DATELINE: Death Wish Out West
By 1971, Charles Bronson began to make the revenge picture his personal genre.
It’s also the year he met Michael Winner who became his John Ford, shaping a series of films, hardly great but full of fury and impact.
The first was a Western done in Spain called Chato’s Land. You might think it’s a spaghetti Western, but it is something far more American: a metaphor for pointless commitment to deathly war and racist attitudes.
It’s not a classic by any means, but it borrows from American classics and thus becomes part of the derivation formula. It seems to take its cue from The Ox Bow Incidnt, made thirty years earlier: a dour Henry Fonda picture about a lynch mob that hangs anyone it can put its hands on. It was led by a fool in a Confederate uniform of past glory.
This time it’s Jack Palance donning the Confederate officer garb—and leading an all-star gang of terrible Western settlers who want to hang a “half-breed” who has killed the town sheriff.
The cast will bowl you over: there’ Ralph Waite as the worst of the worst before he became Daddy Walton.
There’s Simon Oakland and Richard Jordan as his brothers. You will also be treated to James Whitmore and Richard Basehart as older men who should know better.
Charles Bronson turns the tables. And when he goes into full loincloth mode, his body puts body builders to shame. He was pushing sixty, said some, when he did this film. He claimed to be fifty.
There is a death wish pick off, one by one, of rapists and mayhem’s henchmen. Michael Winner wallows in rape and cruelty—and it would become worse over the next decade. Yet, this film is sharply in focus, however cruel, and it started the revenge movie in the urban jungle, starting in the American West.