The Big Picture
- Charles Bronson’s character in The Stone Killer, Lou Torrey, is a caricature of masculinity, showcasing contemporary stoicism and a lack of emotion.
- The film’s conflicting tone and messages make it an interesting time capsule of 1973, with comparisons to Dirty Harry.
- Despite the lack of narrative and thematic satisfaction, The Stone Killer is a stylish action film with clunky yet impressive car stunts and a gritty feel that captivates viewers.
1973’s mostly-forgotten Charles Bronson vehicle The Stone Killer directed by Michael Winner is all at once pulpy, tone-deaf, and deeply revealing about the time and place in which it was produced. The Stone Killer‘s plot is incomprehensible and the movie itself doesn’t seem all that interested in the machinations of the world of the mob — it’s primary subject matter. At its core, The Stone Killer is about a cop that is very good at killing. The neo-noir thriller’s opening scene perfectly encapsulates the irony and the conflicting ideas which permeate the rest of its runtime. These ideas, primarily questioning the role of the police, could snuggly accompany any number of modern-day crime movies.
Charles Bronson’s Lou Torrey Is a Caricature
Charles Bronson’s Lou Torrey is less of a character and more of a caricature of contemporary masculine stoicism. Within the first few minutes of the film, Torrey, charged with bringing a young 17-year-old Puerto Rican kid into custody is seemingly forced to shoot him in a classic “it’s either me or him” scenario. The kid falls to his death causing a media ruckus that torments Torrey and temporarily soils his reputation as a “good” cop. When confronted with the consequences of the chase and his methods in dealing with troubled youth, Torrey nonchalantly shrugs it off, asking what else he could have done. He flippantly makes a comment about how it’s easier for a kid to buy a gun than bubble gum. There’s never a scene in which he reckons with what he did even if he felt like his hand was forced to do it.
Shortly after this introduction to our protagonist, The Stone Killer cuts to a funky title sequence in vibrant shell pink in stark contrast to the loss of young life that occurred a few minutes prior. Just imagine if the death of Radio Raheem in Do the Right Thing was immediately followed by “Jungle Boogie” by Kool & the Gang and you have a fairly decent sense of the jarring tonal shift that occurs at the beginning of The Stone Killer.
How Does ‘The Stone Killer’ Compare to ‘Dirty Harry’?
The Stone Killer‘s conflicting tone and messages are what makes it interesting in 2023. It remains a perfectly preserved time capsule of 1973. Charles Bronson’s character is chastised for calling out another cop for calling a suspect a slur, essentially being called the 1973 equivalent of a “snowflake”. Many comparisons will be made to Dirty Harry, and rightly so as these movies share more than just surface-level similarities. The Stone Killer, however, isn’t quite sure what it thinks about Torrey’s character.
The thriller goes out of its way to make Torrey palatable as a character despite his proclivity for killing the people he is supposed to bring in. The Puerto Rican kid, in the beginning, is just the first instance of this, highlighting the duality of Torrey’s character. There are many instances in which he seems to care about reforming the justice system and the noble nature of being a law enforcer. There are also moments when he’s simply a bull in a china shop, such as when he pursues a member of the mob with his car resulting in his crashing the car and killing the pursuant. Torrey’s lack of emotion during most scenes gives him a psychopathic quality, even though it’s clear that it’s meant to give him the typical “cool cop” exterior.
Unfortunately, unlike Eastwood, Bronson doesn’t have the range or charisma necessary for that as an actor. Charles Bronson has a great onscreen presence and has opportunities to say some truly outrageous and memorable lines (“They give a good massage and a quick piece of ass”), but isn’t the movie star that Clint Eastwood is. Bronson is extremely likable as Torrey, but his motivations remain nebulous.
‘The Stone Killer’ Coasts on ’70s Style & Solid Action
Despite proving to be neither narratively nor thematically satisfying, The Stone Killer is an incredibly stylish action film. Once you realize that the plot doesn’t make any sense and that the editing only exacerbates the problem, you can’t help but get swept up with the old-fashioned car stunts, soundtrack, and overall gritty feel.
The action scenes are handled about as elegantly as the rest of the film, but that’s what makes them great. They’re so clunky and haphazard that they actually feel somewhat dangerous. Knowing full well that the filmmakers did not have access to today’s technology makes them even more impressive. The danger proved to be palpable as the stunt coordinator, Alan Gibbs received serious injuries during shooting, as detailed in The Films of Michael Winner. In the movie’s climax, Gibbs’ seatbelt snapped causing him to violently hit his head against the steering wheel. The cars themselves were simply rentals from Hertz who sent a representative to address the fact that their cars were getting smashed, to which Winner replied, “You should be glad we’re crashing your awful cars. You’ll be able to write them off completely and get nice new ones.” The movie didn’t just seem dangerous, it was dangerous.
Despite being relatively insignificant in the illustrious careers of both Charles Bronson and Michael Winner, The Stone Killer represents much of what is appealing about pulpy crime films. It has all of the snappy dialogue and over-the-top practical action that makes it worth a watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Despite being distributed by the monolithic Columbia Pictures and having multiple names attached at the height of their careers, it has a strictly B-movie quality. It feels like it belongs as part of a double bill of which it would most certainly not be the main feature.
The Stone Killer is structured in a way that almost suggests that it was made as procedural TV. It doesn’t make any more sense if you watch it from the beginning or from the middle onward. Every scene feels disconnected from the next which just goes to prove that the intention of the filmmakers was not to make a coherent neo-noir film but instead the cinematic equivalent of a pulpy paperback without any of the kitsch or irony that would later be popularized by the likes of Tarantino, Eli Roth, and Rob Zombie, all of whom took great inspiration from this era of cinema. Despite the filmmaker’s greatest efforts to make something disposable, The Stone Killer represents an era of filmmaking that has continued to influence generations of filmmakers.