Film Review: The Mechanic (1972)

Also known as: Killer of Killers (reissue title)
Release Date: November 17th, 1972 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: Lewis John Carlino
Music by: Jerry Fielding
Cast: Charles Bronson, Jan-Michael Vincent, Keenan Wynn, Jill Ireland

Chartoff-Winkler Productions, Carlino Productions, United Artists, 100 Minutes

Review:

“He has 100 ways to kill… and they all work!” – tagline

As much as I like Michael Winner’s Death Wish films with Charles Bronson, until now, I had never seen The Mechanic.

While it’s not as good as the first three Death Wish pictures, it’s still pretty fucking solid and isn’t afraid to walk around with its testosterone-filled balls blowing in the wind.

This one doesn’t just star manly man Charles Bronson, it also stars pretty manly man Jan-Michael Vincent.

The two leads have damn good chemistry. So much so, I wasn’t a fan of the twist ending because I could’ve watched these two badasses murder the crap out of shit for five or six movies. I’m actually kind of surprised that Vincent didn’t make his way into any of Winner’s Death Wish movies, unless they just didn’t get along or Vincent had issues with Bronson.

As far as the story goes, Bronson is an international assassin. He’s pretty damn good but with his lifestyle comes certain rules and it’s these rules that have sort of deprived him of a better life and real human connection. Vincent shows up at a weird time in Bronson’s life and Bronson had just killed Vincent’s dad. Still, Bronson sees something in Vincent and decides to train him to become an assassin, even if it breaks the code he’s supposed to follow.

Breaking this code draws the ire of higher ups and I feel like this plot point trickled down through movies over the years and led to the weird world of the John Wick universe, among other entertainment franchises.

By the time you get to the end, there’s a double twist. I don’t want to spoil what that is but you kind of see it coming while watching the movie. And if it wasn’t a trope of these sort of stories in 1972, it’s certainly become one since.

The Mechanic is pretty raw and it boasts decent cinematography, great action for its era and it has two legit stallions ready to murder scumbags. What’s not to like?

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Charles Bronson films of the ’70s and ’80s.

Film Review: The People Against O’Hara (1951)

Release Date: September 1st, 1951
Directed by: John Sturges
Written by: John Monks Jr.
Based on: The People Against O’Hara by Eleazar Lipsky
Music by: Carmen Dragon
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Pat O’Brien, James Arness, Diana Lynn, Yvette Duguay, Charles Bronson

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 102 Minutes

Review:

“[Near the eel tank] One thing about eels… give ’em air.” – Eddie

The People Against O’Hara is strangely the first movie I’ve reviewed with Spencer Tracy in it. It’s also a classic film-noir, so merging these two things should lead to an enjoyable experience.

Sadly, this isn’t as good as I had hoped but it does feature a great performance by Tracy, showing the audience what a truly virtuous hero is.

In this, Tracy plays a retired criminal attorney named James Curtayne. When Johnny O’Hara, someone from his neighborhood, is accused of murder, Curtayne decides to take the case after the pleas of O’Hara’s loving parents. This all leads to Curtayne investigating the murder and uncovering details that O’Hara had been set up by a gangster named Knuckles because O’Hara had been messing around with his young wife, Katrina. O’Hara doesn’t do himself any favors by not giving the full truth. The reason being, he wants to protect Katrina. In the end, while trying to take Knuckles down, Curtayne goes into a situation where he knows he’ll probably die. But to him, justice is more important than his own life.

I don’t want to spoil too many of the plot details but I did want to illustrate the type of man that Curtayne is. Spencer Tracy, in the role, did a fine job of making Curtayne a believable and authentic hero.

The rest of the cast was good but the scenes with Yvette Duguay as Katrina really stood out to me. I really liked her and she has that old school, majestic, starlet quality. It made me wonder why I hadn’t really seen her before and although she has a lot of credits to her name, she never seemed to be the star of anything, which is unfortunate.

As far as the look of the film, it was pretty standard. It wasn’t an overly stylized noir and was filmed without much artist flourish added in. I feel like it could’ve used some creative cinematography and lighting, as in these sort of films, that can take something average and make it into something much better.

The People Against O’Hara has some solid character moments and the plot is decent. However, when compared to the best films of the classic noir genre, it doesn’t stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other classic film-noir pictures of the ’40s and ’50s.

Film Review: House of Wax (1953)

Also known as: The Wax Works (working title)
Release Date: April 9th, 1953 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Andre DeToth
Written by: Crane Wilbur
Based on: The Wax Works by Charles S. Belden
Music by: David Buttolph
Cast: Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones, Paul Picerni, Charles Bronson (as Charles Buchinsky)

Bryan Foy Productions, Warner Bros., 88 Minutes

Review:

“I’m afraid that the visit of a such distinguished critic may cause my children to become conceited. To you they are wax, but to me, their creator, they live and breathe.” – Prof. Henry Jarrod

House of Wax is hand down, one of my favorite Vincent Price films ever made. In fact, as much as I love the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations he’s in, this was the movie that really sold me on the guy and opened up the Pandora’s box that sent me down the rabbit hole of classic horror.

While I had already loved the Universal Monsters films and older black and white stuff, House of Wax really introduced me to the generation of films that followed, many of which starred Vincent Price, Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee… and sometimes a combination of two of them or on rare occasions, all three.

At a very young age, this also introduced me to the original version of the 3D gimmick. While I didn’t see this in 3D, it gave me an understanding of it and how these films were shot. Plus, it’s cool seeing it on a normal screen, as in 1953, movies weren’t made to be digested at home on a television set.

This was directed by Andre DeToth, who had previously made some memorable classic film-noir pictures. He had an eye for cinematic composition and he would utilize that to great effect, here, while also applying it to the 3D effects shots.

What sets this apart from DeToth’s beautiful noir movies is the use of color, which is vibrant and vivid, even more so than the colorized pictures of the day. Even when the film takes place in darkness, the world is still alive with dynamic hues.

Additionally, DeToth’s mastery of a high chiaroscuro style comes into play in the great sequence that sees the film’s female lead running through the urban streets and alleyways with the grotesque killer in hot pursuit. While this wasn’t done in black and white, it used dark hues and a lot of contrast with bits of color accenting the composition, helping to boost texture.

Vincent Price is dynamite in this and it is one of his best roles. He was on his A-game and his performance in this film is what led to him having a career as America’s top horror star for decades.

I also loved seeing a young Charles Bronson in this, who would work with DeToth again in a noir movie titled Crime Wave.

As an Addams Family fan, I also like that Carolyn Jones is in this, a decade before her most famous role as Morticia Addams.

One thing that really stood out to me when seeing this, as a kid, was how messed up and dark the story was. It’s about a wax artist who lost everything and was only able to reestablish himself by killing people and using them as the base for his wax figure creations. In fact, the plot of this film inspired two different horror short stories I wrote around middle school age. I’d assume that it also inspired Roger Corman’s classic beatnik horror comedy Bucket of Blood.

Overall, this is not just one of my favorite Vincent Price films, it is one of my favorite films of all-time. It led me down a path that I have enjoyed immensely for thirtyish years and I still tend to feel the need to watch this every October.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other Vincent Price films from the ’50s through the ’70s.

Vids I Dig 194: Razörfist: Rageaholic Cinema: The ‘Death Wish’ Film Series (In 5 Parts)

From The Rageaholic/Razörfist’s YouTube description (DEATH WISH 1): Because Batman is a pussy.

From The Rageaholic/Razörfist’s YouTube description (DEATH WISH 2): Have you accepted Bronson as your personal lord and savior?

From The Rageaholic/Razörfist’s YouTube description (DEATH WISH 3): Maximum Life Expectancy: One Scene.

From The Rageaholic/Razörfist’s YouTube description (DEATH WISH 4): DEATH!

From The Rageaholic/Razörfist’s YouTube description (DEATH WISH 5): The only film where Bronson’s ‘death wish’… is probably literal.

Film Review: Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994)

Release Date: January 14th, 1994
Directed by: Allan A. Goldstein
Written by: Allan A. Goldstein, Michael Colleary
Based on: characters by Brian Garfield
Music by: Terry Plumeri
Cast: Charles Bronson, Lesley-Anne Dowd, Michael Parks, Saul Rubinek, Ken Welsh, Robert Joy

21st Century Film Corporation, Trimark Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Let the law take these guys down. You know, sometimes the law works.” – Lt. Mickey King, “And sometimes it doesn’t! These people, they steal, they murder, they destroy people’s lives and they get away with it! They have alibis, money, lawyers, power. They have everything.” – Paul Kersey

This is the worst Death Wish movie. But that’s like saying that missionary is the worst sex position. Because frankly, you’re still having sex and that’s way better than not having sex.

Charles Bronson is back for the final time and this round, he gets to ham it up with Michael Parks, who makes a good final villain for the series.

This one is kind of bizarre though, in that it all takes place in and around the fashion industry. Bronson’s new girlfriend (and soon to be fiance a.k.a. dead) owns a fashion house but her ex-baby daddy is a piece of shit gangster that has his slimy hands in the business and is making her life hell.

Bronson’s Paul Kersey tries to fight back to save his new love and her daughter but this bad guy pretty much owns the town. So leaks in the district attorney’s office lead to tragedy and thus, intense revenge at the hands of Kersey.

Robert Joy also pops up in this, as probably the creepiest character he’s ever played. The scene where he’s dressed in drag, sneaks into the women’s restroom and then starts smashing Kersey’s fiance’s face repeatedly into a mirror is absolutely fucking brutal. And while I wouldn’t say that this is as violent as the Death Wish movies put out by Cannon, the moments of violence seem much more realistic and terrifying.

Despite a heaping pile of flaws, this is still damn enjoyable to Death Wish fans. It’s lacking that ’80s Cannon Films magic but Bronson, Parks and Joy all carry the picture. Additionally, Saul Rubinek brings something solid to the movie too.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Death Wish movies and the Dirty Harry film series.

Film Review: Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987)

Also known as: Death Wish IV (working title)
Release Date: November 6th, 1987
Directed by: J. Lee Thompson
Written by: Gail Morgan Hickman
Based on: characters by Brian Garfield
Music by: John Bisharat, Paul McCallum, Valentine McCallum
Cast: Charles Bronson, Kay Lenz, John P. Ryan, Perry Lopez, Soon-Tek Oh, George Dickerson, Dana Barron, Danny Trejo, Tim Russ, Hector Mercado, Irwin Keyes

The Cannon Group, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Who the fuck are you?” – Rapist, “Death!” – Paul Kersey

As I said in early Death Wish reviews, the film series starts to fall off after the third movie. However, this installment was actually better than what I remembered. Maybe that’s because I hadn’t seen this one in a really long time and because I am a Cannon Films junkie that just needs unapologetic, high octane, violent, ’80s action pumped into my veins on a regular basis.

That being said, Charles Bronson still brings his fucking A game in this one.

Now the plot is kind of a disjointed mess with a swerve as to who the real villain is and while I like that in the noir films of the ’40s and ’50s, it isn’t done in a very clever way. It’s also kind of predictable and you see it coming once the guy who is presented as the big bad is killed with about a half hour to spare.

But all that means is that you get a final showdown between Charles f’n Bronson and John P. Ryan, another man’s man and old school action film badass. In fact, Ryan has a fate that is very similar to the baddie of Death Wish 3.

Now out of the first four films, this one is the weakest. I definitely remember the fifth being the worst, despite boasting the talents of Michael Parks, as its villain. But this was still a satisfying movie that gives you just about everything you want in a Death Wish or Cannon Films motion picture. But nothing could have followed the last twenty minutes of the third film, which is the best balls out action sequence of the 1980s and maybe of all-time.

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown still shines though. Plus, not only does it feature Bronson and Ryan but it also gives us a young Danny Trejo, Tim Russ before he was Tuvok on Star Trek: Voyager, Soon-Tek Oh as a dirty cop and Hector Mercado as a drug dealing shithead.

Sure, the film could have been better with a more fluid narrative but do you really care that much about that stuff when watching a Chuck Bronson murder festival? I don’t. I just want to see the scum of the Earth meet violent ends. In Death Wish 4, like its predecessors, that’s exactly what you get.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Death Wish movies and the Dirty Harry film series.

Film Review: Death Wish 3 (1985)

Also known as: Death Wish III (working title)
Release Date: November 1st, 1985
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: Don Jakoby (as Michael Edmonds)
Based on: characters by Brian Garfield
Music by: Jimmy Page, Mike Moran
Cast: Charles Bronson, Deborah Raffin, Ed Lauter, Martin Balsam, Gavan O’Herlihy, Alex Winter, Marina Sirtis, Barbie Wilde

Golan-Globus Productions, The Cannon Group, 88 Minutes

Review:

“It’s like killing roaches – you have to kill ’em all. Otherwise, what’s the use?” – Paul Kersey

Some people are going to wonder why I gave this film a really high rating and why I place it above the original. Well, I can’t give it a 15 out of 10 for just the last twenty minutes, so when I average everything out, the big climax pulls the rating up to a 9 out of 10.

Why?

Because the violent, explosive finale of this motion picture is the best big action sequence in the history of American filmmaking. It’s incredible, it’s badass and it force feeds you so much testosterone that some people have sprouted extra testicles.

As a total body of work, this isn’t a better movie than the first one. But the massive action-filled crescendo of a one man army against a city infested with human cockroaches is the stuff of legend! In fact, for fans of action movies, especially from the ’80s and made by Cannon Films, this is an absolute treat and a pillar of perfection for the genre.

Additionally, this chapter in the franchise has a great ensemble that works well with the great Charles Bronson. You’ve got Ed Lauter as the dickhead cop that allows Bronson to go Bronson on New York City, Martin Balsam as a tough old guy who has done some fine movies in his day, Barbie Wilde who was once a Cenobite, Marina Sirtis from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Alex Winter from the Bill & Ted movies and Lost Boys, as well as the always underappreciated Gavan O’Herlihy as the shitball, scumbag gang leader.

This is one of those movies where guns only run out of ammo if it suits the plot. Bronson literally shoots the damn machine gun for what feels like an eternity. Then when that actually runs out of ammo, his pistols are seemingly powered by Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas cheat codes. Plus, he uses an impractical but insane .475 Wildey Magnum. It’s like he’s got fucking Megatron in his hand! Scratch that, it’s like he’s got a handheld fucking battleship! The developers of the video game series Doom need to rename “God Mode” to “Bronson Mode”.

The film then ends with Bronson running into his apartment to finally reload, after twenty minutes of turning New York City into a carnage filled lead mine. He is then ambushed by Gavan O’Herlihy wielding a gun. But what’s Bronson do? He shoots him, in his own living room with a fucking bazooka! And he stands there after the walls explode into the street, completely unscathed while the corpse of the shitball, scumbag gang leader burns in the street below, covered in the rubble of what used to be Bronson’s apartment.

I remember watching this as a kid and thinking that it was the most epic thing I had ever seen in an action movie. I wasn’t wrong. But sadly, nothing has come along since and lived up to this movie’s stupendous finale. Sure, there are a lot of incredible, high octane action pictures, especially from Cannon Films, but this one took the cake and no one else has ever been able to get a slice.

Death Wish 3 needs more recognition for its greatness. I think it’s dismissed because it’s the third film in a long running series. The first one is beloved but everything after it doesn’t get the same sort of adoration. I mean, I can understand that in regards to parts 4 and 5, but 2 and 3, especially 3, deserve to be shown on a large screen in the center of every town for the rest of eternity.

If you consider yourself an action movie fan and you’ve never experienced the third act of Death Wish 3, you’re an absolute fucking fraud.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other Death Wish movies and the Dirty Harry film series.

Film Review: Death Wish II (1982)

Also known as: Death Sentence (working title)
Release Date: February 11th, 1982 (UK)
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: David Engelbach
Based on: characters by Brian Garfield
Music by: Jimmy Page
Cast: Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Vincent Gardenia, J. D. Cannon, Anthony Franciosa, Charles Cyphers, Laurence Fishburne III, Roberta Collins

American-European Productions, Golan-Globus Productions, Landers-Roberts Productions, City Films, Filmways Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“You believe in Jesus?” – Paul Kersey, “Yes, I do.” – Stomper, “Well, you’re gonna meet him. [Paul shoots Stomper dead]”

The first three Death Wish movies are classics, as far as I’m concerned. And even if this is my least favorite of the first three, it is still a damn fine action picture with barrels full of flammable testosterone ready to explode off of the screen.

What gives this film an extra edge to the original is that it was put out by Cannon Films, the true maestros of the ’80s action flick. This was an unapologetic balls to wall inferno with Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey returning to form and then getting even more hardcore.

Years have passed since the first movie but this picks up with Kersey, now living in Los Angeles, bringing his daughter home for a visit. Since the first picture, Kersey’s daughter has been living in a mental institution due to how screwed up she is from the opening sequence of the first film that saw her raped while her mother was murdered in front of her.

As Kersey and his daughter arrive home, they are attacked, their maid is murdered and the daughter is abducted and raped by vile thugs. Kersey, without hesitation goes right back into vigilante mode. All the while, his new girlfriend, who he plans to marry, is pulled into Kersey’s violent orbit.

This film has more of a direct focus on its baddies, as Kersey wants to murder the hell out of the gang that took his daughter and were responsible for her suicide. In the first film, Kersey basically just fights street level crime in all its forms. Here, he has no problem fucking up a few thugs but he has his sights on one specific gang.

Death Wish II also does a good job of fleshing out this gang and its members. You know them more intimately than the scumbags from the first movie. One of them is played by a very young Laurence Fishburne but most of them are recognizable and memorable because the film did a good job of giving them all visual cues like the dude with the buzzmullet, the one with the leather dog collar and the one with the frizzy hair and backwards flatcap. Even Fishburne wore thin funky sunglasses that helped identify him in a sea of degenerates.

Now I can’t call this a better film than the original but it’s a very worthy successor to it. It seems darker, more violent and it doesn’t waste time trying to make a political or social message to the viewer. It just trusts that you hate garbage humans and that you relish in seeing them suffer for their sins. And man, Charles Bronson makes them fucking suffer.

Death Wish II is what an action movie should be: no nonsense, guns blazing, unapologetic masculinity.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Death Wish movies and the Dirty Harry film series.

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, Art Evans (uncredited)

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.

Film Review: Crime Wave (1953)

Also known as: The City Is Dark, Don’t Cry, Baby (both working titles)
Release Date: October 22nd, 1953 (Rome)
Directed by: Andre DeToth
Written by: Bernard Gordon, Richard Wormser
Based on: Criminal’s Mark by John Hawkins, Ward Hawkins
Music by: David Buttolph
Cast: Sterling Hayden, Gene Nelson, Phyllis Kirk, Charles Bronson

Warner Bros., 73 Minutes

Review:

“People. They accept the love of a dog, and when it gets old and sick they say put it to sleep. ” – Dr. Otto Hessler

I feel like André De Toth doesn’t get as much love as he should. I mean, the guy directed this, House of WaxPitfall, the really cool bayou noir Dark Waters and he wrote The Gunfighter. Plus, he had a cool eyepatch like Major Bludd from G.I. Joe.

Crime Wave is a solid picture that feels much more organic and real than the typical film-noir. It was made by a major studio but it had a very gritty and almost semidocumentary directing style unlike most major studio movies of the time. The cinematography was decent, nothing exceptional, but the camera work gave the film its energy and life. It employed a more intimate style in how it captured the characters, using closeups and fluid movements instead of feeling like it is just sitting on a tripod twenty feet away.

The way that De Toth shot Sterling Hayden was especially unique and outside of the box for the time. He was usually put in more confined sets with low ceilings and shot from low angles to enhance his already tall stature. Hayden’s performance also helped to make him seem like a giant among smaller men. He had a brooding presence and almost predatory mannerisms.

The plot is very simple. There is an ex-criminal who has been living a normal crime free life. His old gang comes calling and he refuses to play ball. The gang kidnaps the man and his wife. However, the story doesn’t just feature a criminal gang, it also features crooked cops and has a lot of moving parts that allows the film to throw some solid narrative curveballs.

Crime Wave is a pretty good outing for De Toth and it was neat seeing him reteam with Charles Bronson, who he worked with a year earlier in House of Wax, where he played Vincent Price’s evil henchman. I love seeing Bronson back in the ’50s when he was a young, muscular tough guy and usually played crooked heavies.

Anyway, this is a really good film-noir that takes a simple plot and makes it work.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: DecoyMurder by ContractPitfallAct of ViolenceCriss Cross and Nightfall.