January 2, 2017


Michael Winner (1935-) b. London, England.

Michael Winner

Bubbly, voluble, supremely self-confident British director who, like Francis Ford Coppola graduated from nudie movies. Winner was his at best in the middle and late 1960s when he came up with some original, intriguing and beguiling entertainment. Since 1970, though, he has been more noteworthy for wasting some big star names in some sticky films that lacked flair, and seemed happy merely to drench the screen in blood and guts. But then Winner has always been one for sensationalism. A film gossip writer at 16, his limitless energy propelled him into BBC television at 20 and he had already written screenplays at 22. He continued writing the scripts for his own minor exploitation films before he began to break though to mainstream cinema in 1963. He received a certain amount of praise for The System (1964), a story of seaside lay-abouts and the sharpie who ‘routs’ for them, getting them girls. This had a nice sense of location atmosphere and a suitably cynical performance from Oliver Reed, who featured in three of Winner’s next four films. These constitute his best work for the cinema, neither are they as over-directed as the later movies. Of especial note are The Jokers (1967), a very enjoyable comedy-thriller about two upper-class misfits who decide to steal Britain’s Crown Jewels to prove it can be done; and Hannibal Brooks (1969), with Reed in the title role as a British prisoner of war who escapes from the Nazis over the Alps with an elephant in tow. Winner films are not generally notable for affecting the emotions, but this one does. The director showed great skill at directing the marathon sequences in The Games (1970), in which his actors really look like runners, particularly when near to salt-caked, sweat-soaked exhaustion. That was virtually the last human touch in his work, although he had great commercial success in the mid-1970s with the vigilante movie Death Wish (1974), a success he repeated when badly in need of a box-office hit, with Death Wish II (1982). But both Winner and his main star, Charles Bronson, looked increasingly passionless and mechanical in the later years of their partnership. The best of his later films, mostly a dismal collection, is A Chorus of Disapproval (1988). Armed with a starry cast and decent source material (a play by Alan Ayckbourn), Winner fashioned an affectionate and sometimes funny portrait of the shenanigans within a repertory company in a small Welsh town.

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