Archive for November, 2008

Happiness is a Warm Gun

Posted in Film, Politics with tags , , , , , , on November 14, 2008 by roarvis

I’ll begin my vigilante film reviews with a couple titles that differ slightly from the conventional, Bronson-style shoot ’em up. Don’t worry, I will get around to examining the Death Wish films at some point. Especially the one with the grenade launcher.


Fighting Back (1982)

Directed by Lewis Teague, the man who brought us Alligator and Cujo, Fighting Back is an obscure yet interesting entry in the 80s vigilante movement.

Tom Skerritt plays John D’Angelo, a family man who owns a deli in an old Italian neighborhood in Philadelphia. When a chance run in with a local pimp results in his wife (Patti LuPone) having a miscarriage, D’Angelo quickly discovers that the law is of little help. Even his best friend Vince (Michael Sarrazin), a local cop, admits to being “chicken shit” when confronted by all the lowlifes hanging around in the park. When a couple robbers make off with his mom’s ring finger, D’Angelo is finally pushed too far. Rather than embarking on a bloody one-man killing spree, he instead forms a neighborhood watch council to patrol the neighborhood.

The patrols often involve unprovoked attacks on local watering holes, which rile up the criminals. Meanwhile, local politicians grow concerned about D’Angelo’s increasing stature as a local hero. Eventually things come to a head, and D’Angelo is forced to choose between his family, his nefarious vigilante activities, and a potential career in politics.

Fighting Back is a flawed film, but it has its moments. More of a drama than an action flick, it is similar in tone to the first Death Wish film, but otherwise is distinguishable by its emphasis on political and social machinations. I’m normally a fan of Tom Skerrit, but here I found his Philly accent to be a bit forced. The fact that D’Angelo refuses to leave town to protect his family out of pride, and the way he barks orders at everyone makes him come across as less than sympathetic at times. Still, if Skerritt’s aim was to depict a flawed character under pressure, he did a good job.

The supporting cast is also good, including Yahpet Kotto (who famously co-starred with Skerritt in Alien) in a bizarre turn as a community activist/modern dance instructor (!) who rebuffs D’Angelos requests for help because he feels the other man is a “fucking racist.” It’s good that Teague decided to show this viewpoint, as the subject of racism is valid when dealing with films about angry white men killing criminals who often end up being poor and black- but the character is never developed, and seems like a mere cameo to lend the picture some street cred.

Fighting Back has never been released on DVD, and it’s difficult to track down on VHS. I was lucky enough to find a download on the Internets, but this is one title that deserves to be released into the digital age, warts and all.

There Goes My Gun

Posted in Film, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2008 by roarvis

My efforts to keep from writing about movies on this blog have failed. Here is part one of my award-winning thesis on Vigilante Cinema of the 1970s and 1980s. (Actually, I just wrote this a few minutes ago, but you get the point.)

For some reason, I love watching vigilante films. They serve a purpose in allowing the viewer to vicariously work through their own fears and prejudices, without having to actually resort to violence. At the core, we all have the ability to kill in self defense, or to protect or avenge our families. Anyone can be pushed too far.

The vigilante films of the 70s and 80s are anything but politically correct, and this is part of their charm. Some attempt to examine the faults of the justice system, others wallow in reactionary extremism. If the viewer is able to take it all with a grain of salt, and laugh at some of the outlandish paranoia displayed in these films, there is a lot of entertainment to be gleaned – and perhaps even some insight into the human condition.


Revenge has long been a theme in movies, and it’s probably the single most common character motivation in the action genre. In the 1970s, a new breed of film emerged that depicted lone civilians fighting back against criminals. This may have started as early as the late 60s, when the Billy Jack character first appeared in The Born Losers. But with Death Wish in 1974, the vigilante film took on a modern, urban edge. Charles Bronson‘s depiction of Paul Kersey, a mild mannered architect who is driven to shun his pacifist beliefs after his family is viciously attacked in New York City, struck a chord with many moviegoers. On one level, it could be interpreted as a manifesto for conservatives who felt like the justice system was becoming too soft on crime. But many people, regardless of political leanings, could simply relate to Bronson’s portrayal of a man forced to act out of pain and rage. Death Wish was a double edged sword: it reflected and condemned the increasing crime and violence in America, but also seemed to glorify cold blooded revenge.

Ironically, the author of the book Death Wish, Brian Garfield, had intended it to be a warning against vigilantism. He was upset by what he felt was a positive reaction by the audience to the violence in the film.

But the die had been cast. Between Death Wish and Clint Eastwood‘s rogue cop Dirty Harry, American audiences had been primed for a new breed of hero. And things were only going to get nastier.

Stay tuned for some white hot vigilante film reviews in my next entry!