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Michael Winner Dies: Directed Charles Bronson, Burt Lancaster, Marlon Brando

Michael WinnerMichael Winner: Death Wish director has died

Michael Winner, best remembered for directing the Charles Bronson action hit Death Wish, died earlier today at his home in Kensington, London. According to reports, Winner had been suffering from (an unspecified) liver disease. He was 77. (Image: Michael Winner.)

Born in London (on Oct. 30, 1935) to a well-to-do family of Eastern European Jews – his father was Russian, his mother was Polish – Winner studied law and economics at Cambridge University. Following a stint as a gossip columnist (reportedly at the age of 14), he proceeded to study journalism and film criticism. He began working in the field in the mid-'50s.

Michael Winner movies

Michael Winner's directorial career also took off in the mid-'50s, when he began directing several documentary and live-action shorts, a couple of which featured well-known names such as A.E. Matthews and Dennis Price. Winner progressed to features in the early '60s, directing the crime thriller Shoot to Kill (1960), and youth-oriented fare such as Play It Cool (1962) and The Cool Mikado (1963).

Later in the decade, Winner focused on more off-beat themes. In the crime comedy The Jokers (1967), Michael Crawford and Oliver Reed play two ambitious brothers out to steal the crown jewels from the Tower of London. In I'll Never Forget What's'isname (1968), Oliver Reed plays an advertising executive who attempts to leave behind his successful life, including wife and lovers; Orson Welles and Carol White co-starred. In The Games (1970), Michael Crawford and Ryan O'Neal are two of four runners of various nationalities competing in the Rome Olympic Games. The Nightcomers (1971), which focuses on some of the characters found in Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, was a generally well-regarded prequel to Jack Clayton's The Innocents (1961); Marlon Brando, Stephanie Beacham, and Harry Andrews had the key roles.

Michael Winner: 'Death Wish director dies'

Yet, Michael Winner's fame rests on his action movies of the '70s. Chief among these is the ultra-violent Death Wish (1974), every weapon-worshiping right-winger's wet dream, starring Charles Bronson as an architect-turned-vigilante out to avenge the death of his wife and daughter. Death Wish was a solid hit, grossing $22 million (approx. $91 million today); however, two latter-day sequels, Death Wish II (1982) and Death Wish 3 (1985), both also starring Bronson, failed to create much of a stir.

"When I die, it's going to be 'Death Wish director dies'," Michael Winner said last year. "I don't mind though – Death Wish was an epoch-making film. The first film in the history of cinema where the hero kills other civilians. It had never been done before. Since then it has been the most copied film ever. [Quentin] Tarantino put it in his top 10 films ever made."'

Brian Garfield, author of the 1972 novel on which Death Wish was based, apparently had other thoughts. "The screenplay for the original Death Wish movie," Garfield told Pop Matters' Nikki Tranter in 2008, "was quite good, I thought. It was written by [Anatomy of a Murder, Advise and Consent screenwriter] Wendell Mayes [...] but his Death Wish script was designed to be directed by Sidney Lumet, with Jack Lemmon to star as [family man-turned-vigilante] Paul. The last-minute changes in director and star were imposed by a new producer [an uncredited Dino De Laurentiis] to whom the project was sold, rather under protest, by the original producers Hal Landers and Bobby Roberts."

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