There Goes My Gun

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!


4 Responses to “There Goes My Gun”

  1. I know it might sound lame, but I watched “The Crow” from 1994 recently… I’m really into it. And, no, that’s not why I coloured my hair black.

  2. I’ve never seen it, so I can’t judge. Is there a vigilante theme?

  3. Yes. The main character is killed, and his fiancee is raped and killed. He comes back as the Crow to avenge her death, violently, without regret or hesitation. It’s interesting.

  4. That sounds exactly like the type of family oriented fare I would enjoy.

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