Closing Credits: Michael Winner
The British director Michael Winner has died aged seventy-seven. He's undoubtedly best known for the Death Wish films he made with Charles Bronson but there are some other films to his name that you may not first think of.
He was a celebrated and indeed iconic figure in British film as well as being a great personality that was more than just the director of a trilogy of violent revenge films, films which are equally iconic.
Michael Winner's story is an unusual one, he studied law and economics at Cambridge and according to his official site he graduated aged just twenty. Before that he had already been on the set of the film Tom Brown's Schooldays in 1950 and been writing for the Kensington Post aged just fourteen. It was clear where his talents lay from very early on.
According to the BBC obituary, he began working as a graduate at the NME as a film journalist and critic and in 1956 he joined Motion Pictures Limited as a writer and editor, beginning the move towards directing.
It was while working as a journalist at the Evening Standard newspaper that he moved into feature film. However he had already directed two short films by then - one in 1957 which he wrote called The Square and one documentary in 1959 called Danger, Women at Work - but it was Shoot to Kill that saw him direct his first feature film in 1960, a film he also wrote, and then co-write and direct another film in the same year called Climb up the Wall.
From here on he began writing, directing and producing at a steady rate and his 1964 film The System saw him working with Oliver Reed as a leading man and in 1967 his film I'll Never Forget What's'isname also saw him directing none other than Orson Welles.
His 1970 film The Games featured Ryan O'Neal, Charles Aznavour and Michael Crawford and the 1971 film Lawman brought Burt Lancaster, Lee J. Cobb and Robert Duvall to his list of actors with the film released the same year The Nightcomers starring none other than Marlon Brando, a film he was very proud of.
In 1972 his film Chato's Land saw him working with Charles Bronson who went onto lead The Mechanic. Lancaster returned to star in Scorpio in 1973 and then Bronson was back for The Stone Killer in 1973 followed by the famous revenge film Death Wish in 1974.
The Sentinel in 1977 saw him gather a cast including Christopher Walken, Tom Berenger, Eli Wallach, Beverly D'Angelo, Burgess Meredith, Ava Gardner, John Carradine, Martin Balsam and Chris Sarandon, more big names turning to his films.
In 1978 saw him remake The Big Sleep with Robert Mitchum in the lead with Edward Fox, James Stewart and Oliver Reed in the cast, and his ability to gather stars to his films continued in 1979's Firepower with James Coburn and Sophia Loren taking the leads.
Death Wish returned with a sequel, Death Wish II, in 1982 and despite these films and the controversy they brought forward he continued to be able to attract talent with his 1983 The Wicked Lady starring Faye Dunaway, Alan Bates, John Gielgud and Denholm Elliott.
Death Wish III followed in 1985 and his impressive film-making run began to slow. It was 1988 before he made Appointment with Death, the Agatha Christie adaptation starring Peter Ustinov, Lauren Bacall, Carrie Fisher, John Gielgud, Piper Laurie, Hayley Mills, Jenny Seagrove and David Soul, and he was back to delivering films with strong casts.
The following year was A Chorus of Disapproval with Anthony Hopkins, Jeremy Irons, Richard Briers and many other famous names, but despite the big casts his films weren't drawing the same recognition, Bullseye! in 1990 was a poor film even if it did star Michael Caine and Roger Moore, and Dirty Weekend in 1993 with Parting Shots in 1998 marked the end of his directing career.
His life is an interesting contradiction though and two things stood out in stories about his life for me, one was the fact that he wasn't a violent man going against that commonly touted belief. The BBC article has him quoted as saying:
"My sympathy is totally with the little old lady who gets bashed over the head with an iron bar...Not with the youngster who did it and gets sent to the south of France for six weeks to turn into a lovely human being."
He also founded the Police Memorial Trust to place plaques for officers killed on duty after the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan Embassy in London in 1984.
The other interesting thing is the comment that his website through the BBC article attributes to Michael Caine:
"I am here to tell everybody, Michael, you are a complete and utter fraud. You come on like this bombastic, ill-tempered monster. It's not the side of you I see. I see a man who has a tremendous artistic eye. You have an incredible legal brain. Before I even go to my own lawyer I talk to you first. You're extremely funny, very sensitive, very kind and very generous. I hope everyone believes me when I say that you are a kind and wonderful person. And I'm not kidding."
Our thoughts are with his family and friends.