Surprisingly Gay, For A Winner
So here’s the thing: if I’m about to watch a movie that is a remake I have to go and seek out the original beforehand, unless I’ve already seen the original somewhat recently. Call it OCD, call it just being a loon, call it whatever, but it is an unfortunate side effect of being me. This goes for sequels as well. Before I go along to see Mission: Impossible: Ghost: Protocol: Revenge Of The Colons, for example, I will have to bust out the DVDs of the first three. That’s right, I said have to. I don’t have any say in the matter. If I resist this urge, I’ll be sitting in the cinema in a cold sweat, unable to concentrate on Paula Patton changing her clothes in a moving car (as well as whatever high-altitude acrobatics Maverick is getting up to this time). In short, the new flick will be wasted on me. With this in mind, before watching The Stath and Ben Foster get down to some killing, I got a hold of Michael Winner’s 1972 opus The Mechanic*. And you know what? Totally worth it.
The Mechanic opens with an astonishing 15 minute sequence of Bronson, as Arthur Bishop, setting up and carrying out a hit on his latest target; the entire thing playing out without a single word of dialogue. That shit just doesn’t happen anymore, and it’s a real pity. Rule 1 of screenwriting is supposed to be “Show, don’t tell”, but how many filmmakers today really take that to heart? About the only recent film I can think of that had such a cavalier attitude to exposition is Shane Carruth’s Primer, but that had the freedom of being practically a one-man show, and was an anomaly on so many different levels, I don’t even know where to start.
But anyway. Bishop specialises in hits that appear as accidents or natural deaths, and once he has completed the opening job and headed back home, he gets a call to visit his boss, Big Harry. It is here where Bishop and Harry’s son Steve McKenna first cross paths. Steve is clearly a bit of an asshole; the first time we see him, he’s asking Big Harry for cash (and being a smarmy bastard about it too). This was Jan-Michael Vincent’s first big movie, and it is a world away from his best known role as the brooding, eagle-serenading, helicopter-stealing, Stringfellow Hawke.
Harry and Bishop go back a long way. In fact Harry and Bishop’s old man came up together back in the day, but this life-long relationship doesn’t stop Bishop accepting his next job: Harry himself. Aware that Harry has a weak heart, Bishop sets up a fake sniper attack for Harry to escape from knowing that the exertion will just about do the old guy in. After Harry’s funeral, Bishop gives Steve a ride home to find a party in full swing back at Steve’s place. The two end up with Steve’s girlfriend who is threatening to kill herself by slitting her wrists. In one of the creepiest yet oddly funny scenes I can remember, Steve and Bishop sit around and watch casually as Louise draws a razorblade across her arms, chatting about how long it would take her to bleed to death. After a brief time jump, we see that Steve has actually gone off to make himself a sandwich! This guy is clearly a sociopath and Bishop, who hasn’t yet told Steve what he does for a living, reckons he could have an apprentice here. From this point on the two are almost inseparable as Bishop slowly reveals the truth about his profession and the the tricks of his trade, building to an explosive climax as the two take a job together in Italy.
While watching this, I was a little surprised by how gay the movie is for a Seventies action flick. Steve is basically flirting with Bishop from minute one, and the older man is clearly loving it. Nothing is stated explicitly, and in all honesty it might not even have been that noticeable when the flick came out (pardon the pun) in 1972. I did some checking and apparently in Lewis John Carlino’s first draft of the screenplay – which he had adapted from his own then-unpublished novel – the two men were actually lovers but that aspect had to be removed in order to get the film produced. The undertones are plainly still there though.
One more thing I have to mention is The House. Bishop has probably the greatest house I have seen in a movie, next to maybe Wayne Manor. You walk in the front door and you’re in a damn rainforest. The walls are covered in art and antique weaponry. This is one seriously cultured hired killer.
One problem I had with the film is the humour. There are a few moments of almost Cannonball Run-level gaggery in the background of some scenes, especially during the motorbike chase sequence. Whether these were Carlino’s influence or Michael Winner’s, I don’t know, but they really kill what is meant to be a suspenseful bit.
So, should you follow my lead and watch this film? Well, yeah. Why not? I wouldn’t say it’s a keeper, but it’s definitely worth a rent. In fact, knowing my timing, it’ll probably show up on late night telly in the next few days.
*Thanks again, Lovefilm