July 31, 2012

Queer Review: The Mechanic (1972)

The Mechanic
Director: Michael Winner
Writer: Lewis John Carlino
Cast: Charles Bronson, Jan-Michael Vincent, Keenan Wynn, Jill Ireland, Linda Ridgeway

While a greater film than the 2011 remake, and with better subtexts (both philosophical and queer), the original The Mechanic still ends up being a disappointment.

A seasoned hit-man , Arthur Bishop (Charles Bronson), ends up receiving a kill order for his long time friend, Harry McKenna (Keenan Wynn). While mildly upset by the news, Arthur carries out the hit, only to be approached afterwards by Harry's son, Steve (Jan-Michael Vincent). Steve, it appears, wants to also to be a hit-man (who in this film are referred to as mechanics). Arthur eventually consents to take Steve on as his tutelage. However, the company Arthur works for quickly make their displeasure with this arrangement known, which places both Arthur and Steve's lives at risk

The Queering
According to The Celluloid Closet by Vito Russo, the original script for The Mechanic had Arthur and Bishop becoming lovers, but scribe Carlino was unable to secure funding and many actors turned done the lead roles for obvious reasons. Which of course makes the version of The Mechanic that made it to screens in 1972 another example of Hollywood's drive to censure and straighten out anything queer related. Once the queer relationship is erased, then Arthur and Steve's partnership takes on a rather creepy father/son dynamic - particularly considering there is still a very clear homoerotic subtext between the two.

That issue aside, I will admit there were a few aspects of The Mechanic that I aprecciated. Carlino's story is actually fairly ambitious, with deep philosophical undercurrents present throughout. Arthur is a clear nihilist, obeying only a simple set of rules and is otherwise quite sophisticated. In addition to being a fan of classical music, he owns a copy of Bosch's "The Garden of Earthly Delights".

While displaying greater thought and intelligence than your typical thriller, the best response I could muster for The Mechanic was "eh". Granted there are a few intriguing ideas here about the nature of social constructs, particularly those constructs that dictate who can kill whom and under what circumstances. However, those points were neither deep nor incisive for me to feel that they contributed anything of real meaning to the film.

Ultimately, between the failed attempt at including a gay love affair in a mainstream motion picture and the lugubrious mood created by the stabs at philosophical depth, The Mechanic ends up becoming a very dull movie to endure. While a few plot twists at the end manage to create some suspense, there are ultimately too few tools in the The Mechanics toolbox to build a complete motion picture with.

For those who enjoy intelligent, nihilistic, thrillers, this could make your day, few others will want to trust this mechanic to fix a fender bender.

The Rating
2.5 out of ****


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