Open-minded architect Paul Kersey returns to New York City from vacationing with his wife, feeling on top of the world. At the office, his cynical coworker gives him the welcome-back with a warning on the rising crime rate. But Paul, a bleeding-heart liberal, thinks of crime as being caused by poverty. However his coworker's ranting proves to be more than true when Paul's wife is killed and his daughter is raped in his own apartment. The police have no reliable leads and his overly sensitive son-in-law only exacerbates Paul's feeling of hopelessness. He is now facing the reality that the police can't be everywhere at once. Out of sympathy his boss gives him an assignment in sunny Arizona where Paul gets a taste of the Old West ideals. He returns to New York with a compromised view on muggers... Written by
Actresses Olympia Dukakis ('Cop at the Precinct') and Marcia Jean Kurtz as Marcia Jean-Kurtz ('Woman at Airport') get credited in opening credits only. There's no mention of them in the closing credits. See more »
Charles Bronson was already a major movie star in 1974 in Europe and a top action actor in the USA but it was "Death Wish" released that year that made him the super star that he became. What's so unusual is that in the movie "Death Wish" he played a man who was a pacifist all of his life, he served in the Korean War as a conscientious objector, who then turned into the vigilante executioner! A role which Bronson has become known for and identified with more then any of the scores of actions roles that he made during his long film career.
Bronson as well as director Michael Winner and writer Brian Garfield touched a raw nerve in "Death Wish" with the American people in big cities under siege like no other movie ever did before and, now some 30 years later, after. Since "Death Wish" there must have been made over a hundred films with it's theme but none had the impact that "Death Wish" with Charles Bronson had.
A group of tugs get Joanna Kersey's, Hope Lange, address from a delivery slip of a local grocery store and acting as if their delivering her groceries break into Joanna's apartment and savagely attack her and beat and rape her daughter Carol, Kathleen Tolan. Paul Kersey, Charles Bronson, comes home to learn that his wife and daughter are in the hospital rushes over to see how they are. Kersey finds out that his wife is dead and his daughter is mentally destroyed and needs to be institutionalized for life.
The whole world around Paul Kersey falls apart like a house of cards and he's left alone with everything that he loved dead or as good as dead. Some time later going to Arizona to do his job as a land developer for his firm in NYC he's given a .32 handgun as a gift by the person that he worked for Ames Janichill, Stuart Margolis, for the great job that he did for him.
One night back home in New York City taking a stroll in the park with the gun on him Kersey is accosted by a local junkie who pulls a handgun on him but Kersey draws first and shoots and kills him. Sick at first over what he did, killed a human being, Kersey like a wild beast from the jungle tasting blood for the fist time begins to roam the streets of New York at night for prey. A vengeful Kersey goes out looking for criminals to put out of commission, like those who killed and raped his wife and daughter, as some kind of revenge and retribution against them. In the process Kersey puts the criminals of the city of New York into a state of absolute terror and panic. In his guerrilla-like actions Kersey knocks off some dozen of them sending the the city's crime rate falling as much as 70%! All this with the ineffective, in stopping crime, police being more interested in stopping "The Vigilante" then stopping the criminals!
The movie "Death Wish" hit a raw nerve with the public as well as the local politicians and police because it showed how, in the movie at least, one man with a gun and knowing how to use it can make a difference when it comes to stopping crime. The story is not that unlikely as those against it would want the public to believe. There's been many times when average people took to protecting themselves, with firearms, and did a much better job then the police; which is just what Paul Kersey did in the movie. That may have been one of the reasons that those in authority were so much against the film.
When Bernie Goetz in December 1984 gunned down four muggers, much like Charles Bronson did in the movie "Death Wish", who tried to attack him in the New York subway crime dropped a lot more then if one hundred policemen were put on the trains. Nobody can doubt now that Charles Bronson's "Death Wish" was not only a major milestone in films about urban crime but also a major milestone in what the public thinks about crime and what's best to do to stop it.
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