Monday, January 21, 2013

Michael Winner R.I.P.

Michael Winner, who directed such films as The System, The Jokers, I'll Never Forget What's 'Is Name, and Death Wish, died today at the age of 77.

Michael Winner was born in Hampstead, London on 30 October 1935. At age 14 he wrote an entertainment column for The Kensington Post. He studied law and economics at Cambridge. He wrote an entertainment column for Showgirl Glamour Revue starting in 1955. In 1957 he wrote and directed his first film, the short subject "The Square."For the next many years he would direct various short subject, including both documentaries and dramas. His first feature film was the mystery Out of the Shadow in 1961 (although at 61 minutes it barely qualified as a feature).  It was in 1962 that his career really started to gain momentum. That year he directed the feature film Play It Cool, a vehicle for British rocker Billy Fury.  Over the next few years he directed the family drama Old Mac (1961), the comedy Some Like It Cool (1962) the musical The Cool Mikado (1962), and the crime film West 11 (1963).

Arguably it was in 1964 that Michael Winner began the best phase in his career with The System, a drama starring Oliver Reed and centred around young men in a seaside village attempting to pick up young female tourists. The System would be followed by You Must Be Joking! (1965), The Jokers (1967), and I'll Never Forget What's'isname (1967), Hannibal Brooks (1969), and The Games (1970).  Like The System, The Jokers, I'll Never Forget What's'isname, and Hannibal Brooks starred Oliver Reed.

Hannibal Brooks attracted the attention of Hollywood and so Mr. Winner directed his first American film, the Western Lawman (1971). Over the next few years he directed The Nightcomers (1971), Chato's Land (1972), The Mechanic (1972), Scorpio (1973), and The Stone Killer (1973). His film Death Wish (1974) would prove to be an enormous success. Unfortunately, it marked the start of a decline in his career. Over the next several years Mr. Winner directed several films that would not do particularly well at the box office, beyond sequels to Death Wish, including Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976), The Sentinel (1977), The Big Sleep (1978), Firepower (1979), Death Wish II (1982), The Wicked Lady (1983), Scream for Help (1984), and Death Wish 3 (1985). Appointment with Death (1988) saw him return to British film, and in the next several years he directed A Chorus of Disapproval (1989), Bullseye! (1990), Dirty Weekend (1993), and Parting Shots (1998).

Michael Winner was also a restaurant critic for London's Sunday Times.

I have to say that I think Michael Winner was a good director. I think he was at his peak while in Britain in the Sixties, directing such well crafted films as The System, The Jokers, I'll Never Forget What's 'Is Name, and Hannibal Brooks. Arguably, they were some of the best films to come out of Britain during the decade, as well as the best films Michael Winner ever made. Whatever else he did in his career, I suspect these are the films for which he will be remembered. While I do not think Hollywood and Michael Winner were a good fit, he did direct good films even after he went to work there.  Despite the reputation for its violence, Death Wish is a solid film over all, while The Nightcomers and Lawman were also fairly good films.  Michael Winner was certainly a director of some talent, and he deserves to be remembered for more than Death Wish  and its sequels.

1 comment:

jim marquis said...

I don't know how it would affect me now but his horror film The Sentinel really shook me up back in the late 70's.