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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For the first 15 minutes, 1970’s “Pretty Maids All in Row” is almost as interesting as it sounds. Hudson is actually giving one of his better performances and Vadim did have a Playboy photographer’s gift for presenting beautiful women. That, however, leaves another 75 minutes that is about as sloppy and offensive as a mainstream black comedy can be. Even making some allowances for the time, and the fact that Hudson’s character, “Tiger” McDrew, seems to limit his advances to seniors, there is a serious ethical problem here. Based on a novel by Frances Pollini, the film takes a step beyond unfunny 60s sexism into misogyny and, eventually, into seeming to excuse murder or just about anything else. If Roman Polanski had made this movie instead of Vadim, it would have been Exhibit A — it would also have been a lot funnier and more coherent. This one earned its obscurity.

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Considering that this scene from Blake Edwards’ 1965’s “The Great Race” features several of the biggest stars of its day including Natalie Wood, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon (as two separate characters — the villainous Prof. Fate and the aimably drunken Crown Prince Hapnik), a pre-“Columbo” Peter Falk and character acting great Keenan Wynn (aka Col. Bat Guano of “Dr. Strangelove“), it’s also easily the most star-studded creamy pastry battle yet filmed.

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