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‘Death Wish’ Director Michael Winner, Dead at 77

Michael Winner
Evening Standard/Getty Images

Michael Winner, the outspoken British director who helmed the first three ‘Death Wish’ movies, has died. He was 77.

If Winner’s career ended in 1970, he would be known as a minor gem of British cinema. Working with Oliver Reed on five films, with titles like ‘I’ll Never Forget What’s'isname,’ Winner was a solid filmmaker. Unfortunately, he would always be less than contemporaries Ken Loach, John Schlesinger or Ken Russell.

Like many of his foreign filmmakers, he was courted by Hollywood and came over to make films like ‘Lawman’ with Burt Lancaster, and ‘The Nightcomers’ with Marlon Brando. In 1972 he made his first of six movies with Charles Bronson. The first was ‘Chato’s Land,’ but two years later the duo struck gold with ‘Death Wish.’

‘Death Wish’ took the politics of ‘Dirty Harry’ that much further by casting Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey, a New York architect and shnook whose life is turned upside down when his wife is murdered and daughter raped by a gang (a gang that includes Jeff Goldblum). This event turns him into a vigilante hero. The film was a huge worldwide hit, and raised Bronson from B movie actor to B movie icon. It is his signature role.

This led Michael Winner to other Hollywood movies, films like ‘Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood’ and the cult favorite ‘The Sentinel,’ but he was unable to repeat the ‘Death Wish’ success, which may be why both he and Bronson returned for a second ‘Death Wish’ film in 1982, and then a third in 1985. By the time of ‘Death Wish 3,’ Kersey was using a rocket launcher to clean up the streets of New York (which were doubled by London, it’s that kind of movie). If the first film was meant to be somewhat realistic, by the third film Kersey became a cartoon.

Winner continued to work, but the films were modest. An outspoken personality, he also had a column in the Sunday Times called “Winner’s Dinners” which he did until December of 2012. On filmmaking, Winner said “If you want art, don’t mess about with movies. Buy a Picasso.”

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