Action Movie Fanatix Review: The Mechanic (1972)

Clean.  Fast.  Professional.

Starring: Charles Bronson, Jan-Michael Vincent, Keenan Wynn, Jill Ireland

Director: Michael Winner

1972  |  99 Minutes  |  PG

“Murder is only killing without a license, and everybody kills — governments, the military, the police.” – Arthur Bishop

I didn’t watch the original The Mechanic until after I had already seen the Jason Statham version a couple times.  The story is essentially the same but in many ways they are very different movies.

Arthur Bishop (Charles Bronson) is a hitman.  He has always worked alone but after killing his own mentor, Harry McKenna (Keenan Wynn), Arthur takes on an apprentice of his own… Harry’s son, Steve (Jan-Michael Vincent).  Now, after training Steve in the art of the hit, Arthur discovers that Steve has been tasked with killing him.

Other than the scraggly Charles Bronson hair, this Arthur Bishop is more of a classy mechanic than Jason Statham’s version.  He is shown listening to classical music and smoking a pipe while planning a hit.  This version’s Arthur Bishop is not only a classier gentleman, he is also much more cold and calculated.  He is shown to be a bigger planner and seems to have no heart at all.  He is very much like a robot that feeds the information in and spits out a kill.

The opening scene is 15 minutes without a single word uttered by our hero (if you can even call him that).  This scene helps to make not only a very unique experience for the viewer but also to showcase his meticulous planning as well as the isolation that would most likely be true to life for a real hitman.  The payoff to this scene is extremely satisfying when it finally “explodes”.

Aside from this awesome opening scene my favorite thing about the 1972 version of The Mechanic is that we aren’t told why these people needed to die.  They were just contracts… orders waiting to be filled.  This is something that just isn’t seen in most movies today.  We seem to always want a reason why and this movie just gives us a “because I said so” type of response.

Overall the original movie is much, much slower paced than the 2011 remake.  After Harry McKenna is killed the movie almost grinds to a halt.  Here we are treated to bunch of character development for characters that we can’t relate to and quite frankly don’t like.  Arthur Bishop is further developed as an uncaring killer and Steve McKenna gets creepier and creepier the more we see him.

The one scene that solidifies these characters in the viewers minds is where Steve’s girlfriend attempts suicide to try to get a rise out of Steve.  Arthur and Steve simply stand and watch as she is dying until finally Steve throws her the keys to his car and tells her to get to the hospital.  Now, he prevents her from killing herself but we don’t get the sense that he does so because he cares for her in any way whatsoever.  He just did it.

This version’s Steve McKenna seems so much less trust worthy than in the 2011 version.  Even though Ben Foster looked much more like a criminal, Jan-Michael Vincent is a creep that I never would have trusted with my secret/s.

The music is instantly dated.  The minute the piano starts playing you know this is a 70s movie (in case you hadn’t yet noticed Bronson’s moustache and hair).

The level of violence just isn’t the same either.  It is tough watching an action movie about a hitman where there is little to no blood.  Almost every show on TV has more blood than this movie did.  I realize it is just the difference that 40 years has made in movies but it really feels like it is missing some blood flow.

The 1972 version of The Mechanic is definitely worth watching but I don’t see myself going back and rewatching it again and again the way I have for the Jason Statham version.  Aside from the opening scene there aren’t any really big memorable scenes that I want to watch over and over.  It is the type of movie I would show to students in an Action Studies course at AMFU (Action Movie Fanatix University of course) to show part of where the modern action movie came from.  It just hasn’t really aged as well as movies that came just 10 short years later.