DEATH WISH – 1974, Rated R
A mild mannered architect is transformed into a brutal vigilante after an act of violence destroys his perfect world in this urban thriller that made a mega-star out of Charles Bronson and kick started a movement to take back that the streets of NYC.
“Beach Blanket Bronson” month comes to a thundering finish(just in time for hurricane season) with this seventies classic about fighting back. the story follows Paul Kersey. he’s got it made in the shade with a job in a top firm , a gorgeous wife and daughter, and a well earned vacation. He comes back home to New York only to hear an ominous co-worker complain that the streets are becoming unsafe.
Next his wife and daughter are assaulted by three thugs(including a young Jeff Goldblum) out for kicks. His wife perishes in the attack while his daughter is left in a permanent state of shock that serves as a constant reminder of the incident.
Kersey’s boss wants to help him get away from the city for awhile and arranges an out of town assignment . The wild west proves to be a breath of fresh air but Kersey also finds solace in the old style justice that is worshiped there. He comes home with a plan to find the men who did him wrong.
His strategy turns out to be unique. he will roam the streets at night making himself a presentable target and killing every mugger and creep that hassles him. the idea being that he will eventually take out the men who destroyed his family.
Meanwhile a tired detective gets assigned the case of the urban vigilante who is murdering the bad guys. The press is loving the story and the people f New York are starting to take matter into their own hands by fighting back too,. He is fast becoming the symbol of a new movement but can he maintain his freedom to act ? That tried cop is no dummy and he is soon sniffing around Kersey like a Pug looking for “beggin strips.”
This is one of the better action/ revenge flicks ever produced. It also stands as one of Charles Bronson’s best performances. He doesn’t start out lean and hard here but transforms into that figure in front of your eyes as they are opened to the nihilism of seventies New York. Bronson is well assisted by Vincent Gardenia as the detective who begins to suspect Kersey as the vigilante. There are also small but effective turns by Hope Lange(as Kersey’s ill fated wife) and Stephen Keats as his sensitive son-in law.
It’s true that crime was at an all time high when this move was released and it quickly caught on with people. the film made a ton of dough and yielded four sequels as well as a take back the streets mentality that saw groups like ‘The guardian Angels” offer inner city youth the chance to clean up their own neighborhoods.
Though the sequels would lose sight of the original film’s goal by glorifying violence for its own sake the original stands as a thoughtful study on how a problem like urban crime can inadvertently bring about its own demise. Bronson ushered in a new kind of hero with this flick. Now the good guy could be brutal too and was not averse to saying something cute when he unloaded on a guy. The type would catch fire and that torch would be picked up by guys like Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as this violent hero type became the norm in the action cinema of the 80’s.
Best Line: “Why haven’t you found my dog? He’s vital to my income. He paints such marvelous pictures with his paws.”
Tom Doty is a columnist for The Floyd County Times.