Charles Bronson as Arthur Bishop, disciplined but depressed contract killer
Los Angeles to Naples, Italy, Fall 1972
Film: The Mechanic
Release Date: November 17, 1972
Director: Michael Winner
Costume Designer: Lambert Marks
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
After serving in supporting roles for many great Westerns and war movies of the ’60s—including The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen, and Once Upon a Time in the West—Hollywood was ready for Charles Bronson to take on leading roles that would establish him as one of the greatest silver screen “tough guys” of all time.
The Mechanic starred Bronson as Arthur Bishop, a skilled assassin whose quiet, luxurious lifestyle is disrupted when he takes on a protégé, Steve McKenna (Jan-Michael Vincent), the hotheaded, sociopathic son of his former boss “Big Harry” (Keenan Wynn) who he was assigned to kill. Arthur begins mentoring Steve after Big Harry’s death, taking the narcissistic young man flying, giving him shooting lessons, and eventually bringing him along for several hits.
Arthur graduates Steve from an apprentice when they embark on the film’s climactic hit, taking on a target in his yacht off the Naples coast. Once they realize they’ve been set up, they return to shore and manage to shoot, bomb, and speed their way out of danger…though Arthur’s troubles are still far from over.
The movie was helmed by Michael Winner, who would later direct Bronson to wider stardom in Death Wish. Though Bronson’s thoughtful performance as the anxiety-ridden hitman received considerable praise in contemporary and retrospective reviews, Winner’s direction has been criticized for transforming Lewis John Carlino’s nuanced story into what Carlino himself called “a psuedo James Bond film… one of the great disappointments of my life.”
The Mechanic was recently into a 2011 film of the same name with Jason Statham and Ben Foster in the roles of Arthur Bishop and Steve McKenna, respectively.
What’d He Wear?
“For that matter, is Arthur supposed to look grotesque, like an aging Hollywood agent, in his fancy bell-bottoms and leather jackets, or is this a mark of his hipness?” wrote Vincent Canby in his contemporary review of The Mechanic for the New York Times.
Canby’s rightful criticism of bell bottoms aside, I’m a fan of Charles Bronson’s black leather moto jacket that makes a few appearances throughout The Mechanic, specifically during the explosive finale in Naples, and I’m not surprised that this movie has inspired a few requests from BAMF Style readers.
Arthur’s black leather racer jacket is particularly appropriate for the nature of their first hit together, targeting a motorcycle gang, given the jacket’s history. Also known as a moto jacket or by the evocative moniker of “café racer”, the jacket can trace its origins to Schott NYC’s introduction of the iconic “Perfecto” motorcycle jacket, developed in 1928 for Harley-Davidson. With its asymmetrical zipper and wide self-belt, the Schott Perfecto became a countercultural symbol during the post-WWII years thanks in no small part to Marlon Brando sporting one as the rebellious anti-hero in The Wild Ones (1953).
The more streamlined racer jacket would be developed in England over the decades to follow as young motorcycle riders adopted the practice of refurbishing prewar bikes to transport them from one café to the next to listen to American rock music, opting for light, comfortable leathers in a more minimalist design with less of the pronounced buckles, straps, and flaps of the Perfecto-style jacket. Venerated manufacturers like Schott joined the fray with their cowhide 141 “Classic Racer”, slimmer 530 “Café Racer”, and heavier steerhide 641 “Single Rider” that remain in production to this day.
By the end of the 1960s, the “café racer” jacket had been firmly established, distinguished by its short throat-latched mandarin-style collar and unobstrusive zip closure on the front, cuffs, and pockets. You can read more about the history of café racer culture in this Hiconsumption article.
The waist-length leather jacket that Bronson wears in The Mechanic is consistent with most classic café racer jacket styling with its short standing collar with two snaps for the throat latch, the straight-zipped front with long silver pull tab, set-in chest pocket with horizontal zip closure, and long zip-fly cuffs that extend back to the elbow to loosen the fit of each sleeve. A pleat behind each shoulder adds an “action back” effect to allow more movement for moto racers.
One differentiating factor of Bronson’s jacket from the classic Schott is the presence of two chest pockets. While it’s not marketed as a replica of Bronson’s jacket, this lambskin café racer by Soul Revolver is one of the closest quality examples of a modern-made moto jacket that I’ve seen.
A classic work shirt is very appropriate for a hard worker like Arthur. He wears a slate blue chambray cotton long-sleeved shirt with two button-through chest pockets. The shirt is detailed with white plastic buttons on the front placket, pockets, and cuffs.
Arthur’s usual trousers with this jacket are brown corduroys with tall belt loops, slanted front pockets, and patch pockets on the back similar to jeans. These flat front trousers are tight through the hips and legs with slightly flared plain-hemmed bottoms. His wide brown leather belt has a large gold-toned single-prong buckle.
Arthur’s well-worn and much-traveled square–toed boots are russet brown leather with a mid-calf rise consistent with the classic roper boot style, though they have a long zipper on the inside of each boot to ease taking them on and off over his black socks.
The jacket makes an early appearance for Arthur’s shotgun sessions with Steve, worn with a pair of blue jeans rather than his brown corduroys. Like the cords, the jeans have a trendy fit for the ’70s, slim through the legs before flaring out over the bottoms.
A professional like Arthur Bishop has the right tools and accessories for every part of his job, donning a pair of oversized aviator sunglasses for an afternoon of…well, aviation. These tortoise plastic-framed shades have wide lenses and a double bridge over the nose.
Many modern eyewear manufacturers have embraced the oversized fads of the ’70s for their own retro-minded frames. If you want a set of sunglasses to channel early ’70s Charles Bronson, check out these selections from Arnette, Maui Jim, and Serengeti or these pairs from Tantino, Vision World Eyewear, and zeroUV, all available for under $12 on Amazon. (For a variation on this style, PRIVÉ REVAUX offers “The Hitman” with a name and style that suggests Bronson’s hitman character may have been a direct influence on the product.)
When his Italian assassination contract calls for him to dive to his destination, he dresses his wrist in the classic dive watch: a Rolex Submariner, ref. 5513.
The Rolex Sub was enjoying its Hollywood heyday during the early ’70s, seen on the wrists of Steve McQueen, Robert Redford, and Roger Moore’s James Bond, whose 5513 Submariner was customized with a buzzsaw in Live and Let Die that helped 007 and Solitaire (Jane Seymour) spirit themselves to freedom and escape the villain’s torture device.
Arthur’s stainless steel Rolex isn’t equipped with the bells and whistles of Bond’s Sub, just the standard black rotating bezel, black dial, and steel Oyster-style link bracelet.
For the actual diving part of their aborted assassination mission, Arthur outfits himself and Steve in matching dark gray neoprene wetsuits that zip up the front and up the sleeves.
Arthur Bishop’s sidearm of choice for the assassination of the motorcycle drug gang is a Walther PPK, the German-made semi-automatic pistol made famous for its association with James Bond. Developed in 1930 as a shorter-barreled variant of the Walther PP, the more easily concealed PPK is chambered most frequently in .32 ACP (7.65x17mm Browning SR) and .380 ACP (9x17mm Short).
Though the PPK had enjoyed popularity for decades, the pistol fell out of favor with certain sectors of the British government after Princess Anne’s Metropolitan Police protection officer, Inspector James Beaton, had a Walther PPK jam on him during a kidnapping attempt on the princess in March 1974, less than a year and a half after The Mechanic was released. (Beaton was shot three times but recovered from his wounds and received the George Cross for his efforts protecting Princess Anne.)
Despite the infamy of this incident, the typically reliable PPK and its PP and PPK/S cousins remain in service for various police and military forces around the world to this day.
For heavier duty assignments, Arthur opts for more powerful long arms. Thus, he preps Steve for these jobs by taking him skeet shooting, each armed with the distinctive-looking Browning Auto-5 semi-automatic field shotgun.
The long recoil-operated Auto-5 was designed by the legendary John Browning in the waning years of the 19th century and produced steadily by Browning Arms throughout most of the 20th century until 1998. Remington Arms and Savage Arms also produced their own variants—the Model 11 and the Model 720, respectively—that lacked the sharply squared “humpback” cutoff before the buttstock. The Auto-5 was named for its semi-automatic action and the five-round capacity for four 12-gauge, 16-gauge, or 20-gauge shells in the magazine tube and one more in the chamber.
This shotgun was fielded by various military forces around the world during both world wars and was also a popular weapon employed by the fast-driving criminals of the Depression-era crime wave with several modified Browning Auto-5 and Remington Model 11 shotguns in Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow’s infamous arsenal. A 20-gauge Remington Model 11 was also the weapon used in Kurt Cobain’s tragic 1994 death.
The skeet shooting experience comes in handy as both Arthur and Steve end up defending themselves during the Italian mountaintop shootout with a pair of Winchester Model 1200 pump-action shotguns, each with a barrel sawed down to the length of the under-barrel tube magazine and slide.
Like the Auto-5, the Winchester Model 1200 also has a history of military usage and was offered in 12-, 16-, and 20-gauge, though the Model 1200 operated with a manual pump action. The base model could carry four shells in its under-barrel tubular magazine, though some variants could carry up to six. A variant of the standard Model 1200 was marketed by Sears with legendary Red Sox left fielder Ted Williams’ name as the “Ted Williams Model 200”.
In 1983, when the U.S. Repeating Arms Company took over the manufacture of Winchester firearms, the Model 1200 was renamed the Model 1300 with slight cosmetic updates and an increased six-shell tubular magazine made standard. Production ceased in 2006.
How to Get the Look
Aside from a then-trendy flare here and a Bronson-only mustache there, Arthur Bishop’s black leather moto jacket, chambray shirt, and corduroy pants forms an ultimately timeless casual ensemble.
- Black leather moto “café racer” jacket with snap-closed standing collar, zip front, two zip-fastened chest pockets, zip-up cuffs, and pleated “action back”
- Slate-blue chambray cotton work shirt with point collar, front placket, two button-through chest pockets, and single-button cuffs
- Dark brown corduroy flat front trousers with wide belt loops, slanted front pockets, patch back pockets, and slightly flared plain-hemmed bottoms
- Wide brown leather belt with large gold-toned single-prong buckle
- Russet brown leather inside-zip roper boots
- Black boot socks
- Black 3-point leather gloves
- Tortoise-framed oversized plastic aviator sunglasses
- Rolex Submariner 5513 stainless steel dive watch with black rotating bezel, black dial, and steel Oyster-style link bracelet
Adding a few modern touches, you can use Amazon to channel Charles Bronson as Arthur Bishop from head to toe:
- Blingsoul lambskin leather moto “café racer” jacket (Amazon, starting at $147)
- Amazon Essentials blue “rinsed” cotton chambray shirt (Amazon, $24.56)
- Dockers All Seasons corduroy “tech pants” (Amazon, starting at $17.40)
- Rustic Town brown leather belt with “antique gold” buckle (Amazon, starting at $19.45)
- FRYE Men’s Campus Inside Zip Fashion Boots (Amazon, starting at $320.99)
- Wrangler Men’s Western Boot Socks, Black (Amazon, pack of three pairs for $15.99)
- Invicta Men’s 8926OB Pro Driver automatic watch (Amazon, $86.50)
All prices as of September 2019.