Eleven years ago, in the movie “Death Wish,” Charles Bronson sat on a New York subway and waited for a bunch of street punks to bother him. Then he pumped them full of lead.
Bernhard Goetz’s actions on a Lower Manhattan subway last Dec. 22 were so similar to Bronson’s, that New York tabloids dubbed Goetz “the ‘Death Wish’ gunman” and media reports likened the incident to the film.
While the media were busy suggesting that Bronson’s fictitious actions influenced Goetz, something quite different happened.
Goetz’s real-life actions reportedly influenced Bronson.
Partly because of Goetz’s shooting of four youths who asked him for money on the subway--and perhaps because a Manhattan Grand jury found his actions justified--Bronson agreed to an escalated level of violence in “Death Wish III,” according to the film’s co-producer.
This time out, look for Bronson to inspire an entire neighborhood to take the law into its own hands. “The last scene in the film will be a neighborhood war, like a Second World War battle,” Cannon Film Group chairman and “Death Wish III” co-producer Menahem Golan said in a recent telephone interview.
Golan also told The Times that “what happened in the streets of New York helped to influence him (Bronson)” to approve the latest “Death Wish III” script. The Goetz incident, Golan said, as well as the presence of the Guardian Angels--a group of youths who patrol New York’s subways while wearing trademark red berets--convinced Bronson that there is a real-life escalation of people taking the law into their own hands.
Bronson, whose contract with Cannon calls for him to appear in a third “Death Wish” film, had objected to earlier scripts. “He kept saying that his character is a simple architect and a simple man who does not deal with (large-scale) arms,” Golan said.
Bronson’s agent Paul Kohner said his client was not available for comment. But Kohner confirmed that the large-scale neighborhood violence remains in the latest screenplay, written by Don (“Blue Thunder”) Jakoby. The plot centers around a neighborhood retaliating against gang violence.
After weeks of trade press reports on Bronson’s refusal to sign on for “Death Wish III,” he asked for and received only some “comparatively small changes,” Kohner said. “I guess in the long run--let’s face it--it was an offer he couldn’t refuse.”
Golan and director Michael Winner said they do not believe that their films inspire real-life copycat actions. “People do not copy the movies, movies copy the people,” Golan said.
“The truth of the matter is, we are not for the vigilante and we are not for violence. But we took realities from the street,” Golan added.
Winner said that Bronson’s character “behaves totally irresponsibly and wrongly--but that doesn’t mean it’s not good drama.”
“Death Wish III” returns to New York because “it is the most natural city for this kind of film,” Golan said. The film and its setting were planned long before the Goetz incident, he added. But he acknowledged that “we are not suffering from lack of publicity because of Goetz.”
A Manhattan grand jury last month decided not to indict Goetz on murder or assault charges, though he was indicted for illegal possession of a loaded weapon.
“Death Wish III” begins filming next month and is tentatively planned for release in November or December.
Winner brought the original “Death Wish” project to producer Dino De Laurentiis and Paramount, who produced and released it in 1974. Cannon subsequently bought the rights and made “Death Wish II” in 1981. The two films earned a combined gross of about $130 million, according to Winner.