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Film / Fort Apache, The Bronx

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Dugan: They put it out you volunteered for this job.
Connolly: They did.
Dugan: I'll tell ya somethin', Connolly. You'll do better walking the beat in Beirut than you will here.
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Fort Apache, The Bronx is a 1981 crime drama film directed by Daniel Petrie, about the NYPD's 41st Precinct in the South Bronx. The station was given its name after the John Wayne film due to being a safe outpost in hostile territory. The film takes place, and was made, during the infamous "The Bronx is Burning" era when crime was out of control, anybody with even a little bit of money was fleeing, and buildings were being burned down at a rate of dozens a day. It's inspired by the experiences of two real life officers from the Precinct, Thomas Mulhearn and Peter Tessitore, who patrolled the neighborhood during these very dark days of 1964-1968.

Paul Newman plays Murphy, a self-admitted stereotypical third-generation Irish American cop who's seen it all and understands what he's doing. Ken Wahl plays his young partner Corelli, who actually defies the young stud trope and also knows what he's up against due to having lived in the neighborhood all his life. Edward Asner plays Connelly, the newly-assigned captain of the precinct.

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The film generated some controversy due to being perceived as racist since virtually every villain in the movie is black or (Mestizo) Hispanic. However, this is addressed during the prologue and the film emphasizes that the city's NYPD was at the time served almost entirely by white male officers and that very few spoke Spanish despite the 41st Precinct being in a heavily Spanish-speaking neighborhood.


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Tropes used in this film:

  • All for Nothing: Captain Connolly want to shake down the neighborhood to find the cops' killer. Since it was just a random prostitute who did it for no apparent reason than being on drugs, none of the efforts mean a thing and just end up causing more problems. In the end, some random drug dealers kill the prostitute and dump her body in an abandoned lot, nobody the wiser that she's the killer.
  • Big Rotten Apple: Very much Truth in Television for the era. New York City was a hellhole from the mid/late 1960's to the mid-1990s.
  • Cop Killer: Charlotte (played by the awesome Pam Grier) is a drug-addicted prostitute who murders police officers for no good reason.
  • Crapsack World: Sadly very much Truth in Television at the time. The Bronx was an economically disenfranchised part of New York City, which saw frequent arson, a high murder rate and gang warfare. Googling photos of what it looked like during the 1970s and 1980s will draw comparisons with London during the Blitz.
  • Deconstruction: Captain Connolly is the more conventional cop who believes in being tough on crime and keeping his officers in line. But the veteran cops who have been in the roughest neighborhood in America for years know you have to rely on unconventional methods, pick your battles carefully, and just take it all one day at a time.
  • Dirty Cop: Morgan (Danny Aiello) kills an innocent kid by throwing him off a roof. He's also implied to be on the take.
  • Downer Beginning: Two rookie cops are murdered while sitting in their car by a random passer-by for no apparent reason. It sets a very bleak tone.
    • And to further rub salt on the wound, the hooker that murdered them is killed by two drug dealers when she attacks them randomly, and they themselves are killed by the police when they take a hospital's staff as hostages. This chain of events leaves the cop killings unsolved.
  • Downer Ending: Isabella dies of an overdose, Murphy does the right thing by reporting on Morgan's murdering the kid, but he'll probably have to resign and may even have to leave the city due to the backlash, and who knows if it'll even be seriously investigated anyway. The murders of the cops will likely never be solved. And all the cracking down did nothing but make things even worse.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Captain Connolly refuses to listen to veterans who've been in the Precinct and blames his predecessor for all the problems. But cops (in this case two) were murdered and nobody should ever let that go.
  • Karma Houdini: Averted with Charlotte who gets killed by two drug dealers she was trying to kill for no apparent reason.
  • Police Procedural: A very realistic example since it was based on the real-life antics of two cops patrolling the Bronx back in the 1960s.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Murphy and Corelli know how to pick their battles and seem to have the respect of the neighborhood.
    • Averted with Captain Connolly (Ed Asner) who wants to get tough and shake down the neighborhood. The veteran cops in the Precinct all know it won't do a bit of good and will only cause more problems. He also doesn't want people hanging outside the station even though the cops know it's the only place that most people feel safe.
  • Ragtag Bunchof Misfits: Murphy has burned many bridges in his career and thus gets sent to such an undesirable location. Most of the other officers are stated to be in the same predicament.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Rather than threatening a crazy guy wielding a knife Murphy just acts crazy too and causes the confused guy to let his guard down and just peacefully hand over the knife.
  • The Sociopath: Charlotte the prostitute seems to kill just for drugged fun.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: When a double homicide is committed by a random person who did it for no apparent reason in an already crime infested neighborhood it will likely never be solved, cops or not.
  • Urban Hellscape: Made even more sad since it was filmed on location and they didn't even have to do anything!!!


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