A roundtable chat with screenwriter Lewis John Carlino of “The Mechanic,” (2011 and 1971)

If there’s a picture of Lewis John Carlino anywhere on the Internet, I haven’t been able to find it. Does it matter?

Unlike other notables, writers are still allowed to be a little mysterious. Indeed, other than the fact that he wrote several widely acclaimed movies, an episode of the legendary television series “Route 66,” some plays, and directed a few movies, very little information is available online about Lewis John Carlino.

The Great SantiniCarlino is probably best known as the director and writer of 1979’s “The Great Santini,” a beloved sleeper about a military family based on a novel by Pat Conroy and featuring one of Robert Duvall’s greatest and most bombastic performances. “Santini” is, however, one of the more conventional films in the Carlino cannon.

In 1966, he adapted a novel by David Ely into John Frankenheimer’s famously eccentric paranoid science-fiction thriller starring Rock Hudson, “Seconds.” Less well remembered are his non-“Santini” directorial efforts. “The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea,” a bizarre and intense 1976 drama based on a book by Yukio Mishima, and “Class,” a 1983 comedy in which Jacqueline Bisset has an affair with brat-packer Andrew McCarthy, the best friend of her son (Rob Lowe). In between, Carlino also wrote the acclaimed fantasy drama, “Resurrection” starring Ellen Burstyn. After 1983, Carlino stopped directing movies entirely and his credited writing work declined dramatically.

Now a soft-spoken seventy-something intellectual, Carlino met with a group of writers to discuss a remake of one of his best known films, “The Mechanic.” The 1971 original starred Charles Bronson as a troubled but ultra-stoic hit-man who tries to end his isolation by taking on a protegee (Jan-Michael Vincent), even though his last hit was on the young man’s father (Keenan Wynn). Despite its action film trappings — including a nicely accomplished quarter-hour dialogue-free opening set-piece — it’s an often chilling look at men who have embraced death and cruelty. Bronson’s character does have a “code,” but it’s not a moral one. His aim is to embody an amoral version of existentialism that might be familiar to readers of Albert Camus’s “The Stranger.”

The new version, which stars Jason Statham and Ben Foster as the cool-blooded killer and his more hot-headed mentee, keeps enough of the original story and dialogue that Carlino is a credited screenwriter on the film. This time, around, however, Statham’s character is less vicious and the movie hits a number of more familiar action-flick beats. Viewers looking for traces of Camus will have to go elsewhere.

THE MECHANIC

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Well, I always pretty much have the same one, and it’s showing today on TCM at 11:30/2:30.

Fans of the terrific HBO “John Adams” miniseries in particular might find this a refreshing alternative take on the founding fathers and just how the Declaration of Independence came to be written and signed. True, it’s a little stagy and far from the best Broadway-to-Hollywood transfer in movie history, at least on a strictly cinematic level. At the same time, it’s a cracking entertainment with first-rate wrting and indelible performances by William Daniels (“The Graduate,” “St. Elsewhere”) as Adams, Screen Actors Guild President Ken Howard (“The White Shadow”) as eventual president Thomas Jefferson, and the once-blacklisted veteran character actor Howard Da Silva (“The Lost Weekend,” “Sgt. York”), for me, the definitive Benjamin Franklin. There’s also a nice appearance by a crush-inducing Blythe Danner (she became Gwyneth Paltrow‘s mom the same year the 1972 film was released) as a slightly ahistoric Martha Jefferson.

Now, if this is the first time you’re hearing of “1776,” there is one major difference between this and other cinematic history lessons, but you’ll that figured out by about 2:47 or by reading the name of the video.

Yeah, it’s a musical. The songs are by the late Tin Pan Alley songwriter turned history teacher Sherman Edwards and the great, if necessarily theatrical, dialogue is written by Peter Stone (“Charade”). Live with it. Here’s another favorite number with great work by Daniels, Da Silva, and Howard based on real opinions the three great men held.

  

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Every year about this time, my thoughts turn to a movie that is actually not very well made. Director Peter H. Hunt apparently had no clue how to turn “1776” from a Broadway musical into a movie back in 1972, but I still love the thing. An incredibly sharp, if still very theatrical, script by original writer Peter Stone (1974’s “The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3”) and really fun performances seal the deal, even if the director can’t. Besides, if the Founding Fathers were great, how much greater would they be singing and dancing their way to freedom from English tyranny? It’s like the “John Adams” miniseries only funnier and with a quasi-18th century beat. Are you with me? Are you??? Well, take a look, anyway.

If you live in the Los Angeles area and this seems like your thing, it just so happens that the American Cinematheque is screening the restored version of the film tonight at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theater, with director Hunt in attendance (don’t tell him what I said). However, if it’s not your thing — and I understand that may be the case — perhaps you’d prefer a more, er, manly retelling of how our nation came to be.

  

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