There’s an old say­ing that goes “If it moves, sell it.” Everyone in the screen trade lives by that cre­do, espe­cial­ly the schlock mer­chants.  For proof, con­sid­er the case of Death Wish.  It began sim­ply enough, with a provoca­tive action film that cap­tured the zeit­geist in a way seem­ing­ly unsuit­able for sequels.  However, a tidal wave of mon­ey can make the strangest things pos­si­ble — and what every­one involved thought was a one-shot deal became a suc­cess­ful fran­chise with four sequels.

Bronson’s Loose, penned by schlock his­to­ri­an Paul Talbot, lays out the tale of this unlike­ly cin­e­mat­ic dynasty in a suc­cinct but enter­tain­ing style.  It’s a short book but Talbot uses his page count well, pack­ing in an impres­sive amount of infor­ma­tion drawn from care­ful research and a vari­ety of inter­views with those involved in the mak­ing of the films.  Along the way, the read­er comes to under­stand how the con­cept that dri­ves a hit film can take on a life of its own.

Bronson’s Loose starts with a book that is con­sid­ered unfilmable, even by its author. Brian Garfield’s source nov­el was a seri­ous, non­com­mer­cial trea­tise on the futil­i­ty of vengeance and how it ruins all it touch­es.  The orig­i­nal script was faith­ful to its source, per­haps too faith­ful because it got turned by count­less stu­dios and stars.  Things changed when jour­ney­man direc­tor Michael Winner stepped aboard and refo­cused the script around its most basic con­cept — a nor­mal man becom­ing a vig­i­lante to avenge his wife and child — and refash­ioned it into an urban west­ern, a feel height­ened by the selec­tion of Charles Bronson as its star.

The result was an unusu­al smash hit that made Bronson an American star in his 50’s and spawned copy­cats galore.  That said, Bronson and Winner both ini­tial­ly saw it as a one-off suc­cess that couldn’t be dupli­cat­ed.  Seven years lat­er, both men changed their tune when they each need­ed a hit and schlock­meis­ters Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus came call­ing to make an even more unlike­ly sequel.  The result was a crit­ic-proof hit that spawned three addi­tion­al sequels, each more baro­que and bizarre than the pre­vi­ous one as they pur­sued the moviegoer’s almighty dol­lar again and again.

Talbot offers a nice mix­ture of facts and par­tic­i­pant opin­ions through­out the book, deft­ly mix­ing mate­ri­al drawn from books, news­pa­pers and mag­a­zine arti­cles with new inter­views he con­duct­ed with Winner, Garfield and sev­er­al oth­ers.  Winner and Garfield are the stars of the book, mak­ing a high­ly amus­ing “Punch & Judy” act as they take pot­shots at each oth­er.  Winner has the more gos­sipy, Hollywood style to his cri­tiques of Garfield and his book but Garfield emerges as the win­ner with a string of qui­et­ly acidic quips that deflate Winner’s excess­es.

And that’s not all: actor Kevyn Howard offers an account of the Method-actor tac­tics he used to cre­ate the street thug char­ac­ter he por­trayed in Death Wish II and scribe Gail Morgan Hickman lays out a com­plex tale of the end­less rewrites he went through to come up with a script that pleased every­one for Death Wish 4: The Crackdown.  Talbot also laces his nar­ra­tive with plen­ty of amus­ing (and often angry) quips from reviews for the films.  The book is round­ed out with a series of appen­dices that include com­plete cast and crew info, syn­opses for each film and even sound­track album details.

In short, Bronson’s Loose is a fun, insight­ful glimpse into one of the schlock­ier suc­cess sto­ries of mod­ern Hollywood film­mak­ing.  It’s all the sweet­er a read because it’s a sto­ry no one ever thought would be doc­u­ment­ed in a book.  Anyone inter­est­ed in the Death Wish series or exploita­tion cin­e­ma in gen­er­al should check it out.