British film director Michael Winner, best known for his work with Charles Bronson on such films as "Death Wish" and "The Mechanic," died January 21st, 2013 in London at the age of 77. In addition to the six films he made with Bronson, Winner also collaborated with Oliver Reed six times, and directed memorable performances by the likes of Marlon Brando, Burt Lancaster, and Robert Mitchum. Winner started his career as a teenage journalist, writing a society column, and returned to print as a restaurant critic after he retired from filmmaking in 1999.
Winner's directing career had three distinct phases: In the '60s, he cut his teeth on jukebox musicals such as "Some Like It Cool" (1961) and "Play It Cool" (1962), before emerging as a witty, provocative filmmaker with a quartet of films starring Reed; In the '70s, Winner went to America to make action movies with Bronson, and enjoyed box office success while his reputation among critics plummeted; He returned to England to make smaller films, working steadily throughout the '80s, and less so in the '90s.
Here, in alphabetical order, are Michael Winner's greatest hits:
"The Big Sleep" (1978): After the success of 1975's "Farewell, My Lovely," Robert Mitchum returned as private eye Phillip Marlowe, but for some reason, Winner updated the action from the '40s to the '70s, and transplanted the L.A. detective to England, to the film's detriment. With Charlotte Rampling, Oliver Reed, and Candy Clark.
"Chato's Land" (1972): Winner's first collaboration with Bronson is a western about an Indian pursued by a posse. With Jack Palance and James Whitmore.
"Death Wish" (1974): Winner took Brian Garfield's novel, threw out the subtlety, ambiguity, and morality, and made a straight-up vigilante tale with Bronson as architect turned executioner Paul Kersey, who hits the mean streets of NYC to hunt down the creeps who sexually assaulted his wife and daughter. Followed by the even nastier "Death Wish II" in 1982, in which Kersey relocates to L.A., only to have some local punks sexually assault his housekeeper, and further traumatize the daughter, who dies horribly - leading to more savage vengeance (set to a soundtrack by Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin); 1985's "Death Wish III" completed the trilogy with mounting absurdity, such that it has become a cult classic. Two more "Death Wish" films, released in 1987 and 1994, were made with other directors to diminishing returns.
"Dirty Weekend" (1993): Winner's feminist spin on "Death Wish" caused some controversy upon its release. From Helen Zahavi's novel.
"Hannibal Brooks" (1969): Another collaboration with Oliver Reed, about an English soldier in a German P.O.W. camp who is used as forced labor at the local zoo, where he befriends an elephant named Lucy. Together they attempt an escape across the Alps. It's Stalag 17 meets Dumbo. Co-starring Michael J. Pollard.
"I'll Never Forget What's 'Isname" (1967): Winner and writer Peter Draper conceived this underrated gem as a sort of sequel to 1964's "The System." Oliver Reed plays Andrew Quint, a successful director of TV commercials who rebels by quitting his job, breaking up with his mistresses, and taking a editorial position at a failing literary magazine. Mayhem ensues. With Harry Andrews, Carol White, and the great Orson Welles as Jonathan Lute, Quint's Machiavellian boss.
"The Jokers" (1967): Two brothers (Reed and Michael Crawford) plot to steal the Crown Jewels, but just for kicks.
"Lawman" (1971) and "Scorpio" (1973): Winner's two collaborations with screen legend Burt Lancaster are a violent western and a spy story, both concerned with an aging protagonist pitted against a corrupt system.
"The Mechanic" (1972): Contract killer Bronson schools aspiring hit man Jan-Michael Vincent in the ways of death, leading to a scorched earth ending. Later remade with Jason Statham and Ben Foster.
"The Nightcomers" (1971): Marlon Brando and Stephanie Beacham star in this kinky prequel to Henry James's "The Turn of the Screw."
"The Sentinel" (1977): Winner creates some creepy scares in this tale of a fashion model recruited to guard the gates of hell. Great supporting cast includes Ava Gardner, Christopher Walken, Eli Wallach, Jerry Orbach, and John Carradine.
"The System" a/k/a "The Girl-Getters" (1964) Oliver Reed plays Stephen "Tinker" Taylor, a womanizing photographer in a seaside resort, who gets his comeuppance when he falls for an upper-class fashion model named Nicola. With Barbara Ferris and Harry Andrews. Great theme song by the Searchers.
"West 11" (1963): Tight little crime drama set in Notting Hill marked Winner's passage from teen musicals to more serious work. With Diana Dors.
"Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood" (1976): Winner followed up "Death Wish" with this box office dud starring Bruce Dern, Madelyn Kahn, and dozens of familiar faces from the golden age of Hollywood.
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