Mark Cunliffe 🌹’s review published on Letterboxd:
The first fifteen minutes of this, which sees Charles Bronson's assassin painstakingly set up and complete a professional hit, are entirely silent - and believe me it suits Bronson's acting abilities down to the ground! Unfortunately after that opening the film requires him to actually speak and y'know, emote and...oh well, at least we had those fifteen minutes eh?
I really hate Hollywood at times. The original screenplay for this, by Lewis John Carlino, was about an explicitly gay relationship between Bronson's seasoned pro and Jan Michael Vincent's young buck, but the producers got cold feet on depicting this scenario and it was excised from the film. Glimpses still kind of appear in the occasional looks between the actors (specifically from JMV) and in the essence of their peculiarly quickly committed and close friendship, but Carlino went on to describe this cowardly decision as "one of the greatest disappointments of my life", adding "I wanted a commentary on the use of human relationships and sexual manipulation in the lives of two hired killers. It was supposed to be a chess game between the older assassin and his young apprentice. The younger man sees that he can use his sexuality to find the Achilles heel that he needs to win. There was a fascinating edge to it, though, because toward the end the younger man began to fall in love, and this fought with his desire to beat the master and take his place as number one ... The picture was supposed to be a real investigation into this situation, and it turned into a pseudo James Bond film".
Ditching the homoeroticism means that the film develops a surrogate father/son rivalry instead. This works because Bronson and Jan Michael Vincent do actually look a little similar in terms of bone structure at times, plus there's also the small matter of Bronson being responsible for the death of JMV's actual father, played by Keenan Wynn (incidentally, there's a bizarre moment early on where the film tries to convince us that Wynn is much older than Bronson and was a contemporary of Bronson's character's father, despite there only being five years between the actors in real life) which perhaps explains his unspoken commitment towards JMV which is obviously borne out of guilt. But, in removing the original concept, the film is left with loose ends from a character point of view; specifically Bronson's wholly simulated relationship with a call girl, played (of course) by his real-life wife Jill Ireland. It's clear that Bronson's character gets little from this GFE arrangement, but he clearly feels he must engage nonetheless. This sets up what was to follow, what is latent in him, but of course, we never get to see it pay off. Meanwhile JMV's character is obviously such a narcissist that he has developed a talent for attracting anyone and everyone yet keeping them ultimately at arms length, because he only truly loves himself. The film's insight into his character is addressed with a few sequences of hippy parties, all deeply unconvincing and made with the same kind of contempt and bewilderment that today's baby boomer filmmakers address such things as the internet and progressive, liberal equality.
At times you can be sure that director Michael Winner thinks he's making The Day of the Jackal here, but the truth of it is it's not even the Jackal's lunch hour. Winner's style here is decidedly mixed; he commits an interestingly woozy approach to many sequences (perhaps inspired by the original director attached to this, Monte Hellman) but forgets to add any real tension before throwing over the film's USP of its central relationship in the latter half in favour of the usual bang-bang action setpieces. This is further in evidence with a series of martial arts sequences with an unlikely master in Bronson that were ultimately heavily edited from the final picture because yup, according to associate producer Henry Gellis, they were too much like a Bond movie. Though really it just smacked of Hollywood trying to boost their product with the karate craze they realised 'the kids' were into at that time.
Ultimately, it's just really disappointing that the homoeroticism so integral to Carlino's story was expunged from the finished product. Hollywood had a chance to reintroduce it when they remade this film in 2011, but unfortunately that turned out to be a Jason Statham vehicle, no doubt focusing more on the action angle of the narrative than even Winner does here.
And lastly, after about the fourth time Bronson whipped his head back to get his lank hair out of his eyes I was screaming at the screen for him to go and get it cut!