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Film / The Mechanic (1972)

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"Murder is only killing without a license."

The Mechanic is a 1972 action thriller directed by Michael Winner and starring Charles Bronson.

Arthur Bishop (Bronson), an aging assassin, is hired to kill "Big Harry" McKenna (Keenan Wynn), which he does with his usual resourceful genius. At the funeral he meets Big Harry's son, Steve McKenna (Jan-Michael Vincent). Steve becomes interested in the art of being an assassin, so Bishop plays along and then trains the young man to become a Professional Killer. Steve is taught to use the mechanic's tools until he becomes a master. Arthur Bishop's superiors aren't accepting of Bishop doing this, and in the end they find that they can trust no one. It is a defining example of the seventies action film, and has existentialist themes.

A remake was released in 2011.

Tropes used by the original:

  • Bastard Understudy: McKenna plans to kill his mentor Bishop to take control of Bishop's home and life, and succeeds... but only briefly.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Both Arthur Bishop and Steve McKenna are cold-blooded killers who work for other cold-blooded killers. However, it is suggested the job is taking an emotional toll on Bishop when he is seen taking a number of pills at home, passing out in public from an acute stress reaction, and paying someone to love him. Meanwhile, McKenna is a sociopath who shows too much interest in killing and has little to no remorse for anyone, holding a wild party in his house as soon as he hears that his father died and sitting by while his former girlfriend Louise bleeds out from slitting her wrists. In fact, Steve plans to murder his new mentor solely for personal gain.
  • Car Chase: And a motorcycle chase.
  • Clean Food, Poisoned Fork: Happens when a character dies from drinking from a poisoned wine glass.
  • Contract on the Hitman: Bishop trains Steve McKenna, the son of a Mafia boss, in his art without getting permission from his employers, so they set them both up to be killed. Ironically after escaping the trap, McKenna then murders Bishop for his own personal reasons, and is himself killed by a bomb left by Bishop in his car.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Bishop and Steve are watching a martial arts demonstration where Bishop points out there is a new guy who has new moves and the older man who believes they are useless, but they aren't really trying to hurt each other. When the new guy pulls an illegal move which injures the older man, the older man proceeds to beat the living tar out of the new guy. Lampshaded by Steve later when he remarks to Bishop how the old man almost murdered the new guy.
  • Driven to Suicide: Steve's ex-girlfriend Louise slashes her own wrists to get his attention, only for Steve to sit by and watch while she bleeds for hours.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Averted with the mob cars in the Car Chase, most of which are blown up with explosives, while the remaining one is pushed off a cliff and gets totaled without exploding. Played straight, however, with a motorcycle that goes off another cliff and explodes the instant it hits the ground.
  • Evil Gloating: By McKenna after he poisons Bishop.
  • External Combustion: Bishop rigs McKenna's car to explode with him in it, having anticipated McKenna would murder him.
  • A Glass in the Hand: Arthur demonstrates the strength in his fingers (from repeated squeezing a lump of putty) by breaking a glass from the inside. "Sometimes you've got to hold onto a mark."
  • The Hero Dies: Bishop himself at the end. But at least he makes sure that Steve wouldn't get away with it.
  • Hitman with a Heart: Averted with the Lack of Empathy of the two protagonists highlighted in several ways—for instance Arthur realises Steve has what it takes to be his understudy when the latter watches Louise, a former girlfriend who's slit her wrists to get his attention, bleed over the course of several hours (she lives, but only because they give her the car keys so she can drive herself to the hospital).
  • How Did You Know? I Didn't: Bishop and Steve are in a hotel room, sharing a bottle of wine, when Bishop keels over. Steve tells Bishop that his glass had been coated with poison and he will be dead in a few minutes. Bishop asks Steve if he is doing this as payback for killing Steve's father. He is actually surprised, and says, "You killed him? I thought he just died."
  • Job Title
  • Love Interest: Subverted.
    • Bishop appears to have one, but she's revealed after sex to be an expensive prostitute he's paying for what these days would be called a GFE (Girlfriend Experience).
    • Steve comes over after Louise calls him to say she's going to commit suicide. Making no effort to stop her or even recommend against her doing so, he calmly watches as she slits her wrists. Eventually, he does toss her the keys to her car and point out if she drives fast can make the nearest ranger station in 20 minutes if she's not really interested in dying.
  • The Mafia: Implied though not stated outright to be Arthur's employers.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Bishop's specialty is in killing without leaving a trace, and the first hit we see him make is set up to look like a gas leak explosion.
  • Neck Snap: Bishop does this to a chicken delivery truck driver so he and Steve can infiltrate a mark's well-protected compound.
  • No-Dialogue Episode: The first 20 minutes of the film have no dialog, as we watch Bishop set up a hit on one of his victims.
  • Oh, Crap!: Steve himself at the end when he realizes that the Red Mustang he's in is rigged with a car bomb.
  • Perfect Poison: Brucine is used to kill a target by coating the inside of a glass with it, pouring the drink when the coating is dry, and serving it to the victim. The assassin proceeds to gloat about how brucine is "absolutely clear when in solution" and how the victim will appear to have died of a heart attack, leaving no trace of his killer.
  • Porn Stache: Charles Bronson's got one.
  • Reading Lips: Along with a powerful telescope, Bishop uses this skill to find out about an impending drug delivery, so he and Steve can infiltrate a Big Fancy House posing as the drug mules.
  • Scenery Porn: Filmed on-location in Italy and Los Angeles.
  • The '70s: Very evident.
  • Silence is Golden: The first 20 minutes of the film have no dialog.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: On the cynical side.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Steve shares a celebratory bottle of wine with Bishop, having coated the Bishop's glass with brucine. Mocking Bishop while waiting for him to die, he is unaware that Bishop knew this would happen. Thinking that he can now take over Bishop's life and career, he finds a note on the steering wheel from Bishop. "End of game. Bang! You're dead." The car door sets off a timer connected to a bomb that explodes.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Arthur knows Steve is planning to kill him, and is surprised when Steve kills a mook who's got the drop on him.
  • Trouble Entendre: 'mechanic' (the hitman) and 'mark' (the target)
  • The Unfettered: Bishop claims that "Murder is only killing without a license." While Bishop is dying, Steve points out that he does need a license; the permission of his Mob bosses. Steve kills Bishop so he will be free of this, intending to pick and choose his own targets.
  • Uriah Gambit: How the Mob shows its displeasure with Bishop's decision to take on Steve as an apprentice.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Steve's girlfriend Louise, Inverted. She survives her suicide attempt and later Steve (off screen) visits her for "a certain thing she does" which is implied to be something sexual in nature.
  • You Killed My Father: Subverted.
    Bishop: Was it because of your father?
    Steve: You killed him? I thought he just died.