Christopher Guest’s Death Wish

This evening, while researching something completely unrelated, I discovered an interesting little fact about filmmaker Christopher Guest that I wanted to share. A decade before starring in This Is Spinal Tap, and setting in motion a chain of events that would make him the mockumentary auteur he is today, he starred opposite Charles Bronson in 1974’s revenge porn classic Death Wish… Here, for those of you who might not believe me, is a still from the film.


For what it’s worth, I may have overstated things a bit when I said that Guest “starred” opposite Bronson. While he did have a few lines, it would be an enormous stretch to say that it was a starring role. With that said, though, his character did actually have a name – Patrolman Reilly. And this, I think you’d all agree, is a huge step up from where he was just a year or so beforehand, when he was hired to play the role of “Policeman” in 1972’s The Hot Rock.

And, no, I’m not sure why it was that Guest kept getting cast as a cop at the outset of his career. Maybe it was the pronounced dimple in his chin. Or maybe “young cop” was just the easiest role to land for an aspiring male actor looking to break into the industry at the time, the same way the role of “waitress” was for women. Whatever the reason, I think it’s safe to assume that Guest had a good deal of coaching, as his mother, Jean Pauline Hindes, was a former vice president of casting at CBS.

At any rate, I thought that it was worth a mention that, prior to cutting his teeth at the National Lampoon Radio Hour with the likes of Bill Murray, he was paying his dues as a beat cop in original Death Wish.

Just a few years later, Guest would be well on his way to stardom, developing Spinal Tap as a skit for the failed ABC sketch comedy show, The TV Show… And the rest, as they say, is history. Within a few years he’d be famous and happily married to an actress who got her start as a waitress on Columbo.

One more thing… I also learned that Christopher Guest is incredibly unfunny in person. (He admits as much himself.) In fact, several people have described him as being downright dour. It may not be what you’d expect from a man who made his name in comedy, but I think it makes perfect sense once you take into account the fact that he’s also a baron. (Guest holds the hereditary British title, The 5th Baron Haden-Guest, which he inherited from his father, who was, among other things, a member of the British House of Lords and a diplomat assigned to the United Nations.)

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  1. Posted January 14, 2014 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of The TV Show, it sounds kind of brilliant. Here’s part of a voiceover that was apparently read by the announcer at some point during the pilot.

    ABC Announcer: Thursday is comedy night on ABC. First, a terrorist takes over the van on Three Girls and a Van. Then, pandemonium breaks out when Uncle Joe thinks he might be a Negro on Uncle Joe’s Diner. Then, it’s a surprise party and you’re all invited: America’s First All-Girl Fire Station, home of the Girls in Red. Then, there’s trouble for Mickey when the car won’t start on prom night on Trouble for Mickey. It all begins at 8 / 7 Central Time, right here.

  2. Posted January 14, 2014 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    For those of you who want to compare Death Wish Christopher Guest to Spinal Tap Christopher Guest.


  3. andre
    Posted January 14, 2014 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    I noticed Christopher Guest in The Hot Rock a couple of months back! Death Wish also featured a super-young Jeff Goldblum as the jughead-hat wearing Freak #1.

  4. anonymous
    Posted January 14, 2014 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    Could people still say the word “negro” on network television in 1979?

  5. Nepotism
    Posted January 15, 2014 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    I believe I’ve read in the past that Jamie Lee Curtis got the Columbo job, which was her first acting job, shortly after her mother, Janet Leigh, agreed to star in an episode. I hadn’t heard that Guest’s mother was the casting VP at a network, though. Funny how successful people, more often than not, have industry connections.

  6. Eel
    Posted January 15, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Bryan Cranston as the bisexual husband on Lifetime’s “Crisis Counselor”.

  7. Bob
    Posted January 15, 2014 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    At least mention his HBO show Family Tree. Hugely ignored and 100 times funnier than Lena Dunham and her gruesome show.

  8. XXX
    Posted January 15, 2014 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Have you learned nothing? If it’s on HBO now, Mark won’t mention it for a year or two, when it finally gets to Netflix. I have it on my calendar to check here for a virtual blogsam in December 2014 when season 1 of ‘True Detective’ hits DVD.

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