Charles Bronson and director Michael Winner is no doubt best remembered for their 1974 film, Death Wish. Lost in the shuffle of the endless if entertaining sequels is that it's a pretty decent movie. The duo had worked together three times prior since 1972 though, including 1973's The Stone Killer, an interesting comparison piece compared to Death Wish.
Police Lieutenant Lou Torrey (Bronson) is interested in results and little else. He doesn't care how or why it got done. Cases need to get solved, crooks need to be put away. Torrey is bounced from his NYPD precinct and moves west, taking a job on the L.A. police department. Transporting a murder suspect from NYC to L.A., Torrey barely survives a hit attempt, the suspect killed by a drive-by shooter. Torrey thinks back on what happened. The suspect talked -- at the time nonsensically -- of a coming hit. Could the man have been onto something? Torrey begins to investigate, and the clues lead right to the top of the Mafia.
I've mentioned this before. Crime thrillers from the 1970s have a certain charm that you're either going to love or hate with very little middle ground. They can be low-brow, aggressively violent, sexually suggestive (usually pretty obviously), and in general.....just a hell of a lot of fun to watch. That's what you will be getting here with this Bronson-Winner pairing. Bouncing back and forth between NYC and L.A., the story never slows down as Bronson's Torrey gets deeper into the case. The soundtrack from Roy Budd is an odd mix of jazz and funk (listen HERE), but it works in a ridiculous way. That low-budget, gritty, dirty feel permeates the story -- for the better -- and even when it's not a "good" movie, it's still highly entertaining.
Based off a book by John Gardner (with maybe the best title ever) titled 'A Complete State of Death,' 'Stone' gets some points for originality. Released the year after the classic The Godfather, there are similar/familiar touches of that mobster story. It was hard for every mob movie made after 1972 not to have at least some hints of it. The touches are there, but 'Stone' also has a unique streak. Martin Balsam plays Al Vescari, a Sicilian mobster with quite a bit of power who intends to exact some long-awaited revenge. His plan? Recruit disillusioned Vietnam vets with clean records, and train them to lead the assault on a mob war across the country. It's a cool gimmick, and one that's fun to watch.
Oh, Mr. Bronson, you're pretty cool, aren't you? By 1973, Charles Bronson was typically playing the same character over and over again. That's far from a bad thing. He's perfect at the stoic, silent anti-hero. His Torrey is fed up with all the protocols and rules that limit his effectiveness, and basically, he just doesn't care. He will get the job done no matter how brutal his tactics are. Like many of his parts, he gets to throw a couple wisecracks here and there, and genuinely looks like he's having fun. Considering the part he would play a year later in Death Wish, it's hard not to smile at his Torrey who is basically Paul Kersey with a badge. Also look for 1970s familiar faces Jack Colvin, Stuart Margolin, Paul Koslo, Norman Fell, Ralph Waite and a young John Ritter as a beat cop on the investigation.
In his 1970s flicks, Winner had a formula, and he sticks to it here. Action, action and....um....oh, right, action. In a 91-minute movie, he packs it in at an almost frenetic pace. An opening chase in an NYC apartment is quick and to the point to get things going. A mid-movie chase with Torrey (in a boat of a car) chasing Paul Koslo (on a motorcycle) is priceless, a true gem in the ridiculous department with Torrey's car seemingly indestructible. Watch it HERE. A final showdown at the desert hideout of the Mafia army is a solid finish as well, an entertaining finish for an entertaining movie. I know it's far from a classic, and maybe it's just a bad movie, but I liked it a lot. Watch the entire movie HERE at Youtube.
The Stone Killer <---clip (1973): ***/****