Cult Movies: The Mechanic is a mean and moody Charles Bronson gem

Charles Bronson in The Mechanic
Charles Bronson in The Mechanic

DIRECTOR Michael Winner made quite a few movies with Charles Bronson as his leading man. Some were good, some were bad and some were downright reprehensible. The Mechanic, released to cinemas in 1972 and now available on Blu-ray via Scorpion Releasing, is one of the better ones.

The second pairing of director and star – Chato's Land was released a year earlier – this is a quality offering that ticks all the boxes needed for a successful 1970s action thriller and adds a memorable central performance from Bronson into the bargain. In all honesty, if this was being pitched on Dragon's Den, this is the point I'd be mouthing "I'm in!"

Here, old moody chops Bronson is Arthur Bishop, an unemotional hit man who's good at his job but less content in his private life. A meticulous and very successful killer given to bumping off his victims in such a well researched manner their demise always looks like an accident, he's an empty shell when he returns home. Sad, hollow and given to spending his time with a high class call girl (played by his real life wife, Jill Ireland) he lives a miserable life popping prescription pills to ward off his inner demons.

Everything changes, though, when he's commissioned to kill an acquaintance called 'Big' Harry McKenna (Keenan Wynne). Initially not keen on the job, he knuckles down and offs his target in his own inimitable style.

Charles Bronson and Jan-Michael Vincent
Charles Bronson and Jan-Michael Vincent

Bizarrely, he then forms a friendship with his victim's 20-something son, Steve (Jan-Michael Vincent), whom he decides to groom as his hit man accomplice. Odd as this set up may seem at first, there are other forces at play and the dynamic in their relationship soon starts to shift.

Tightly-wound and moody throughout, The Mechanic is in many ways the perfect Charles Bronson film: a man of few words playing a repressed man of few words who makes a living killing people makes for a memorable screen performance, and Bronson positively bristles with edgy energy every time he's on-screen. He connects well with the sparky Vincent and the film explores the darkness of the hit man's world fearlessly from start to finish.

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For an action film, it's maybe lacking a little in out-and-out action, but that's more than made up for in the smouldering film noir vibe that Winner manages to harness, and there's a sense of realism at play throughout that makes the violence all the more surprising when it does come.

This new release adds some impressive extras to the standard high-definition transfer of the film itself, including a commentary track from Bronson biographer Paul Talbot that digs deep into the actor's life and motivations, and an interview with writer Lewis John Carlino that explores the real life mafia stories that inspired the work. Alongside all the usual trailers and suchlike, it's a fitting way to treat a very solid slice of 70s action film history.

It may not be the greatest film either Bronson or Winner would make in their lifetimes, but The Mechanic is a mean and moody little gem all the same.