The 1974 Charles Bronson vehicle Death Wish is far from the best New York movie of the era – but it may be the most influential. Its story of a mild-mannered upper-class Manhattan resident who responds to the rising crime rates by taking the law into his own hands, hitting the streets and taking out muggers and criminals of various types (but mostly black, brown, and poor) hit a nerve in the city, and across the country.
Its influence was reflected not only in movies – where it beget a series of sequels, imitators, remakes, and rip-offs – but in the culture, where its noble image of the one-man justice squad often resulted in messier outcomes than onscreen. And it altered the lives of several of its participants, including star Bronson (who found himself typecast for the rest of his career) and Brian Garfield, author of the book that inspired it, who spent the rest of his life crusading against the film adaptation’s mangled message.
We’ll explore all of that and more in this two-part episode. Our guests for part two are New Yorker staff writer Jelani Cobb, film historians and pop culture critics LaToya Ferguson, Matt Prigge, and Paul Talbot, and filmmaker (and Death Wish 3 co-star) Alex Winter.
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