It had been a long time since I checked out Charles Bronson in his movie ‘The Mechanic’, and I’m talking like CBS Late Movie back in the ‘80’s as a kid long time, but seeing that CBS films has dusted off Arthur Bishop for a remake… soulless, imagination deprived, money grubbing remakes… I jumped in the time machine to visit the late Mr. Bronson and The Airwolf to observe how this movie looked forty years ago. Two things I got out of this revisit: One, you gotta love the seventies, and two, I’m almost certain that the new movie and the old movie will have nothing in common outside of some similar names and the title. In fact if they keep the old storyline for the remake, I’ll be stunned.
Before I get started I checked out the trailer for the original, which was completely misleading towards the type of movie this would be. The trailer made out Arthur Bishop to be some kind honorable killer of killers, taking out pimps and drug dealers. While this is true, Arthur Bishop didn’t do these things out of honor, he did these things because the people he worked for needed drug dealers, pimps and killers eliminated so that they could fill the void of the dead drug dealers pimps and killers. Apparently moral ambiguity didn’t fly all that well for the general public back in 1972.
The film starts with a fifteen minute scene detailing the artistry in which Arthur Bishop applies his trade. Bishop creates accidents and mishaps to eliminate his prey. Bishop’s next certified mail package has orders for him to eliminate long time family friend and colleague Big Harry McKenna (Keenan Wynn). Somehow Harry has fallen out of favor with the organization these men work for and Harry has asked Bishop to throw in a good word for him, calm these people down if he could. Bishop did not do this. Just so you know, Harry told a funny story about a fishing trip he went on with Bishop and his dad in which Bishop, as a child, almost drowned to death. Bishop didn’t think that story was all that funny. This could by why Harry took the gig without a second thought, not that he had the option of turning it down anyway.
The movie actually centers around the relationship between Bishop and Harry’s hedonistic son Steve (Jan-Michael Vincent). We know Bishop is lonely and a little on the miserable side but it’s still kind of difficult to see exactly why he took on Steve as
an apprentice. Steve is spoiled, disrespectful, self-centered and to say that he wasn’t all that broken up about his dad’s death would be a gross understatement. But Bishop sees something in the kid, this something apparently being that he has the ability to kill somebody and not feel bad about it. For his part Steve is fascinated by Bishop, trying to figure out ‘what his action’ is. Eventually Bishop let’s Steve know the score, Steve is down for the action, and a very strange relationship is formed.
Steve and Bishop do their wax on / wax off thing, Steve takes to it like a baby to mother’s milk, they do a gig, the gig is sloppy and Bishop is called on the carpet by his people. They aren’t happy with him, for a number of reasons. To prove that he is still a viable member of a team he has to take a ‘Cowboy Job’, meaning he just runs up and shoots somebody. That’s not how Bishop works. Plus Bishop knows a little bit more about the situation than he’s letting on. It’s off to Italy for Steve and Bishop to do this job and the double cross is on.
‘The Mechanic’ circa 1972 is one trippy movie, and it looks like it’s a conflicted movie. The first half of the movie is fairly static, beginning with the long sequence of watching Bishop apply his trade, then leading into a sketchy and incomplete presentation of whatever organization he does his work for. There are times during this first half of the movie that it bogs down into realm of tedium, but it does serve the purpose of defining the character of Arthur Bishop.
The second half of the movie is the better half, not because of the pair of over the top action sequences that director Michael Winner inserted here, but because this is where the relationship between Steve and Bishop takes shape and becomes a little weird. Dare I even say it’s almost even homoerotic? Blasphemy to be sure because this is Charles Bronson we’re talking about, a man’s man amongst men… but there was something off kilter and a little uncomfortable going on between Steve and Bishop. Maybe it was the long walks on the beach where the two men talked riddles around each other, or perhaps the intimate discussions at the burlesque club where their attention was on one another and not the near naked women on stage. Or maybe it was the complete disregard of women in general in this film, Bishop using the one woman he has contact with as a stage prop to help him through his miserable existence and Steve showing even less regard for women, using them as a side show for his bemused entertainment.
It’s this bizarre and uncomfortable relationship between these two cats that’s makes this movie work, and not that the new movie isn’t going to work on some level, but I doubt very seriously that it’s going be like this. In addition to the strange relationship, there is the absence of morality in this film, no good guys or bad guys… just bad guys and worst guys, and we have a conclusion which… well… let’s just say we can see why there wasn’t a sequel to this movie.
This is kind of stuff you got in the 70’s. Odd, morally ambiguous movies in which our heroes consisted of the likes of Don Corleone and Superfly and no one was concerned about the repercussion of using women as nothing more than objects. I still haven’t decided on whether or not ‘The Mechanic’ was a good movie, but it was a unique one and I am curious to see what 40 years worth of technical progress, but also forty years worth of risk regression will give us with the remake.