Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

The Stone Killer

Cinema Monolith: 6/10 The Monolith
IMDb: 6.3/10
Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide: **½ out of 4

Released on August 8, 1973
Rated R
95 minutes

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)

12 comments on “The Stone Killer

  1. It’s always been a bit “off” as a whole but one big plus I think you missed out on was the cast. It’s outstanding from Balsam to Fell to Ritter. Also Waite and Koslo who worked with Bronson on a few titles.

    Enjoy the rest of that 4 pack. Hard Times his best of the decade I believe.


    • Todd B

      I agree, there are quite a few recognizable faces in this one, and I always like Norman Fell in whatever I see him in (pre-Three’s Company), and he does well with these serious roles. Strangely enough (and Wolfman, you might like this), what I noticed most were the number of actors in the cast who also appeared in the TV series The Invaders; four at last count, but there may be more!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I forgot to add that poster above looks familiar. Think I’ve seen it here in the vault.


  3. Dracula

    I thought Suzanne Somers was in this one.


    • Todd B

      She was, but bailed out before filming began when Joyce DeWitt and Audrey Lindley became unavailable for their roles.


  4. I did watch this in my rental days but reading your description I can safely say I don’t remember a single thing, haha. Does sound frustrating that the NY bits are all action and then they put their feet up in LA. Intrigued to see the hippy bit, they used to love chucking in psychedelic scenes in the middle of films. Midnight Cowboy, Coogan’s Bluff. Though both those two examples were actually in the 60’s!

    Didn’t realise it was directed by Michael Winner. I like your rewrite, with tweaks, it’s a shame when you can blatantly see a good avenue the film should of gone down. Them the breaks I guess. Plus am I right in thinking there is no leading lady in this flick?

    I’ll second Hard Times is probably the best 70’s Bronson action though Telefon was a recent-ish watch for me and I really enjoyed it. Lee Remick was ace and easy on the eye. Russian Bronson gets to drop the line “For an American agent you’re not entirely repulsive!”

    I do think I will get to watch The Stone Killer (I so want to put an “s” on the end) again one day, there’s just a few others of his I need to get to first. Farewell, Friend (1968) and Rider On The Rain (1970) are two I wanna see soon.


    • Todd B

      Good lord yes, those hippy bits…I remember the one from Coogan’s Bluff well. In fact…was that hippy joint he walks into called The Psychedelic Orange Peel, or something like that? And now that I think about it…most of the biker films I watch are nothing BUT hippy bits!

      And you are correct, no female leads in this one. And there were really only two female roles, and both were brief. And I do own Hard Times, so I’ll be giving it a look soon; I’ve always wanted to see Telefon…back then because I thought the poster looked cool, and now because Don Siegel directed it.

      And I carefully checked out your Telefon review, and will definitely track it down; as always, my first stop will be the library.

      Liked by 1 person

      • HAHA yes indeed I hadn’t really thought about that before but all those bikers in those 60’s/70’s movies all strut around being tough but they are essentially just HIPPYS lol.

        I loved that tune in Coogan’s Bluff. Yes you’re right The Psychedelic Orange Peel. And what the blue blazes was a Pigeon Toed Orange Peel! hehe The band was called The Lead and bizarrely an American rock band performing out of Japan. All their records are Japanese releases. I’ve been after the 7″ single for years but it’s rare as rocking horse shit!

        Enjoy Hard Times and Telefon bro. I’m sure you with really enjoy both.

        PS hope you had a fantastic week with you brother.


      • Todd B

        That was it…not Psychedelic, but Pigeon Toed! And I wonder what would be more valuable and/or hard to find: that 7″ single for The Lead, or a ticket stub from one of their concerts?

        Looking forward to Telefon, whenever I can find it…and yes, my brother and I had a great time in rainy Vancouver. Two Canucks hockey games, lots of sightseeing and dining out, and an event that will (hopefully) be posted on this site soon!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oooo I don’t know, I do wonder if the single is actually a fable tbh but a ticket stub would sure fetch a few dollars. Great to hear you had a proper good time on the Canada trip. Looking forward to seeing what you’re gonna post for that trip? Vancouvian vintage strip joints?


      • Todd B

        I promise you, if I find ANYTHING related to The Lead, I’ll buy it and send it to you…money is no object! (Some restrictions may apply). As for the Vancouver trip: trust me, the closest we came to strip joints were a few restaurants we visited that offered chicken strips on the menu…


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