February 21, 2011

The Mechanic Is Ready To Check Your Oil

"Mr Bishop regrets he is unable to lunch today."

Having just seen the 2011 remake of Charles Bronson's 1972 thriller THE MECHANIC starring the steely-eyed Jason Statham who is just as cool as his fans expect him to be, I felt a pang of regret that we still have so much Hollywood homophobia to overcome before a big budget action film can be produced in which the two male leads can be lovers even if they kill each other in the final reel. After all it was Oscar Wilde that decreed "each man kills the thing he loves."

Charles Bronson as Bishop in his red silk robe.
When Lewis John Carlino penned his original concept for THE MECHANIC it was clear that the Mr. Bishop character falls in love with a young stud named Steve McKenna before he kills his father in a contract hit.  The script was changed at the demand of Charles Bronson who refused to play anything remotely gay....no surprise here. Now this is where it all gets surreal for Bronson as an actor once Carlino altered the script to suit his star (including a very kinky relationship for Bronson's real-life wife Jill Ireland). In the film, she is a hooker who specializes in sexual role-playing to suit the specific fantasies of the very fucked up character Bronson decided to play. The adding of the Ireland character reminded me of a similar situation in the Tom Cruise film TOP GUN where they had a roughcut that was basically a homoerotic fighter pilot flick that needed a love interest to conceal all the cock teasing that was going on non-stop in the first three reels of this Republican wet dream. The sweaty oiled muscle dudes playing volleyball sequence alone make this film a classic in subversive gay cinema.

Anyway, back to THE MECHANIC. Despite of the fact Bronson got what he demanded in the shooting script, something rather bizarre happened to the actor once he began filming. He started to play Bishop as a gay man in spite of himself. The first time he meets Steve McKenna, played with sullen sexuality by Jan Michael Vincent at the height of his studly allure), Bronson is smitten. I mean, just watching him checking Vincent out is a study in cruising 101. After Bronson kills Steve's father, he shows up at the funeral for no other reason than to see Steve again, this time he is invited back to the house where all of Steve's stoned out, hanger-on friends are trashing the house, making long distance calls, etc. Bronson follows this guy around like a puppy in search of a home. In a scene filled with misogynistic undertones, they go to the home of one of Steve's fucked up girlfriends in time to watch her cut her wrists and bleed to death. The dialogue at this point has to be heard to be believed. At no point do we ever get the feeling these men are into women except for the scene where Bronson added for his wife (and that sequence is in question because it is a fantasy in which he is then allowed to have sex), otherwise it is simply beyond his powers to perform.

Bronson plays the hitman Bishop as a man adrift in a sea of frustration, both emotionally and physically, as he even has a panic attack in public that lands him in the emergency room where he is warned to lighten up, but how can he, when the object of his affection is such a cold blooded shit? The two men bond in way they can deal with, learning how to kill their targets, as Steve becomes as cool a hitman as Bishop ever was. The film now goes into what I like to call their DEATH IN VENICE phase, as they embark on a romantic trip to Italy, a place Bishop held in high regard from days gone bi (get it?). The two men check into his favorite hotel and toast each other with his favorite wine....it just goes on and on. The role reversal comes fast and thick with a nod to Losey's THE SERVANT....one man is dominating the other and finally Bronson is brought down by his love and trust of the other, who murders him with his favorite wine. Of course it does not end there and Steve gets his comeuppance since Bishop was not as much a fool as he had hoped for. This film becomes far more of a guilty pleasure if you are hip to this subtext when you watch it.  Bronson as Bishop relaxing in his red silk robes at home, listening to classical music while planning his next kill is very much in the mode of Leslie Banks in THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME....if you can visualize Jan Michael as a male Fay Wray.

THE MECHANIC was directed by Michael Winner, not the most subtle of directors but one that Bronson felt at home with and I imagine either one of them was aware just how gay this film was (if one is made
aware of it at all).

"What pretty eyes you have."
I, of course was hoping the Jason Statham film would restore this gay dynamic to the remake but to no avail, however this version does have a gay character that the hit man Steve McKenna (this time played by a much better actor Ben Foster) is set up to kill by Jason Statham's revisionist Bishop. Statham's take on the role is much lighter since he carries none of Bronson's inner turmoil. Still, both films are enjoyable for different reasons. The former British Olympic driver Jason Statham has become a world class action star with a substantial gay following as well. His thrid TRANSPORTER film showed off his super buff bode to a great advantage for a man who is practically bald. Statham was given his start by Guy Ritchie and there is no stopping him now.

I remember two years after THE MECHANIC came out, Paul Newman expressed interest in making a film of THE FRONT RUNNER, a novel about the love affair between a coach and his runner. The Patrica Nell Warren novel was optioned by Newman and went through many false starts, only this year getting anywhere near a starting date for filming. At the time, Newman was trying to get Hollywood interested and Jan Micheal Vincent's name was being tossed about to play the Front Runner, but we will never know if he really would have done it. It makes little difference over three decades later, as we will always have his Steve McKenna to check out every time THE MECHANIC plays out there in the dark.


  1. WOW! This is great article. VERY insightful. I never picked up on that subtext at all. I will diff. go back and rewatch it now. Thank you for the heads up, David.

  2. Wow. Hilarious, but I can see it, absolutely. So it was actually a part of the original treatment? Hard to believe, but coming from you David I must take it as gospel.

    I liked the remake too btw, Statham rocks.