BR: Stone Killer, The (1972)

June 16, 2017 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Excellent

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  may 16, 2017

Genre:  Crime / Detective / Action

Synopsis: A detective tackles a mafia boss’s scheme to knock-off 40 enemies throughout the U.S. in a single day.

Special Features: Audio commentary by Charles Bronson historian Paul Talbot / Isolated Stereo Music Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and www.twilighttimemovies.com.

 


 

Review:

Reportedly the only film among the Charles Bronson-Dino De Laurentiis films never to make it to DVD, The Stone Killer took the cops uncovering a mass-criminal training scheme from John Gardner’s novel, replaced the multiple bank heist finale with a multiple mob hit, and swapped London for Los Angeles, but still leaving New York City as a key location where Dirty Harry variant Lou Torrey (Bronson) hops back & forth.

According to Bronson biographer Paul Talbot (Bronson’s Loose!: The Making of the Death Wish Films and Bronson’s Loose Again! On the Set with Charles Bronson), Gerald Wilson’s screenplay created a wholly different mythology, and many characters were radically changed or dropped. None of the modifications affected the film’s quality and overall coherence, though; Bronson fans will find Stone Killer to be a real treat, and for admirers of director-producer Michael Winner (yes, they exist), we get another gritty crime thriller that’s almost entirely shot on location.

The core story has Torrey resigning as a straight detective from the NYC police force after he very publicly killed a suspect on a building fire escape (an image used in the poster’s striking poster design). Torrey is a seminal version of Paul Kersey, the travelling crime-solver in the Death Wish sequels, but fully sanctioned by police peers and working with local departments to track down specific scumbags.

Strange murders tied to crooks and mob figures are eventually tied to a truly crazy scheme by mob boss Av Vescari (Martin Balsam) to exact revenge for a 40 year old massacre that wiped out Sicilian bosses in 1931. The secret plan? Specially train Vietnam vets with no criminal records as hired assassins, and wipe out in one day all surviving figures tied to and who benefitted from the massacre.

It’s a crazy plot for a crime thriller, certainly steering into serial killer terrain as bodies pile up quite fast, but being shot post-Bullitt (1968), automobile trauma far exceeds human carnage in scale and finality. There are more 1960s vehicles utterly destroyed in the film than murder victims, yet being a Winner film, there’s no shortage of gore, disposable bare-breasted women, and kinetic action scenes, and as the commentators in Twilight Time’s Scorpio (1973) opined, Winner’s scene changes and grasp of plot logic were very idiosyncratic.

Stone Killer slashes from cost to coast, location to location in a hard, no-nonsense cutting and narrative style, but it works because although the film may have been pitched and sold as a Dirty Harry (1971) variant for crime & action fans, it’s a very different animal. Whereas Harry is reviled by his bosses, and the detective applies his own code to getting the job done with increasingly serious repercussions on his position within the force, Torrey cuts his tether with a single department at the onset, becoming a badge-carrying free agent who’s able to gain further funds, manpower, and have former boss Guido Lorenz (David Sheiner) risk his pension and the lives of fellow officers in spite of making a physical mess wherever Torrey goes.

This is the goofy crime world in which cops shoot into crowds instead of chasing and waiting for a clean shot, and in the film’s amazing car chase, Torrey chases biker / ‘bisexual trombonist’ Alfred Langley (The Omega Man’s Paul Koslo) throughout Los Angeles, crashing his car through sales stalls, chickens, a car dealership, warehouse, and oncoming traffic. The dangerous aftermath mandates a single band-aid on his temple, but no bill for damage nor reprimand / suspension / dismissal for almost killing several locals going about their daily lives.

These aspects alone make Stone Killer more of a cartoon than Clint Eastwood’s emotionally bleak Dirty Harry, whose own physical state gets wrecked at every encounter with serial killer Scorpio. (Talbot also notes the film required script approval by the L.A. and NYC police departments to make use of their respective working precincts, but either they were okay with Torrey’s abusive behaviour, or the scenes were shot on a closed set, because cops are not portrayed as especially moral guys in this drama.)

Winner also embraces sleaze like no other director, and it’s amusing when historian / audio commentator Talbot quotes Bronson as regarding Winner as an intelligent European director on par with Hollywood’s best. Winner’s worldview was almost perpetually bleak, and he was perfectly comfortable orchestrating rape scenes with a high sleaze factor than social commentary, but perhaps that’s one of several qualities that enabled Bronson and Winner to click so well: an unemotive, verbally minimalist actor playing a Wronged Man who uses wits, brawn, and skills to fight for his life, if not the lives of others. The actor may have refused to appear in scenes of violated or naked women, but he was adept in tackling the aftermath – reeling from the horror, then committing to a vengeance quest, and killing everyone, as is the case in Chato’s Land (1972), one of the pair’s best collaborations.

Stone Killer also shares the same screenwriter as Chato and Death Wish (1974), and like the former, there is some social commentary on racial strife and urban crime, but it more often than not manifests as rude repartee, as with Det. Matthews (Ralph Waite), Torrey’s southern bigot partner; or as an object of ridicule, when Torrey visits a desert ashram where hippies refute the ills of beef and live amongst free-range camels and llamas. That sequence is also the most ridiculous in the film: Torrey somehow manages to interrogate a hippie chick (Kelley Miles) while a whole menagerie of dancing, jazzing youths sing and gyrate in the near background.

Stone Killer benefits hugely from the grubby locations – authentic NYC dives and Little Italy bistros, utterly shitty L.A. environs, and the weirdest desert house in cinema – as well as a superb cast of supporting actors, including a young John Ritter who would appear with Norman Fell (Torrey’s L.A. boss) in the hit TV series Three’s Company (1976-1981).

Fell was a fine actor (Bullitt), and it’s a treat to see him underplay working class figures instead of grumpypants Mr. Roper, a role that brought him fame (and no doubt financial stability), but lacked the seriousness of his prior film work. Also in the cast is Stuart Margolin (The Rockford Files) as the vets’ lead trainer, Hunter von Leer (TV’s Dallas) as a lead assassin, and Jack Colvin (Hickey & Boggs, Embryo, The Incredible Hulk) as a car thief.

Twilight Time’s Blu sports a nice transfer of this sort-of lost Bronson classic, and features an isolated music track with stereo cues from the surviving masters of Roy Budd’s bouncy score.

Talbot’s commentary is a bit try and overly apocryphal, detailing car and gun models used in the film, but it’s filled with a decent level of production details and the film’s importance within Bronson’s filmography. Stone Killer was apparently pitched as a potential franchise where Torrey hops city-to-city to solve challenging crime issues, but the film’s meh box office performance had Columbia pass on their option to produce Death Wish, which became a blockbuster for Paramount.

Bronson was around 51 when he made Stone Killer, earning a $1 million fee for his work as one of the most bankable international stars. The film may not have offered a million dollar performance, but the camera clearly embraced every line and wrinkle in his face, enhancing Torrey’s stoicism and disgust, and conveying a man with decades of experience wading through bullshit.

Following the mob-themed The Valachi Papers (1972), The Stone Killer was the second of several Bronson films produced by De Laurentiis, but as Talbot notes, the first Bronson starring film shot entirely in the U.S. since X-15 (1961), although the actor was more of a co-star in that atypical production.

 

 

© 2017 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
 
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

 


 

 


 

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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