Tuesday, September 15

A Classic in Retro: Death Wish 3 (1985)

Directed by Michael Winner
92 Minutes / MGM/UA Home Video, Cannon Films (1986) / Unmatted Full Frame

You read that right, I'm deeming Death Wish 3 a classic. Those that know, know what I speak of. Along with my digestion of '80s horror flicks when they used to show such offensive material on television; this Bronson vehicle stands out as the first action flick I fell in love with as a kid. Bronson himself was vocal about his dislike of this sequel and this probably led to the professional break-up between the actor and director Winner, but I like it nonetheless. Perhaps a bit more than even the iconic Death Wish.

Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) is back in his old New York stomping grounds to visit a friend who happens to be a victim of a thug beatdown just before his arrival. The cops catch Kersey as he first enters armed into his now dead friend's apartment and throw him in lock-up. A lieutenant (Ed Lauter) recognizes the vigilante for who he truly is and lets him go after a few hours with conditions of "quietly" eliminating the gang element around the apartment building of his deceased friend. Kersey soon befriends the good occupants, including a very game Martin Balsam, but eventually after several vicious attacks (including the murder of his love interest) the man armed with the .475 Wildey Magnum decides to mount a full district "cleaning." Beat that shit Dirty Harry.

Death Wish 3 is to Bronson as Commando and Cobra are to Schwarzenegger and Stallone respectively. Winner constructs a to-the-point actioner designed to fully exploit the actor's latter career old sage tough guy persona with none of the moral questions regarding vigilantism present in the prior films of the series. Just an excuse to have the actor fire powerful guns and blow away a multitude of faceless yet fashion conscious gang members. There's nothing wrong with that in my book.

All this transformed the character of Paul Kersey into nothing but characticture; a man so besieged with tragedy it's amazing how he didn't turn his gun on himself or end up institutionalized. Despite this, Bronson is great and as likable as ever in his trademark role with the stoic visage that brought him fame rapidly softening. The methodical nature of Kersey is blunted a bit, with the unremorseful "goodbye" before point blank revenge replaced with a grandfatherly wit and welcoming self-reliance throughout Bronson's performance. Ultimately, Kersey does drop the extreme overkill upon the gang's leader (a supremely asshole Gavan O'Herlihy), like there was any doubt.

There's also a great insular feeling to the whole flick, as if the world beyond the dilapidated Section 8 horizon doesn't exist. There are little quibbles, chiefly the nature of Kersey's love interest. Deborah Raffin at 32 years old is far too young to be believably paired with the then 64 Bronson. Of course, the actor did essentially "steal" the love of his life, Jill Ireland, from her husband of ten years David McCallum. So maybe I'm better off not questioning such mac power, but why in the hell would Kersey take her anywhere near his place being an increasingly marked man?

Otherwise, the film is so ridiculous and re-watchable, you can't fault it for trying to do nothing but entertain with comforting bloodshed. So stay up way late, get a cheese steak sub from that one place on the corner, go down into the basement, and watch Death Wish 3 on a tiny television by a single workshop bulb's light while stripping and cleaning your shotguns. You won't be disappointed.

VHS Picture: 8/10
VHS Sound: 7/10


Troy Olson said...

Agreed, Death Wish 3 is a terrifically fun movie. That ending scene where Bronson and his cop buddy take out hundreds of street thugs is truly a sight to behold -- I remember watching it over and over in awe of how great it was. Like Commando it is imminently rewatchable for the sheer 80's-action-movie-ness of it. They certainly don't make them like this anymore, do they.

Anonymous said...

The first 3 are all classics. I loved Gavan O'Herlihy in DW3. A great scary ass psycho.

B-Movie Becky said...

Love this one. The old people are funny. Good comparison with Stallone and Schwarzenegger too. Never thought about it, but you're right.

wiec? said...

i love this movie as well. the gang was so unbelievable. as someone who lives in Brooklyn where the DW3 takes place it would be impossible to find a gang that looks like that gang. even in the hard scrabble 80's. Rastas with punk rockers and bikers and old guys in denim jackets all in one gang? plus in more than one scene the road is clearly dirt. brooklyn is screwed up but it isn't that bad.

also it's clear how Debra Raffin falls for Bronson. that whole bit where lies about liking opera. classic.

...do you dare tread upon the staircase?

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