The Direct to Video Connoisseur
I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Death Wish (1974)
Obviously this is not a DTV flick, though back when I did my Wild Card posts at the end of the week, this would've been one, because, while it isn't DTV, it had a huge influence on DTV bad actioners, even if very few ever truly capture what this one was going for. Anyway, even though we don't have the Wild Card post anymore in practice, I wanted to look at this one because our friend Kenner at Movies in the Attic (link is to his review of the Death Wish series) sent me VHS copies of part IV and V, but I wanted to watch the earlier ones first, and figured I'd review them as I did so.
Death Wish stars Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey, a successful New York architect whose wife is murdered and daughter brutally raped and traumatized by a home invasion. His job sends him to Tuscon after to work with a rich landowner, Stuart Margolin, and the guy changes his worldview. Instead of being anti-gun, he's now in favor of an armed response to the New York crimewave, and when he gets back, he starts a vigilante campaign, luring muggers and other criminals into thinking he's an easy mark, then gunning them down. It creates an international sensation, leaving the NYPD between a rock and a hard place: they want him to stop, but they don't want to arrest him when he's so popular. They assign detective Frank Ochoa (Frank Gardenia) to the case, and he has a tough job as he tracks Bronson throughout the city-- especially when he's not even sure he wants to arrest him if he does find him.
I am in firm agreement with Kenner on this one. It's a truly great film, and not simply for its action elements-- in fact, it has relatively few. What it does do is blur the social commentary, blend the brutal with the black humor extremely effectively, while throughout never getting away from the core of the film, which is one man's struggle with a brutal tragedy that he ultimately can't do anything to fix. And like Kenner, I thought the fact that he never actually tracks down his wife and daughter's attackers, and is instead killing thugs in general, gives this a very different kind of revenge motif. Is it justice he's after? Catharsis? A sick thrill? Or maybe a combination of all three. But you can't help rooting for Bronson and being compelled by his character. Often imitated, but never duplicated, Death Wish.
Charles Bronson has a strong charismatic presence, but I don't think he gets enough credit for being a solid actor too, which he shows here. He starts the film as a cool guy, but very mild mannered. There are some jokes made about him being a bleeding-heart Liberal, but we find out later that there's more to it than that, and he wears those layers well. Later, as he starts fighting back, it's not an all at once suddenly he's a badass situation, it's something his character has to get used to, and Bronson does a great job with that as well. I loved the metamorphosis, and when we consider these scenes aren't shot chronologically the way we see them, it demonstrates the kind of quality of acting Bronson brought to the table. I also had to throw in a shot from early in the film of him in a Speedo. Any light beer commercial that wants to define manhood based on swimwear choices needs to shut the hell up (anyone remember that commercial?), because Bronson's much more manly than light beer, and he wore a Speedo.
The Rockford Files is one of my all time favorite shows, so it was sweet to have two-time Emmy winner Stuart Margolin in this as the Arizona landowner. In honor of that fact, I uploaded an MST3K riff on The Rockford Files on the image page. Here he's as far from Angel as he can be, and I almost didn't recognize him. He plays a really great character, a kind of antithesis to the New York urban elite, and I loved watching he and Bronson play off each other.
This had some great cameos and co-stars beyond Stuart Margolin. We had the late Frank Gardenia, who was excellent as the detective tracking Bronson. We had cameos from Jeff Goldblum, who was in the gang that killed Bronson's wife and raped his daughter; and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, who had a short scene near the end as a member of another gang. The latter was unremarkable, just a cool novelty; but the former, the Goldblum one, was a trip, because he was a scary dude, channeling some Clockwork Orange or something. I think because we know going in what happens to Bronson's family, that scene of the attack had to be particularly chilling to draw us in, and Goldblum was a big part of why it did.
One thing I thought was interesting as I was watching this, was the fact that in New Hampshire, the state I almost live in, none of what Bronson was doing would have been illegal. They have a stipulation in the law that if one is attacked, one has the right to use deadly force in self-defense. If we look at what Bronson does in Death Wish, he never provokes an attack, he has a licensed handgun-- or, at least it would be in New Hampshire, a man of his stature would have no trouble getting a concealed weapons permit--, and he's simply defending himself from muggers. If no one were to attack him, no one would be killed, and as a citizen, it is his right to walk the streets at any time of night and not have to accept that he might be attacked. I don't know how New York mitigates these aspects of the law, but it is an interesting dynamic to consider, because I'm sure New Hampshire isn't the only state that has that stipulation in the law-- though New Hampshire's motto is Live Free or Die, so you never know.
This is currently on Watch Instantly, but if you can get it on DVD in widescreen format, I'd go for it. This is a true classic, and a real landmark film that has had a huge influence over the action genre. On top of all that, it's actually really well made and deals with a lot of social and moral issues in a compelling, yet not preachy or agenda driven kind of way. It's a movie that's surprisingly as relevant today as it was 37 years ago.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071402/