August 24, 2009, - 3:37 pm

“Death Wish”: Important Movie Celebrates 35 Years; The Anti-Obama Flick

By Debbie Schlussel

It was repeatedly panned by the critics.  But movie-goers loved it.  And thirty-five years later, it remains a cult classic.


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 (thought 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 works.  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).

Watch the “Death Wish” Trailer:

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 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.

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). 35 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.


“Death Wish” is being remade for a 2011 release. But while there have been many Death Wish imitations (like 2007’s “Death Sentence”–read my review), there will never be any like the Charles Bronson original.

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50 Responses

Great movie, own it on dvd.

Joe on August 24, 2009 at 3:50 pm

I haven’t seen one of the Death Wish movies in over 15 years — I had forgotten all that background on Paul Kersey’s life story–but it does add a lot–thanks for explaining all that.

I just seem to remember the vicarious thrill we all got when some scumbag punk who had been raping, mugging and killing, got his head blown off by Paul. Methinks that’s part of what is so good about “inglorious basterds.” Same kind of emo.

BB on August 24, 2009 at 4:24 pm

I don’t “do” movies, but I did this one. There’s nothing like “self help” especially .38 caliber self help. This is a GREAT movie.

goldenmike4393 on August 24, 2009 at 4:42 pm

I saw “Death Wish” on a double billing with “The Exorcist” in 1974, I was a little young, but I thought “Death Wish” was a much scarier movie than the “Exorcist”, which seemed like just special effects, whereas “Death Wish” seemed like it could really happen. The murder and rape scene seemed so real to my young eyes, it truly frightened me that people could be so brutal to those weaker then themselves.

D: I agree. That scene was brutal and disturbing, and it’s the only part of “Death Wish” I didn’t like. But it was necessary to set the tone of the rest of the movie, and why criminals needed to be shot and killed. DS

Dave on August 24, 2009 at 4:59 pm

Deb, you talk about the times when liberals go conservative. My moment came at a most unusual time. It was, and trust me when I say it’s unusual, in 1994. I had turned 20 years of age. Furing that summer after the Rangers won the Stanley cup in one of the greatest NHL finals ever, I am in summer college at UCONN and I get a sharp pain in my right area. I go to the doctor who then tells me to go to the emergency room for a blood test. It was my appendix and she needed to come out. Needless to say this liberal was scared stiff. As I was being wheeled in to the O-R, I told my mom see you on the other side.

Well 90 minutes later, I wake up and am back in my room. But during those 90 minutes I swear I had gone to Heaven, met some of my deceased relatives like my grandpa and Uncle Al who died the previous September. And then I had the chance to meet God. He told me “My son something big will happen to you and it will change your outlook the rest of your life.”

In 1995, I was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism, mild form might I add. That’s when things began to change for me. I was scared, just diagnosed with something at the time I hadn’t heard of, but now have become versed in it.

By 2000, I changed my voting registration from Democrat to No Affiliation. In 2001 everything got set in stone for me as a conservative when 9/11 took place. These days I am more of a PaleoConservative…someone who supports the Constitution, not some neocon like Malkin, Ingraham or Glenn Beck. I want to know where the heck in the Constitution such and such exists. And to those people who hate the Constitution I have three words for them…


I do not care if you are a Democrat or Republican on the matter either.

Bob Porrazzo on August 24, 2009 at 5:50 pm

Saw one of the movies(not sure which one) and I did not enjoy it. Not because it offended me, but because I did not hink of him as a convincing actor-seemed a little stiff to me. But you are right-we should always have the right to defend ourselves

mindy abraham on August 24, 2009 at 6:48 pm

I saw part of this movie on network television, believe it or not, in the 1970’s. I think one of the local network affiliates refused to broadcast the movie. They didn’t believe it was responsible to convey that “message” on the air. But that same network had two affiliates in my area, so the other one broadcast it. The details are sketchy because it was so long ago. I did not see much of it, but I remember the hat pin scene and the scene in Chicago that you describe above.

salt1907 on August 24, 2009 at 7:30 pm

Average, law-abiding citizens defending themselves against low-life scum – a liberal’s worst nightmare! Doesn’t leave a lot of weasel room for marxist excuses about criminals being victims of an oppressive capitalist system. That’s why they hated this film.

tempus fugit on August 24, 2009 at 7:51 pm

Wouldn’t it be great if we started taking care of the law-breaking illegal aliens in the U.S. the same way? Being here illegally is breaking the law, but these aren’t the people I am talking about. I am talking about those illegals that commit crimes such as armed robbery, rape, murder and so on.

For those here illegally who have not broken any other law (they are law breakers for being here illegally), we should just taze them until they flee back across the border. Or how about when we determine that someone is here illegally, we put one of those dog shock collars around their necks permanently. The collar would only shock them when they try to go into a welfare office, an emergency room, a Walmart or when they are hanging around a parking lot at Home Depot. Most of these illegals would be forced to go back to their country of origon because they wouldn’t be able to get the basic necessities of life. The best part about this is that we wouldn’t have to spend any money to transport them across the border.

Jarhead on August 24, 2009 at 8:19 pm

Mindy, the first Death Wish was the best, including Bronson’s acting. Don’t judge it by the sequels.

Bob, what do you think a neocon is?

Roland on August 24, 2009 at 8:25 pm

Vincent Gardenia, who was also in this movie, was a hoot. I remember the liberal film critic of the NY Post (I think his name was Archer Winston????) blasting the film and calling it “fascistic” but I loved it. On a personal note, many years ago, a young man stopped me in the subway and said that I resembled Jill Ireland, Charles Bronson’s late wife, who had written a book called “Life Wish” about her struggle with breast cancer. Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland – R.I.P. Bronson was also great in The Great Escape.

J: You must be beautiful. Jill Ireland was a rare, uncommon beauty. DS

JulieJ. on August 24, 2009 at 9:19 pm

All the great actors are gone as far as I’m concerned, well maybe Bruce Willis and one or two others. Went to the drive inn to see this movie, it made people think. Didn’t know Steve McQueen was first picked for this role. Miss them both what great actors they were, and Jill Ireland too.

AMartinez on August 24, 2009 at 10:34 pm

I enjoyed Death Wish; however, I did admire Death Wish II for its poignant moment when the bulldog New York investigator from Death Wish I warns Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) of an impending ambush in the park and gets killed in his place.

Bronson: “You? You warned me?”

Investigator: “Better him than you. Get the motherf…er (for me (read without the ellipses). Our father who art in heaven….”

IMHO it is the most poignant scenes in film — very touching!

Underzog on August 24, 2009 at 10:50 pm

Debbie, as always, is spot on in her analysis of “Death Wish”.

This movie was made at a turning point in American thought. Dirty Harry and others were making the very important point that if WE don’t guard OUR liberty, no one will. They were anti-PC before PC became the disease it is today. Had we paid better attention, and began self reliance back then, we wouldn’t be facing our current crises.

Another important message: Don’t fill a sock with quarters. Use doubled up panty hose and fill with ball bearings.

Daniel on August 24, 2009 at 10:59 pm

I like watching Bronson as well. His movies will never be replicated again because Hollywood is PC. You gotta love that smile and grin.

CaliforniaScreaming on August 24, 2009 at 11:08 pm

Another movie I really liked him in was The Dirty Dozen.

Jarhead on August 24, 2009 at 11:14 pm

I was 12 years old when this came out and some how was able to see it. My father being part of the NYPD loved this film. It showed the raw gritty feel of NY circa 1970’s. With its urban decay and Liberalism running wild as a result of the 60’s.

The city was always the greatest, however, it took Republicans to restore order so you can ride clean subways and do so in safety. Big thanks to Giuliani who fought hard and won against the small petty crimes. His quality of life initiatives helped the city turn around.

I love watching all 5 Death Wish pictures although #3 was not that great. It was great to see The Jewish duo of GOLAN-Globus produce the latter films. AT least by the final death wish movie the character portrayed by charles bronson finally was at peace.

What the movie showed me was when the government can not or will not protect you, than you need vigilantes and to rely on yourself for protection.

spaceship22 on August 24, 2009 at 11:24 pm

[Or how about when we determine that someone is here illegally, we put one of those dog shock collars around their necks permanently.Jarhead on August 24, 2009 at 8:19 pm]

I used to be a conservative until I met more conservatives who turned out to be neanderthals, savages.

[ And to those people who hate the Constitution I have three words for them…

Bob Porrazzo on August 24, 2009 at 5:50 pm]

Do you really think your loved ones on the other side want you to hate someone?

Norman Blitzer on August 24, 2009 at 11:31 pm

Debbie, they’d never make a film like that these days. The closest we get is “Gran Torino”, which was pretty good but looked pretty far upfield for a plausible criminal gang that wasn’t Black or Hispanic.

A1 on August 25, 2009 at 12:03 am

I thought Justice SoSo-tomayor outlawed this movie, along with anything John Wayne was in, under the empathy law endorsed by President Barack Hussein Obama II in his Hyde Park Herald speech for educating 9/11 terrorists.

P.S. Didn’t Ebert go to Egypt or France to treat his mouth cancer? It couldn’t have been the evil American capitalist innovation supporting system, right?

FeFe on August 25, 2009 at 12:19 am

Norman Blitzer wrote:

“I used to be a conservative until I met more conservatives who turned out to be neanderthals, savages.”

Well, at least I didn’t advocate shooting these illegal law breaking aliens right on the spot. But I did forget something. Once these illegals get to the border, we would remove these collars once they left the country,

FeFe wrote:

“I thought Justice SoSo-tomayor outlawed this movie, along with anything John Wayne was in”

And to think one of the reasons I joined the Corps was because I saw too many John Wayne movies.

Jarhead on August 25, 2009 at 12:47 am

In real life, the Maui beach would probably be too jammed with tourists to have sex on. Who was it who said you can always get a thousand more people onto a beach? My father, of blessed memory, was actually upset by the overcrowding at Rockaway Park.
You say Bronson, of blessed memory, got few good roles after DEATH WISH. TELEFON (1977) and LOVE AND BULLETS (1979) are both a lot of fun.
Jill Ireland, of blessed memory (Mrs. Charles Bronson) wrote a very moving book about her struggle with breast cancer, Life Wish.
I’ve never seen DEATH WISH, but I will certainly rent the DVD now.

Miranda Rose Smith on August 25, 2009 at 2:27 am

Always liked Charles Bronson & Jill Ireland too. Just graduated college when DW came out, and everyone I knew loved it. I also think DW in summer 74 helped set the tone for the moviegoer for summer 75 when Jaws arrived.

Alain41 on August 25, 2009 at 7:41 am

A woman in NYC was attacked in the pew of a church by a
habitual offender with 11 convictions. However, she was devout and quick on the draw,(No pun intended)and stabbed him in the neck with a pen. Word to the wannabe wise, if you stick your hand in some woman’s bra, you may very well get a sensation that you were not expecting. Over-reach, as opposed to Outreach, can have an unpleasant unexpected consequence. It will not be a good one, but it is hoped that it will be a memorable one, as in “Ouch, I’ve got a pen, or fill-in-the-blank, stuck in my neck.”

RoadsScholar on August 25, 2009 at 8:28 am

When every second counts, the police are only minutes away…

styrgwillidar on August 25, 2009 at 8:43 am

    styrgwillidar on August 25, 2009 at 8:43 am

    These gun stories in REAL life are my favorite. Cops like them, too.

    goldenmike4393 on August 26, 2009 at 6:45 pm

After 17 years in law enforcement I can testify to the truth of styrgwillidar’s statement above. And as Debbie also said, police are reactive to most crimes. Not to go into the various reasons why law enforcement is slow to react, the main thing to remember is the left likes a reactive police. To many people will see law enforcement’s inability to prevent crime as justification to make more laws; laws that encroach upon or freedoms. Add in the inefficient and often stupidly lenient justice system that allows hardened criminals to roam freely to commit mayhem and many people are willing to give up their freedoms in the name of security and to allow a bigger government. Of course, that is the teleology of the left.

jsburke on August 25, 2009 at 9:00 am

The west was a violent place. There was no difference between “the law” and the crooks. It is no wonder people turned to the only out that existed.

“Neocon” code word for Jew.

burt on August 25, 2009 at 9:10 am

Police repond not protect!
I received an email from a friend with this PS:: Remember 911 responce averages 5 minutes. A 357 responde at 1450 feet per second!

fearless on August 25, 2009 at 9:22 am

“The west was a violent place.”

In actual fact, the homicide rate in Dodge City or Deadwood at their worst was only a fraction of that in today’s DC or Chicago or Detroit.

Bohemond on August 25, 2009 at 10:02 am

    “The west was a violent place.”

    In actual fact, the homicide rate in Dodge City or Deadwood at their worst was only a fraction of that in today’s DC or Chicago or Detroit.

    Bohemond on August 25, 2009 at 10:02 am

    *********I have heard it his way
    ********”An armed society is a polite society.”

    goldenmike4393 on August 25, 2009 at 11:28 am

I loved the film although I must say it was not very well acted. When I first saw it with my friend one Friday night, we loved it so much we sat through it again – the only time I ever saw the dame film twice in one night. It really capurued the NYC of the Lindsay/Beame years perfectly.

Hannibal on August 25, 2009 at 10:09 am

There was a Jodie Foster movie a couple of years ago “The Brave One” that had a Death Wish premise to it but I did not care for it. The two movies that really captured the horrors of the NYC of the 1970’s – “Death Wish” and “The Warriors”.

Hannibal on August 25, 2009 at 10:19 am




see you later

bec on August 25, 2009 at 10:21 am

“These days I am more of a PaleoConservative…someone who supports the Constitution, not some neocon like Malkin, Ingraham or Glenn Beck. I want to know where the heck in the Constitution such and such exists.”

If you are a paleocon then you are a Buchanan/Novak acolyte and therefore a Jew hater. this probably should not be a website for you to visit.

Hannibal on August 25, 2009 at 10:26 am

Debbie – Charlton Heston was not in Raid on Entebbe. You may be confusing him with Peter Finch.

The other pro-Israel Entebbe movie, “Victory at Entebbe” (ironically directed by Noam Chomsky’s cousin) starred Anthony Hopkins, Burt Lancaster, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Dreyfuss, but also no Charlton Heston.

IA: You’re correct. Fixed. DS

Ibn Abu on August 25, 2009 at 10:35 am

I remember watching a so called law enforcement type crime expert on a news station on television just a few years ago being interviewed. The interviewer (could have been O Reilley, Geraldo or someone we all know) ask the expert this question: “what surprises you most about crime in America”? The so called expert (who did have credentials) replied “that there aren’t more vigelantes in America”.

How many times did we here: “Someone will get OJ” or “If someone did that to my daughter daughter I’d k*** ’em”. Think about it, it just doesn’t happen!

Harvan on August 25, 2009 at 10:48 am

“I’ll tell you one thing:the guy’s a racist.You notice he Kills more Blacks than Whites.”

“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 the muggers?”

Forgot all about that scene. Don’t ever think that Libs haven’t had that idea for a long time – all that filthy rich Leftist “guilt” mindset( is there no way to de-programme them of this brainwashing? )

Phineas on August 25, 2009 at 1:16 pm

Another actor I miss is Laurence Harvey from the film Room at the Top. Handsome, Jewish, and died much too young.

JulieJ on August 25, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Great movie and Bronson was part Muslim/Polish Tatar or Lipka Tatar, which explains alot about his look/features.

Dirtyleb on August 25, 2009 at 2:09 pm

I read some place that Bronson was actually sorry he made the vigilante style movies. Anyone else hear that?

There is no question that armed citizens are the best deterrent to violent crime. The stats clearly show areas with stricter gun control have the higher crime rates. Please google Chicago murder rate! Most people I know have had a situation where the presence of their own gun was the difference between being left alone, or being a victim. Car breaks down on the side of the road, ATM, vicious dogs, bad guys approaching in the dark of night, etc.

As a kid I was scared watching the movie with the graphic violence. I was angered by the libs in the movie, and satisfied a lil when bad guys were punished. A modern western.

Joe on August 25, 2009 at 4:27 pm

I liked the movie for he same reason you did Debbie. Another movie I like – even got the writers perplexed as it wasn’t to convey “that” message – was Falling Down with Michael Douglas.

Douglas portrays a laid-off aerospace worker – divorced – who just wants to see his daughter to give her a present.

Everything from gang members to obnoxious small store owners just make his day miserable, and he responds in his own unforgettable manner.

B: Haven’t seen it, but now I will, based on your recommendation. DS

Bill B. on August 25, 2009 at 4:28 pm

Bronson did give one excellent performance after the Death Wish movies were done, in a powerful indie drama called The Indian Runner (directed by Sean Penn, of all people). It was a supporting role, but probably the best performance of his career.

JimmyC on August 25, 2009 at 5:08 pm

[A woman in NYC was attacked in the pew of a church by a
habitual offender with 11 convictions.]

When is the Catholic Church finally going to punish their perverted priests?

Norman Blitzer on August 25, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    Where did RoadsScholar say the church was Catholic? And what has the behaviour of a some Catholic priests to do with the subject of this blog?

    Nof49 on August 27, 2009 at 10:55 am

Where are all the good vigilantes today? We could use some to take care of all those terrorist training camps around the U.S. All I see around now are pantywaists and liberals.

BONNI on August 26, 2009 at 1:32 am

Regarding the criticisms of Mr. Bronsons acting – he simply played an emotionally reserved role which probably fit his personality, and people are not used to seeing this type of potrayal with todays crop of actors (more properly over-actors). I believe he was perfect for this role.

Anther good movie of his was “The Mechanic”. Worth watching if you missed it. Has a nice twist at the end.

I really like that he was never part of the Hollywood crowd. He remained his own man, and by all accounts was a strong devoted husband in a culture that doesn’t seem to encourage it much anymore.

Allan on August 26, 2009 at 9:56 am

Great article Deb. I love any movie that the liberals hate and this one is one of my all-time favorites. After being in law enforcement for the past 22 years I will never be without a firearm, even after I’m retired.

And for Mr. Norman Blitzer…way to stay on subject knucklehead.

Michael on August 27, 2009 at 10:50 am

Thanks for the reminiscence. Although Bronson made four more of these movies, it’s the first one that packs the punch. My own favorite Bronson role was “Harmonica” in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). The final duel with Frank (Henry Fonda) was unforgettable.

As for the other entries in the Death Wish pantheon, I’m convinced that at least one of these (DW3) was a deliberate black comedy. It had several moments of hilarity. (Young thug: “They [i.e. Paul Kersey] killed the Joker, man! THEY KILLED THE JOKER!!” Chief thug, named Mandy (ha ha) Fraker: “They had no business doing that.”) The longevity of the first Death Wish probably owes to our submerged fears that we, too, might someday be in the wrong place at the wrong time and face criminals bent on doing evil. If that ever happens, we know that the cops will eventually arrive and draw a chalk line around our remains. When seconds count, the police are minutes away. No wonder concealed carry permits are becoming more popular. Thank you, Debbie, for your blog. It’s well worth every visit. (And RIP Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland)

David McAlister on August 28, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Excuse me. That quote from Death Wish 3 wasn’t about the Joker. It was about the Giggler, a strongarm thief who would snatch valuables and run away giggling. Kersey plugged him in the center of the back with a round from his mail order Wildey magnum pistol after the thief had hotfingered Kersey’s Nikon.

    David on August 28, 2009 at 3:08 pm

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