Color, 1972, 99 mins. 38 secs.
Directed by Michael Winner
Starring Charles Bronson, Jan-Michael Vincent, Keenan Wynn, Jill Ireland
Scorpion Releasing (Blu-ray), Twilight Time (Blu-ray) (US RA/R1 HD), Capelight (Blu-ray) (Germany RB HD), MGM (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
After leaving the U.S. for a while in the late 1960s to become a megastar in Europe and Japan thanks to a batch of successful thrillers and westerns, Charles Bronson came back home ready to take America by storm. The process was fairly speedy thanks to his partnership with director Michael Winner, with whom he collaborated on two violent projects released in 1972, Chato's Land and The Mechanic. The pair would soon become one of the most reliable names in action films thanks to the blockbuster hit Death Wish two years later (and two of its sequels) as well as the underrated The Stone Killer. One of the best of the Bronson '70s cycle, The Mechanic earned the ire of screenwriter Lewis John Carlino (The Great Santini) for excising the same-sex attraction between its lead characters but found the right formula behind and in front of the camera. Of course, the film would also inspire a decent, loose remake in 2011 starring Jason Statham that blunting the original film's memorable ending.
In a lengthy opener completely devoid of dialogue, we witness the professional routine of paid assassin Arthur Bishop (Bronson) carrying out his latest assignment. His socially isolated life becomes complicated when one of his superiors, Big Harry (Wynn), is chosen as his next target, and the secretive organization doesn't take too kindly when Arthur decides to take an apprentice in the form of Harry's wily son, Steve (Vincent). When the two men are sent on a mission in Italy, their professional arrangement quickly comes to a violent climax.
Though he wasn't the original casting choice, Bronson seems tailor made for the role of a stoic but emotionally distressed killer with a taste for the finer things in life. As was his practice at the time, he also used his clout to insist on a role for his wife, Jill Ireland, in a one-scene stint as a prostitute who serves as a kind of romantic release valve. One of the most noteworthy aspects of the film is the jittery score by Jerry Fielding, who had become Winner's composer of choice by that point thanks to his work on Chato's Land and a particularly exceptional score for The Nightcomers. The two men would only work together on two more films, Scorpio and The Big Sleep, before Fielding's untimely death at the end of the decade, but there wasn't a dud collaboration in the bunch. The film's limited cast of characters gives it an odd chamber drama feeling for much of the running time, though the action sequences are executed with considerable panache when they arrive including a fiery climactic confrontation that still packs a punch.
Released theatrically by United Artists, The Mechanic has been regularly available on home video since the early VHS days from CBS/Fox and through its current ownership by MGM. The first Blu-ray appeared in Germany in 2013 with only a trailer as an extra, followed in 2014 by a special edition from Twilight Time featuring the trailer, an isolated score track, and an audio commentary by cinematographer Richard Kline and the label's Nick Redman, both of whom are sadly no longer with us. It's a very solid track with plenty of stories about the colorful Winner (who also worked with Kline on Death Wish II) as well as the challenges of shooting long non-verbal sequences with a daunting amount of set ups for the hit scenes. In 2020, Scorpion Releasing brought the film back into circulation on U.S. Blu-ray, available via Ronin Flix. Advertised as a new 2K scan from the interpositive, the transfer looks quite a bit better with deeper blacks, better detail, and more balanced colors that don't lean so heavily on the yellow side. Though not initially advertised, the Kline/Redman track is ported over here-- but you also get an excellent new commentary by Bronson's Loose! author Paul Talbot that's up to the high standards of his prior Bronson tracks. Pretty much anything you could want to know gets covered here thanks to his careful eye for production detail and wealth of knowledge about Bronson's life and career at the time; essential listening. Also included is a new interview with Carlino (13m58s) about his research and interest in the "interior life" of a paid assassin, the more "intellectual" nature of the original script, and the addition of the prostitute scene to affirm the heterosexuality of Bronson's character. Finally the disc closes out with a reissue theatrical trailer as Killer of Killers, a sort-of-hidden reel of radio spots (1m50s), and bonus trailers for The Delta Force, Who'll Stop the Rain, The Killer Elite, Rollerball, The Dogs of War, and Death Wish 3.
SCORPION RELEASING (BLU-RAY)
TWILIGHT TIME (BLU-RAY)
Reviewed on June 8, 2020