Monday, September 26, 2022

Charles Bronson Seeks The Stone Killer

Charles Bronson as Torrey.
Made two years after Dirty Harry (1971), The Stone Killer stars Charles Bronson as a Harry clone named Lou Torrey. After being suspended for his violent behavior, police detective Torrey transfers from New York City to Los Angeles. After two quiet years, Torrey arrests a former mob hitman who warns that "something big" is about to happen. Torrey expresses little interest until the retired mobster is assassinated at an airport by a professional killer.

As Torrey investigates the case, he learns that Vietnam veterans are being recruited and trained to execute a series of mass killings. But who are the targets and who is behind this nefarious plan? And how is it linked to a series of mob killings that took place in 1931?

An interesting plot and a cast peppered with familiar faces highlight this middle-of-the-road gritty crime drama. The former can be credited to John Gardner, who wrote the source novel A Complete State of Death (a line uttered by Bronson in the movie).

Bronson is adequate as the lead, though there's no depth to his character. An opening scene reveals that Torrey is divorced and has an estranged daughter--but she appears to have been written out of the rest of the screenplay. 

Balsam heads the supporting cast.
Fortunately, the supporting cast include a bevy of seasoned veterans, such as: Norman Fell as Bronson's boss; Martin Balsam as a Sicilian crime boss; Stuart Margolin as a mercenary; Alfred Ryder as a mob gunman; and Ralph Waite as a lousy excuse for a police detective. Waite appears in one of the best scenes. When Torrey hops in a police car to chase a baddie, Waite's stranded detective calls headquarters to find out if he has to pay for a taxi back to the station or whether he can claim it as a business expense. Discerning viewers might also recognize a young John Ritter (yes, appearing in a film with Norman Fell three years before Three's Company).

Director Michael Winner, who teamed with Bronson frequently, heightens the action with a nifty downtown chase scene involving a car and a motorcycle. It's one of those crazy sequences in which a police car plows through a street market and crashes through a showroom window. One can only imagine the number of lawsuits subsequently filed against the city! There's also a decent shoot-out at a desert training facility and a better one inside a parking garage (though it's hard to tell the good guys from the baddies).

The Stone Killer doesn't rank with the decade's best crime dramas (e.g., The Taking of Pelham One Two Three) nor is it even the best collaboration between Bronson and Winner (that'd be Death Wish). However, it's an easily watchable action film with a good cast and a crisp, exciting plot. For the record, the title is mob slang for a professional killer.

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