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Death Wish (1974)

Related: rape revenge film - seventies film - American cinema - Michael Winner

Death Wish (1974) - Michael Winner [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Death Wish (1974; director: Michael Winner) treats the theme of vigilantism and law and order in the context of the crime-ridden urban centers of the United States in the latter 20th century. One commentator noted that the film "encapsulates an American era the early 1970s, when many urban Americans started to feel they couldn't walk outside without fear of being attacked."

Set in New York, Death Wish is an R-rated 93-minute film starring Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey, an architect who stands as a sort of New Yorker Everyman when his "bleeding-heart liberal" attitude toward crime turns into revenge-driven vigilantism by attacks on his wife, Joanna (played by Hope Lange), who is murdered, and daughter, who is raped (played by Kathleen Tolan). The protagonist's punk-killing crime spree is framed to elicit audience sympathies, but the film also dramatizes the conflict between Kersey and the city police, who disapprove of his actions.

Jeff Goldblum had his screen debut in Death Wish, playing one of the young thugs who assault Kersey's wife. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_Wish [May 2005]

Amazon review
This controversial, 1974 drama exploits urban paranoia and presents vigilantism as cathartic release. But it is also a captivating, Everyman-ish story of a New Yorker who goes through a sea change after crime depletes his family, and who runs afoul of the law while taking it into his own hands. Charles Bronson stars as the vengeance-seeking urban warrior who goes on a punk-killing spree after his wife and daughter are attacked by intruders. Director Michael Winner (The Wicked Lady) shamelessly builds upon audience identification with Bronson's rage, but he also makes an interesting story out of the latter's tug-of-war with disapproving police. It's an unpleasant film all around, but not nearly as bad as its horrifying, numerous sequels. Watch for a very young Jeff Goldblum--in this, his second movie--as one of the assailants of Bronson's loved ones. --Tom Keogh , amazon.com

Death Wish in popular culture

Sigmund Freud, in Jenseits des Lustprinzips (Beyond the Pleasure Principle) (1920; English translation 1922), speculated on the existence of a fundamental death wish or death instinct, but this referred to an individual's own need to die, and has little to do with this series of films, which are a popular-culture version of revenge tragedy, drama in which the desire for revenge for a real or imaginary injury is the central plot element a common theme in Elizabethan drama (COMPARE Shakespeare's Hamlet and Othello. (See also Eleanor Prosser, Hamlet and Revenge [2nd ed., 1971].)

The Bernie Goetz case in 1984 led Charles Bronson to speak out against the values of the character he played in Death Wish, and to disavow vigilantism.

In The Simpsons, in the episode, "A Star is Burns", Homer watches a fictional sequel, Death Wish 9, which has Charles Bronson merely saying "I wish I was dead." --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_Wish [May 2005]

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