Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Stone Killer

The Action Mutant…
wonders of the possibilities for “Bronson’s Lead Sandwiches” as a franchise.

The Stone Killer

review by Joe Burrows

You may have noticed two comments that were deleted from my recent review of Instant Justice. Just so no one thinks I’m trying to be a tyrant of some kind, I’ll just say that they were deleted because I didn’t want there to be multiple posts full of inane bickering. However, just to reiterate for that reader in question:
I am not jealous of Michael Pare. That’s laughable because if I was, I’d have to be jealous of the hundreds of other actors that have more name recognition than he does. I thought it was readily apparent in that opening perspective that I was poking fun at critics (which would also mean me) that would chastise Mr. Pare’s steady yet unspectacular career while he was living it up in Amsterdam. Obviously, this dear reader didn’t read the entire article or he would have realized that I was being tongue in cheek. And as for not researching well for these reviews, I believe I do more than my fair share of it to make sure these are entertaining & factual. If I’m not sure of something, I don’t write it. I don’t “make shit up”, so to speak. Sorry to have subjected you fair minded readers to this but sometimes it takes one person to ruin shit for everyone.

The Plot, as it was:
Charles Bronson stars as Lou Torrey, an NYC cop transferred to Los Angeles with a reputation as a reckless force (he shot a teenager who pulled a gun on him during a chase). When an informant (Eddie Firestone) is shot dead in his care, Torrey investigates what prompted the slaying. Torrey eventually uncovers a twisted murder plot in which Don Alberto Vescari (Martin Balsam) plans on taking out the remaining mob bosses in the area through unconventional channels. As expected, Torrey also has to deal with police personnel in nervous Lt. Daniels (Norman Fell!) and a bigoted bungler of a partner named Matthews (Ralph Waite!).

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
Cop: “He has a big gun.”
Lou Torrey: “…and a short future.”

With that brief exchange in the opening moments of The Stone Killer, viewers know all too well what to expect. Bronson goes to his second specialty in playing the rogue cop that bends the law to get results. Eastwood did it most memorably almost two years earlier in Dirty Harry & while this effort is lesser, it isn’t entirely disposable. At 95 minutes, TSK is certainly brisk and takes no time at getting to the point. Director Michael Winner (helming a Bronson pic for the 3rd time, after Chato’s Land & The Mechanic) is all brass tacks filmmaking here, showing off the action with no frills & a lean, brutal streak. That description obviously parallels its star as well as Bronson is at his cagey best. He’s at home in this universe, whether he’s cracking dry one liners & laying down hard ass dialogue as only Old Stoneface can. He’s also aided by a pretty solid supporting cast, including the future Mr. Roper, Walter Burke as a nervous drug dealer & Paul Koslo in an off key role of a bisexual trumpet player (acting with a manner similar to his one scene role in The Laughing Policeman). However, what makes this less memorable in the eyes of Bronson-philes is the inclusion of some heavy subjects that aren’t really milked for their full potential. There’s really no rhyme or reason to Ralph Waite’s racist cop being in the film other than providing Bronson with an occasional foil. Aside from a few comments that allow Torrey to respond tolerantly, Waite’s Matthews is just around for occasional comic relief & the whole thing comes off as a wasted opportunity. The whole “Vietnam vet” angle used is another arc that is briefly explored but doesn’t really go beyond being paid lip service. The plot moves all over the place, which is pretty unusual for a Bronson pic and it comes off a bit too ambitious for an hour and a half feature. When the action comes to the forefront, the film moves & moves well, with the finale making for a good set piece to let the corpses start piling up at a fast pace. The audience is left with one of those trademark, ambiguous, 70s endings that either makes sense to you or leaves you saying “That’s it?” There’s nothing wrong with that but its hardly memorable enough of a note to go out on, leaving The Stone Killer to be not much more than a decent time killer for your rainy day plans.

Character/Supporting Actor Sighting!:
- John Ritter is Officer Mort, the cop that escorts prisoner Gus Lipper (David Moody).

Body Count/Violence: 26. Bronson hands out most of the piping hot lead sandwiches as usual, as well as running a suspect through a store window with his car (the end result of one of the film’s occasional car chases)! The shooting is sometimes bloody & manages to produce some sort of record for stunt dummies used (as this article hilariously points out. Note: Does it surprise anyone that Bronson did a commercial for a product named Mandom?)

Sexuality/Nudity: A brief shot of a topless woman in bed is shown early in the movie. Alfred Langley’s (Koslo) bed partner is shown in his underwear but that’s as far as that goes. Langley dies soon afterwards at the hands of Bronson, which may or may not have been coincidental.

Language/Dialogue: Somewhere between mild & strong, with an inconsistent racial slur or two used.

How bad was it?:
If you’re familiar with the critical response of Bronson’s other vehicles, it won’t surprise you to learn that the reviews here are just as mixed as any other. Ebert described it as “…stylish escapism at breakneck speed” but preceded it with “it’s not much more nor does it mean to be”. Other reviews pretty much had their stars (or thumbs) planted squarely in the middle.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
Columbia Pictures released The Stone Killer in America on 8/8/73, almost a full year before Bronson’s star making turn in Death Wish. No box office or budget figures are public. It isn’t available on DVD in the States but it is on British region free DVD here.

Film: **1/2/*****
Entertainment value: ***1/2/*****

Copyright 2008 The Action Mutant.

No comments: