An architect becomes a dangerous vigilante
after his family is attacked by a street gang.
Death Wish (1974)
Directed by Michael Winner
Written by Wendell Mayes
Starring Charles Bronson, Hope Lange, Vincent Gardenia,
Steven Keats, William Redfield, Kathleen Tolan
Based on the novel by Brian Garfield
Death Wish is a 70s exploitation classic, and somehow spawned four sequels and a remake from Eli Roth. I don't really understand why. Apart from the terrifying rape scene at the story's start, it's awfully tame, even by 70s standards. Charles Bronson is a wooden performer, but he's excellent when he's given a gun and told where to shoot it. I suppose the film's biggest sin is (SPOILER ALERT), he never finds the guys who destroyed his family. In fact, after the attack, we never see those guys again, one of which is a young Jeff Goldblum. There's your fun fact for the week.
Paul Kersey (Bronson) is a fairly wealthy architect and family man who happens to live in the most dangerous place on Earth: 1970s New York City. Street crime is at an all-time high, and Paul's family becomes another statistic when three thugs break into their apartment, rape his daughter, and kill his wife. Paul, driven mild with rage, flies out to Indiana for a business trip, where he learns how to shoot a gun. This whole Indiana sequence could've been cut. It's dull and unnecessary. Anyway, Paul just starts killing muggers and ne'er-do-wells who come across him, earning him the creative nickname of "The Vigilante" by the cops, who see him as more of a convenient public service. The film ends with the lead inspector (Gardenia) letting Paul go, provided he immediately leave New York.
I think Death Wish deserves to be called a cult classic, but not necessarily a great movie. It suffers from weak performances and lazy storytelling. I think the producers figured they could make a hit simply by being taboo and exploitative, which worked out in the long run for sure. I mean, look at the legacy. Maybe I'm missing something, but Death Wish doesn't hold up.