Color, 1973, 95 mins. 91 secs.
Directed by Michael Winner
Starring Charles Bronson, Martin Balsam, Jack Colvin, Paul Koslo, Norman Fell, Ralph Waite, Eddie Firestone
Indicator (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL), Twilight Time (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Sony (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

The Stone KillerThe Stone Killer

The third of six collaborations between director Michael Winner and Charles Bronson, this tough and effective cop film (which followed their work on Chato's Land and The Mechanic) is often overshadowed by the film they made one year later with this film's producer, Dino De Laurentiis: Death Wish. That's a shame as this is also a sterling example of the unique alchemy they could create together, with Bronson in top form in a role worthy of any of the others in the cop film tidal wave that hit after Dirty Harry in 1971. This would also be the second and last film (to date) adapted from a book by crime novelist John Gardner (following 1965's The Liquidator), who's perhaps best known to the general public for writing numerous James Bond novels starting in the early '80s.

After being transferred from New York to Los Angeles following a tragic shoot out, Lieutenant Lou Torrey (Bronson) arrives at his new headquarters over the opening titles accompanied by an electronic-laced funk score by the late, great Roy Budd. His new boss, Captain Daniels (sitcom regular Fell), orders him to hop right back onto a plane to New York to deliver the criminal he's just busted, Armitage (Firestone), but the short-lived trip is interrupted by a hit The Stone Killerat the airport. The assignment was carried out under the orders of mob boss Al Vescari (Balsam), who has in fingers in many pies on both coasts and has come up with a way to settle a decades-old score: hiring desperate, damaged Vietnam vets to kill everyone on his murder list. (This idea was later taken to operatic levels with Max Allan Collin's Quarry novels starting three years later). Soon Torrey is shooting, chasing, and conniving his way through an interstate vendetta that's leaving a thick trail of blood through two major cities. The Stone Killer

Loaded with colorful character actors with everyone from The Waltons' Ralph Waite to shifty Stuart Morgolin to a very young Hunter Von Leer (you'll recognize his voice right away from Halloween II) and even John Ritter (three years before he and Fell became famous on Three's Company), this is pure '70s movie nirvana. Car chase fans get a real treat fairly early on with a great, extended pursuit that smashes through a used car dealership and sends one stunt man on a motorcycle skidding under a truck, and Bronson gives one of his most physical performances as well.

Despite its pedigree, The Stone Killer has flown under the radar on home video for a long time since its initial VHS days from Columbia (and a laserdisc from Image Entertainment); it didn't hit The Stone KillerAmerican DVD until 2011 as an MOD title, at least culled from a new HD transfer as excellent as Sony's other work with its catalog titles. A handful of genuine pressed releases appeared in Europe shortly before that one, though the speed difference in the PAL transfers made Budd's score sound a little weird. Fortunately the film got a full-fledged special edition in the UK as a dual-format Blu-ray and DVD release (limited to 3,000 units) from Indicator, taken from what appears to be the same HD scan in the Sony vaults. It still looks rich and healthy here without compromising the film's gritty, often dark appearance, likely inspired by the aesthetic of The French Connection. In addition to the pristine The Stone KillerEnglish DTS-MD HD mono track (with optional SDH subtitles), the film can be played with an isolated track for Budd's score or a new audio commentary by film critic Nick Pinkerton, who focuses a great deal on Winner's career, the dozens of real locations, the prevalence of crime stories in pop culture throughout the '70s, Bronson's background, and the disparate critical response to the film upon its release. It's a solid track filled with good info (though '80s horror fans might notice the Street Trash goof). Finally you can watch the film with a 64-minute Winner interview as part The John Player Lecture series, conducted by Margaret Hinxman at London's National Film Theatre and covering his already infamous reputation at the time well before he tackled this film. Recorded just after the shooting of Lawman, it features Winner in typically chatty form as he speaks very, very quickly about his entire career up to that point with titles ranging from The Jokers to I'll Never Forget What's'isname. In "Mr. Blonde" (17m4s), actor Paul Koslo (who sports a distinctive long bleached hairdo in the film) chats about how he The Stone Killermade this at the same time as The Laughing Policeman and made a hilariously bad first impression on Winner on the set. (He and Bronson didn't exactly hit it off at first either, though they went on to make Mr. Majestyk together soon after.) Also included are the original trailer and a gallery of 75 photos including color stills, poster, paperback tie-ins, and a great batch of production shots from Winner's personal collection. Paul Talbot, author of Bronson's Loose! and Bronson's Loose Again!, would have to be here somewhere, and you'll find him in the liner notes booklet with his usual expert mixture of Bronson trivia and keen filmic observation about this film's placement in the filmography of its star; also included in the booklet is a selection of reviews and PR coverage from its release.

Though not available for review at the moment, the film was also released on Blu-ray only via Twilight Time in the U.S. from the same HD source and featuring the trailer and isolated music track. This time commentary duties are handled by Talbot, which should be enough for Bronson fans to quickly consider a double dip.

Reviewed on July 4, 2017.