BRONSON’S LOOSE: The Death Wish That Couldn’t Die

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.

3 Replies to “BRONSON’S LOOSE: The Death Wish That Couldn’t Die”

  1. This book’s a lot of fun — it’s certainly the best book about the Death Wish series you could reasonably expect.

    Now where’s the similar tome regarding the “American Ninja” franchise?

    1. If someone wrote an AMERICAN NINJA history, I’d read it. Hell, I’d love a history of ALL of Cannon’s ninja flicks, particularly anything with info on the production of NINJA III: THE DOMINATION.

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