The Mechanic (1972 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Michael Winner|
|Produced by||Robert Chartoff
|Written by||Lewis John Carlino|
|Music by||Jerry Fielding|
|Cinematography||Richard H. Kline
|Editing by||Freddie Wilson
Arnold Crust, Jr.
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Running time||100 minutes|
|Box office||$2,500,000 (US/ Canada rentals)|
The film is noted for its opening. There is no dialogue for the first 16 minutes of the film, as the hit man played by Bronson prepares to kill his current target.
Arthur Bishop (Charles Bronson) is a "mechanic" — a hit man who performs his jobs cleanly, without leaving a trace of his work. He works exclusively for an international secret organization, which has very strict rules: even those members who are becoming slightly unreliable are assassinated, long before they might jeopardize their organization. It is noted that Bishop is very sophisticated, as he regularly listens to classical music, has a remarkable art collection, and is a connoisseur of fine wines. He is evidently very wealthy, as demonstrated by his lifestyle and his exceptional house, thanks to his successful career as a hit man. However, due to the dangerous nature of his profession, Bishop is forced to live in isolation - he cannot show emotions or trust people. Bishop is under constant emotional pressure, so much so that he is prescribed medication for depression, and one day he is temporarily hospitalized when he loses consciousness as a result of the stress. In an effort to cope, Bishop pays a prostitute (Jill Ireland) to write emotional and sophisticated love letters to him because he cannot risk making friends.
When Bishop is assigned by his organization to kill one of the heads, "Big Harry" McKenna (Keenan Wynn), he does so with his usual sense of efficiency, imagination and detachment, shooting at Big Harry, while making him think that the shots are being fired by a hidden sniper trying to kill them both. Harry, who Bishop knows has a weak heart, is forced to run up a steep incline to escape the shots, which brings on a heart attack. Bishop then finishes Harry off by smothering him with his gloved hand, thus making it appear that the cause of death was indeed the heart attack.
At Big Harry's funeral, Bishop meets Harry's narcissistic, ruthless and ambitious son Steve (Jan-Michael Vincent). Steve is intrigued by Bishop and seeks to find out more about him. Bishop is also intrigued, as he realizes that Steve has a personality becoming of a hit man, and plays along. Finally he makes Steve his apprentice, demonstrating his "tools of the trade", such as piloting, shooting, lipreading, Martial Arts and powerfully developed fingers. As part of this training program, Bishop teaches Steve that "every person has a weakness, and that once this weakness is found, the target is easy to kill." But Bishop fails to get his superiors' consent for the arrangement. Following a messy contract assassination conducted by Bishop and Steve, the organization warns Bishop that his irresponsible choice to involve Steve is interpreted as selfish behavior, which cannot be tolerated "because the organization relies on 'democratic principles' that put the survival of the group above personal ambitions".
The organization then gives Bishop an urgent assassination mission, this time in Italy. Once again, Bishop involves Steve in the new plan, but just before they leave Bishop happens to find among Steve's belongings a file containing a lot of information about Bishop. This file is very similar to the files Bishop made concerning his assassination targets. Bishop realizes that his apprentice Steve is turning against him and starts his own private investigation into Steve's background. Nevertheless, Bishop allows Steve to go with him to Italy to conduct the assassination.
In Italy, Bishop and Steve approach a boat where their intended victim is located, but it becomes apparent that this was a trap prepared by the organization and they are the real target. Bishop and Steve are ambushed by other assassins of the organization, but they manage to kill all their opponents, leaving no witnesses, and return to the hotel in Naples, preparing to go back to the United States.
His apprenticeship apparently complete, Steve shares a celebratory bottle of wine with Bishop, having coated the latter's glass with brucine, a colorless and deadly alkaloid. When Bishop realizes that he has been poisoned and that he is becoming paralyzed, he asks Steve if it was because Bishop had killed Steve's father. Steve responds that he had not realized his father was murdered, instead believing that he had simply died of the heart attack. Steve is full of himself, and taunts Bishop, saying "you told me that everyone has a jelly spot--yours was that you couldn't cut it alone." Steve goes on to reveal that he wasn't acting on orders to kill Bishop, stating that he is going to continue picking his own targets, with the suggestion that killing Bishop was something akin to an artistic choice on Steve's part that establishes him (at least in his own mind) as superior and a more refined killer even than Bishop, who needed the "license" provided by the secret organization he worked for.
Contemptuously leaving Bishop to die of what will appear to be a heart attack, Steve returns to the US to take over Bishop's life and career, arriving at Bishop's home to pick up the red Mustang he had left there before the overseas trip. After admiring the house and taking a souvenir, Steve goes out to the Mustang and gets in to leave. He finds a note affixed to the rear-view mirror. It is from Bishop, and reveals that he had anticipated that Steve might use the trip to Italy as an opportunity to kill Bishop. The note reads, "Steve, if you're reading this it means I didn't make it back. It also means you've broken a filament controlling a 13-second delay trigger. End of game. Bang! You're dead." As Steve frantically reaches for the door handle, the car explodes in a seething fireball as the credits roll and the film draws to a close.
- Charles Bronson as Arthur Bishop
- Jan-Michael Vincent as Steve McKenna
- Keenan Wynn as Harry McKenna
- Jill Ireland as The Girl
- Linda Ridgeway as Louise
- Frank Dekova as The Man
- James Davidson as Intern
- Lindsey Crosby as Policeman
- Steve Vinovich as Party Guest
- Takayuki Kubota as Yamoto
Monte Hellman was originally scheduled to direct The Mechanic. He and screenwriter Lewis John Carlino adapted Carlino's then-unpublished novel and worked on the script for several weeks before producers switched studios and hired Michael Winner to direct.
In Carlino's original script, the relationship between Arthur Bishop and Steve McKenna was explicitly gay. Producers had difficulty securing financing and several actors, including George C. Scott, flatly refused to consider the script until the homosexuality was removed. Carlino described The Mechanic as "one of the great disappointments of my life", continuing:
I wanted a commentary on the use of human relationships and sexual manipulation in the lives of two hired killers. It was supposed to be a chess game between the older assassin and his young apprentice. The younger man sees that he can use his sexuality to find the Achilles heel that he needs to win. There was a fascinating edge to it, though, because toward the end the younger man began to fall in love, and this fought with his desire to beat the master and take his place as number one....The picture was supposed to be a real investigation into this situation, and it turned into a pseudo James Bond film.
The film's martial arts scenes were shot in one day at the dojo of Takayuki Kubota, who also appears in the film. The shooting required 65 camera setups. The scenes were cut short in the final edit because, according to associate producer Henry Gellis, their inclusion made the film seem like an installment in the James Bond series.
Vincent Canby of The New York Times described The Mechanic as a "solemn, rather spurious action melodrama". Noting the "father son rivalry" between Arthur and Steve and picking up on the "latent homosexual bond" between the two, Canby concluded that the film was "non-stop, mostly irrelevant physical spectacle" and pondered what a different director might have done with the same material. Roger Ebert praised Bronson's performance, noting that he appears to be truly listening to Vincent rather than simply waiting for him to stop for Bronson's next line. While finding the plot twists "neat", Ebert found that director Winner failed to squarely address the relationship between the leads in favor of too many boring action sequences. Judith Crist dismissed the film as "a banal expedition into slaughter and sadism and stupid dialogue". Any hint of authenticity, she wrote, was obliterated by Winner's "bang-bang-bang approach".
On May 7, 2009, it was announced that director Simon West would be helming a remake with Jason Statham taking the lead role. The remake opened in the United States on January 28, 2011, making $11,500,000 on its opening weekend.
- "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19
- Stevens, p. 93
- quoted in Russo, p. 91
- Hey Sensei! Wanna Be a Star?
- 'Mechanic,' About a Professional Killer:Bronson Plays Role in Winner Movie Director Concentrates on Chase Spectacles
- The Mechanic, Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times
- Bang! Bang! You're Dead, Judith Crist, New York magazine, Movies section, 27 November 1972
- "West gives 'Mechanic' an overhaul - Entertainment News, Film News, Media". Variety. 2008-07-20. Retrieved 2009-05-08.
- Russo, Vito (1987). The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies (rev. ed). New York, Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-096132-5.
- Stevens, Brad (2003). Monte Hellman: His Life and Films. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-1434-0.