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Death Wish 3 (1985)

I know exactly where I was at 7 PM, November 1st, 1985. Being turned away from the box office at the debut of Death Wish 3 because I was three weeks shy of my eighteenth birthday. Damned cashier just had to ask to see my I.D. Fast forward three weeks and I was paying my way into the third instalment of the Death Wish series, far more mature and able to handle the violence I was about to see on screen having aged an extra 22 days.

What I wasn’t prepared for is just how far director Michael Winner would shift the dark tone of the first two films towards a cartoonish over the top Bronson as Rambo on the streets of New York via London England filming locations. And while I’ve come to enjoy the film after repeating viewings and have resigned myself to the fact that it seems to the most popular film in the series among action film buffs, I will say I was less than impressed upon that first viewing for a number of reasons.

First and foremost I much preferred Bronson sticking to the dark shadows with little fan fare as he shot down his prey as opposed to the daylight carnage with crowds cheering in his third go around playing the one time conscientious objector during the Korean War turned vigilante. Secondly I found it to be a shoddy production and poorly edited. Still do for that matter but as I’ve said, I’ve come to appreciate the cartoon look and humor Winner injected into the third flick but still believe the first film is by far the best of the series. A real game changer for it’s time that nowadays can’t be topped as the already forgotten Bruce Willis remake has proven.

The third film moves Bronson back to New York after having been run out of town in the first film’s memorable climax. Throwing any point of character development out the window, he no sooner exits the bus depot and he’s arriving at the scene of a murder. An old army buddy has been beaten to death by a violent street gang led by a vicious Gavan O’Herlihy. Bronson under his alias Mr. Kimble is promptly arrested at the scene. With his distinctive look, Gavan makes for a memorable villain in the Cannon catalogue.

I’m no more Mr. Vigilante.”

It seems our Police Chief, Ed Lauter, has recognized Bronson and calls him out on it. As a matter of fact Ed’s got some ideas of his own …..

“Truth is I hate creeps too but I can’t do much about it. I’m a cop. But you, you shoot’em right?”

Ed wants some results that his police force can’t give him so he releases Bronson onto the streets of a rundown neighborhood where the elderly are preyed upon and the women are not safe. Among the older folks are former Bronson co-star (The Stone Killer, Raid On Entebbe) and one time Oscar winner, Martin Balsam. It’s this fine character actor who will play Bronson’s new pal pointing out the gang members who need to be wiped from the face of the Earth. Among them Alex Winter as a punk kid and Kirk Taylor as the now famous Giggler among Bronson aficionados.

Trivia time ….. both Bill and Ted (Winter and Keanu Reeves) have appeared opposite Bronson early on in their careers. Reeves appeared with Charlie in the 1986 movie, Act of Vengeance.

Bronson is quickly anointed as the neighborhood hero after he saves Star Trek’s Marina Sirtis from an assault and lays out a pair of car thieves permanently by using his latest vehicle purchase as bait. “It’s my car.” Then there’s the Home Alone booby traps he sets that has an old Jewish couple in stitches when Bronson’s giant sized mouse trap leaves a pair of teeth at the scene of the crime.

Yes it’s all for fun and just wait till Wildey arrives. It’s the gun Bronson is prominently waiving about in the marketing campaign for the film. “A .475 Wildey magnum is a shorter version of the African big game cartridge. It makes a real mess.”

Now that our vigilante has the gun he’s mail ordered, it’s time to go out for an ice cream and tempt the local track champ, The Giggler, with a Nikon camera. Let’s just say it doesn’t end well for Taylor’s Giggler.

Aside from Deborah Raffin turning up as a love interest for Charlie in Jill Ireland’s absence after she ditched him in the second film, this quickly morphs into video game mode where Bronson runs about the slum he’s cleaning up gunning down anyone in site who looks threatening. It’s as if he’s returned to the chateau at the conclusion of The Dirty Dozen machine gunning Nazi soldiers and “killing Generals” with the Korean War issued machine guns Balsam has in storage. It’s a real battle zone and one of the highlights is when cop, Ed Lauter, joins in the killing side by side with our mustached hero.

In case you’re wondering, Miss Raffin, does indeed succumb to her injuries. You see anyone familiar with the series should know that it doesn’t pay to get into a relationship with Mr. Paul Kersey, aka, Charles Bronson.

Ed Lauter has always been a favorite character actor of mine as I grew up in the 70’s/80’s just as Ed was coming on the scene in a number of memorable films including The Longest Yard not to mention costarring with Bronson in 76’s Breakheart Pass, 77’s The White Buffalo and 81’s Death Hunt.

As I mentioned at the start, I’m always at odds with this film. It’s a cheap Cannon outing that goes as far as borrowing Jimmy Page’s grinding soundtrack from the second film to cut down on the budget. It’s like watching a Universal Monsters movie where the soundtrack has been recycled from the Mummy flicks to the Wolf Man series. On the plus side, Winner, has toned down the sexual assault scene of the second film to a “tamer” rape this time around with one of our female characters.

There’s been plenty written on this film from Bronson’s apparent disappointment with the finished product to this being his final teaming with director Michael Winner after 6 films. The timing of the real life vigilante, Bernard Goetz, in the news shortly before the release of the third instalment and the film being generally trashed by critics at the time.

Funny how that works. Now it’s the most popular film in the series with a definite cult following when fans are polled. And though it’s still not my own favorite, I can’t help but chuckle when our hero goes about his business of “thinning the herd” of hoods before moving on at the film’s explosive finale with Ed’s blessing.

For more on the film and the Death Wish series, give this entertaining Paul Talbot book a read. For my own thoughts and recollections on Death Wish and Death Wish II, follow the links.

Lastly as you might expect by now, I do indeed have a one sheet here in the collection. Actually I think I have 3 or 4 of them tucked away. And no, I’m not selling.

4 Comments »

  1. Bronson’s one of my favorite actors, but I do wonder if maybe by DW3 he was getting a bit long in the tooth to play Paul Kersey. This is still a fine thrill ride all the way though, and the use of a bazooka and grenade launcher is the icing on the cake.

  2. I gave Death Wish 3 another watch at the start of the Pandemic. I didn’t find it as nearly as fun as when I saw it in the theater as a teenager who enjoyed all of the explosive-stuffed Cannon films. But I was pleased to see so many familiar faces in the cast, those who were familiar then, and those who are familiar now. I agree with your assessment of the film as a whole.

  3. Bronson may have given up on Winner but he didn’t give up on the series, able to continue slaughtering the bad guys in further sequels. Great supporting cast. Balsam is always great value and as you mention the often underrated Ed Lauter. I’ve not seen this probably since its VHS days and remember when it first came out just being happy to see another Bronson actioner. He kind of went downhill after this. Once Cannon started to feel the pinch their budgets shrunk. It wasn’t long after this that Bruce Willis knocked Bronson off the action perch. I always wonder what would have happened if Bronson had been given Die Hard or if in its wake someone had decided to reinvent the Bronson persona.

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