Death Wish (1974)

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Charles Bronson becomes a one-man vigilante force in this classic action film based on a Brian Garfield novel.

Paul Kersey is a mild-mannered New York architect who lives a happy life both at work and at home with his wife Joanna and daughter Carol. However, one fateful day will change Paul’s life forever. When a trio of thugs pretending to be deliverymen follow Joanna and Carol after they have gone shopping, they attack the duo in their apartment. Joanna is killed and Carol is assaulted and sent to the hospital. After the funeral, Paul is nearly mugged when he is able to fight back, making him both scared yet at the same time, inspires him to do something he never imagined.

When Paul goes to Arizona to meet a client with a developmental project, the client, Ames, invites Paul to his gun club. Paul becomes inspired to begin using guns again after a hunting accident have made him lose his nature to use firearms. Upon his return to New York City, Paul, given a revolver by Ames, begins to hunt down muggers and criminals, becoming a vigilante. When Det. Ochoa begins investigating the killings, Paul must now stay one step ahead of the cops while cleaning up the streets of New York.

When this classic film came out in 1974, Charles Bronson was already an established actor who got his chops in dramas and action films such as The Mechanic and The Stone Killer. This film is the third collaboration between Bronson and director Michael Winner. Adapting a Brian Garfield novel, the film detracts in terms of its views of vigilantism, and even at one point Bronson wasn’t sure if he was meant for the film. The film would be an iconic film in Bronson’s filmography, resulting in four sequels from 1982 to 1994 and a remake in 2018 with Bruce Willis in the role of Kersey, now a doctor.

Bronson not only drives the film, he IS the film. Going from a mild-mannered architect to a ruthless vigilante, Bronson’s Paul Kersey is a man who doesn’t go through an easy transition at first. The scenes in Arizona reveal Kersey’s military past as a combat medic (perhaps somewhat of an influence in Willis’ portrayal in the remake) and his renewal of passion for firearms. However, when he kills his first mugger, he freaks out to a point where he vomits before coming to the realization he can clean up the city.

Vincent Gardenia plays the other central role of Lt. Frank Ochoa, who is investigating Kersey’s actions while trying to decipher who is responsible. While the city folk are impressed with Kersey’s actions due to the fact that someone is in fact cleaning up the streets, the police are under scrutiny and at the same time, attempt to bring in whoever’s responsible. Look out for future Hollywood legend Jeff Goldblum in his film debut as one of the attackers that becomes Kersey’s catalyst for his actions.

Winner and Bronson would once again join forces in Death Wish II in 1982 and Death Wish 3 in 1985, both for Cannon Films.

The original Death Wish is an instant classic seeing the uneasy transition from  mild mannered man to a vigilante and Charles Bronson in perhaps his most iconic role.

WFG RATING: A-

Paramount Pictures presents a Dino De Laurentiis Company production. Director: Michael Winner. Producers: Dino De Laurentiis, Hal Landers, and Bobby Roberts. Writer: Wendell Mayes; based on the novel by Brian Garfield. Cinematography: Arthur J. Ornitz. Editing: Bernard Gribble.

Cast: Charles Bronson, Vincent Gardenia, Hope Lange, Steven Keats, William Redfield, Stuart Margolin, Stephen Elliott, Kathleen Tolan, Jack Wallace, Fred J. Scollay, Chris Gampel, Ed Grover, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Logan, Gregory Rozakis.

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