Death Wish (Michael Winner / U.S., 1974):

The cavemanís lament against order is voiced early, after his suggestion of nookie on the beach is nixed by the missus. "Weíre too civilized." "I remember when we werenít." (Denied sex, he ultimately settles for violence.) The preamble cuts from golden Hawaii to excremental Manhattan (aka "the war zone," aka "the toilet") and sets up the joke of Charles Bronson as a knee-jerk peacenik concerned about the "underprivileged." Barbarians kill his wife (Hope Lange) and traumatize his daughter (Kathleen Tolan), but emotion doesnít enter Bronsonís slit-eyes until heís smacked a mugger with a sock full of quarters -- afterwards he steadies his hand with a shot of bourbon, and feels the high of meting out punishment. A trip to the Old West (Tucson, AZ), where the city slicker glows while watching a mock-shootout and is presented with a Colt .32, completes the process of flushing liberalism out of him. Tired of having to "cut and run," Bronson takes to blasting New Yorkís comic-book scum in streets, alleys, and subways. "The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer," wrote D.H. Lawrence. Unfortunately, itís Michael Winner, a substantially less erudite Englishman, doing the analysis here. Vigilantism as grief therapy? Despite some mild nausea following his first murder, Bronson becomes quite a gay desperado: Thereís no moral ambiguity ("freaks" and "punks" deserve to die, after all), the crime rate drops as his actions reach toward urban folklore, thereís only the sheriff (Vincent Gardenia) to spoil the party. "Murder is no answer to crime," says the D.A., to general "Yeah, right!" Imagine the Dirty Harry described by Pauline Kael actually existed, and you have this Nixonite gorge-riser. Itís horribly made (other than pungent location work with elongating lens, Winnerís direction is abysmal), yet no picture ever went broke stroking our hunger for retribution. The grinning avenger is gingerly tucked away for the sequels, Taxi Driver had the decency to suggest that perhaps the "hero" is a little nuts. With Steven Keats, William Redfield, Stuart Margolin, Stephen Elliott, Jeff Goldblum, and Christopher Guest.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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