Death Wish 45 Years Later

DATELINE: Willis Versus Bronson

 death 3

Bruce Willis is every bit as good as Charles Bronson in the remake of the classic Brian Garfield story. But, the movie is less about vigilantes this time and more about revenge.

A new version of Death Wish, 2018, seems like yesterday’s headlines.

If you want to match up Willis versus Bronson, you may be making the wrong comparison. Both are brilliant in the role of Paul Kersey, though Bronson always seemed more dangerous than smarmy.

Taking the law into his own hands, Paul Kersey is back for a new generation, armed with smartphones, video surveillance, and automatic weapons on every city block.

The more things change, the worse it becomes in American society. Indeed, the media chorus in the movie keeps telling us that Chicago is a murderous city. The senseless cruelty seems on a par with fifty years ago.

Gun control is a joke in 1974 and is a punchline now.

The 1970s might seem like a placid time next to today’s weekly shoot’em ups. However, the movie stays with the split-screen approach to story-telling that was the rage in the 1970s. We have a definite throwback movie here.

This time Bruce Willis has a brother (Vincent D’Onofrio) as a foil, but the police exasperation is partly admiration for the Grim Reaper’s work. You know the police will never convict, nor apprehend Paul Kersey, though the 1970s movies better explained why they let him get away.

When Willis shoots the bad guys, you still have the urge to commend the vigilante killer and excuse gun control as a bad idea. This time Kersey is a top-notch big city surgeon, obviously dedicated to life-saving. Bronson’s Kersey was a big business architect.

He has his eyes opened even with his father-in-law (Len Cariou in a delightful cameo) and with the commissioner of police (Stephen McHattie, a long-ago familiar face).

The shoot out is a stand off.

Hitchcock’s Little Bang!

 DATELINE:  Short Suspense Subject by the Master!

Mumy boy

What a treat to find ourselves looking at the last half-hour episode of his TV series actually directed by Mr. Hitchcock himself.

Sandwiched between Psycho and The Birds, he gave us a gift of a timeless tale about dangerous weapons in the hands of children. “Bang! You’re Dead” is a minor gem.

Once again, he used a child star who would soon climb to more legendary fame. Back in 1954, he came up with Jerry Mathers as the little boy who discovers the dead Harry in Trouble with Harry. Mathers later went on to more trouble with Leave It To Beaver Cleaver.

In 1961, he picked out Billy Mumy, half-a-dozen years before he made a star burst on Lost in Space. Mumy was an extraordinary child actor, and his brilliant performance makes the episode all the more chilling. In one scene, while adults around him talk, he keeps an unblinking eye on his uncle, just returned from Africa and promising a special gift to the boy.

In an age when all the boys were pretending to be cowboys and had hats and guns, Mumy finds a gun and bullets in his uncle’s suitcase and presumes this is his gift. He puts one round in the chamber and switches his toy gun for the real one.

Spinning the chamber as if playing Russian Roulette, he begins a journey around the neighborhood, figuring to plug those people who give him a hard time: and there are plenty of candidates from the mailman to an annoying father and daughter at the supermarket.

Hitch zeroes in on the little fingers stuffing more bullets into the chamber and spinning away, making each shot more likely to hit a mark.

The excruciating suspense is nasty as each incident makes the growing menace more frightening. At the least, the episode ends with seven years of bad luck.

Extraordinary short film is from the seventh season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.