Michael Winner dies at 77.
I’m willing to bet that there will be many people reading this that have probably never heard of Michael Winner.
He was movie director who started off making very British films with the likes of Michael Crawford and Oliver Reed in the 1960’s and then in the 70’s paved the way for future Brit directors to carve a career in America. He worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood (well big at the time...ask your parents) such as Burt Lancaster, Robert Duvall, Robert Mitchum and of course Charles Bronson. Not to be confused with Charles Bronson the bald moustachioed violent prisoner played by actor Tom Hardy in the film biography.
I say Charles Bronson because Winner cast him as Paul Kersey the mild mannered family man turned vigilante in one of Winner’s most famous films, Death Wish (74) and also Death Wish 2 and 3. As a kid in the 70’s I loved those films. I’ve just realised that I probably watched more Michael Winner movies than I thought. I was just a very impressionable child who loved to go the pictures to see action movies and Winner was the master at churning out those American tough guy movies, usually starring Charley Bronson in the likes of The Stone Killer (73), Chato’s Land (72) and The Mechanic (74) recently remade with Jason Statham.
Yet at the same time Michael Winner was also considered as a bit of a joke. But he was actually one of the last true English eccentrics and he often played on the ‘Man you love to hate’ role and he could be quite outrageous. He used to tell the story of when filming the 1974 western ‘Lawman’ the star Burt Lancaster tried to kill him at least three times over a disagreement. One time he supposedly held Winner over a cliff face until Lancaster got his own way. Winner gained some notoriety playing himself in the really annoying TV commercials for Esure car insurance with the slogan “Calm down dear it’s only a commercial”. Ahh! I bet some of you remember now?
He was also a journalist and a well respected restaurant critic and wrote a weekly column for The Sunday Times. But it was for making movies that he will be remembered and they weren’t all boys’ films. Check out a 1969 British film called ‘Hannibal Brooks’ a sort of family war adventure starring Oliver Reed (playing a nice guy) as a WW2 prisoner in Germany who is set to work in a zoo that is bombed by the allies and he is tasked with the job of taking a sick elephant called Lucy across the Alps to a safer zoo while chaperoned by two German soldiers. A surprisingly sweet and touching Michael Winner film, ideal to watch on a Sunday afternoon.
RIP Mr. Winner.