Most people know “Death Wish” from the 1974 movie starring Charles Bronson or the 2018 remake with Bruce Willis. Like many films, it all started as a book written by Brain Garfield. How do they differ? First, it should be made clear that the many sequels (Parts II thru V) have little to do with the original. Part 2 is the only one that resembles the first – just barely. Likewise, the remake is pretty much a blood-soaked revenge tale which the novel is not.
Probably the closest thing to the novel is the protagonist Paul Benjamin, the last name changed to Kersey for the film. Bronson is well cast, resembling the character’s description from the book. In the movie version, his wife is portrayed by Hope Lange. In the novel, she is already dead from the get-go.
The film’s beginning doesn’t exist in Garfield’s novel, wherein, the Kersey’s spend a second honeymoon – their last vacation together. The catalyst for “Death Wish” is a brutal attack by three thieves who invade their apartment, terrorizing Paul’s wife and daughter.
The movie shows it all in graphic detail. Remember, this was done forty-nine years ago and it still packs a wallop.
There is where the novel and film merge.
One major difference is Paul’s daughter Carol. (Played by Kathleen Tolan.) In the novel, her state of mind is one of gradual decline. In the film, she remains a catatonic vegetable from beginning to end.
Carol’s husband, Jack (played by Steven Keats) is a lawyer and a confirmed liberal, as was Paul. Jack is content in letting the police solve the crime. (They never do.)
Paul (as in the book and film) goes through an eventual transformation. Not satisfied with remaining a victim, he begins carrying a sock filled with quarters. Using himself as bait, he is eventually accosted and Paul strikes back. A young black runs away in terror.
While in Tucson, Arizona on a job assignment, Paul buys a gun. In the film, it’s a gift from Ames Jainchill (Stuart Margolin), a client who knows something’s wrong and gives him a push in the right direction.
The movie and book begin to separate, not in action, but opinion.
Garfield’s novel portrays Paul as being driven to near madness: from grief and despair. His first victim is a junkie needing a fix. He shoots a man for attempting to rob a sleeping drunk. He kills a man for taking a TV set. None of these people attacked his family, but it’s his moral right to avenge them, or so he believes.
In “Death Wish” the film, Paul is the “vigilante killer”, NYC’s hero for killing off muggers who prey on the weak and helpless citizens.
The police, headed by Inspector Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) are after the vigilante , then decide that public sentiment will not allow them to arrest their new found crusader. After a series of murders, the last where Paul is wounded, he is told to leave town for his own good.
In the novel, Paul shoots several teenagers for dropping cinder blocks on a moving subway. This is witnessed by a police officer who lets him go.
In 1974, “Death Wish” struck a cord with movie audiences. It was released during the dogdays of summer when Watergate had dragged on for two years with Nixon’s resignation looming. A very grim time.
If the ’74 version were released today, I expect it would be condemned by critics as “reactionary, MAGA-hat inspired, racist hate speech.
But what do you do when the police fail you?
We saw it all thru 2020: a six month long riot the MSM instantly forgot about after January 6, 2021. [That was a protest against a stolen election, not an insurrection.] We are now a splintered faction of Communists, sex perverts, illegal aliens and freaks. Real Americans have become disenfranchised, creating an eventual pushback coming your way.
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