Death Wish (1974)
Rated R

Starring: Charles Bronson, Hope Lange, and Vincent Gardenia

out of

When architect Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) and a co-worker discuss crime rates in 1974 New York, the co-worker suggests putting the underprivileged into concentration camps so that decent people can be safe. Kersey feels that the underprivileged deserve a break and is called a "bleeding heart." Kersey's feelings take an abrupt turn when, later that day, his wife (Hope Lange) and daughter are attacked in their apartment by muggers. Kersey's wife dies and his daughter is mentally scarred to the point of being institutionalized.

After the funeral, Kersey throws himself into his work. He takes a business trip to Tucson, Arizona to discuss a land development deal with Ames Jainchill (Stuart Margolin), a gun-loving millionaire. After their deal is done, Jainchill chastises Kersey for living in a "toilet" like New York and gives him a .32 pistol as a going away present. When he returns home, Kersey goes through a bit of a transformation from bleeding heart liberal to gun-toting vigilante. He walks the most crime-infested areas of New York at night and begins to kill muggers he catches in the act.

Viewed some 25 years after it was released, Death Wish comes across as both a cheesy and dated film as well as a testament to how much things have changed in films today. The bad haircuts and horrible sets -- with garish oranges and greens everywhere -- make this a great film to watch and laugh at with friends. The actual vigilante aspect of the film, when compared to today's movie body counts, seems incredibly overblown in terms of the public's reaction. After Kersey shoots and kills five muggers, he's front page news in 1974. The vigilante receives international press coverage and gets plastered on the covers of Harper's, Newsweek and Time. It's a sad commentary that Kersey's actions seems so small in an age where school shootings and serial killers are now fairly commonplace.

As for the performances in the film, they're all pretty good. Bronson is as good as he ever was in the role of Paul Kersey. He doesn't expend a lot of emotion, but does deliver small but effective doses when needed. Vincent Gardenia is excellent as the detective in charge of the vigilante case. The movie also features a "who's who" of future talent, including small parts from Jeff Goldblum, Daniel Stern (City Slickers), Christopher Guest (This is Spinal Tap) and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (Welcome Back, Kotter.)

Death Wish is a solid, but dated, movie that attempts to manipulate its audience into believing "an eye for an eye" is the way to deal with crime. Still, even with its flaws, it's quite entertaining to see the effect it had on movies to follow. Without Death Wish, who knows where some of Hollywood's "top notch" action stars would have ended up.

Trivia: Death Wish spawned four sequels, all of them sub-par ripoffs of the original film. Of note, however, is the second film, Death Wish II which was released in 1982. The soundtrack was recorded by Led Zeppelin guitarist, Jimmy Page. Page's delays in doing the soundtrack actually delayed the release of that film several times. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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