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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
When Paul and son-in-law looks out the in-house window at the hospital we see them through the glass. In the reflection there's a barely visible large black square. When the camera dollies left the square follows, indicating that the square is there to disguise an all too recognizable camera silhouette. 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 »
"What do you call people who when they're faced with a condition of fear do nothing about it they just run and hide?" Paul Kersey.
This is one of my favorite films made from one of my favorite books. I lived in New York during the 1970's and can attest that crime was out of control then, the subways, parks and many streets were no man's land at night where you only went if you really had to or else you wanted to score dope, get a cheap hooker (or be one), or just for the thrill and danger. Police corruption had been so rampantly widespread for so long that there was no law and order and the thugs had taken over the night. If you question this just see Serprico and read that book which details how one honest cop almost died and was nearly buried by the massive tide of corrupt cops he was trying to expose, which was practically all the other cops. The majority of the people lived in fear of being in the streets at night and even many places during the day. Even if you packed heat that was no guarantee of anything, it wasn't uncommon to come across a gang of muggers all carrying guns, knives, baseball bats, etc. Most people in New York then were as Paul Kersey described only worse, not only did they run and hide from fear and danger but they ignored the suffering of others. New Yorkers had developed a reputation as cold and indifferent, which was fairly accurate. I remember a concert in Central Park where a girl was gang banged by a group of guys and hundreds of people just watched it, too afraid, too apathetic, or too vicariously sadistic to get involved. Someone even stole her clothes and she staggered around naked and bleeding in the rain. Things were not good and just about everybody in New York felt angry, alienated and helpless. People were sick of it all, the terrible Vietnam war, corrupt Richard Nixon, corrupt cops, corrupt everything, but they mostly were sick of being afraid and tired of living in fear.
Then the movie "Death Wish" came out. The theater was packed when I went, which surprised me, as I had already read the book and knew what it was about but how did these other people know, besides it was a matinée. I discovered why everyone was there when Paul Kersey shot his first mugger: the whole place exploded in screaming cheers and the cheers got more powerful and louder with each subsequent vigilante act. I had been to Yankees games and concerts where you hear screaming and cheers but nothing had the power of the cheers on that day. There was something wonderfully cathartic taking place, everyone in that audience who had ever been mugged or had been afraid of being mugged, which was virtually everyone, was delighting in having the tables turned. We felt safe, and were happy to see a somewhat soft spoken, average kind of a guy being played by Charles Bronson kick a*s for us, take out the bad guys. This was a new, radical concept back then, an open revenge film where an ordinary appearing guy beats the muggers at their own game. It was a great experience and we all felt like we too could be as tough as Charles Bronson, at least during that safe little reprieve within the theater.
Say what you will about the film, its technical shortcomings, you'd be hard pressed or less than honest to say that Charles Bronson didn't display his international appeal in this movie, the one that made him the world's biggest box office draw. He appears in this movie just like he was in real life, a quiet, unassuming kind of guy who really was tough, not the usual Hollywood tough guy who is so unconvincing because he can't fully hide his physical and character based qualities that are everything but a real, quiet, cool tough guy. Bronson was the real deal, just read about his earlier life if you want to know.
This film got a lot of negative reaction as being a crass and brutal revenge film, and other typical cavalier comments. The New Yorkers who lived it, all the ones I knew and the ones in the theater that day, loved it for what it was, a piece of cinematic magic to make us feel like we weren't afraid and would perhaps very soon never have to feel afraid again. If you've never been mugged or been afraid of being mugged it's very easy to tell others how they're suppose to react, what they're suppose to like, think, do, etc. But until you've lived in a real urban jungle, you'll never know the great release that a movie like "Death Wish" can bring you. It's strictly vicarious entertainment but what marvelous entertainment it is!
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