Wednesday, June 8, 2011


(July 1974, U.S.)

Before I'd ever heard of DEATH WISH, I'd barely heard of Charles Bronson despite the fact that he'd already had an extensive film career that included films like THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963) THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967). You see, I grew up with Bronson films when he was practically the poster boy for Cannon Films in the 1980s; not a single one of them worth a damn, in my opinion. The original DEATH WISH, though, serves as probably not only the best revenge film pitting the ordinary man against a society of evil, but also a definitive film depicting what a sleazy, crime-ridden garbage dump New York City was in the 1970s.

Bronson is Paul Kersey, a development engineer (when exactly did he become labeled as an ARCHITECT in this franchise?? I'M an architect! There IS a fucking difference!) who's wife and daughter are victims of a violent home invasion, rape, beating and murder by three lowlife thugs (one of them a very young Jeff Goldblum). The police are powerless and useless to do anything, so it's up to Kersey to take the law into his own hands. Bear in mind, though, this is not a man who just turns into "Rambo" overnight. The first time he defends himself against a mugger with only a sock full of quarters, he's quite shaken up over it. The first time he finally pulls the trigger against one of them, he becomes physically ill and is (temporarily) filled with remorse for having been insane enough to do such a thing. Even as it gradually becomes easier to shoot each and every mugger that provokes him and becomes easier to accept the fact that he's been dubbed by all New Yorkers as the "vigilante", you can still see physical signs in his face that he does not rejoice in the fact that he's been put into this horrible position. In other words, he's still a man deep down and not a mindless killing machine. The mindless killing machine came later in its pointless sequels.

Actor Vincent Gardenia is not an actor I know much about. I can tell you, though, that his character as the investigating police inspector and the constant cold he's nursing is nothing short of irritating. Any other credible actor playing this role without a cold would have been easier to tolerate than this guy.

Back in the day, DEATH WISH was clearly supporting the act of vigilantism. Although it received mostly negative criticism, it had an impact on American audiences and began widespread debate over how to deal with rampant crime in the streets. The film's graphic violence, particularly the brutal rape scene of Kersey's daughter as well as the explicit portrayal of his premeditated killings, were considered exploitive, but realistic in the backdrop of an urban American atmosphere of rising crime rates at the time. For myself, I can only tell you that even today when I watch this film, I still have an irresistable smile on my face every time Bronson shoots a mugger. Kill them all, Charlie!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Paul Kersey: "Nothing to do but cut and run, huh? What else? What about the old American social custom of self-defense? If the police don't defense us, maybe we ought to do it ourselves."
Jack Toby: "We're not pioneers anymore, Dad."
Paul: "What are we, Jack?"
Jack: "What do you mean?"
Paul: "I mean, if we're not pioneers, what have we become? What do you call people who, when they're faced with a condition or fear, do nothing about it, they just run and hide?"
Jack: "Civilized?"
Paul: "No."


  1. Hey, I hope you don't get bugged that I am commenting so much this last week. It is just that you hit a rich vein for me. I reviewed Death Wish for my high school paper when it came out back in 1974. You are right about Bronson's 1980's output, but his work in the 60's and 70's defined the action films of the time. Vincent Gardenia is perfect in a movie I'm sure you will be watching when you get the the M section of your DVD catalog. If you just start listing the Charles Bronson films of the 1960's you will name at least three real classics and three solid hits beyond. He was an actor that deserved a lot more attention on his passing a few years ago than he received.