Actor Charles Bronson and director Michael Winner cranked out so many movies together in the ’70s that it’s inevitable some of their projects were less satisfying than others. In between the high points of The Mechanic (1972) and Death Wish (1974), for instance, the duo collaborated in this convoluted crime thriller, which can’t decide if it’s about a hard-driving cop or a mastermind criminal. The setting awkwardly shuttles back and forth between New York and Los Angeles, and the movie includes about five different scenes that feel like endings. As a result, even though Winner was among the best directors of gritty action in the ’70s (ensuring that The Stone Killer has a handful of exciting scenes), the flick is a washout in terms of narrative.
The gist of the piece is that after NYPD detective Lou Torrey (Bronson) gets run out of Manhattan for using excessive force, he lands a job with the LAPD and almost immediately discovers a scheme by mobster Al Vescari (Martin Balsam) to wipe out enemies as revenge for a decades-old gangland massacre. All of this feels very unfocused, not least because of the way Torrey somehow instantaneously becomes the most trusted plainclothes cop in the City of Angels; furthermore, most of the screen time is devoted to Torrey’s investigation of intermediaries, which has the effect of diluting Vescari’s prominence as the main villain. In fact, probably a good third of the picture involves the activities of low-level bagmen Jumper (Jack Colvin) and Langley (Paul Koslo), so it periodically seems as if Winner forgot which movie he was making. Exacerbating all of this is the fact that Bronson’s casting as a smooth-talking policeman somewhat marginalizes his strong suit of tight-lipped physical action.
Nearly the only thing that keeps The Stone Killer watchable is the presence of vibrant supporting actors. In addition to Colvin and Koslo, who portray weasels effectively, the grab-bag cast includes Norman Fell, Stuart Margolin, and Ralph Waite. (This is a guy movie from top to bottom, so women don’t figure prominently in the mix.) Winner generates good atmosphere in both Los Angeles and New York, and the movie’s big shootout—which takes place inside the elevator shafts, parking garage, and stairwell of an office building—has a few thrills. Yet by the umpteenth time Winner cuts to a scene of Bronson and his colleagues discussing the plot for the purposes of helping the audience understand what the hell’s going on, it becomes painfully clear that Winner (who also produced) crammed way too much plot into the mix. As a final note, The Stone Killer loses points for a poster that’s a blatant rip-off of the famous one-sheet for The French Connection (1971).
The Stone Killer: FUNKY