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I remember watching "The Mechanic" (1972) with my dad when I was a child. I'm in yet another "Jack Reacher" mood, but don't want to completely waste my time - I remembered enjoying this as a child, and it's in a similar genre (sort of), so why not relive my childhood, and watch something with some historical merit? Besides, it features bad-ass Charles Bronson as an assassin - what more could you want in a mindless action film? Note also that producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler would go on to produce "Raging Bull" eight years later. What a difference a superstar director (Martin Scorsese) makes! "The Mechanic" is noteworthy in that it has *no* dialogue of any kind for the first sixteen minutes (I knew this going into the film). This was particularly interesting to me because at around the two-minute point, a single, dissonant, ominous-sounding, organ chord starts to build up, Bolero-style, and you wonder how it could possibly go on for another 13 minutes - mercifully, there's a lull in the tension, and it dies down. One thing this sixteen minutes of no dialogue does is allow for a leisurely presentation of the opening credits, which you don't mind, because there is action taking place on the screen. The first shot of Arthur Bishop (Charles Bronson) in his own environment shows that he is a man of taste - while alone in his thoughtfully furnished abode, he turns on a beautiful, overture-like piece on a cassette recorder - probably a slow movement from a symphony - highlighted by angelic-sounding violins, and (this is the advantage of having a food and wine critic do your film reviews, because I suspect I'm the first person in history to mention this) is drinking a bottle of Cheval Blanc, and given the age of the film, and Cheval Blanc's vintage track-record in the 60s, my guess would be that it's a '64 - he didn't decant it, so it couldn't be too old - but he needs a better claret glass than he has. This type of juxtaposition with the gritty and the urbane is exactly why "Road House" is a guilty pleasure of mine, and why I occasionally enjoy films like The Mechanic. How's this for a blast-from-the-past and product placement? The Mechanic is an interesting take on the classic tale of The Great Master taking on an apprentice, with some natural talent, under his wing. Early in the movie, you may recognize Keenan Wynn, who starred in "The Man in the Funny Suit" (he was the son of Ed Wynn), and thus, once again, so many things trace back to Rod Serling. Keenan Wynn played Harry McKenna, whose son, Steve McKenna, was played by the rising (and since hard-fallen) star Jan-Michael Vincent, who is The Mechanic's apprentice. This is sort of like an amoral version of "Jiro Dreams of Sushi." *** SPOILER ALERT *** Given that they only touched on Bishop's character development (albeit clearly showing he's depressed, anxious, and lonely), I'm not convinced that a man of his skill-set - which is nearly superhuman - would so willingly take on an apprentice without testing him "to the max" first - and by "to the max," I mean, having him kill someone and putting his (McKenna's) entire life in Bishop's hands - Bishop never tested him like that, and it's simply not plausible that he would have taken McKenna on so willingly without having done so first, not when he's playing at this level. (I should add that I'm only an hour into the film, and have forty minutes left, so he may have something else up his sleeve, but Bishop essentially showed his hand to a virtual unknown, without asking anything in return first). Someone *this* good, with this much invested into his lifestyle (and I mean, Bishop was the *ultimate* assassin), would never take that risk without having something heavy and lethal to hang over McKenna's head - just in case. Well, there are less than twenty minutes left in the movie, and it's been obvious for awhile that the entire paragraph above was justified, but naive. I am very curious to see how this is going to play out, and wondering how Bishop is keeping his sanity. You'll know what I mean when you see the film (they recently arrived in Italy). Funny, I just rewatched "The Departed," and there is some overlapping thematic material in these two movies (as in, "rats like cheese"). Who's going to crack first, I wonder - the underlying tension introduced in the past 10-20 minutes is now permanent until something happens. All I know is this: Any film that makes you worry about the fate of a cold-blooded killer can't be all bad, but I'm nearly 100% confident that Bishop is going to be okay, and I'll tell you why when I finish the film - the answer was right before my eyes about forty-five minutes ago. The movie is over, and I was wrong. I thought *sure* the karate match between the old master and the young, cocky kid who broke the rules (about an hour into the movie) was a direct parallel to what would happen at the end. It wasn't, and I'm shocked that Bishop would put himself in the position he did, regardless of what eventually happened to McKenna. This movie "broke the rules" of drama by not letting me take advantage of the foreshadowing I saw, but I guess everyone got their comeuppance in the end, so it's dramatically complete, and really - where was Bishop going to go? For that matter, where was McKenna going to go? His snuffing of Bishop was *not* sanctioned by Bishop's employers (even though the film could have made that more clear), and they were angry about Bishop taking him on as an apprentice. It's still not clear to me why Bishop would unilaterally take on a partner without even asking his mysterious, shady, yet clearly *very* powerful bosses - he was only asking for trouble, and sure enough, he got it. I also remember the last scene of the movie very well, although I didn't remember it was from this film (I last saw this with my dad when I was eleven). It is just not reconcilable that Bishop would do this to himself, and that's the one fatal flaw in The Mechanic - he was too smart, with too much to lose, to let himself slip up like this, especially when he knew it was coming. Yes, he essentially "insured" his life, but to what end? Thus, The Mechanic just isn't a great film - it's a good action flick, with slightly insufficient character development, and inadequate justification of the choices Bishop made - it's worth watching as long as you know you're not seeing anything profound, but it just doesn't make enough sense for any intelligent person to buy into. And there you have the opinion of DonRocks.
It has been said that Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove is an anti-war film for those already convinced, and I suppose that's fair enough. But I've just watched it for about the 11th or 12th (or maybe 15th) time and I have to say that I think it's the greatest film ever made. It's visually ravishing, even though the process shots of the B-52 in flight are not as duplicative of reality as modern film graphics; they're still devastatingly beautiful. George C. Scott's performance is certainly his greatest in a long and wonderful career, and ditto Sterling Hayden. Peter Sellers's three performances are all precious treasures, but his performance in the title role is almost impossibly, almost uniquely brilliant. If you haven't seen it, you need to see it. You may not be aware that Sellers was supposed to play the Slim Pickens role as well as the others. I don't know if that would have made a better or a lesser film, but it's hard not to love Slim Pickens's performance. What prompted me to watch Dr. Strangelove just now was seeing Fail-Safe on TCM just before. Practically the same conception, released in the same year, except Fail-Safe didn't have any laughs or any genius. If you want another great anti-war film, possibly even for the unconvinced, watch Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory, another of my favorite movies.
I think there is a whole lot of myth-making involved in the story of how Ed Wynn blew everything in every rehearsal and then miraculously gave one of the most affecting performances of all time when they did "Requiem for a Heavyweight" live; the story seems unlikely, as just about anyone who ever performed in front of an audience can attest. Nonetheless, "The Man in the Funny Suit," the institutionalization of the myth that ran on Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse in 1960, with the full participation of both Wynns and Rod Serling, among others, is totally worth watching. I commend it to your attention:
The 1956 live broadcast of "Requiem for a Heavyweight" is one of the most amazing live broadcasts I've ever seen, no, make that *the* most amazing live broadcast I've ever seen on TV. It is so complex that it seems almost unbelievable that this was broadcast live - there were virtually no mistakes at all that I'm aware of. This is pre-Twilight Zone Rod Serling, and is the work he said he was most proud of in his entire career. You can probably find this in higher-quality video, but you can also watch it here for free: They remade the teleplay into a movie in 1962 starring Anthony Quinn, Jackie Gleason, Mickey Rooney, and Julie Harris - and if you've ever wondered what it must have been like to fight Muhammad Ali in his prime, this is probably about as close as you'll ever come to knowing. <--- Click on this and watch the first few minutes of the video, trust me.