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The Mechanic (1972)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Charles Bronson, Jan-Michael Vincent, Keenan Wynn, Jill Ireland, Linda Ridgeway, Frank DeKova

Written By: Lewis John Carlino Directed By: Michael Winner

The Short Version

The Mechanic is my favorite Charles Bronson movie.

It’s also one of the best, most interesting hitman movies ever made.

Take a hint from the title character and enjoy the setup and the details.

Enjoy the cinematography, too; this flick is gorgeously filmed.

If you have any interest in Bronson movies or in the hitman genre at all, you need to own The Mechanic.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Elegant, masterfully crafted, and sharp.

Pairs Well With...


Alas, the winery no longer seems to exist, if it ever did, and the establishment by that name that currently promotes wine tasting in Italy specializes in Verdicchio, which is mainly used for white wine, not rose/red, as seen in the movie.  Perhaps it’s for the best that you aren’t able to try it, though; it might have been the death of you.

“Slowly.  The time you take is very important.  Savor it.  Even what we’re doing now.  See, you must figure it carefully.  Don’t rush.  Know every move.  Turn it over and over in your mind until you’re sure there are no holes.  But you have to be dead sure… or dead.  No second chances.”

If there’s such a thing as an elegant hitman movie, surely The Mechanic is it.

The basic story seems simple enough.  Arthur Bishop (Charles Bronson, Messenger of Death) is a “mechanic,” which for the rest of us means “hitman.”  He is considered one of the best in his field, specializing in kills that look like accidents; kills that send messages to exactly the right people while not drawing the attention of anyone else.  Though he has no qualms about carrying out an order to kill a family friend and former mentor (Keenan Wynn, Piranha), he does take an interest in the welfare of the man’s son, Steve (Jan-Michael Vincent, Damnation Alley).  After discovering that Steve has certain aptitudes and predispositions, Bishop agrees to take him on as a protégé, which in turn causes some concern on the part of his employers.  And when those employers get concerned, they tend to solve their problems in a manner that Bishop is all too familiar with…

The Mechanic is much less about killing than it is about the psychology of one who kills for a living.  Though this isn’t unique in and of itself (one could argue that “hitman psychology” could be considered its own niche subgenre), the attention to detail and the conclusions drawn by the story of The Mechanic set it apart from the rest, with intriguing – and superior – results.

Let’s start with the attention to detail.  The first fifteen and a half minutes of The Mechanic are taken up by a nearly wordless (there’s a quick “hi” to a desk clerk; that’s it) study of Bishop scouting, planning, and executing a hit in elaborate fashion.  He rents a room in a flophouse across the street from his target’s own less-than-ideal digs.  When the target is away, Bishop sneaks into his place and gives it a meticulous once over, studying and taking photos of everything from the layout of a bookshelf that can be seen from the window to the contents of the man’s kitchen cabinets.  Bishop then takes this information back to his own home – not the flophouse this time, but rather the elegant reliquary that is his real home – and pores over every detail while listening to classical music.  Having determined a plan, he returns to the target’s apartment, replaces the teabags in the kitchen cabinet, places a delay mechanism in the gas range, and smears some paste into a book on the shelf.  With that accomplished, Bishop heads back across the street and waits.  His target comes home and makes some tea, in accordance with a habit Bishop has discovered through surveillance.  The (drugged) tea makes the man tired, and he shuffles to his bed and falls unconscious.  At this point, the delay device in the gas range goes off, and gas begins to leak into the apartment.  The drugged man doesn’t awaken.  Once enough time has passed to saturate the air in the apartment, Bishop takes a single shot not at the man, but at the book he doctored earlier, and the explosive paste within sparks, which in turn blows the apartment – and the target – away.

If you find yourself asking why Bishop didn’t just shoot the guy, you missed the point.

Bishop is an artist.  His target is dead, and now, the apparent cause of death is a gas leak.  No bullet will be found in the body.  The right people get the message, and the cops are none the wiser.  It takes more time, to be sure, but it is a hell of a lot more elegant.

If you’re still not convinced and this extended sequence does nothing for you and all you want to see is Bronson whipping out a gun and shooting people, then by all means, move on.  The Mechanic is not for you, and I’m sorry to hear it.  But if you find yourself appreciating the care taken by Bishop to do things ‘just so’ and the gorgeous attention to detail given by the cinematographer and the director, then please, sit back and enjoy, because The Mechanic is a very rare treat indeed.

It’s rare because Arthur Bishop is not your standard Hollywood hitman.  He is not the Albert Anastasia type mad dog killer, nor is he a glorified sniper.  He may feel that he’s slowed a bit, but he’s not considering retirement anytime soon.  He has no qualms about killing for a living, but he doesn’t do it for a love of death or for the money or to serve a higher moral purpose.  He just likes living on the outside of civilization’s standard framework; no more, no less.

This is especially intriguing given that his home is a reliquary of civilization.  A beautiful indoor pond, a collection of antique firearms, a wall of fine art that includes an oft-studied original by Hieronymus Bosch, all to be contemplated over fine wine while listening to timeless music…  For a man so keen to stand outside of civilization’s boundaries, Bishop never the less seems intent on surrounding himself with its trappings.

And for a man so comfortable with dealing death, even to his friends, Bishop also goes to odd lengths to convince himself that he’s alive.

In (what with context eventually becomes) one the creepier scenes in the film, Bishop goes to visit a woman’s apartment.  By all appearances, this woman is a longtime girlfriend or perpetual fiancée with whom Bishop has a deep relationship while trying to protect her from his life as a killer, which he does by not telling her about his day job.  After what seems to be a joyful reunion, the woman then scolds him and tries to explain how worried she has been and how much she cares for him and how much she just wishes he’d let her in, going so far as to read him the text of a letter she wrote to him but never sent.  It seems a heartfelt scene, and soon after, they’re all over each other… except that when the camera flashes forward to find her lying in bed and him getting dressed, she informs him that this visit will cost an extra hundred because the letter took a lot of extra time and effort to come up with.  That’s right, folks; the woman isn’t really a longtime girlfriend or fiancée, but rather a prostitute hired by Bishop to pretend to be a longtime girlfriend or fiancée.  This is just plain creepy, both for what it says about the character of Arthur Bishop and for the fact that the prostitute is being played by Jill Ireland (Death Wish II), Charles Bronson’s real life wife.

The one scene in The Mechanic that ends up being even more disturbing is the contrast point to Bishop’s prostitute scene, wherein Steve (with Bishop in tow) goes to visit his actual girlfriend, Louise (Linda Ridgeway, in her only major role) as a means of showing how dead he is inside.  Feeling neglected, Louise threatens to kill herself right in front of Steve, who in turn tells her to go ahead and do it.  She does in fact slit her wrists, convinced that even if Steve wouldn’t try to stop her, he would try to save her.  Instead, he goes to make a sandwich while Louise slowly bleeds out, while Bishop watches Steve’s coldness with interest.  This scene is creepy for all kinds of reasons, and yet, it’s fascinating at the same time.

And there’s plenty more where that came from that I’ll leave for you to discover.  Even if and indeed especially because it goes places that aren’t necessarily comfortable or expected, the psychological study that is The Mechanic is utterly intriguing.

Meanwhile, if you’re wondering if there’s any place for traditional action in this extended head game, rest assured that there is.  Highlights include a motorcycle chase that tosses in one the film’s few attempts at humor, along with an extended car chase/gun battle that includes a spectacular cliff drop made all the more so by the fact that there isn’t a fake explosion tacked on to the end of it.  With cinematography like that, it doesn’t need one.

There is but a single wrong note hit by The Mechanic, though it’s so out of place that it’s actually quite easy to forget about even as the movie is playing, and even more so afterward.  Shortly after we hear about a traumatic experience Bishop had as a child involving being thrown in the water, he passes out from what a doctor describes as a panic attack at an aquarium.  Nothing ever comes of this, and indeed, much later on, Bishop scuba dives with no apparent issues.  It’s a bit jarring if/when you catch it, but again, just a minor blip in the overall scheme of things.

Especially once the ending comes along.  I leave that for you to discover/savor for yourself; I’ll just say that it makes for outstanding punctuation.

Bottom line, The Mechanic is easily one of the single greatest hitman movies ever made.  Along with that, Charles Bronson delivers one of the most intriguing performances of his career, and when all is said and done, The Mechanic is my personal favorite of his films.  If you’re a Bronson fan or if you have any interest at all in psychological studies or hitman flicks, there’s just no excuse not to see – or own – The Mechanic.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, April, 2012

More From The Bar! | Assassination | The Terminator | The Mechanic (2011) |

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