unraveling a strange and convoluted plot involving the Sicilian mob, who are using Vietnam vets as assassins-for-hire (the ‘stone killers’ of the title) to take out a new mobster regime. Torrey, as you’d expect, has other plans for them.
Right from the get-go I was reminded of the Clint Eastwood crime thriller Dirty Harry, released two years prior, and this comparison isn’t a bad thing: the introduction of an unorthodox cop who takes matters into his own hands, an early stand-alone action sequence which helps set up the character, a gritty feel to the proceedings, and most tellingly, the word ‘dirty’ prominent in the film’s one-sheet poster. And that’s what I liked about these opening NYC scenes; they felt so similar to those of the classic cop films of the ’70s, such as The French Connection, Serpico, and The Seven-Ups.
But then the bulk of the story shifted to the sunny, laid-back setting of Los Angeles, and it was at this point that everything for me just sailed off the track, only to return when the action found its way back to New York, which wasn’t often. Bronson’s character seemed more suited to NY than the desert, and that gritty ’70s tone I mentioned seemed to dissipate once Torrey traveled west, especially during an odd, psychedelic sequence at a hippy commune, a scene which seemed completely out of place and unnecessary (and not the only oddly-shot moment from Winner, I might add).
What I did like, and what I wished the storyline had concentrated on more, was Bronson and his character Torrey. Bronson looked and acted the part of a rugged, no-nonsense cop to perfection, and this alone helped carry the film over its rough spots; it’s too bad he didn’t secure more of these types of ‘rule-breaking cop’ roles throughout his career, because I think he really would have excelled at them. His weathered, impassive mug (“I look like a rock quarry that someone has dynamited,” he once said) would’ve sent chills down the spines of lawbreakers for years to come.
By the film’s definition, a ‘stone killer’ is someone who is not part of a mob, but is instead an outsider hired to work for them as a contract killer; based on the multitudes hired by the Sicilians, the film’s title should’ve been a pluralized The Stone Killers. Eventually, I came to realize that Bronson’s character is to some extent a stone killer; an outsider to the LA police force, hired on to take out the bad guys. It’s too bad the story wasn’t tweaked a bit, and the title given a double meaning: Bronson’s stone killer cop going up against one mob-hired assassin, in a cat-and-mouse game in and around the dingier sections of New York. Sadly, this wasn’t to be; apart from Bronson, I’d say this one just missed the mark. (6/10)