Film Review: Death Wish (1974)

Also known as: The Sidewalk Vigilante (working title)
Release Date: July 24th, 1974
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: Wendell Mayes
Based on: Death Wish by Brian Garfield
Music by: Herbie Hancock
Cast: Charles Bronson, Hope Lange, Vincent Gardenia, William Redfield, Stuart Margolin, Steven Keats, Jack Wallace, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Guest, Olympia Dukakis

Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Nothing to do but cut and run, huh? What else? What about the old American social custom of self-defense? If the police don’t defend us, maybe we ought to do it ourselves.” – Paul Kersey

While I still haven’t seen the 2018 remake of this film, I wanted to at least revisit the originals. I’ll probably check out the Bruce Willis starring remake pretty soon but it’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen the original Paul Kersey clean up the mean streets of the United States.

In this, the first film of five, he cleans up the streets of New York City. He moves around from city to city in each film, as he can’t stay put in one place for too long.

Anyway, the film follows Paul Kersey, played by Chales Bronson, a man’s man. He is a pretty liberal and pacifistic guy until his wife is murdered and daughter raped and attacked in their home by vagrant, criminal scum. Kersey, unable to accept the failure of the system, becomes a vigilante and sparks a one man war on crime. However, his actions inspire the people of New York City to stand up and defend themselves as well. Soon, city officials want to put a lid on it but they kind of like Kersey, as crime rates are dropping and it looks good for the people in power.

This is a pretty political and social film for its day, as crime in New York City in the 1970s was at an all-time high and people were legitimately scared just walking down the street. I kind of wonder how the 2018 remake will address these issues, as Hollywood hates controversy these days, unless they’re reminding us of how much they hate Republicans, especially our current president. But I digress.

Charles Bronson is known for being a badass in a ton of films but this might be the best he’s ever been. It certainly evolved into his most famous role but playing a character five times will do that.

This is a gritty, realistic film. Bronson isn’t some invincible warrior, he is an everyday man, in over his head. A man with flaws and inexperience who fucks up because of that. But it’s his drive and ambition that really makes the character work. He is kind of driven by a type of mania, not caring that the law is on to him. He just commits to the bit, no matter what repercussions he may face. It’s refreshing to see, all these years later, because nowadays, everyone is a f’n John Wick or Frank Castle.

This first Death Wish movie is the best of the lot. But in saying that, it isn’t my personal favorite even though it’s the superior film. I really love the third one but I’ll get into that when I review it in the future.

But overall, this is a solid ’70s action flick with a giant barrel of testosterone concentrate.

Also, it is the film debut of Jeff Goldblum and has very early roles for Christopher Guest and Olympia Dukakis.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: its sequels and the Dirty Harry film series.

2 thoughts on “Film Review: Death Wish (1974)

  1. I was just a kid at the time but I remember the film being very controversial for its vigilante angle. Today, I don’t think it would ruffle that many feathers but it did reignite the revenge genre.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve heard the remake is good in that it doesn’t try to PC it up. Haven’t seen it yet but I’m going to check it out soon.

      Like

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