Death Wish (1974)

death wish poster 1974 movie
8.5 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 8/10

New kind of action-thriller, gritty '70s look

Slow paced story might bore modern audiences

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Death Wish

Studio:  Paramount Pictures

Genre(s):  Action/Adventure

Release Date(s):  July 24, 1974

MPAA Rating:  R


Which one wants to die first?

Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) just lost his wife to a brutal attack and his daughter is raped and catatonic.  When he is given a gun as a gift by a client, Paul decides it is time to take justice into his own hands.  Walking the streets of New York at night, David begins killing the people that preyed on the innocent.  Labeled “the Vigilante Killer” by the media, Paul crusade is growing in popularity as the police face a problem:  do you stop a killer who’s helping improve the city?

Directed by Michael Winner, Death Wish was very controversial upon its release.  The story was based on the novel 1972 novel by Brian Garfield.  Receiving mostly negative reviews on the time, the movie ended up starting a franchise and has since been considered an action-thriller classic.


Welcome to your first movie Jeff Goldblum!

Death Wish really started a trend.  The idea of a vigilante hero taking the law into his own hands was relatively knew when the movie was made and sparked a lot of debate…are the character’s actions justifiable since he only kills “bad people”.  Since the film’s release there have been tons of vigilante character copycats in all types of media from the Punisher in Marvel Comics (who first actually appeared in 1974…so more of a parallel appearance) to Dexter.  The movie also was often the poster film for “pro-gun” law since Paul solves all of the city’s problems and his own fears by arming himself.

The movie’s story is rather slow paced for today.  The rape and murder occurs rather quickly, but then rather than an immediate transformation into a killer, Paul takes a long time to make the jump to vigilante.  It is a smart move that probably wouldn’t be copied today…people would probably demand more immediate action on Paul’s part.


The subway’s murder…

I also like the police aspect of the film.  Lt. Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) is ordered to just get rid of the killer due to his popularity.  It doesn’t cause outrage on Ochoa’s behalf, but instead it as seen as part of his job.  The resolution to the film is just send him packing…which leaves Chicago with the next problem.

Charles Bronson has never been a very emotional actor, but it really works here.  Like a John Wayne who is very expressionless, Bronson feels like he’s holding back…which is what his character is doing.  It also is interesting to watch the Paul Kersey character (who was named after an extra) start to switch from revenge to thrill…by the end of the film, he’s rather amoral and isn’t even punished for it.


I’m gunnin’ for you next!

I also like how Death Wish looks.  The movie has that gritty ’70s style that people often try to copy but never really seem to duplicate.  From the subways to the streets, the movie has a scary look…I can’t say it helped New York’s image at the time, but it did benefit from a large portion of society’s fears of big city living.

Death Wish is a good film to go back and check out.  The movie started a franchise (for better or worse) and made Charles Bronson a forefather to other big action starts like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone which some people forget.  Death Wish was followed by Death Wish II eight years later in 1982 and a Death Wish remake in 2018.

Related Links:

Death Wish II (1982)

Death Wish 3 (1985)

Death Wish (2018)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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