Between The Mechanic, this movie and Death Wish, Michael Winner and Charles Bronson were firing on all cylinders in the early 70s*. Based on A Complete State of Death by John Gardner — a book with a message that was, of course, made into a Michael Winner movie — there are so many car crashes at the end of the film that Hertz Rental came back in a huff to reclaim their cars, met by an angry Winner who yelled, “You should be glad we’re crashing your fucking awful cars. You’ll be able to write them off completely and get nice new ones.”
I love the reviews for this movie, which mostly say things like, “I don’t want to admit that I like a Michael Winner movie.”
Back in 1931, an event called The Night of Sicilian Vespers saw the murder of several mob leaders and Al Vescari (Martin Balsam) hasn’t forgotten. He sets up a plan to get revenge forty years or more later by killing off every Italian and Jewish leader across the country by using “stone killers,” or non-mob-affiliated hitmen. His plan? Hire Vietnam vets to do the work.
Detective Lou Torrey (Bronson) is a New York cop who figures out that the killing was an inside job after taking a witness to Los Angeles and having him killed nearly on arrival. He starts to look deeper and begins to discover exactly what’s going on, but is it too late to stop the plan?
Released in the wake of Dirty Harry, this was sold with the tagline “Take away his badge and he’d top the Ten Most Wanted list!” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I worry about the militarization of our police force and the issues of police brutality, but when it comes to movies, I’m all about cops breaking the rules and getting the job done. That said, Bronson’s character is incredibly open about the “white walls” of society arebukesing racism on the force.
This has a great supporting cast, including David Sheiner (Oscar’s accountant and poker buddy in The Odd Couple), Norman Fell (as the leader of the police force; he’d reunite with one of the younger cops in this, John Ritter, on Three’s Company), Ralph Waite (who was John Walton Sr. on The Waltons and ran against Sonny Bono once and his wife twice for a seat in the California senate), Paul Koslo (who told Shock Cinema “My first day on the set, I sat in his (Bronson’s) chair. The first joke I ever told him was “Hey, Charlie, did you hear the one about the Polish actor?” He said, “No, what?” I said, “Charles Buchinsky!” “Do you think that’s funny?!” Being Polish myself, I thought it was hilarious, but it went over like a lead balloon with Charlie. He’s really Polish, that guy!”), Stuart Margolin (The Rockford Files) and Jack Colvin (who would go on to be one of my most hated characters ever, Jack MgGee, the man who ruined Dr. David Bruce Banner’s life on The Incredible Hulk).
If you’re someone that’s only seen movies from this century and need a warning on your movies, here’s one: this is a Michael Winner movie. Go in with that knowledge.