July 24, 2014, - 8:54 am
Forty years ago today, on July 24, 1974, “Death Wish“–one of America’s most controversial and influential movies–was released. Its message–that retribution against criminals works and that armed citizens who fight back, lower the crime rate–is as relevant as ever.
Today, with powerful liberals, including billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and many Hollywood actors, trying to take away our Second Amendment rights, the message of “Death Wish” is evergreen. Detroit Police Chief James Craig gets it, as he has encouraged Detroit citizens to be armed, and the Detroit crime rate has gone down significantly with frequent reports of armed Detroiters fighting back and shooting intruders.
And “Death Wish” is relevant on the international scale, too, as Israel saw what years of doing nothing did to encourage HAMAS to continue its daily barrage of deadly rocket missiles and to ever increase their range and power. The only thing thugs–whether they are violent criminals on the U.S. streets or Islamic terrorists around the world–understand is a show of force in response to their attempted actions. As the trite saying goes, the best defense is a good offense, and the only way to have peace is to gird up and prepare for war. (Israelis get this, so it’s no coincidence that the “Death Wish” sequels were produced by the Israeli producing team Golan-Globus.)
Charles Bronson, one of my favorite actors, was a Polish-American rumored to be descended in part from the Muslim Tatars of Eastern Europe. Throughout his acting career, he had many great and classic roles. But he will forever be known for his “Death Wish” roles, for which Hollywood liberals (a redundant phrase) never forgave him and held a grudge against him. He and Michael Winner–the British Jew who directed “Death Wish” and two of its sequels–were for the rest of their lives held in contempt by Hollywood, mainstream liberal movie critics, and pop culture arbiters. And both of them are gone now. There are few people in the mainstream moviemaking biz willing to go out on a limb and make controversial movies with serious social commentary in favor of citizens fighting back against evil. There have been many “Death Wish” imitations and far too many gratuitously violent movies, but none like “Death Wish.” Not even close.
Five years ago, I wrote about the impact of “Death Wish,” and in honor of the movie’s 40th anniversary today, I’m re-runnning it below, since everything I wrote then applies and bears repeating now. As I noted then, I regard the movie fondly not just because of its message but because it was introduced to me by my dear late father, who was a fan as I am now.
Charles Bronson and Michael Winner, Rest In Peace. “Death Wish” lives on forever. Happy 40th Anniversary.
It was repeatedly panned by the critics. But movie-goers loved it. And thirty-five years later, it remains a cult classic.
Charles Bronson & His Wimpy, Liberal “Death Wish” Son-In-Law Debate Guns & Self-Defense . . .
“Death Wish” celebrates 35 years, this summer. It was released in theaters on July 24, 1974, and was directed by Michael Winner and produced by the Dino De Laurentiis Company
I watched it again over the weekend, and it stands the test of time (though it’s funny to take Jeff Goldblum seriously as a murderous gang thug). In fact, now in the Obama administration–with police called “stupid” and impliedly racist by the President and our Second Amendment gun rights under attack–the movie is more relevant than ever.
Liberals hated “Death Wish,” because of its message that vengeance and vigilantism work. They hated that the hero of the movie is a liberal pacifist who realizes his way is the wrong way. And they hated Charles Bronson for the rest of his life–the rest of his acting career–for playing Paul Kersey, “Death Wish’s” sly, silent, and clever protagonist who shoots criminals after his wife is murdered and his daughter raped into a state of catatonia. They never forgave him for it. (Ironically, the role was meant for Steve McQueen, but he turned it down.) And Hollywood never forgave him, giving him few good roles after the fact (his role in the TV movie, “Raid on Entebbe” comes to mind as one of the good ones).
I first learned about “Death Wish,” from my father, who really liked the movie. It was 1984, I was in senior high, and, in New York, Bernhard Goetz had just shot violent subway thugs trying to rob him (and who were about to stab him with sharpened screwdrivers they had on them). My dad told me about the “Death Wish” movie (of which the Goetz story reminded him) and how the liberals hated that movie. It made my father–a liberal who became conservative when he served in the U.S. Army during Vietnam–a life-long Charles Bronson fan. And I became a Charles Bronson fan, too.
They say that a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged. And “Death Wish’s” Paul Kersey was exactly that. A liberal, upper class New York City architect, Kersey goes to fancy parties, and he wants to make affordable housing for the poor in prime New York real estate. He was a conscientious objector in the Korean War because he’s against guns like his mother was. He wants to have sex with his wife on the Maui beach out in the open in the middle of the day (instead of their hotel room), but the wife tells him they’re too civilized. When he returns from Hawaii and his colleague at work tells him about the acceleration of the New York City murder rate, he responds,
My heart bleeds a little for the underprivileged.
And he is serious.
But then–once his loved ones become victims and casualties of violent crime–he changes. And he changes the world in which he lives.
Once Paul Kersey starts attacking muggers, the mugging rate in the City is reduced by more than half. He inspires others to respond with vigor to would-be attackers. An old Black woman attacks muggers with a hat pin, and they run away. Men on a construction site beat a thug senseless. The district attorney doesn’t want Kersey arrested because he knows that prosecuting this folk hero won’t go over well.
Even some of the liberals at the fancy Manhattan penthouse parties that Kersey attends adjust their attitudes. It’s there that my favorite dialogue in the movie takes place:
Man: I’ll tell you one thing: the guy’s a racist. You notice he kills more Blacks than Whites.
Woman: Oh, for Pete’s sake, Harry. More Blacks are muggers than Whites. What do you want to do–increase the proportion of White muggers, so we’ll have racial equality among muggers?
And the movie pointedly exposes the problems with New York’s gun control laws (Bronson sneaks his gun, a gift from a client in Tucson). Thirty-five years later, sadly, those laws haven’t changed.
The only part of “Death Wish” I didn’t like is the rape and beating scene at the beginning of the movie, in which the thugs attack Paul Kersey’s wife and daughter in Kersey’s apartment. That scene was brutal and disturbing, and it remains so today. But it was necessary to set the tone of the rest of the movie, and why criminals needed to be shot and killed.
Some of “Death Wish” would be different, given today’s technology. There were no cellphones then, universal video cameras all over the place, and DNA tests that could quickly match Kersey’s blood.
But the message is still evergreen. The police won’t be able to protect you from crime in most cases. Not being seers, they can’t. They’re reactive and arrive just ahead of the body bags. The only person who can protect you is yourself–along with a cold, gleaming gun, loaded and ready.
And sometimes vengeance and retribution is not just warranted. It’s desperately necessary.
My favorite scene in the movie is the ending, shown in the trailer above, when Kersey, forced by police to move to Chicago, mimes a gun shooting at criminals he sees there. The vigilante hasn’t stopped his crime-fighting. He’s just moved it to a new locale.
Sadly, Charles Bronson isn’t around anymore. But I’ll bet he’s in Heaven, thinking as I am:
Happy 35th, “Death Wish.” It’s not about bloodlust. It’s about justice.
If you haven’t seen “Death Wish” in a while, go rent it. The fashions and technology have changed since then, but everything else in it is relevant and resonates.
Criminals must know that they will face justice. And they rarely do in the courts. If you are an American and don’t have a gun, go out and buy one and learn how to use it.
Without the Second Amendment, all of the others are worthless. That’s the real message of “Death Wish.”
Tags: Charles Bronson, Death Wish, Death Wish 40 years later, Death Wish 40th Anniversary, Death Wish movie, Death Wish Turns 40