Michael Winner’s crime masterpiece Death Wish 3: a running diary

the other night i once again caught a portion of Death Wish 3 on some cable channel (Death Wish 3 is always playing on some channel SOMEWHERE at any given moment of the day) and it reminded me that while i rip on this movie all the time, i have yet to do so on the internet, so why not give it the “running diary” treatment? after all, i’ve done this in the past with a certain awesome film involving a dwarf, so why not apply it to a movie most everyone my age is familiar with and which i can only describe as an acid-enhanced Reagan-era nightmare about “what our cities will soon be like if we don’t DO SOMETHING FAST.” (and apparently that something fast involves Charles Bronson.)

so i proceeded to purchase the DVD of this fine, fine film, while making my excuses to the clerk that this was all for research (though i doubt he believed me), and now it’s time to fire up another bottle of Van Gogh and do this thing! maybe next time i’ll do one of these for RoboCop 2, though that might be taking too far upward a step in terms of “film quality.”

preparatory information: Michael Winner directed the first two of these films, but they never got as crazy as they’re about to get here. all you really need to know going in is that everyone close to Charles Bronson – Paul Kersey here in the Death Wish series – gets brutalized and thus forces him to kill criminals, and he’ll do the latter in Death Wish 3 repeatedly. the only two things i’d add are that a) he doesn’t actually kill the people who kill his wife and rape his daughter in the first film, and b) his daughter gets raped AGAIN in the second film after she gets out of the hospital, causing her suicide. now THAT is a lot of rape.

00:00:00: i notice that the back of the DVD case claims Kersey brings to the table “guns, knives – and even a bazooka” and realize that this is not accurate, as there’s no bazooka in the movie at all (more on this later). i am already annoyed with this awesome film!

eh, Death Wish 3
i apologize in advance for the black bars on the sides of these photos; apparently my DVD is formatted to fit my television

00:01:08: okay, the juxtaposition of the soundtrack with the words “DEATH WISH 3” are almost too much; this is one of those little things you miss when you’re always coming into the middle of the film. and really, this whole credits sequence is weird: shots of guys working on bridge construction? how last minute was the filming of this? “oh, shit, we need something that screams New York, get out there with your camcorder!”

00:03:17: there’s a very multicultural, weirdly-dressed gang here; you’ll be seeing a LOT of said gang. but here we also have Alex Winter waving around a bicycle chain. why does that name seem familiar? because four years later he was Bill in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. and then, after that movie’s sequel… nothing. and yet, Keanu Reeves continues to have a career. it’s weird how things work out sometimes, but then again, Keanu also had the good sense to avoid Death Wish 3. also, when you see how war-torn this neighborhood is later in the film, it will make NO SENSE why this gang has a member function as a lookout.

Alex Winter in deep concentration
yeah, we’d better make sure and destroy this guy’s furniture to make sure the rest of the civilians learn their lesson!

00:04:27: 24 years later, i STILL can’t figure out why Alex Winter is attacking this couch while his friends beat up this old man (who is the friend Charles Bronson has come into town to visit). you can also note the terrible “gang symbol” inked on the heads of these guys. they’re kind of like MS-13, only without the balls it takes to get REAL tattoos, you know?

00:07:05: there’s an awkward police interrogation sequence here; it’s like they want to give the impression they’re hurting Bronson without accidentally hurting him due to his age. then they offer him water … and then tell him he can’t have it! oh, the kinder, gentler days of the 1980s prior to all this water boarding and naked prisoner stacking, how i miss you!

00:10:50: so after Bronson beats up a fat guy with what appears to be a bluebird tattooed on his face (i can’t make this shit up), he shares a brief eye-fuck with the man who’ll be the main villain of this film and who also rocks the most ridiculous reverse mohawk of all time. and if it wasn’t for the dramatic music in the background, this sequence would come off a lot more homoerotic than it does currently. this will also lead to yet another super-awkward beating for Bronson later when the villain “wants to move on” him.

00:15:06: okay, at this point in the film, there’s a great shot of this poster that declares “WANTED By The New York City Police Department: HORSES.” sure, i bet it’s supposedly about mounted policemen… but i prefer to think that the NYPD suspects horses in general of some criminal conspiracy. i know i would lock them all up if i had the chance. anyway, Bronson is now working for the police as a vigilante or something, who knows.

DDE on the wall
Charles Bronson is simply OUTRAGED at hearing about all this street crime in NYC, so you KNOW someone is going to get shot before this is all over

00:22:46: i really like how this old guy (a friend of Bronson’s friend) keeps a random picture of Dwight Eisenhower hanging on his wall; it reminds me of my grandfather, who keeps a random picture of George Washington on his wall. i really need to get a presidential picture for one of my walls; maybe something in a Harding?

00:30:31: we have our first sighting of a gang member wearing a fishnet shirt; yeah, the gang apparel here is all over the map, but a fishnet shirt? i don’t care how tough you are, i don’t care how tough your gang is, i don’t even care if you’re about to chop up a guy with an axe (and that happens shortly after this scene): it’s NEVER okay to be the gang member in the fishnet shirt.

00:37:45: our villain (who is named Fraker) proves to be the gift that keeps on giving: aside from his nonsensical face-painting and reverse mohawk, here he’s rocking a skin-tight hoodie, a ridiculous eagle’s-head belt buckle, and a necklace that i can only describe as “confusing.” add to that the fact that he’s not exactly the most physically imposing guy out there (i guess he’s a little on the tall side, but that’s about it) and you’ve got yourself a classic 1980s movie villain!

.475 Wildey Magnum
there is absolutely no way you can convince me that this sequence isn’t in the movie as an advertisement

00:42:00: Bronson’s “friend Wildey” arrives, proving to be a .475 Wildey Magnum, an odd choice of powerful handgun, and he then launches into a dissertation on the firearm to a room full of citizens (he mentions “real stopping power,” he compares it to the .44 Magnum, and so on) that leads me to believe someone paid Michael Winner to add an advertisement for the Wildey Magnum into the movie; there’s simply no other explanation. well, that, or the scriptwriter was John Milius writing under a pen name, trying to get himself more guns, but i doubt it. he’s not that bad of a writer.

00:43:45: Marina Sirtis (yes, Star Trek nerds, THAT Marina Sirtis) is abducted and gang raped while picking up some groceries late at night. this is about the third time in the movie trouble has kicked off during her grocery shopping; i don’t mean to blame the victim here, but maybe she should at least consider doing her shopping during daytime hours? well, she dies of her injuries, so this is a moot point.

00:48:00: Bronson finally uses the Wildey (he shot a couple of guys earlier in the film for messing with his car, to be fair, but that was with his .38) on the one criminal who’s always snatching purses, the Giggler (yes, we know, this gang is officially lame). and then there’s a really awkward celebration as an old lady starts dancing in the street and a bunch of people start clapping. god, i love this movie!

00:49:21: …and now i hate it again, because Bronson’s busy having an awkward 1980s-era date with that public defender wherein we learn that the public defender is emotional, loves sports and possibly approves of vigilantes. do i detect a love match?

Bronson with flowers
fighting the good fight against crime with… a flowerpot

00:55:45: Bronson hurls a flowerpot at a goon who’s chasing him (named the Cuban, no less) thanks to a “clever” trap and then leaps through the window of a man who’s clearly wearing a beret while reading a newspaper in bed (and who seems undisturbed by EITHER man climbing through said window, be they Bronson or the man chasing him). oh, Death Wish 3, i couldn’t make up stuff like this if i tried. even better, the whole scene ends with the use of a terrible dummy effect and Bronson skipping away.

01:01:29: thankfully, yet another awkward romantic scene between Bronson and the public defender results only in IMPLIED sex, and not anything i have to see on screen. if there’s one thing i don’t want to have to see, it’s younger women going through the motions of simulated sex with wrinkly old men. or, hell, any sex that involves old people. or any sex in movies, period. let’s get back to the nice, clean violence already!

01:03:52: …and we do, with the overly-complicated demise of Bronson’s love interest. because it’s much easier to punch someone in the face and roll their car into traffic than it is to, you know, just shoot them. we also have his friend Bennett’s shop exploding and said friend attempting to attack a gang of youths with an MG-42. granted, the latter plan goes awry and results in the old man’s beating, but all it makes me think is “boy, i wish someone brought ME home some machine guns from a war.”

01:09:23: Bronson returns home (after sneaking out of protective custody) to pick up a machine gun and what will prove to be a LAW anti-tank weapon (this is what the DVD case erroneously claimed to be a “bazooka”). this raises some questions, such as “who asks for one anti-tank weapon when feuding with a gang?” and “if crime is so rampant, why haven’t people burglarized Bronson or his old friend’s apartments and stolen their poorly-hidden guns?” also, “why is Bronson’s friend Rodriguez so chipper when his wife was raped and incidentally killed only days ago?”

Mandy Fraker
WORST.VILLAIN.EVER. well, okay, he’s actually still not as bad as the guy from Commando, but come on… Mandy?

01:10:13: while calling for backup (no, i can’t tell you WHO he’s calling for gangland backup, because it’s never explained and it probably wouldn’t make sense if it was), Fraker inadvertently reveals that his full name is “Mandy Fraker.” he is seriously a weak, shoddy villain with absolutely no fashion sense. that being said, i think his leopard statue in this scene is turbo-cool.

01:10:56: Bronson’s friend Rodriguez declares “all i’ve got is a zip gun.” this is what i refer to when i joke about how the last time a zip gun was used by anyone, it was in Death Wish 3. also, it occurs to me that Bronson has a .38 he hasn’t used in many scenes that he COULD pass on to his buddy… but no, he lets him rock the zip gun for the upcoming action scenes. weak. though he does later use the .38 again, so i guess he had that in mind when he declined to share.

01:11:50: …and the final act of Death Wish 3 is kicked off by Bronson shooting up a crowd of gang members with a machine gun. which makes me wonder why the bikers Fraker called in to “put some heat in my area” didn’t bring, you know, a couple of GUNS with them, because attacking Bronson and his machine gun with rocks and bats seems… well, ill-advised. this machine-gun attack also sparks a montage of random citizens getting out their guns. and as i watch Bronson blazing away with this Browning machine gun, i REFUSE to believe Winner is taking himself seriously at this point.

01:17:00: there’s some VERY gratuitous nudity at this point that always gets edited out when you’re watching this film on cable; actually, in retrospect, i’m impressed how well they manage to remove it.

01:18:15: okay, someone tell me the reason this cop car explodes. yes, i know it’s near a fire, but come on, we all know it explodes for NO REASON AT ALL.

01:18:58: CITIZENS FIGHT BACK! or, at least, they begin to. this will culminate in a scene later where a woman shrieks like a banshee and knocks a man out of her house’s second story with a broom. i am pretty sure said broom attack kills him, but we’ll have to confirm this later. this vigilante spree also results in a burning woman being shot by our main villain, which is pretty ridiculous in its own right, so it’s getting mentioned here.

01:20:20: Bronson’s friend Rodriguez, who vanished after their machine gun ran out of ammo some time back, miracles into the scene to shoot a guy with that zip gun and save Bronson. i take back everything negative i ever said about that zip gun. but just so the universe doesn’t come unhinged, Bronson immediately saves Rodriguez from a jam.

Richard Shriker
if i was ever to front a rock band, i would make this one of our album covers; said album would be called “Shriker Owed You That One, Dude”

01:21:50: Bronson’s cop friend Shriker returns to save him by shooting Bill or Alex Winter or whoever as he’s about to ambush Bronson. (what is it with all these deus ex machina moments?) Shriker declares “i owed you that one, dude” (he says “dude” a LOT in this movie) and a ridiculous arcade-game-style shoot-’em-up sequence ensues. when they separate, Shriker is attacked with Molotov cocktails and poses for the awesome grimace i commemorate above. seriously, it would be the best album cover ever.

01:23:25: the aforementioned crazy broom attack occurs. seriously, who needs a gun when you can bludgeon people into submission and/or death with your broom?

01:24:30: finally, the climatic battle between Bronson and Fraker occurs (though, watching Fraker steal in through Bronson’s bathroom window makes me wonder what happened to his nail-based booby-trap from earlier in the film); Fraker is gunned down, but a bulletproof vest allows him to recover and get the jump on Bronson and Shriker (with a Browning Hi-Power no less, meaning this villain is at least a tad respectable). so Bronson kills him with… that LAW. in a small, enclosed room, with no damage to anyone other than Fraker. yeah… it’s fucking stupid. but hey, it’s Death Wish 3! that’s how it goes!

01:25:58: also, i nominate this dude in the red shirt as “worst looking gang member not currently wearing a fishnet shirt.” he just looks so out-of-place.

01:26:41: and with that, Bronson stalks off into the sunset (while Shriker said he would “buy him a few minutes,” he apparently used that time to pack and change his clothes). and with most people in New York having been killed by now, it’s mission accomplished, roll credits.

so there you have it: Death Wish 3. i’m not sure i really recommend it (or any other movie in the series, for that matter), but if you really want to see Charles Bronson kill the most awkwardly-dressed gang NOT featured in the Warriors… hey, knock yourself out!

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2 Responses to Michael Winner’s crime masterpiece Death Wish 3: a running diary

  1. Dorozhand says:

    Did you actually miss the boom microphone hanging down into one scene? Or was it edited out of the later copies???

  2. janklow says:

    it’s not springing to mind, but it seems like the type of thing that should have been happening CONSTANTLY in this film.

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