“Film director and newspaper columnist Michael Winner has died, aged 77,” reports the BBC, noting that “he directed films including Scorpio and Death Wish. He was also famous for his barbed restaurant reviews, written for The Sunday Times under the banner ‘Winner’s Dinners.’ … Winner began his career as a journalist and film critic before joining Motion Pictures Limited as a writer and editor in 1956.”
“The Hampstead-born director began his career as an assistant director at the BBC after getting a first taste of show business writing the Cambridge University newspaper Varsity,” writes Louise Jury for the Evening Standard. “He made his first films in the 1960s including a partnership with the writer Oliver Reed and comedy’s such as The Jokers with Michael Crawford. But the satire Hannibal Brooks brought him to the attention of Hollywood and he went on to make a string of commercial hits including the Death Wish series with Charles Bronson.”
In October 2011, Winner told the Telgraph‘s Georgia Dehn about shooting the first Death Wish in 1974. It “was the first film in the history of cinema where the hero was a civilian who killed other civilians. It was the most copied film —since then there have been a million revenge movies where a citizen goes out and knocks off everybody in sight including his mother and children. I had done three films with Charlie before Death Wish, and we had become friendly, though he was not an easy person to open up…. We were driving to Kennedy airport in 1973 to shoot the last scene of The Stone Killer, the third film we made together, when Charlie asked me what we should do next. I told him I had this script about a man whose wife and daughter are mugged and then the man goes out and shoots muggers. I mentioned that I’d had it for five years but no one seemed interested. Charlie said, ‘I’d like to do it.’ I said, ‘What, you mean you want to do this movie?’ And Charlie replied, ‘No, I’d like to shoot muggers.'”
Winner was an avid tweeter, by the way, with well over 38,000 followers. His bio line: “I am a totally insane film director, writer, producer, silk shirt cleaner, bad tempered, totally ridiculous example of humanity in deep shit.”
Updates: The BBC follows up with a full obituary: “He wrote, produced, directed and edited most of his movies himself and said that the film of which he was most proud was The Nightcomers (1971), a prequel to Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, starring Marlon Brando and Stephanie Beacham.”
The Guardian‘s Andrew Pulver posts a wide-ranging collection of clips.
Updates, 1/26: “Winner could in theory have been a Hollywood legend or cinephile icon by now, but his moment came and went,” writes Peter Bradshaw. “Clockwork Orange, Dirty Harry, The French Connection, Taxi Driver… these are all discussed reverentially. But not Winner’s Death Wish, though it undoubtedly rode the same wave as those films. It was originally slated to be directed by Sidney Lumet, and it’s not at all clear that Lumet would have done it better, or even very differently…. Some might feel it was Winner’s ill fortune to come to prominence in an era when a British film industry could not sustain a genre director like him. Or perhaps they might feel that Winner was sustained, and indulged, for quite long enough. Well, Winner had professionalism and chutzpah. Film students could well study and admire him for that.”
Also in the Guardian, Veronica Horwell has a full obit: “Winner despised analysis, but it is significant that he directed testosterone-fuelled revenge fantasies during the years when his by then widowed mother (a ‘nice, little, white-haired lady … She was a killer’) sold paintings and antiques left to Winner to fund her casino losses, and set 11 firms of solicitors on him.”