THE STONE KILLER (1973) — The Charles Bronson/Michael Winner Cop Flick That Set New Trends

(…for Charles Bronson and Michael Winner)

The Stone Killer is available now on Blu-ray from Twilight Time in Limited Edition of 3000 units.

The Stone Killer was directed by Michael Winner; his third collaboration with Bronson. Winner, along with J. Lee Thompson, was a frequent partner in Bronson’s revitalized career as an aging action icon. They made six films together, the first three of which did not have “Death Wish” in their titles.

The Stone Killer would set something of a precedent for a career defined mostly by westerns and war pictures, casting Bronson as a hardened, vigilante cop in modern times — a description which would, in part or whole, color many of his roles to come.

The plot concerns an elaborate setup in which an elderly mafia don (Martin Balsam) orchestrates a massive gang war retaliation by hiring an army of disgruntled Vietnam vets — all of them skilled military men with no criminal records — as his mercenaries, and in doing so removing or obscuring any direct mafia connections to the operation. Grizzled cop Lou Torrey (Bronson) gets wind of the conspiracy and strives to solve the impossibly difficult mystery.

Unfortunately this one left a pretty sour taste in my mouth thanks to the police cruelty on display, mostly perpetrated by the main character. Coming a couple years after Dirty Harry, the film goes heavy with the “mean cop” angle. Torrey is tough on crime to say the least, and frequently criticized by his superiors for his eagerness to pull the trigger. In one interrogation sequence demonstrative of his casual cruelty, he knocks his interviewee out of his chair. When the man objects the treatment, he apologizes by punching him.

While it can be entertaining to watch good guys slug scumbags who probably have it coming, this depiction of police abuse has obviously aged very poorly, making it a challenge to appreciate a film that seems to condone unwarranted violence at the hands of aggressive police officers. The film attempts to excuse Torrey’s awfulness by making sure he’s not the worst cop on the force — another is openly racist, obnoxiously letting slip a constant stream of offensive slurs.

Unsurprisingly, the movie fares best in the action department, and it’s full of vehicular stunts and gunplay. A particularly memorable chase sequence involves Bronson pursuing a perp who skids his motorcycle under a trailer, then hoofs it on foot and fires off a couple rounds into a POV shot of the windshield before getting run over.

Overall, it’s fairly average for the sort of action movie that defined Bronson’s later output, though it’s perhaps a bit more interesting for being the prototype of that brand.

The Package

The Stone Killer was released on Blu-ray in May by Twilight Time in their usual Limited Edition packaging aesthetic: a frost-colored case and 8-page booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo.

The picture is sourced from a new 4K restoration, though that doesn’t necessarily come across, given the softness of the image.

Special Features and Extras

Audio Commentary
…with biographer Paul Talbot, author of Bronson’s Loose! The Making of the Death Wish Films and Bronson’s Loose Again! On the Set with Charles Bronson.

Isolated Music Track

Theatrical Trailer (2:35)

A/V Out.

Available from Twilight Time:

Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have slight compression inherent to file formats.

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