Friday, June 19, 2009

Film Review: DEATH WISH (1974, Michael Winner)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 93 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Charles Bronson (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, RIDER ON THE RAIN, MR. MAJESTYK, HARD TIMES), Hope Lange (BLUE VELVET, PEYTON PLACE, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2), Vincent Gardenia (THE HUSTLER, 80's LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS), William Redfield (Dale in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST), Jeff Goldblum, music by Herbie Hancock.
Tag-lines: "Vigilante, city style -Judge, Jury, and Executioner."
Best one-liner: "I'm listening to the weather report - why haven't you found my dog - he's vital to my income - he paints such marvelous pictures with his paws!"
Best anecdote: After shooting wrapped on THE STONE KILLER, Bronson and Winner wanted to collaborate again, and discussed future projects. "What do we do next?" asked Bronson. "The best script I've got is DEATH WISH. It's about a man whose wife and daughter are mugged and he goes out and shoots muggers," said Winner. "I'd like to do that," Bronson said. "The film?" inquired Winner. Bronson replied, "No . . . shoot muggers."

"Man, check out that mild-mannered little architect. Classic bleeding heart liberal. Is that a turtleneck? Well, it may as well be."

"Look at 'im. He can hardly lift those groceries. C'mon guys, I'm gonna mug 'im."


Big mistake, buddy, cause you just got blown away by Charlie effin' Bronson.

I guess, in a way, that's the fundamental flaw of this picture- the idea that ANYONE would think they could take on Charles Bronson, groceries or no. Though supposedly an Italian (!) once tried it, attempting to rob him at gunpoint. Bronson later said of the incident, "I am not a Casper Milquetoast. A guy in broken English asked me for money. I said, 'You give ME money.' He turned around and walked away." But who cares- regardless of that story's veracity, or the strength of the concept (that hoods would try to mug Bronson), this is a damned fun time at the movies.

Who cares that it's Fascist: "Oh Christ, you are such a bleeding-heart liberal, Paul." "-My heart bleeds a little for the underprivileged, yes." "The underprivileged are beating our goddamned brains out. You know what I say? Stick them in concentration camps, that's what I say." Ummm... WHUTTTTTT?! Somehow its reactionary political leanings are reconciled by the fact that there's so much cathartic fun to be had watching Bronson kill punks. No one can deny that. Combine that with a super-young Jeff Goldblum as Freak #1 (see him also menace Bronson in ST. IVES), Vincent Gardenia in the now-cliched role of 'cop begrudgingly impressed by vigilante,' and a groovin' soundtrack by Herbie Hancock, and you've got yourself a bona fide classic. Followed by FOUR sequels of increasingly deranged (Cannon Films) quality and literally thousands of rip-offs (MS. 45 probably being the best), DEATH WISH's punch-in-the-guts impact is undeniable. Five stars.

Tangent: And the final scene reveals that a 'forefinger and thumb gun' battle between Bronson and Eastwood would probably be the most satisfying thing ever committed to celluloid:

Look at that smile. The wink! You want it? You got it!

Conversely, Clint takes no pleasure from this.

But hey, now we're gettin' classy, too! I don't think Bronson can top that.

Whoa! I have been rendered speechless. My mind races with the possibilities of a 'Charles Bronson Album.' What if Bronson and Eastwood had recorded 'Beers to You' together, instead of Ray Charles and Eastwood? So many unanswered questions. I'm not sure I can declare a winner at this point. Stay tuned.

-Sean Gill

COMING SOON: Reviews of DEATH WISHES 2-5. And more on the Bronson/Eastwood rivalry.

1 comment:

Tempest said...

I remember years ago on Arsenio Hall Goldblum was a guest. He said this was his first film and that he killed Bronson's wife and raped his daughter. Arsenio was shocked (so was I) and JF said,"Why? It does not seem like I should that kind of role?"

I saw most of this on tv. I would have to see all of it to have a fully informed opinion.