The Stone Killer – 1973
Gerald Wilson – screenplay
John Gardner – book
Review by John Rouse Merriott Chard
A complete state of death
In a three year period in the early 70s (72/73/74) director Michael Winner made three violent thrillers with leading man Charles Bronson. Sandwiched in between The Mechanic and the wave making Death Wish, is this effective piece. A film that is for sure the weakest of the three but still, a film worthy of reappraisal.
The screenplay is by Gerald Wilson who adapts from John Gardner’s novel A Complete State of Death. Joining Bronson in the cast are Martin Balsam, Norman Fell & Paul Koslo. The plot sees Bronson play a tough New York cop, Lou Torrey, who is forced to leave the service after shooting dead a teenager during a pursuit. Later, he is hired by the LAPD and finds himself in the middle of a plan by a Mafia don (Balsam) to avenge the slayings of Mafia dons back in 1931 (The Night of Sicilian Vespers). His plan involves using Vietnam Veterans as hit men as opposed to the conventional Mafia ways of eradication. It’s a big operation, a dastardly operation, and as the bodies start to pile up; it’s evident that this case calls for the toughest of detectives to get to the bottom of it.
Ah, the tough cop movie. In fact, ah, the tough grizzled no nonsense cop movie. It’s a formula that the cinema and TV loving world would get plenty of during the 1970s. The decade would start with a bang as Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman laid down markers in Dirty Harry and The French Connection respectively. Which, to be frank, is a tough standard for any one to have to follow. Enter Michael Winner and Charles Bronson. Bronson had done some fine work in the 60s, with his weather beaten face, raspy voice and machismo seeping from every pore, Bronson was every inch a tough guy actor. Yet there was more talent in his armoury, talent that sadly was very rarely tapped into by directors more concerned with using him as a macho prop. Something that Winner does here. Dialogue for Bronson is kept to a minimum as Winner rides in on the crest of a tough cop driven wave. Which while that doesn’t do Bronson any favours as an all rounded thespian, it does however let him excel at the physical side of his character, and in the process of doing that he also gives Torrey the moody method treatment.
Ultimately it’s only those who are in it for the action and violence that will get something from The Stone Killer. For although it’s a nicely layered story (in spite of the daft core of the villain waiting 40 years to enact revenge!), it’s swamped (enjoyably so) by Winner’s eagerness to lay down action and adrenalin rushes whenever possible. He may not be the best director with actors, but he is more than capable when it comes to gun play and chases, both of which greatly serve The Stone Killer well. The stunt work and choreography is top notch here, something that more than makes this a worthwhile excuse for a night in with the beer and snacks. There’s also nice snapshots of early 70s Americana in the story, with weird Hippies and the Militant Black Activists nestling alongside the Mafia. All of which gives Bronson the chance to brood and flex his muscles some more.
It’s escapism so it is. Nothing more, nothing less. View it as such and it entertains, because this really isn’t deserving of the scorn that is often poured down on it. 7/10