A roundtable chat with producers Irwin and David Winkler of “The Mechanic”

Irwin and David WinklerHealthy father and son relationships are certainly more the exception than the rule at the movies. Even so, the murderous biological and surrogate father and son pairings in the original film “The Mechanic” and its action-packed update with Jason Statham and Ben Foster, are unusually problematic. It’s a tale, after all, about a junior hit-man learning from an older paid killer who has, in turn, killed the younger killer’s dad.

That, of course has pretty much nothing to do with two of the new version’s real-life father and son producers, Irwin and David Winkler. For the remake of the 1971 actioner, the pair have teamed up with another parent-and-offspring team, Irwin Winkler’s long-time producing partner, Bill Chartoff and his son, Robert. (For the record, there are a total of ten producers and five executive producers credited on the film.) Both individually and with Bill Chartoff, the elder Winkler has been involved with a remarkable number of good movies and a few genuine classics, starting with Sydney Pollack’s pitch-black Oscar winner, “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” and also including two of Martin Scorsese‘s signature works, “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas.” Winkler and Chartoff also, of course, produced “The Mechanic,” the first time around when it was as much of a chilling look at sociopathy as it was an action flick.

Like any great producer, Irwin Winkler has had his share of interesting financial failures.  There was the ultra-culty early John Boorman film, “Leo the Last” and Martin Scorsese’s big budget 1977 disappointment “New York, New York.” Fortunately, there was also the occasional modest but high quality success like Bertrand Tavernier’s great 1986 love letter to jazz and jazz fandom, “‘Round Midnight.” He and Bill Chartoff were also key players in one of the most enduring franchises in film history, the one that started with a low-budget boxing drama called “Rocky.” Since 1991’s “Guilty by Suspicion,” Winkler has also occasionally directed. His most recent films include the musical Cole Porter biopic, “De-Lovely,” and the Iraq war drama “Home of the Brave,” which received a speedy burial.

For his part, son David Winkler has worked on a number of television movies as well as with his father on 2006’s “Rocky Balboa.” He also directed the 1998 drama, “Finding Graceland” starring Harvey Keitel.

I was personally anxious to talk to Winklers during a recent L.A. press junket for “The Mechanic” because of an oddball “only in L.A.” family anecdote. I was nevertheless beaten to the punch by an Italian reporter with a rather distinctive interviewing style who tended to dominate the discussion.

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RIP Lou Jacobi

Another more recognized than well known character actor has departed the planet with the passing of the apparently born-middle-aged Lou Jacobi at the age of 95. In a town full of Jewish actors and behind-the-camera talent, Jacobi and the late Ned Glass, who was as skinny as Jacobi was chubby and who made a recent cameo appearance here, were mid-century Hollywood’s central casting Jews, male division.

Appropriately enough, he began his career in the Broadway cast of “The Diary of Anne Frank” and appeared in George Stevens’ 1959 film version. From then on, he played an endless string of both fathers and uncles who were explicitly Jewish or, as they say in film classes, “coded” as Jewish, in innumerable TV and film roles. The one major exception was his role as the worldly wise bartender, Moustache, in Billy Wilder’s “Irma la Douce.” Still, within or without his usual niche, he was as reliable as comedic clockwork as you’ll see in these two rather amazing scenes.

First, a sketch from Woody Allen’s utterly loose 1972 non-adaptation of Dr. David Reuben’s huge and now ultra-dated bestseller, “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex *But We’re Afraid to Ask.” The book was originally seen as the height of sexual rationality but quickly became passe in more enlightened quarters with, among other issues, its assumption that homosexuality was a disease. (At the time, Gore Vidal commented that Reuben was “not a man of science but a moderately swinging rabbi.”) The question behind this scene reflects those attitudes but, right up until it goes soft right at the last second, it’s mostly pure comedy greatness with Jacobi’s utterly sympathetic portrayal of a garden variety hetero transvestite who gets in just little over his head.

And here is a scene penned by another great seriocomic writer of the alienated Jewish variety, cartoonist-turned playwright Jules Feiffer. In a scene from 1971’s “Little Murders,” Jacobi is a bombastic judge who has a thing or fifteen to say about being asked by Elliot Gould and Marcia Rodd to remove any mention of God from a wedding ceremony.

Jacobi was someone I already missed seeing, and though he was no spring chicken, it’s sad to see him go. Edward Copeland has more.

  

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