Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981)
When an actor of Paul Newman’s stature signs up for any film role, that movie becomes another that winds up on the must see list. See it I did when it came out on home video in the VHS era for a weekend rental. Upon revisiting it for the first time since the 1980’s, my opinion has stayed pretty much the same when it comes to this tale of an aging patrolman working in one hell hole of a neighborhood in the Big Apple. Newman’s great as is to be expected, Pam Grier solid, Danny Aiello fine in one of his slime bucket roles and all three are better than the script that sees far too many clichés during Newman’s patrolling hours. The film also sees a nice turn by Ed Asner in a rare big screen role. It’s his Lou Grant version of a Police chief dishing out orders and demanding results.
It’s not quite a day in the life tale but more like a month in the life story of Newman’s twenty year vet on the front lines dealing with a succession of issues including delivering a baby on the job, stopping a “jumper” which is a must for any cop film though Dirty Harry and Mel Gibson are sure to win any awards for this great feat. Running down a speedy purse thief, talking a man out of harming himself or anyone within cutting distance as he wields a butcher knife and warning a Pimp never to offer him a bribe again. In other words, just about anything and everything gets tossed into the script when it comes to showing what Newman faces on a daily basis along with his slick haired partner and relatively new to the force, Ken Wahl.
The meat of the plot revolves around two stories in the neighborhood streets. First up is finding out who casually walked up to a police cruiser and shot two patrolman in the front seat of their cruiser. I don’t think I’m playing spoiler here as it’s in the opening scene and it’s none other than a strung out on drugs hooker played by the queen of Blaxploitation cinema, Pam Grier. What’s interesting with the film is she’s always on the scene just in the backdrop with no one the wiser and plenty of irony as to her stories outcome. The other story line offering up some heavy drama is what is Paul Newman to do when he witnesses fellow officer and an all around S.O.B. Danny Aiello casually commit a murder not realizing Newman and Wahl have seen him do it.
Asner wants answers and Newman struggles with what to do as his conscience is playing havoc with what’s right and wrong. Lady killer that Newman is on screen, he’s found a love interest in a pretty nurse played by Rachel Ticotin who has a set of demons of her own leading to another dynamite scene for Newman’s acting ability as the film winds down to it’s conclusion.
Not a bad film overall, just depressing and it’s clearly another showcase for Paul. Everyone else is just window dressing around him aside from Asner who’s scenes with Paul appear to be more like two actors on equal standing.
It’s roles like this featuring Danny Aiello that caused me to really not like him all that much in my earlier years of film discovery. Once Upon a Time In America another good one. Eventually I came around and realized the guy is just believable at what he does. Good guy or bad and now I look forward to seeing his name in credit lists of films to watch and rediscover.
Perhaps the script writer for Death Wish 3 saw this film when putting pen to paper for the next vigilante instalment and noticed how much trouble Paul was having attempting to catch that speedy purse thief at various points here in Fort Apache. His solution was very clear and precise when vigilante Paul Kersey decides to introduce purse snatcher “The Giggler” to Willy. If you’ve seen Death Wish 3 and it’s over the top silliness, you’ll know what I’m referring to.
I believe this film came at a time when Newman was another upswing with Oscar nods for Absence of Malice and The Verdict just ahead of this one which probably garnered it a lot more interest in the home video market than I think it truly deserved. Then again at that time, any new film with a star of Newman’s caliber debuting on home video was cause for celebration in the quickly rising market of the video rental age.
But still there’s the Paul Newman factor and that goes along way with credibility on any film.