Death Wish (1974) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • A New York City architect becomes a one-man vigilante squad after his wife is murdered by street punks in which he randomly goes out and kills would-be muggers on the mean streets after dark.

  • Open-minded architect Paul Kersey returns to New York City from vacationing with his wife, feeling on top of the world. At the office, his cynical coworker gives him the welcome-back with a warning on the rising crime rate. But Paul, a bleeding-heart liberal, thinks of crime as being caused by poverty. However his coworker's ranting proves to be more than true when Paul's wife is killed and his daughter is raped in his own apartment. The police have no reliable leads and his overly sensitive son-in-law only exacerbates Paul's feeling of hopelessness. He is now facing the reality that the police can't be everywhere at once. Out of sympathy his boss gives him an assignment in sunny Arizona where Paul gets a taste of the Old West ideals. He returns to New York with a compromised view on muggers...

  • A sworn liberal, a successful architect, and once, a conscientious objector, Paul Kersey, the loving family-man of a supportive wife and a grown-up daughter, seems to have everything he ever wished for in this life. However, a brutal assault in broad daylight in his downtown Manhattan apartment by a rampaging gang of street thugs will leave peaceful Paul destroyed, as the local police seem unable to find the culprits. Little by little, the sense of injustice will give way to an unquenchable thirst for retribution, as a brand-new Kersey emerges as an unstoppable vessel of destruction, in a perilous city where no mugger or killer can hide from him. Kersey has tasted the forbidden fruit of vigilante justice, and he finds it very sweet. Is there a limit to his blood-drenched crusade?

  • Paul Kersey, New York architect, is a bleeding-heart liberal whose world is suddenly torn apart by the murder of his wife and the rape of his daughter. After a business trip to Arizona, Kersey returns to New York with a vengeance against crime and takes to vigilantism.

  • Paul Kersey is an architect who served in the Korean War in the medial corps, and he lives in New York City. One day, three street punks posing as grocery delivery boys break into his apartment while he's not home. At first, they are simply looking for money, but when they find a lack of cash, their intentions turn more sinister, as they batter and physically humiliate Paul's loved ones, beating up Paul's wife Joanna and raping his married daughter Carol Toby, and both women are spray-painted "just for fun." Joanna later dies of her injuries, and Carol is left catatonic. Paul's life is ripped apart by this. Paul's boss decides that Paul needs to get out of New York for a while, so he sends Paul to Tucson, Arizona to meet with a client. There, Paul witnesses a mock gunfight at Old Tucson, a reconstructed Western frontier town that is often used as a movie set. Paul's client, a gun enthusiast, gets Paul interested in guns, and even gives him one. When Paul returns to New York, he brings the gun with him, and when the police are unable to find the rapists, Paul sets out to find the rapists himself. Paul begins patrolling the streets, killing street criminals as he encounters them. While his obsessive search for street justice sickens him at first, Paul begins to enjoy it as Detective Frank Ochoa tries to find the man who is doing the police department's job for them. The public sees Paul as a hero, and the public feels thankful that someone out there is actually taking a stand against criminals, doing a much better job than the NYPD could ever do. As a result, in Ochoa's search for Paul, there is a problem: when it comes to public relations, Ochoa and the city government would have a political nightmare on their hands if they actually find Paul.

  • Paul Kersey is an architect, who is a peaceful man. But when his wife and daughter are attacked in their apartment, his world changes. His wife is killed and his daughter is left in a catatonic state. His boss decides that Paul needs to get out of New York, so he sends him to Arizona to meet with a client. While there, the client, a gun enthusiast, gets Paul interested in guns and even gives him one. When Paul returns, he brings the gun with him when he goes out, and when a mugger tries to hit him, Paul shoots and kills him. After that he goes on a killing spree. The police of course are investigating it, but the public feels thankful that someone out there is taking a stand.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) and his wife Joanna (Hope Lange) vacation in Hawaii. They return to New York City, where Paul works as an architect.

    Joanna and their daughter Carol Anne (Kathleen Tolan) shop for groceries at D'Agostino's. Three hooligans (one played by Jeff Goldblum) are wreaking havoc in the supermarket. They catch Joanna's address after she asks that her groceries be delivered. They follow her to the apartment, burst in and trash the apartment. They search for money but find only $7. The hooligans then rape Carol and savagely beat Joanna, escaping scot-free.

    Paul's son-in-law Jack Toby (Steven Keats) calls to tell him only that Joanna and Carol are in the hospital. After waiting impatiently, Paul is told by a doctor that his daughter is okay and that she was sedated and put to bed, but his wife has died. Devastated, he is told by police that the likelihood of catching the criminals is small since his wife is dead and his daughter, the only witness, traumatized from her ordeal of being raped, cannot speak. That night, a frustrated Paul goes out for a walk and quickly encounters a mugger who attempts to rob him with a gun. Carrying a sock full of quarters, Paul swings it at the would-be-mugger and flees, narrowly escaping from being shot.

    The next day, Paul's boss gives him an extended business vacation to Tucson, Arizona to meet a client, Ames Jainchill (Stuart Margolin), who shows him the ropes. Paul witnesses a mock gunfight at Old Tucson, a reconstructed Western frontier town used as a movie set. At a gun club, Ames is impressed when Paul shoots near bulls-eye accuracy. He reveals that he was a "CO" (conscientious objector) during the Korean War who served his country as a combat medic. Ames drops him at the airport, slipping a little going-away present into Paul's bag.

    Back in New York, Paul visits Jack who tells him that his daughter is catatonic and will likely never recover. At home, Paul opens his suitcase and the gift box that Ames left him to find a nickel-plated .32 Colt Police Positive revolver. He pockets the gun and takes a stroll that night. While walking alone in Riverside Park, Paul almost immediately encounters a mugger, a doped-up ex-convict named Thomas Leroy Marston who attempts to rob him at gunpoint with a .38 Smith & Wesson Model 36 revolver. Paul shoots him with his own revolver, killing him.

    Shocked that he just killed a human being, Paul runs home and throws up. But his vigilantism continues the following night, when he guns down three black men (one with an afro is played by an uncredited Denzel Washington) who are robbing a defenseless old man in a vacant alley.

    A few nights later, two muggers see Paul on a subway, holding a bag of groceries. They attempt to rob him at knife-point but Paul shoots them both with the revolver. Paul again gets away.

    Another night later, Paul is sitting in a sleazy 8th Avenue coffee shop surrounded by prostitutes and assorted street people. He pays his bill to the cashier purposely revealing a wallet full of cash. He leaves followed by two black thugs, named George and Joseph, who have taken the bait. Yet again a robbery attempt is made in a subway tunnel. Paul shoots one but the other manages to stab him in his shoulder before he gets shot as well. As a wounded Paul stumbles off, the one who stabbed him gets away mortally wounded, dying at a hospital.

    Police Lt. Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) investigates the vigilante killings. His department narrows a list to men who have had a family member recently killed by muggers and who are war veterans. The public, meanwhile, is happy that somebody is doing something about crime.

    Lt. Ochoa soon suspects Paul. He is about to make an arrest when the District Attorney (Fred J. Scollay) intervenes and tells Ochoa to "let him loose" in another city instead. Ochoa doesn't like the idea, but relents.

    In the meantime, Paul has his daughter committed to a mental hospital in upstate New Hampshire where she will remain catatonic, possibly for life. After returning to New York, Paul hides his .32 gun in a hidden drawer in his office while adjusting (and possibly enjoying) committing murder against muggers to "clean up the city". When Paul invites Jack over for dinner, Jack cannot understand Paul's sudden and happy mood.

    (Note: The three muggers who murdered Paul's wife and assaulted his daughter are never seen again in the movie, so their fate is left ambiguous.)

    One evening, Lt. Ochoa anonymously phones Paul at his office to tip him off that the police are watching him, hoping to provoke a reaction or slip up from Paul. When Paul is briefly detained by the police after leaving his office, they do not find any gun on him and allow him to continue on his way.

    Aware that the police are starting to catch on to him, Paul gives them the slip by sneaking out of his apartment building through a backdoor service entrance. He goes to his office to retrieve his gun and then goes out looking for more would-be muggers where he is confronted by three street gang members in Central Park who try to mug him. Paul shoots two of them before he is wounded in his right leg by a third mugger who is armed with a .45 caliber M1911A1 pistol. Despite his wound, Paul chases the third mugger through the park, the streets, and to an industrial warehouse area where the third mugger gets away as Paul attempts to take aim at him, only to fall to the ground.

    Hospitalized, Paul is confronted by Ochoa after a sympathetic policeman finds Paul's revolver near the latest crime scene and gives it to the detective. Ochoa makes Paul promise to leave New York, permanently in exchange to avoid prosecution for the vigilante killings. Paul replies, "By sundown?"

    In the final scene, set one week later. Paul arrives in Chicago Union Station by train. Being greeted by a company representative, he notices a group of hoodlums harassing a woman. He excuses himself and helps the woman. The hoodlums make obscene gestures, but Kersey points his right hand like a gun and smiles... suggesting that his vigilantism will resume sooner or later.

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