Fort Apache, the Bronx (1981) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

What a heady ride 1981 was for Rachel Ticotin. At the tender age of 21, with no film experience, she made her theatrical debut as the female lead opposite Paul Newman! Several publications singled her out as a promising newcomer, and many people were predicting a great career for her. Didn't really happen. She has continued to work steadily, and she's had a few highlights like Don Juan DeMarco, but basically Fort Apache remains the high point of her career, and only real film buffs know her name at all.

'tis a shame, but I guess she chose to work in a crowded profession with a limited number for opportunities for great female roles, and she was eliminated from some of the opportunities because she was thought to have an ethnic look. Or maybe because she married David Caruso, thereby betraying some inherent mental instability. Just kidding, Dave, ya big jamoke.

The film itself is hard to watch from our time. You see, when it came out, it had a gritty hard-edged realism that lent texture to a meandering story. Actually filmed in the South Bronx, it was one of the most realistic films of its day in portraying the uneasy relationship between the police and very difficult urban neighborhoods. The first problem is that in the 20 years since then, we have discovered AIDS, and the police can no longer defend themselves with Billy Clubs in a world where the bad guys have automatic weapons. The second problem is that subsequent and better known films have portrayed the crime scene with far grittier realism, and the violence with graphic accuracy. The result of these two problems is that this film now seems quaint.


Depends on which version you see. In the widescreen version there is almost no nudity. Ticotin's bathtub scene is nothing more than a little peek at one nipple. In the full screen version, this is a topless scene! See here for a technical explanation.

no male nudity

two extras ran topless from a building on fire

That would be OK if there were more to carry the film, but there isn't much. Gritty realism was pretty much the whole calling card, and the film no longer seems gritty or realistic. For example, Newman is not especially worried when he finds out his girlfriend shoots a little heroin. In today's paranoia about tainted needles, that attitude seems as dated as Sherlock Holmes' own drug use.

The plot is virtually non-existent. There is a double cop-slaying at the same time that a new captain takes over the precinct. He's eaqer to do the job right, and he's not wise in the ways of the streets, so he ends up bungling the investigation, creating several riots, and creating an antagonistic climate in which two cops end up throwing an innocent boy off a roof.

The main plot seems to center around finding the cop-killer, but that thread dies out halfway through, when we see her (Pam Grier, wasted in a cameo with about four lines) beaten and killed by some drug dealers. We see her body in the city dump, so we know the crime will never be solved, but life goes on at Fort Apache. Stripped of that thread, the movie simply becomes about five days in the life of the cops of that precinct when the new captain takes over. The only remaining dramatic hook is whether Paul Newman, a cop who witnessed the roof toss from a neighboring building, will do the right thing and rat out the other cop, even though ratting on a brother officer will certainly destroy his career.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • barebones DVD. The transfer is OK, widescreen letterboxed 1.85.

Aside from that, the film is picaresque. It just follows Newman from episode to episode without much structure. The film ends with him chasing the same guy he chased at the beginning, ironically through the city dump, where we see them run past the killer's body wrapped in a rug, and we know that the cops will have some successes, some failures, as in real life.

The greatest pleasure of the film is in characterization and detail. Paul Newman and Edward Asner are excellent as the cop and the captain, both of them providing nuances and shadings to make the characters realistic. Some smaller parts are filled with real imagination and savvy about the streets, and there are some excellent small touches - (The new captain hates the circus atmosphere of the station house, but the cops allow little kids to play there because it's the only place where they are safe)

The Critics Vote

  • no reviews online

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.3,
  • With their dollars ... a passable hit. Took in $30 million in 1981, pretty good numbers for that time, and probably attributable to Newman's star power.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C. Nothing more than a watchable cop story, like an episode of Mannix, except with Paul Newman and Ken Wahl. Probably seemed better in 1981, but has not aged well.

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