Michael Winner—the British film director best remembered for his collaborations with Charles Bronson, including the Death Wish film series—has died at the age of 77. Winner tunneled into the movie industry from the lower reaches of show business, having started out as a teenage gossip columnist, first for the Kensington Post, where he had a regular column at age 14, and then for something called the Showgirl Glamour Revue. In his early twenties, Winner began working in television and wrote and directed a short film, The Square, in 1956. His earliest features as a director tended to be comedies, with titles that attempted to latch on to early-‘60s “pop” trends such as Some Like It Cool (1961), Play It Cool (1962), and The Cool Mikado (1962).
In 1964, Wilder’s career started to gel when he teamed up with wild-man actor Oliver Reed for a string of movies that included The System (1964), The Jokers (1967), Hannibal Brooks (1969), and I’ll Never Forget What’sisname (1967). The Swinging London melodrama Whats’isname bears the distinction of being one of the first mainstream theatrical releases to include the word “fuck,” along with Joseph Strick’s adaptation of Joyce’s Ulysses released the same year. Winner further challenged the Production Code with a scene in which Reed performed (unseen but implied) cunnilingus on his co-star, Carol White.
In 1971, Winner worked with another unpredictable screen star, Marlon Brando, on The Nightcomers, a prequel to Henry James’ The Turn Of The Screw that included bondage scenes between Brando and co-star Stephanie Beacham. Winner later related to interviewers just how delighted Brando was when an American studio that had Brando under contract for one more movie jumped at the chance to distribute The Nightcomers in the U.S., rather than cast him in a new film, since they regarded the star as box office poison. (Brando’s next film, which he made for a different studio, was, of course, The Godfather.)
In 1972, Winner made his first film with Charles Bronson, the Western Chato’s Land. The notoriously prickly Bronson must have thought Winner was all right, because they reteamed for The Mechanic (1972) and The Stone Killer (1973) before breaking the bank with the urban-vigilante blockbuster Death Wish in 1974. The controversial yet trendsetting film led to numerous sequels (and still-going rip-offs and “homages”), the first of two of which directed himself—including the New Cult Canon-certified Death Wish 3 (1985).
Winner worked steadily through the ’80s, making a number of films for infamous schlock merchants Menahim Golan and Yoram Globus. (It was that team who funded the Death Wish sequels, as well as such bombs as The Wicked Lady and Appointment With Death.) Winner’ss last film was 1999’s Parting Shots, which reunited him with Oliver Reed the same year the actor died. For much of his later years, Winner kept busy by writing a restaurant column for the Sunday Times (though not everyone shared his own opinion of his qualifications), dispensing advice, and giving juicy interviews.