Tag Archives: Michael Winner

The Stone Killer (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Tough cop is relentless.

Lou Torrey (Charles Bronson) is an old-school cop baffled by a rash of homicides that initially seem like random hits, but really aren’t. As Lou investigates further he uncovers a plot orchestrated by a Mafia Don (Martin Balsam) to use a group of Vietnam Vets to avenge the death of some Mafia families 42 years earlier.

Director Michael Winner, during his later directing projects, became synonymous with stale, cardboard B-pictures and after the year 2000 he dropped out of the movie business completely and became a celebrity food critic in the UK writing in a weekly newspaper column called Winner’s Dinners. Here though he shows signs of being a young talent on the rise looking to make his cinematic mark. He captures the lesser seen areas of L.A. with a flair and the shot selection has style that manages to seamlessly connect the film between its talky moments and action.

Bronson though can’t really act as his facial expressions rarely change and he says his lines in an unemotional way making him seem almost like a computer, but his hard-headed personality in real-life carries over to the big screen making him a perfect fit personality-wise to the character. John Ritter is good as a young cop caught making a lot of rookie mistakes. It’s also interesting seeing Stuart Margolin here as he has an important sequence in the desert, which connects with his appearance  in another Bronson hit Death Wish that also had him in the sandy landscape.

The story, which is based on a novel by John Gardner entitled ‘A Complete State of Death’ comes off as flimsy and just an excuse to tie-in a lot of loosely related action sequences. The plot is hard-to-believe and the villain is more like a caricature and barely seen.

There’s some enjoyable moments including Bronson’ relentless chase in a car of a police suspect, played by Paul Koslo, who tries to evade him by tearing through the city streets on a motorbike. Watching Chuck drive through park tables with people trying jump out of the way,  going into oncoming traffic and even storefront windows is impressive on the surface, but ultimately makes the character come-off badly. In real-life a cop barreling his vehicle through areas with so much foot traffic would make him irresponsible and a menace to society as he puts too many people in direct danger simply for his pursuit of one person.  In most cases there would’ve been casualties and Bronson’s character could’ve easily been fired or sued.

The mass assassination of all the Mafia Dons has pizazz, but ultimately it’s just one giant marketing ploy as it borrows many elements from other hit movies of that time including Dirty Harry and The Godfather then blends it together with over-the-top action and a farfetched plot.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Blu-ray

Lawman (1971)

 

lawman

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He does not compromise.

Aging western marshal Jarrod Maddox (Burt Lancaster) rides into the town of Sabbath determined to retrieve five ranchers whose drunken revelry the year before resulted in the death of one of his town’s older citizens. The marshal of Sabbath (Robert Ryan) is reluctant to help Maddox while informing him that the town is ruled by land baron Vincent Bronson (Lee J. Cobb) with a judicial system that is less than stellar. However, Maddox refuses to compromise on any issue no matter what odds or obstacles lay in the way.

During the ‘70s there was a trend to reinvent the western by instilling storylines that did not go along with the age-old, black-and-white formula while questioning the cowboy heroes of yesteryear and putting a grittier slant to the realism. Typically these newer westerns proved to be a refreshing change-of-pace and more in-tune with a hipper generation, which I normally would applaud, but in this rare case I wished that it had fallen back to the old ways.

For one thing Lancaster was still identified with the older film-goer and not in tune with the younger ones. His stiff and detached manner was a better fit to the film’s rigid character and quite frankly I was just plain intrigued to see how this man was somehow going to get all of these other men back to his town to stand trial when everyone else was entrenched to stop him.

Director Michael Winner however decides to switch gears on it and in an apparent attempt to make it more ‘relevant’ to the modern viewer slows the pace down to an almost screeching halt by implementing long-winded conversations and containing the action to only brief interludes while having an initially strong-willed character turn weak and indecisive. To me it was like slashing a tire and watching the air slowly drain out of it. The showdown at the end is anti-climactic and any potential tension is lost by a talky script and a bad guy (Cobb) who is dull and benign. The supporting cast of old pros is the only thing that saves it and I enjoyed the way each of them one-by-one got caught in bed with a prostitute at the town’s local whorehouse throughout the course of the film.

The Maddox character does indeed become an interesting enigma and even going against his supposedly upstanding nature by not only stealing two horses out of a nearby ranch when his is shot dead, but also at one point shooting an unarmed man in the back. Maybe this was the filmmakers attempt to show that western heroes where really human like the rest of us and full of the same contradictions, which could’ve elicited more discussion had the script been tighter.

This also marks the film debut of Richard Jordan a gifted character actor who died much too young, but managed to make some memorable movie appearances along the way. Here he portrays an young gunslinger attempting to stand up to Maddox, but unable to and at one point displays a cut on his face that looks more like a red leech stuck to his cheekbone.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 4, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Scream for Help (1984)

scream for help 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her Stepfather plots murder.

Christie (Rachael Kelly) is a teen convinced that her new stepfather (Paul Fox) is out to kill her mother (Marie Masters). The problem is that no one believes her. Eventually she is able to take a picture of him having sex with another woman, which is enough to get her mother to throw him out of their house, but then he returns with two of his cohorts and traps Christie and her mother in the basement were they plan to kill them and make it look like a robbery.

This film, which was written by Tom Holland, might have been better received had it not been put into the hands of sub-par director Michael Winner. Winner who is probably best known for his close association to Charles Bronson of which he directed 7 films with him and then later when his film career waned became a famous restaurant critic, shows no feeling for the material and directs with such a sloppy style that it almost seemed like he was intentionally trying to make a bad movie. The sweeping orchestral score would have been better suited for a romance or epic adventure and is completely out of place here. The dialogue is corny and the overall acting by the supporting cast is wooden. The pace is awkward and at times becomes unintentionally funny.

However, the second half improves greatly particularly when the two find themselves trapped in the cellar and must use their ingenuity to get out. The twists are clever and unpredictable and the atmosphere becomes genuinely taut and exciting. The musical score also improves becoming much more intense and darker. I actually started to get really into it and afterwards felt like I had watched two different movies with the second part being good enough to overshadow its otherwise many flaws.

Brooks as the bad guy has a male model face, but his performance is as generic as the film’s title and it would have been better had a veteran character actor been cast in the part instead. The mother character with the way she refuses to believe the obvious until it is much too late seems unreasonably and annoyingly stupid. I did though like Kelly in the lead. Not only is she cute, but her acting is good enough to compel the viewer to keep watching when they otherwise might have turned it off and I was surprised to see that this was her only film as she showed enough promise to have had a solid career.

Filmed on-location in New Rochelle, New York this is the type of low budget flick that proves how a good script can sometimes overcome other production inadequacies. Had it been better directed this could have been a snappy thriller and it’s a shame that Hitchcock disciple Richard Franklin who was the original choice as director hadn’t helmed it although a film school dropout or even your local garbage man could have done a better job than Winner or certainly no worse.

scream for help 1

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 16, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Lorimar

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 2)