The inspiration for the hit TV cop drama Hill Street Blues, this film opens with a drugged out hooker shooting two policemen dead in their car and goes roaring off from there. Starring Paul Newman and Ed Asner the action takes place in the South Bronx one of the poorest areas in the city. The precinct is one of the worst and most dilapidated in the entire department, approaching demolition and staffed mostly by officers who are unwanted by and have been transferred out of other precincts. Here we are treated to drug overdoses, police committing murders, riots, police corruption, bodies unloaded into dumpsters, racism, constant poverty, and just plain old bad NYC attitudes.
While the film is somewhat uneven, I don’t see it as much of a flaw, and Paul Newman, while unable to conquer the proper accent, does a good job a world weary hard-drinking cop who is just trying to get through the day without the world around him dragging him down. Ed Asner play an ambitious new captain, looking to “clean up the area” and get himself a promotion in the process, is filled with snarling rancor which seems to come so easily from him. Over all the acting by these veterans hold the film together.
The division presented here is New York's 41st Precinct in the South Bronx. It gets its nickname because the precinct house is more a fort in hostile territory, a reference to the famous Fort Apache of the old West.
Before the film came out there was controversy. Various groups protested the filming and its opening claiming that it depicted only the negative elements of the Bronx and showed all Puerto Rican and Blacks living there only as criminals. Local youths were hired by the protestors to help swell the ranks. Eventually the producers acceded to the demands, making several script changes, adding more ethnic minorities in positive roles, and placing a title card at the beginning of the film stating, “The picture you are about to see is a portrayal of the lives of two policemen working out of a precinct in the South Bronx, New York. Because the story involves police work it does not deal with the law abiding members of the community nor does it dramatize the efforts of the individuals and groups who are struggling to turn the Bronx around".
Ironically the South Bronx had taken a major decline since this film was made, being even more crime ridden and drug polluted than is shown here. It had become an area of derelict buildings, with almost no growth, businesses, or opportunity. The schools in the area are some of the lowest performing in city, with necessary supplies in critically short supply. “There’s no hope where there’s dope.”
The entire film is below. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor.