A Los Angeles cop known for his harsh methods, Lou Torrey (Charles Bronson, The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape), gets transferred to New York after he kills a suspect. Torrey is quickly assigned to investigate a series of seemingly unrelated murders. But Torrey discovers that the violent deaths are linked to a Sicilian gangster (Martin Balsam, All the President’s Men) and a forty-year-old mob feud.
Reaction & Thoughts:
Third of the six films star Bronson made with British director Michael Winner (the other five: Chato’s Land, The Mechanic, Death Wish, Death Wish II, and Death Wish 3), a creative collaboration nearly as popular as the one Bronson had with another British director, the prolific J. Lee Thompson (10 to Midnight and The Evil That Men Do).
Based on John Gardner’s book A Complete State of Death and adapted by Gardner and Gerald Wilson, The Stone Killer is emblematic of Bronson’s filmography. Although the plot is thicker than usual, this is essentially another one of Bronson’s nasty crime capers with the actor playing yet again an unorthodox cop who treats the Constitution like some nuisance that should be avoided at all costs. The Stone Killer moves fast enough so you don’t pause and ponder upon the hero’s morally reprehensible behavior. Hey, it’s only a movie, right?
Honestly, I didn’t like this movie much. I thought it was one of Bronson’s less effective films. It looks and feels like your average Kojak TV episode. That being said, from a modern perspective, I found the movie to be an interesting time capsule. The plot touches upon a few things that preoccupied people from the era. The film explores the aftermath of the Vietnam War. It also deals with the emergence of the War on Drugs. Urban alienation is also an important element of the story.
The most interesting thing about the movie, which is bound to pique the interest of most modern viewers, is the way the film addresses the problem of police misconduct and how it disproportionately affect minorities and poor people. There is even a moment when African-American protesters pour into streets chanting “police brutality.”
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
The Stone Killer has a lot of things in common with Dirty Harry, but it is not nearly as much fun as the Clint Eastwood movie. It’s not even as good as Bronson’s classic thriller Death Wish. But it’s never boring and the supporting cast is very good. Balsam is a hoot as a Vito Corleone-like mafioso. Fun to see John Ritter and Norman Fell before they co-starred in TV’s Three’s Company. Shelley Winter (A Patch of Blue) is supposed to have a cameo, but I just didn’t see her! Color, 95 minutes, Rated R.