Michael Winner, the brash British director known for violent action movies starring Charles Bronson including “The Mechanic" and the first three “Death Wish" films, died Monday at his home in London. He was 77.
His wife, Geraldine, confirmed his death. Winner revealed last summer that he had heart and liver ailments.
Winner’s films viscerally pleased crowds, largely ignored artistic pretensions and often underwhelmed critics. He directed many major stars in more than 30 films over more than four decades.
Marlon Brando played Quint in “The Nightcomers" (1971), a prequel to Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw"; Sophia Loren played a wife who traveled to the tropics to avenge her husband’s murder in the action film “Firepower" (1979); and Oliver Reed played an adman who tried to escape the crass commercialism represented by his boss, Orson Welles, in the comedy-drama “I’ll Never Forget What’s’isname" (1967).
But Winner’s most recognizable work remains a series of high-body-count action melodramas starring Charles Bronson. In “The Mechanic" (1972) Bronson played a bloodthirsty assassin, and in “The Stone Killer" (1973) he played a bloodthirsty police detective.
But the actor-director team perfected their formula with “Death Wish" (1974). Bronson played Paul Kersey, a New York City architect who becomes a vigilante after his wife is murdered and his daughter is sexually assaulted by muggers.
The film struck a chord with audiences who were titillated by its extreme violence and what many took as its tough anti-crime stance, but some critics were appalled at what they saw as a transparent attempt to manipulate audiences and the cheapening of suffering and death.
Winner directed two more successful films in the series, but dropped out of the final two.
Michael Robert Winner was born in London on Oct. 30, 1935. The son of a well-to-do business owner, Winner graduated from Cambridge, having studied law and economics.
He was always fascinated by film, and resolved to become a director after college, though he initially struggled to find work.
“Eventually I conned my way into doing a few shorts, documentaries, commercial spots and things," he said in The London Sunday Times in 1970.
The odd jobs led to his first feature, the pop musical “Play It Cool" (1962). By the 1970s, his work had reached American audiences.