Death Wish (1974): Vigilante–Charles Bronson Style

Michael Winner directed Death Wish, a vigilante actioner, loosely based on the 1972 novel of the same title by Brian Garfield.

The film catapulted to international stardom Charles Bronson, who plays an architect who becomes a vigilante after his wife is murdered and his daughter sexually assaulted during a home invasion.

This was the first film in the Death Wish film series; it was followed 8 years later with Death Wish II and other similar films.

The film was criticized for its apparent support of vigilantism and advocating unlimited punishment of criminals. Allegedly, the novel denounced vigilantism, whereas the film embraced the notion.

A commercial success, the movie resonated with the public, at a time of increasing urban crime.

This urban Western was made a few years after Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, and like that 1971 film deals with urban crime and a single man who takes the law into his own hands.

A huge box-office hit, leading to several (inferior) sequels, Death Wish established Charles Bronson as a major star in the United States, after decades of playing supporting roles in Westerns and War films.

Bronson plays Paul Kersey, a liberal, happily married architect living in New York City.  Things change dramatically, when some drug-crazed thugs break into his apartment while he’s gone, kill his wife Joanna (Hope Lange) and brutally rape his married daughter, leaving her comatose.

When the police are unable to find the culprits, Kersey arms himself and begins patrolling the streets, killing muggers and thieves as he encounters them.

While his obsessive search for street justice sickens him at first, Kersey begins to enjoy it and becomes a hunted man himself, as Police Detective Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) tries to find the man who is doing the police’s job.

You can spot Jeff Goldblum in his screen debut, as one of the guys who attacks Joanna.


• Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey
• Hope Lange as Joanna Kersey
• Vincent Gardenia as Lieutenant Frank Ochoa
• William Redfield as Sam Kreutzer
• Chris Gampel as Henry Ives
• Steven Keats as Jack Toby
• Stuart Margolin as Ames Jainchill
• Stephen Elliott as Police Commissioner Dryer
• Fred J. Scollay as District Attorney Peters



Running time: 93 minutes.

Directed by Michael Winner

Written by Wendell Mayes

DVD: Jan 16, 2001