The Stone Killer

Shades of Inherent Vice in this 1973 Michael Winner crime thriller starring Charles Bronson

Film Review by Tom Grieve | 05 Jul 2017
Film title: The Stone Killer
Director: Michael Winner
Starring: Charles Bronson, Martin Balsam, Jack Colvin, Paul Koslo, John Ritter, Norman Fell
Release date: 26 Jun
Certificate: 15

“Who told him to go in there?” a uniformed cop asks, minutes into Michael Winner’s 1973 crime thriller, The Stone Killer. Charles Bronson’s detective has just hurtled, gun first, into a New York apartment building in pursuit of some petty criminals. Minutes later he has shot and killed a 17-year old Puerto Rican kid, and the department – and the media – are asking whether he really needed to do so. “A kid can buy a gun easier than bubblegum,” Bronson responds. Some things never change.

As a consequence of the shooting, he’s shunted out to a Los Angeles police department. It’s clear that Winner – who had previously worked with Bronson on the likes of Chato’s Land and The Mechanic – has some big ideas he wants to wrestle with in this bi-coastal, sunshine-noir-cum-mob-epic. He struggles to get a handle on any of them though, and as the action flits between L.A. and New York (“Baghdad with a subway,” quips a cab driver), via brief sojourns into San Francisco and the Californian desert, it’s easy to lose track of the film’s huge cast of characters.

Anticipating Thomas Pynchon’s sprawling novel Inherent Vice, we are introduced to broke cops, spirited hippies, snitching junkies, Black Panthers, ex-soldiers, stoic mafiosa and a gay, jazz-playing hood – all within a spritely 95-minute runtime. A plot slowly emerges: Bronson’s brutish investigator is trying to unwind a Sicilian Mafia scheme to use Vietnam veterans to avenge a mob massacre some 42-years prior. This unfolds through a series of assassinations, car chases and one particularly outlandish set-piece featuring a helicopter. It’s a mess – but it’s never dull.


Character actor Paul Koslo pokes fun at Charles Bronson’s grumpy on-set behaviour. Also included is a lengthy audio recording of an interview with Michael Winner and a commentary track featuring the excellent critic Nick Pinkerton.