January 25, 2013, - 2:02 am

“Death Wish” Director Michael Winner, Of Blessed Memory

By Debbie Schlussel

Can’t let the week go by without noting the passing of Michael Winner, the multi-talented director of the first three “Death Wish” movies and the original, “The Mechanic,” all of them starring one of my favorite actors, the late Charles Bronson. Although he directed many other films and pursued other career paths in the public eye, Winner was best known for the Death Wish films because mainstream movie critics–all of them liberal at the time–panned them. But they struck a nerve with the rest of America, especially the original 1974 Death Wish, because Americans identified with the main character, Paul Kersey–a wealthy, liberal New York City architect who strikes back after criminals murder his wife and rape his daughter. My late father, a fan of the movie and of Bronson, introduced me to “Death Wish” in 1984, when liberals and authorities were going after Bernhard Goetz for shooting criminal thugs who were about to mug and stab him with sharpened screw drivers on the New York subway and do who knows what else to him.


Director Michael Winner w/ Charles Bronson on the Set of “Death Wish”


Paul Winner’s original Death Wish stands the test of time, and with violent crime rising to 1970s levels in places like Detroit and the Obama Administration and liberals like Diane Feinstein trying to take our guns, it is more relevant than ever. I believe I captured the attraction to Winner’s movie in my column on the 35th anniversary of “Death Wish.” Here’s part of it:

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.

They never forgave Michael Winner for it, either. More:

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 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 on the Maui beach out in the open in the middle of the day (instead of their hotel room), but his 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.

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).

Yes, it was a great movie and very insightful, especially with the renewed push to further constrain our Second Amendment rights. And it shall remain evergreen on the issue of crime and justice, thanks to the brilliant director hated by Hollywood and film critics but loved by many Americans with whom he struck a chord.

Winner was the son of a well-to-do Jewish family in Great Britain. His mother reportedly gambled away an estimated eight million pounds of the family’s money. But he made it on his own, beginning a celebrity interview column when he was only 14. After his career as a movie director, he became the restaurant critic for the Sunday Times of London. He also was known for his friendships with the high and mighty, including Queen Elizabeth, and for setting up a trust to honor British police killed in action. Ironically, unlike Paul Kersey in the “Death Wish” movies, the British police are unarmed.

Winner died of heart and liver ailments and had been given 18 months to two years to live, back in October. He left his 46-room Victorian Mansion to the state to become a museum. He was buried on Wednesday in Willesden Jewish Cemetery in North London.

Michael Winner, Zichrono LiVrachah [Blessed Be His Memory, which we Jews say for other Jews in lieu of “Rest In Peace”].

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28 Responses

Death Wish opened my eyes.


As goes... on January 25, 2013 at 5:40 am

Yes, I really liked all the Death Wish movies too. My favorite was (I think) Death Wish 3, the one where he was pushed around by the criminals at the beginning of the movie, and by the end he was stalking and mowing all of them down at the carnival.

It is not only an attack on the Second Amendment. It is also a political campaign to put gun owners as a class out of the political mainstream, just as they are campaigning to put those against gay marriage and illegal immigration out of the mainstream. They are attempting, so far successfully, to redefine the mainstream to exclude those who built this country, and actually contribute the taxes to sustain the increasing number of moochers/takers. They hope, in part, in this way to remove the stigma from the moochers/takers.

Little Al on January 25, 2013 at 7:55 am

Excellent column. There are some eternal truths, even from a secular perspectives and one of them is that if good people are quiet and and don’t stand up to evil, we will just get more evil.

Rick Geiger on January 25, 2013 at 8:05 am

Bernard Goetz used a gun, not a knife to defend himself against black muggers. This is one of the reasons that the Left wants to disarm the good guys.

JG: OOPS. You are right. I confused it with the weapons of the muggers: sharpened screw drivers. DS

Jerry G on January 25, 2013 at 8:30 am

I was assaulted by a man at the age of 9 in the Indiana Dunes & would have been raped had I not gotten free. My father (OBM a Veteran) went after him with a gun & would have killed him had he found him. The Indiana Police could not find him either even though they had a description of the man from a number of witnesses.
I consider myself fortunate. I thank G-d too that my father taught me self defense from the age of 5.
I saw “Death Wish” for the first time after reading your blog.
“If guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns”

PaulaMalka on January 25, 2013 at 10:12 am

Places where concealed carry are allowed have fewer deaths than those that do not. Involuntary medication of those already on Commitments is adjudicated separately from the Commitments in every state I have practiced in. This obscene practice has to stop—if you need to be committed for monitoring to the State, you are sick enough to be medicated against your will.

Occam's Tool on January 25, 2013 at 10:18 am

Debbie’s columns about the Death Wish and other movies remind us why liberals hate guns. They hate people being independent and able to fight back against criminals (“victims of society”) and other thugs and goons (liberals, marxists, jihadists, etc.). They would have hated Paul Kersey using a bow and arrows against them, too. I don’t remember the reaction of the lefties concerning the Jodie Foster revenge movie, The Brave One, but if they didn’t slam it they probably wanted to but didn’t because Ms. Foster.

Concerned Citizen on January 25, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    Jodi Foster’s character shot a Kahr 9mm in that movie. Good movie.

    Pray Hard on January 28, 2013 at 8:21 pm

I do hope that Winner rests in peace. He was a man who actually stood up to the orthodoxy of his time. Unfortunately, the lessons Michael Winner imparted in Death Wish have been unlearned. Well off leftists often live in gated communities with high levels of security. Those who hold high office, such as Governor Andrew Cuomo, have heavily armed security details that protect them from any harm. Do not think that these people would for a moment do without such a safety blanket. Their fears arise not from any given massacre or shooting, but rather a generalized loathing of ordinary people who are not dependent on the state for their own personal security. Personal autonomy is anathema to a true collectivist.

Worry01 on January 25, 2013 at 2:06 pm

When Bernie Goetz shot those muggers, muggings plummeted in NYC by 25+% for the next several weeks.

Had Bernie never turned himself in, they never would have found him, because, as one cop told me, they were not looking for him.

Death Wish was my inspiration when I was attacked in a NY Subway when I lived there. I chased the muggers down the platform (they claimed to have a gun), and planned on pushing at least one of them on the tracks. Instead, they ran into the same train, different car still loading up passengers. I let the motorman know, he stopped the train, and the morons were arrested. One who jumped bail got a number of years, for all of $9.00.

RIP Winner.

Jonathan E. Grant on January 25, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Welcome back.

Excellent post on Winner.

With three (3) handguns. with at least one mag loaded and two (2) 12 GA. shotguns and five (5) rifles with a loaded mag for each, I am obviously prejudice.

The statist’s dream is to have the populace disarmed. Today we know who the statists are. Hitler, Stalin, Obama, etc.

Perhaps Winner was influenced by the insane gun bans in Britain. In Britain today you cannot carry any kind of firearm for self or home defense purposes.

May he rest in peace.

Panhandle on January 25, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    And, that’s why muggings and assaults are rampant by Muslims and other thugs in the UK.

    Pray Hard on January 28, 2013 at 8:01 pm

Your comments regarding Death Wish brought back many memories. My father, ztl, worked for the New York Law Journal when the picture came out. He set type for them and worked from 4PM to 12Midnight and traveled on the subways both ways. He told me that when he saw the picture in his neighborhood theater the people stood and cheered at the end: and this was a liberal Jewish community.
At the time the picture came out I worked for Paramount Pictures and while the critics panned it, the film was a huge financial success. I seem to recall that they made 2 sequels that were also successful.
It was also about this time after the Bernie Goetz incident that Curtis Sliwa started his Guardian Angels. My Dad would always seek out the car where an “angel” was stationed.
Charles Steinberg

charles steinberg on January 25, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    Actually, Curtis Sliwa started the Guardian Angels back around 1979-80. I was living in the New York area at the time. But Sliwa, bless him, did stand up for Bernie Goetz after he was arrested at the end of 1984. He needed the support because Rev. Al Sharpton and his street jury were baying for Goetz’ blood.

    “Death Wish” and films like it (“The Brave One” and “Death Sentence” — both released in 2007) are among my favorites. The self-anointed highbrow critics didn’t like them. A lot of other people did.

    Seek on January 25, 2013 at 4:15 pm

all anti-gun laws in this country are unconstitutional and the only valid gun law is felon with a gun gets 10yrs.the national socialist democrats want to disarm us for the same reason all dictator do it but we know that.what the commies don’t realize is that we will resist any attempt at confiscating our fire arms which will bring on a civil war.they don’t realize that real americans will do to them what they do to us.

bruce on January 25, 2013 at 3:50 pm

I liked Charles Bronson’s movies

bruce on January 25, 2013 at 3:52 pm

The original Death Wish is a great film whether you like the theme or not. (like Debbie, and probably most here, I do.) Extremely literate, believable, and well-paced script; extraordinary acting (from an era when actors really had to act), as you can see, feel, and believe the transformation taking place in Charles Bronson from the contented liberal to the shocked husband and father on news of the murders of his family, to the vigilante (who, in the beginning, as many self doubts anxieties); and finally, the crisp, well-paced direction. The film also makes the star of the film career for Jeff Goldblum, who convincingly plays one of the disgusting hoods at the beginning. And who can forget the great conflict going on between Vincent Guardinia and Charlie Bronson as the film builds to its climax. You will never look at Central Park quite the same after seeing this movie.

Ralph Adamo on January 25, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Although not a revenge movie, I like Bronson’s Breakheart Pass. I can watch that over and over….

Michael was quite a character. He will be missed.

Nir Leiu on January 25, 2013 at 7:43 pm

When Death Wish came out in 1974, Bronson was applauded after slugging the first punk with the sock filled with quarters and a standing ovation by everyone in the theater, filled to capacity, immediately after killing the first animal. This was at the RKO Kenmore in Flatbush.

shitemus on January 25, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    A sock with a can of pork and beans can work wonders also.

    Pray Hard on January 28, 2013 at 8:27 pm

My wife and I went to the drive-in on our first date (blind date). Rambo and Death Wish II. I knew then she was a keeper.

scituate_tgr on January 25, 2013 at 10:21 pm

I loved all of the Death Wish movies. Michael Winner was definitely a “winner” with the first three films. Especially when they casted Charles Bronson in the lead role. They don’t make actors like him anymore. Instead of guys like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Charles Bronson we have psuedo tough guys like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Sean Penn. That last one is a real yuckster. RIP Mr Winner. I’m sure that you’re up there collaberating with Mr Bronson.

Ken b on January 26, 2013 at 4:50 pm

Welcome back, Debbie. I didn’t have the chance to tell you that on post telling us your status on Wednesday because I was having computer problems.

Anyway, I remember having saw at least the first “Death Wish” movie when I was a kid and loved it. I plan to re-seeing it and watching the other two “Death Wish” movies soon. I do know enough about all three movies to say that they should be required viewing for anyone who thinks that “reasonable gun laws” (euphemism for meaning taking guns away from law-abiding citizens) is somehow a good idea.

JeffE on January 26, 2013 at 10:50 pm

Oops! I forgot to add:

Michael Winner–of blessed memory.

JeffE on January 26, 2013 at 10:51 pm

When I was 17 I walked to a bus stop and witnessed a man beating a woman. There were 6 or 7 people standing around doing absolutely nothing. I beat the living daylights out of that man until he stopped moving. (I was not charged)

Canadian Steve on January 27, 2013 at 8:33 am

Personally, I liked the DW movies, but thought they were a bit corny, but I’d always been a gun owner and had made up my mind long ago.
You guys already know my position on armed and unarmed combat … learn it, start now, tonight, start stretching, doing push ups and sit ups. Find a martial arts school tomorrow, preferably one that also teaches ancient weapons.
The good news is that today there are so many wonderful, small, semi-auto (and 5-shot revolvers), powerful hand guns. Oh, yes, I get excited just talking about it … Kahr, Kel-Tec, Ruger, CZ, Glock, Heckler & Koch, Sig, Beretta, Kimber, Walther, S & W, Colt and others. Don’t get a cheap gun. Hold many in your hand. Get one that feels good. Shoot a few. Get what you feel you can handle. Don’t get a .44 magnum. The blast will blind you for a few seconds at night, you might not be able to move the next day and you’re not trying to stop a Panzer division.

Pray Hard on January 28, 2013 at 8:18 pm

I love the Death Wish movies, a bit corny, but still great. I saw Charles Bronson from a short distance years ago ! when he was filming White Buffalo in Colorado !

davidc on January 28, 2013 at 11:17 pm

Kersey’s client was from Tucson, not Phoenix.

P: You’re right. I fixed it. Thanks for pointing that out. DS

Pete on August 6, 2014 at 3:27 am

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