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Peter R. Hunt
Open-minded architect Paul Kersey returns to New York City from vacationing with his wife, feeling on top of the world. At the office, his cynical coworker gives him the welcome-back with a warning on the rising crime rate. But Paul, a bleeding-heart liberal, thinks of crime as being caused by poverty. However his coworker's ranting proves to be more than true when Paul's wife is killed and his daughter is raped in his own apartment. The police have no reliable leads and his overly sensitive son-in-law only exacerbates Paul's feeling of hopelessness. He is now facing the reality that the police can't be everywhere at once. Out of sympathy his boss gives him an assignment in sunny Arizona where Paul gets a taste of the Old West ideals. He returns to New York with a compromised view on muggers... Written by
This movie was Charles Bronson's first picture to feature the word 'Death' in the title. The next was Death Hunt (1981) made and released about seven years later. Another Messenger of Death (1988) also featured the word. Bronson made seven movies with this word in the title, five of them being in the 'Death Wish' franchise. The final time film would be Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994), where the word actually appears twice. See more »
In the grocery store where we first see the criminals, Paul Kersey's wife and daughter are having their groceries rang up. Just behind the cashier is a male cashier dressed in a white coat and sideburns, ringing up groceries in the next isle. However, when we immediately cut to the wife and daughter leaving the store, the male cashier is gone with a different cashier in his place. See more »
Actresses Olympia Dukakis ('Cop at the Precinct') and Marcia Jean Kurtz as Marcia Jean-Kurtz ('Woman at Airport') get credited in opening credits only. There's no mention of them in the closing credits. See more »
Over the course of a career that has spanned nearly fifty years, action star Charles Bronson has appeared in dozens of films. Among them, the one that he is best remembered for is "Death Wish," an urban drama that has practically defined his career. He plays Paul Kersey, a liberal, mild-mannered architect whose family falls victim to violent crime. One fateful afternoon, he is shocked to hear the dreadful news: his wife has been murdered, his daughter brutally raped. What's more, the police are unable to apprehend the perpetuators. Feeling stunned and helpless, Kersey decides to take the law into his own hands--and the subsequent publicity galvanizes New York City. It isn't long before the police are hot on his heels. The ultimate consequences promise to be drastic.
"Death Wish" was a highly controversial film when initially released. At the time, major cities were facing a deadly crime epidemic, and this film tapped into the fears and unspoken desires of many viewers, giving them a chance to live out their secret fantasies. Critics on the Left lambasted its politics on crime, and even some on the Right felt it went too far. One could find much to complain about from an ideological standpoint. One could point out that the film is manipulative and heavy-handed (the attack on Kersey's family comes right after his co-worker tells him he's a "bleeding-heart liberal"). Yet, it is undeniably compelling; one of these movies that makes you wonder, "what if this happened to me?" In light of the later, inferior sequels, it is fascinating to see how the character came to be, how he made the transition from law-abiding man to cold-blooded vigilante. It is not an easy transition to make by any means--after his first kill, he breaks down and vomits the moment he reaches home. Yet, as his kills (each is very suspensefully handled) occur with greater frequency, we get the sinking feeling that he has reached a point of no return. Indeed, he narrowly eludes capture on at least two occasions, and there is the certainty that it is only a matter of time before the law will catch up with him.
Bronson is highly effective here; while not one of the great actors, he has a very strong screen presence. The audience is on his side every step of the way, rooting for him even as he strays onto the wrong side of the law. Surely, he is entitled to justice, but at what point does his vengeance outweigh his grievances? Vincent Gardenia is effective as the police detective assigned to his case. He grudgingly admires Kersey's resolve, although he is sworn to put a stop to the killings. The manner in which this is resolved is creative, though its plausibility is less than certain. The film is also noticeable for an early appearance by Jeff Goldblum as a slimy thug. However, Steven Keats is somewhat ineffectual as Bronson's son-in-law (he just sorta got on my nerves). In the years to come, this film would be followed by an endless chain of sequels and rip-offs, many of them starring Bronson himself, reducing him to a stock character whose only attribute was blowing the bad guys away. A shame, considering he was once an internationally respected actor. "Death Wish" is nonetheless a well-crafted, tightly paced crime drama, despite some dated aspects. It still kept me interested throughout and made me more interested in viewing more of the star's other films--good or otherwise.
Rating: *** (out of ****)
Released by Paramount Pictures
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