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Death Wish 3 (1986)
29th Apr 11
It’s amazing how much more fun life and Death Wish movies become when there’s hardly any rape and Charles Bronson gets his mitts on a rocket launcher. Nostalgic sigh!
Here’s Michael Winner’s final Death Wish entry (the series continued with two more workmanlike, less nasty entries) and the last of his many collaborations with Charles Bronson. Ol’ Stone Face was reportedly unhappy with the movie due to its violent content, having presumably spent the production of the more harrowing previous two movies convinced he was making a couple of gritty, urban additions to the Herbie franchise. Number 3 ups the bodycount considerably from the preceding movies while toning down the sexual violence that earned Death Wish 2 censorship wrangles in many territories. (There is a brief, breast-baring rape scene but it’s very fleeting in comparison to the earlier flicks). Unpretentious and breezily unashamed of its embracing of vigilantism as a heroic solution to gang violence, part 3 is a fast-paced exploitation flick with solid, violent action sequences. If you can accept it for what it is and put up with Jimmy Page’s dodgy Bad 70’s Cop Show muzak score, there is lots of fun to be had.
Some New York City skyline shots try to convince us that this London-shot movie takes place in the slums of the Big Apple, a bit like the time Stanley Kubrick thought we wouldn’t notice his Full Metal Jacket Vietnam was really our illustrious capital docked out with a few palm trees and Vietnamese hookers, Pete Beale just out of shot. At the outset of 3, Bronson’s now-infamous Paul Kersey vows “I’m no more Mr Vigilante”, suggesting a bold new approach for the series. Maybe we’re in for 90 minutes of watching Kersey do things more appropriate for a man of his advancing years - a spot of gardening, perhaps, relaxing to the latest Eagles Greatest Hits compilation, maybe a visit to the local Bingo hall…
But wait! Kersey’s old Korean war buddy is beaten to death at home in a neighbourhood overrun with thugs - or, Kersey’s favoured term, “creeps”. Reflecting the series’ attitude toward impotent / useless / hostile authority figures, Kersey discovers the body and finds himself both accused of his pal’s murder and subjected to a hefty dose of police brutality. Police chief Ed Lauter, however, knows of his earlier “work”, admires him and proposes that he “unofficially” helps drop the soaring crime rate by working for him as a vigilante : “Do your thing…”.
Meanwhile, Deborah Raffin, occasionally wearing monstrous Deidre Barlow-style glasses that were probably sexy in 1985, shows up as Kersey’s young-enough-to-be-his-bleedin’-daughter love interest and has nothing to do except look like a woman yearning for fashions to change. Thankfully, we are spared a sex scene between the worst screen couple since, er, Death Wish 2 though Raffin’s inevitable premature demise helps encourage Kersey into action. Not that he needs much encouragement, with a comical array of rapists, muggers and all-purpose “creeps” loitering in a creep-like fashion on every litter-strewn corner as if they’re about to break into song as part of Death Wish The Musical. That’s Martin Balsam, incidentally, a long way from Psycho as a chummy neighbour of Kersey’s deceased pal.
Death Wish 3 wears its cynicism on its sleeve. It’s the kind of movie in which even the city doctor informs a husband of his wife’s horrible death with the decidedly non-compassionate phrase “Mrs Rodriguez has expired…”. Sounds more like part of Monty Python’s dead parrot sketch than a medical official breaking the news to the bereaved. The nasty tone, typical of the series, extends to scenes of old women being killed, thugs getting knifed in the throat and Raffin perishing in a car-wreck/explosion (she got off lightly compared to the fates met by the main female cast of the rape-tastic Death Wish 2).
By this stage in the franchise, Winner had long lost touch with even the most rudimentary sense of realism found in the original film. Scenes of an aged Bronson taking on scores of thugs single-handedly with ease (while neighbourhood residents goofily cheer him on from their windows) verge on parody but give the movie enormous entertainment value. Importantly, the physically spry Bronson brings more of a lightness of touch to Kersey this time, smiling with glee when he finds the front teeth of a creep embedded in one of his many booby traps and displaying a playful spirit while despatching innumerable anonymous hoods (one of them played by a pre Bill and Ted Alex Winter).
It’s the liveliest movie of the series, and has the best finale : an extended full-scale battle against the creeps that gives Winner the chance to stage an elaborate urban variant on the good-old fashioned western shoot-outs he clearly loves so much. Bronson breaks out the 30 calibre machine gun and missile launchers as he leads armed residents into war, and the audience appreciates the diversion away from the grim earlier movies into territory somewhere between Last of the Summer Wine and The Wild Bunch.
Versions Uncut everywhere I believe, although cuts were only waived in the UK in 2006 so make sure you get a recent print.