Tag Archives: Brian Garfield

Death Wish (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Architect becomes a vigilante.

In connection with the Eli Roth/Bruce Willis reboot that is set to be released to theaters this Friday I thought now would be a good time to go back and take a look at the original. The story centers on Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) who works as an architect and lives a comfortable life with his wife Joanna (Hope Lange) and adult daughter Carol (Kathleen Tolan). One day while he is at work his New York apartment gets invaded by three thugs (Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Logan, Gregory Rozakis) who kill his wife and rape his daughter. Paul becomes outraged that the police can’t seem to make any headway on the case and decides to take matters into his own hands by becoming a self-styled vigilante shooting random thugs on the street late at night, which in turn has him becoming a cult hero to the many residents of the crime ridden city.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Brian Garfield. Garfield was inspired to write the story after his car got vandalized. He initially fantasized about tracking down the criminals and killing them before eventually speculating what would happen if someone actually went through with these feelings and decided to take the law into their own hands. The main difference between the novel and film is that in the book the vigilantism becomes more of the problem while in the movie it’s considered the solution.

Many critics at the time gave the film unfavorable reviews as they felt it advocated violence, but I found the movie to have a certain uplifting quality. While the message is certainly simplistic and one-sided it still nicely conveys the idea that ordinary citizens can make a difference and it is up to us, the American public, to foster change and not to simply leave it up to someone else. The film doesn’t completely promote violence as the solution either as there is one scene where an old lady (Helen Martin) scares off her attacker simply by using her hat pin.

The problem that I had with it was why does Bronson constantly get harassed by these thugs in the first place? Whether he is at a restaurant or on the subway the bad guys constantly hone in on him for no apparent reason even when there’s plenty of other people around. In the book it made more sense because the title character would intentionally set traps for the thugs like abandoning his car and putting an ‘out of gas’ sign on it, so the criminals would try to rob the vehicle and then when they did he’d shoot them. Of course this would make the character’s motives more questionable, which the film wanted to avoid, but in the process it becomes less believable.

While this has become Bronson’s signature role it still would’ve worked better had a less brawny actor played the part. In the book the character is a meek accountant and someone like Jack Lemmon, who was originally considered for the role, would’ve been a more authentic fit. Bronson’s image is so entrenched as a ‘tough guy’ that his presence here seems like just another of his action themed vehicles. Chuck should’ve also not known how to use a gun right away either and maybe even been initially clumsy with it as it would’ve made the character arch from peaceful novice to sharp shooting vigilante stronger.

I liked Michael Winner’s directing particularly the way he shot the interiors of the apartments and his grimy portrayal of the urban New York setting that perfectly played-up the city’s crime ridden paranoia at the time. This is also a great chance to see some young performers before they were famous including Christopher Guest as a patrolman. I also found it amusing that Paul Dooley and Vincent Gardenia share a brief scene together as they both went on to play the dad character in Breaking Away. Dooley portrayed him in the movie version while Gardenia played the part in the short live TV-series.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 24, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Fleshburn (1984)

fleshburn 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lost in the desert.

Calvin Duggai (Sonny Landham) is a Vietnam vet sent to a mental hospital when four psychiatrists insist he does not know the difference between right and wrong. Eventually he escapes from the place and proceeds to kidnap the four people who had him put away and takes them to the middle of the hot desert where he forces them to try and survive the harsh elements with nothing more than their wits to rely on.

Based on the Brian Garfield novel ‘Fear in a Handful of Dust’ the film moves at a brisk pace and manages to be relatively gripping. The pounding rock music-like score helps build the tension. The idea that the four people decide to remain where they are and not go searching through the desert for help seems slightly odd, but the characters at least come off as real people and some of the things that they do to survive is innovative and yet still believable. The viewer genuinely starts to care for these people and wants to see them survive, which helps keep the film captivating.

70’s adult film star-turned-actor Landham isn’t bad in the lead. His muscular physique is quite intimidating and he has a threatening presence. Steve Kanaly best known for his work on the ‘Dallas’ TV-series is solid as the one who takes over and tries to help the others beat the elements. His best moment comes when he spits out a sharp shell like object that he has hidden in his mouth and into his hand where he uses it to cut the rope that is binding him to a rock.

There is some interesting flashback sequences at the beginning particularly the one showing the Karen Carlson character having an affair with Kanaly much to the dismay of her husband who is also one of the victims and yet the film doesn’t follow-up with it even though it could’ve and should’ve. Despite the story’s vindictive theme it really comes off more like a basic survival saga that could easily have worked as a TV-movie. The film is competently produced and directed, but fails to be distinctive or memorable.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 24, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Gage

Studio: Crown International Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video