Charles Bronson’s The Stone Killer (1973) + X-15 (1961)

June 16, 2017 | By

In his commentary track for Twilight Time’s new Blu of The Stone Killer (1973), Charles Bronson biographer Paul Talbot recounts how the actor worked no more than 8 hours a day, and in a prior commentary for Murphy’s Law (1986), TT’s historians and actress Kathleen Wilhoite remembered his impatience when filming slowed down, and Bronson would start to mutter ‘Come on, let’s shoot… Come on… Let’s shooooot!’ – both signs of an actor who made it clear he was there to do a job, but not put up with time-wasting bullshit.

Prior to 1961, Bronson had appeared in 77 TV series and films, and although he received co-starring billing with the ensemble cast of X-15 (1961), the feature film debut of Lethal Weapon (1987) director Richard Donner, he’d yet to achieve any starring role in a major feature film. During the 1960s, he remained part of an ensemble cast, playing smaller memorable roles – the ‘digger’ in The Great Escape (1963), for example – but by 1973 his career was quite different.


Original U.S. poster. No major stars except the sexy rocket.

Italian poster. There is ONLY Bronson.

Likely a reissue poster, showing an older, more seventies Bronson, making it appear this a new ‘legendary’ adventure.


Bankable international star (especially in Italy). $1 million fee with very specific working rules. And the ability to pick & choose projects instead of taking smaller roles and keep busy. Bronson was still a heavy worker – 1972 saw the release of The Valachi Papers, Chato’s Land, and The Mechanic – and he his ethic to keep working and supporting his family remained strong for another decade, becoming one of Cannon Films’ most reliable stars.

I’ve paired reviews of X-15 with Stone Killer because they signify the huge leap from supporting actor to star, as well as Bronson’s amazing persistence and knack for recognizing the unique screen persona he brought to specific genres.

Less words, a face lined with character-riddled creases, squinting eyes, and a physical presence that remained robust into early middle age. One only need see his agility in Chato’s Land, leaping around as his character offs scumbags for raping his wife, and being a force of pressurized strength as the calm yet agile boxer in Hard Times (1975), one of his best roles.

Both Twilight Time and KINO are having fun raiding the UA and Cannon catalogues of Bronson pictures, but his vast filmography of 160+ TV and film roles undoubtedly features oddities and nuggets forgotten or given perfunctory releases, and X-15‘s right up there.

Donner’s film debut wasn’t a career maker, but not unlike Anthony Mann’s Strategic Air Command (1955), it’s a film loaded with aeronautic porn – in this case it’s rare archival footage of NASA’s attempt to create a rocket controlled by its pilot that’s been integrated into a meh narrative involving three couples comprised of military pilots and their loyal, quietly suffering wives. The cliches are blatant, the cast largely unknown today except for Bronson and a young Mary Tyler Moore, but X-15 is an important entry in docu-dramas that place footage and montages of real test flights on par with its cast, and it’s a movie deserving a Special Edition.

Whereas Stone Killer gets the Twilight Time treatment of commentary and isolated score, X-15 was a perfunctory non-anamorphic DVD release by MGM in 2004, which for Bronson, NASA, and military gear fans, isn’t ideal. The film may well pop up on Blu as another unusual deep catalogue title that’s been remastered in HD and gets a home on disc, but whomever chooses to release the title, take the time to craft a special edition, like the one outlined at the end of my review, because yours might be the film’s first and only decent release it’ll get before it’s forgotten for good.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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