Michael Winner dies at 77; British director of 'Death Wish' films

Michael Winner, a British film director who specialized in thrillers and action movies, including three "Death Wish" movies, died Monday. He was 77.

A bon vivant who became a restaurant critic after his film career wound down, Winner died at his London home after an illness, said his wife, Geraldine.


Winner directed a few dozen films but was best known for "Death Wish," which starred Charles Bronson as a law-abiding citizen who turns vigilante when his wife and daughter are attacked. The 1974 film was criticized for its violence but was a commercial success in an America fretting about urban violence and a fraying social fabric.

Winner declared it "a pleasant romp" with no moralistic intent and went on to direct two more installments.

He also directed the original, 1972 version of "The Mechanic," which also starred Bronson, this time as an aging hit man, and 1973's "Scorpio," in which Burt Lancaster played a retiring assassin.

Other notable pictures included "The Big Sleep" — a 1978 remake of the 1940s film noir starring Robert Mitchum and set in London — and "Hannibal Brooks," a 1969 comedy caper featuring Oliver Reed as a prisoner of war who makes a bid for freedom with an elephant from a German zoo.

Winner never took criticism of his films too seriously.

"People come up to me and say, 'I like your work,' as if they were saying something they had to keep secret," he said in a 1977 Times story. "Whatever 'serious' critics may say, I approach my work very seriously. Of course I work within the limits of only being able to make pictures others think will make money. It's unfortunate, but you must do it to remain an active director."

And, he once said, "If you want art, don't mess about with movies. Buy a Picasso."

Born in London in 1935, Winner was writing a showbiz column for a local newspaper by the time he was 14, and as a student edited the Cambridge University newspaper, Varsity. After a stint as a film critic, he started his movie-making career on shorts and documentaries.

Winner had a second career as restaurant critic with the long-running "Winner's Dinners" column in the Sunday Times newspaper. His acerbic verdicts got him barred from some eateries, and his highest praise was to declare a meal "historic."

He had experienced health problems since getting a bacterial infection from bad oysters in 2007. He wrote his final column in December.