"The Mechanic"—like '70s tough guy action bromance as written by Jean Genet

An almost queer'd May-December semi-romance about two tough guy assassins, "The Mechanic" is like '70s action as plotted by Jean Genet. Here Arthur Bishop (Charles Bronson) is a mostly silent and hyper-efficient assassin and Steve McKenna (Jan Michael-Vincent), a younger, less-grizzled cutie who wants in on the action. No, they aren't lovers in the movie or anything, but this is not just pure homoerotic projection here either, rather the leftovers from an even more adventurous screenplay that never got to the screen. See, "The Mechanic" as written by Lewis John Carlino was a romance where sex and death would've intertwined as two assassins become enemies but also start to fall in love. Instead, what we're left with is a curiously callous but also quite stylish character study—Arthur staring at a Bosch in one scene, seemingly absorbing its angst by osmosis, or terrorizing a target by shooting around him on the beach until the guy has a panic attack which kills him—no bullets needed, just a gloved hand over his mouth to seal the deal.

Screenwriter Carlino, mind you, was the screenwriter behind "Seconds," wherein a wrinkled corporate shill gets a full body change into the handsome Rock Hudson, and later on the writer-director of "The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea," which took Yukio Mishima's nihilistic novel and placed it in England instead of Japan but retained its story of youth resistance and its distinct conflation of the death drive and sex drive. And as Michael Ferguson points out in his 2005 book, "Idol Worship: A Shameless Celebration of Male Beauty in the Movies," Carlino would later put Rob Lowe in a bra and women's underwear in his 1980 movie, "Class." All of which is to say, there's a real queer vision behind "The Mechanic" that is still there if you're looking for it, with scenes wherein Arthur and Steve hang out, play racquet ball, and blow up boats together.

"The Mechanic" is also a favorite of Matt Pike, stoner rock god of Sleep and High On Fire, and it is, in its own way, like a Sleep riff in movie form: all lumbering expressive aggression pushed to its limits so it ends up strangled, tortured, minimal. When Hollywood remade "The Mechanic" in 2011 with Jason Statham, it did not correct what the original omitted, so no gay hitman bromance; it went a step in the other direction, making the assassins likeable and sane, not shells for which violence and scheming are both the ends and the means with something left unsaid lingering beneath it all.

Directed by Michael Winner, now streaming on Amazon Prime.

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