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Paramount Studios presents
Death Wish (1974)

"You are such a bleeding heart liberal, Paul."
- Sam Kreutzer (William Redfield)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: January 11, 2001

Stars: Charles Bronson, Vincent Gardenia, William Redfield, Steven Keats
Other Stars: Stuart Margolin, Stephen Elliott, Hope Lange, Olympia Dukakis, Christopher Guest, Jeff Goldblum
Director: Michael Winner

Manufacturer: Panasonic Disc Services Corp.
MPAA Rating: R for (violence, language, nudity, rape)
Run Time: 01h:33m:20s
Release Date: January 16, 2001
UPC: 097360877441
Genre: crime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

When it comes to conservative vigilante revenge fantasies, one should always go back to the granddaddy of the entire genre: Michael Winner's Death Wish. Although it takes a while to get rolling, the revenge comes fast and furious, set against a background of political intrigue and media hype.

Charles Bronson stars as Paul Kersey, a New York City real estate developer whose wife (Hope Lange) and daughter are attacked by three punks (one of whom is a young Jeff Goldblum). When the Mrs. dies and the daughter is left a semipsychotic vegetable, Paul is sent out of town to Tucson to work on a project. There he meets the aggressively yokelish Ames Jainchill (Stuart Margolin), a cowboy wannabe with two pairs of longhorns mounted on his car. Jainchill takes Kersey to a gun club and gives him a pistol as a going away present. Before long, Kersey has taken to roaming the streets of New York, with a bullet for every mugger he runs across. While the police, headed by Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) are urged by the Mayor to catch the vigilante killer, political forces also make that result politically acceptable, leading to an intricate cat-and-mouse dance between the cops and the vigilante who has inspired New Yorkers to defend themselves.

As noted above, this film started a long series of pictures starring Bronson blowing away the bad guys without benefit of a badge. It also led to real-life New Yorkers defending themselves, such as Bernhard Goetz, making reality imitate art. Without going into the politics of the series, it's certainly clear that these films struck a chord in the moviegoing public, and cemented Bronson's status as a major star.

As the setup film, Death Wish is a little disappointing in the mayhem factor during the early going. The whole Tucson episode seems to go on forever, when the testosterone-charged just want to see Chuck blasting the muggers. The character setup is somewhat interesting; Kersey is described as having served as a conscientious objector in Korea, with an initial aversion to guns because his father was killed by a deer hunter who thought he was a deer (being from Wisconsin and knowing the levels of alcohol consumed by those hunting deer, I can assure you that's not as surprising as it sounds). However, the rage at the ineffectiveness of the police and the uselessness of the doctors combines with the temptation of the gun to overcome these initial reluctances. Thus, character development causes a serious reduction in the gunplay which is really the excuse for the film existing.

Bronson is his usual stoic self through much of the film, though at one point he becomes nearly giddy with his power over criminals and even cracks a smile. Vincent Gardenia is excellent as the cynical cop assigned first to bring Kersey in and then scare him off. The muggers are little more than caricatures, though in best PC tradition there is a sizable contingent of white criminals as well as black ones. The attack in the apartment contains some very harrowing filmmaking and can be highly disturbing.

While not a great movie, Death Wish is undeniably an important and influential one. It still can provide fodder for arguments about gun control and the role, if any, that vigilante justice can still have in the civilized world. The one point that is hammered on relentlessly throughout the film, which it's hard to argue with, is that civilization is not all it's cracked up to be.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This is one of the more disappointing Paramount anamorphic transfers that I've seen. While blacks are good and colors are excellent, the picture is excessively grainy and suffers from visible edge enhancement. The image is soft and lacking in details. The source print is not in the best of conditions, with significant speckling and dirt visible throughout. In several places, there is substantial frame damage. The video bit rate runs about 5 Mbps in general. A thorough cleaning of the film and use of an RSDL disc would have helped this presentation greatly.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The English and French mono tracks are adequate, but not much beyond that. There is little audible hiss or extraneous noise, and dialogue is generally clear. However, Herbie Hancock's classic fusion soundtrack comes across extremely thin and tinny sounding.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: A very ugly, smeary and faded trailer is the sole extra. Chaptering is just barely adequate, with many of the chapters running nearly ten minutes in length. The English subtitles are mildly paraphrased from the actual dialogue but in general do a satisfactory job of conveying the meaning.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

An important and still controversial film that starts slowly but ends with a number of bangs. A marginal transfer and little in the way of extras suggest a rental.


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