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DEATH WISH (director: Michael Winner; screenwriters: from the novel “Death Wish” by Brian Garfield/Wendell Mayes; cinematographer: Arthur J. Ornitz; editor: Bernard Gribble; music: Herbie Hancock; cast: Charles Bronson (Paul Kersey), Vincent Gardenia (Lieutenant Frank Ochoa), Hope Lange (Joanna Kersey), Steven Keats (Jack Toby), Stuart Margolin (Aimes Jainchill), William Redfield (Sam Kreutzer), Kathleen Tolan (Carol Toby), Jeff Goldblum (Freak), Christopher Logan (Freak), Christopher Guest (Freak/Patrolman Jackson Reilly); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Michael Winner/Hal Landers/Bobby Roberts; Paramount; 1974)
“Stylish exploitation vigilante thriller.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Mediocre Brit director Michael Winner (“The Mechanic”/”Lawman”/”The Nightcomers”)pushes the crowd-pleasing button with this stylish exploitation vigilante thriller, geared to the nervous urban public worried about crime.It’s basedon the novel “Death Wish” by Brian Garfield and is written by Wendell Mayes. The heavy-handed bad message film uses an ugly crime story to tell its revenge story. The pic fed into the public’s disgust over crime and the perceived notion that the liberal politicians couldn’t stop the crime wave.

Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) is a bleeding-heart liberal and a happily married successful New York archtitect. His world falls apart when three vicious drug-crazed white thugs (Jeff Goldblum is one of the thugs, in his film debut) push their way into his apartment when he’s not home and stomp to death his wife Joanna (Hope Lange) and rape his married daughter Carol ( Kathleen Tolan)–for further humiliation they spray-paint her ass with a red target. She’s left comatose, as a vegetable. A downbeat son-in-law, Jack Toby (Steven Keats), asks Paul: “What are we? What do you call people who are faced with a condition of fear and do nothing about it, just run and hide.”

After a vacation to Arizona, the politically changed Paul returns to New York with no confidence in the judicial system and decides to take the law into his own hands by becoming a vigilante. Paul thereby stalks the city streets at night on the prowl for muggers and hoodlums. Paul is now a hunted man himself, as Police Detective Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) tries to find the popular vigilante and stop his activities in the city.

It’s a disturbing fantasy film that could have been made by the NRA, as it endorses gun ownership as the answer to stopping crime. In its simplistic storytelling, it makes Bronson out to be a sympathetic figure who is actually doing something positive about the crime wave, even if it’s illegal, and should be applauded for that.

It has a snazzy Herbie Hancock musical score to give it a modicum of taste.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”