British director Michael Winner, best-known for helming the iconic Charles Bronson vehicle “Death Wish” has died. He was 77. The New York Times reports that Winner died at his London home Monday. Mr. Winner had recently revealed that he suffered from heart and liver ailments. Never a critics’ darling, Winner nonetheless worked steadily, often directing the biggest stars.
Winner was born in London in 1935 to affluent parents, and had studied law and economics at Cambridge. A longtime movie fan, however, Winner had little interest in either of those subjects as a vocation, and to his family’s horror, resolved to find work in the movie industry.
He eventually “conned” his way into some early assignments doing shorts, commercials and documentaries, which led to his first feature assignment, “Play It Cool” in 1962. The pop musical is obscure today, but led to a steady stream of work, most of it undistinguished. In 1967, he made the comedic caper movie “The Jokers,” starring Michael Crawford and Oliver Reed, only then graduating from a string of TV and Hammer horror movie appearances.
Shortly after though, Winner switched gears to more violent fare, directing Charles Bronson in a string of tough guy action movies: “The Mechanic,” “The Stone Killer,” and in 1974, “Death Wish.” As architect turned vigilante Paul Kersey, Bronson elicited cheers and applause from movie audiences as he ruthlessly gunned down muggers on the streets of New York, to the horror of both movie critics and writer Brian Garfield, who wrote the novel the movie was based on.
Ironically, Winner’s next movie was “Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood,” a dog in more ways than one. No matter. He was soon back to the sort of material the audiences craved and the critics despised, including two “Death Wish” sequels, the horror thriller “The Sentinel” with Christina Raines, Ava Gardner and Chris Sarandon, a remake of Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep,” with the plot transported to England and starring Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, Richard Boone, Candy Clarke, Oliver Reed, Joan Collins, Edward Fox and James Stewart, and “Firepower,” with Sophia Loren, James Coburn and O.J. Simpson.
The fact that he was never a critics’ darling never seemed to hurt Winner’s ability to attract top talent to his movies. In addition to Bronson, Winner also directed Burt Lancaster, Orson Wells, Marlon Brando, Peter Ustinov, Lauren Bacall, Faye Dunaway,Jeremy Irons and Anthony Hopkins.
His last film was appropriately titled “Parting Shots,” in which Chris Rea played a failed photographer, who having been mistakenly told he has only weeks to live, buys a gun and begins killing everyone who’s ever wronged him. John Cleese, Bob Hoskins, Diana Rigg, Ben Kingsley and Winner regular Oliver Reed co-starred.
Winner is survived by his wife, Geraldine Lynton-Edwards, whom he reportedly dated on and off for some 50 years before the two finally married in 2011.