OK, I know it’s not fashionable — and I know he made some really bad movies — but I am an unapologetic Michael Winner fan — both as a filmmaker and an utterly preposterous human being. I’ve noted before that, about 22 years ago, during a long and perhaps overly wine-infused lunch, Ken Russell told me, “Michael’s problem is that he’s more interested in being a movie director than in making movies.” That translated into a huge ego, a brusque manner, a refusal to think anyone else did anything of note on a movie but him and some rather incredible affectations like requiring someone whose job was to hold an umbrella over the director. Apparently he thought he was Cecil B. DeMille — mindless of the fact that this image of a director belonged to the 1920s. From a practical standpoint, the worst of this was that Winner seemed to show an almost cavalier indifference to what he made so long as he was in charge. As you may imagine, this resulted in a decidedly uneven career where the most amazing rubbish sat side-by-side with films of genuine merit. That the films all bore the undeniable stamp of Winner’s style — a kind of 1960s British Invasion approach from which he never departed — makes all of them at least a passing interest. And that brings us to the 1972 film, The Mechanic.
The film is the second of six movies Winner made with his most unlikely star, Charles Bronson. That they made six movies together is remarkable since they don’t seem to have liked each other much. Winner — something of a Tory in his own right — found Bronson so virulently right-wing that he thought he was comical. Bronson, for his part, found Winner fussy and affected. Both were probably right, but the pictures made money so they kept at it. The most famous of these, of course, are the morally dubious Death Wish movies. The Mechanic — equally morally suspect in a different way — is, however, probably the best. Certainly, it’s the most interesting. If nothing else, it’s the most creatively directed with its opening: 15 minutes of dialogue-free action and an absolute explosion of Winneresque style that colors every scene with zoom shots and a love of rich surroundings, artistic allusions, walls covered in thousands of dollars worth of framed vintage posters and so on.
As a movie in any other sense, it’s a beguiling artifact of the era’s macho posturing and the whole idea of Bronson as a movie star. If nothing else, the physically unappealing and talent-challenged Bronson is a monument to how weird charisma can somehow create a movie star. On the other hand, his co-star, Jan-Michael Vincent, proves that a pretty face and the ability to nicely fill out (on both sides) a pair of skin-tight bell-bottoms trumped any need for acting ability for this type of movie in 1972. The story is fairly simple and pretty transparent, but it moves well enough — except in those moments where Bronson is meant to appear deep in thought (yes, well…) — and I can’t say it’s without entertainment value within the confines of the genre.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Mechanic Sunday, March 17 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.