This came out in 1974, about the time I was spending a lot of time in New York City. I’m viewing it again on Amazon Prime Video. It was released by Paramount Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia.
It’s Death Wish, starring Charles Bronson, and it could have been called Vigilante, which I reviewed a few months ago. The common theme is big city residents set upon by vicious thugs, the police unable to bring the perps to justice. I’m not going to get into details of the plot.
Bronson is architect-engineer Paul Kersey, and his happy life in Manhattan is shattered when a gang of robbers kill his wife and rape his daughter in their apartment.
Weeks later, on assignment in Tucson, Paul works with developer Ames Jainchill (Stuart Margolin), who welcomes Paul’s recommendations for plan modifications that will make his project profitable.
The two become friends, and Ames treats Paul to a session at a local shooting range. Despite serving as a conscientious objector in the Army, Paul is a crack shot, as demonstrated by the hole in the center of this target. Ames advises Paul on the sensible approach to hooliganism in the American West. People in Arizona pack heat, and muggings are way down.
On his departure at the Tucson airport, Ames gives Paul a present, and back in New York Paul unwraps it to find it’s a .38 caliber pistol. Paul gets the message.
Paul takes the pistol with him when he strolls the streets of Manhattan at night, and sure enough, it’s not long (actually about two minutes) before a mugger pulls a knife. Paul pulls the pistol, and the mugging is over. The theme of the movie becomes Paul stalking the streets, inviting trouble, and finding it. He rides the subway with his bag of groceries, reading his newspaper. Two thugs wait for the car to go empty before they make their move.
It’s the wrong move. A bullet rips through the newspaper. The second perp is not faster than a speeding bullet, and he goes down, as well.
As was expected, the police cannot tolerate Paul’s vigilante campaign, and they track him down using some very good police work. Caught, Paul is asked politely to leave town and not come back. The final scene, as Paul arrives in Chicago, is iconic. He confronts a gang of punks in the railway station, and they taunt him as they make their exit. He sends them a message of his own.
In order to get viewers interested and sympathetic to Paul’s cause, it was necessary to hype New York City’s crime spree of the 1970s. Yes, it was bad, but not as epidemic as depicted. As mentioned, I spent some time in New York about this period, almost exclusively in mid-town Manhattan. Paul’s experiences were more pronounced than mine.
To be sure, we Texans in the big city were advised how to carry ourselves. Some good advice, don’t shuffle along with your hands in your pockets. You want to avoid trouble, walk as though you own the place, with arms swinging at your sides. And take big Bill Johnson with you if he’s available. Bill was an electrical engineer built like John Wayne, and nobody messed with him. We didn’t have any trouble. Especially the subway system, which I used all hours of the day and night, was pretty much hassle-free. Except on one occasion a wino in Washington Square Park offered to cut my throat. I called his bluff, he backed down, and I didn’t hang around for more trouble. The Paul Kersey character was having a terrible run of bad luck for an ordinary citizen, but really great luck for a movie character that needed to keep running into trouble every other scene.
The dialogue is sprinkled with hot button topics of the day. Criminals are coddled and running wild. The police can’t protect us. Most of the people Paul shoots are black, because most of the muggers are black. Looking back after more than 40 years a lot of this stuff comes off as trite, but it got good mileage in those days.
There are some minor issues a close view will reveal. The shot of the paper target whipping under the impact of the bullet is unrealistic. I have shot paper targets, and they always just stood there as the bullet passed through. The stunt actor taking the fall in the subway shooting scene is obviously eying his landing point as he fakes a bullet to the torso.