Fort Apache, The Bronx

Fort Apache, The Bronx is a 1981 American crime drama film directed by Daniel Petrie. The film is about a hard-drinking, lonely veteran cop, Murphy (Paul Newman), and his young partner Corelli (Ken Wahl), who work in a crime-ridden precinct in The Bronx. Although Murphy's life takes a good turn when he falls in love with Isabella (Rachel Ticotin), a young nurse, the arrival of a new, law-and-order-minded police captain commanding the precinct, Connoly (Ed Asner) threatens to tip the neighborhood's delicate balance into anarchy. Danny Aiello, Kathleen Beller, and Pam Grier play supporting roles. It was written by Heywood Gould and produced by Martin Richards and Thomas Fiorello, with David Susskind as executive producer.

Fort Apache: The Bronx
Film poster for Fort Apache, The Bronx
Directed byDaniel Petrie
Produced by
Written byHeywood Gould
Music byJonathan Tunick
CinematographyJohn Alcott
Edited byRita Roland
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • February 6, 1981 (1981-02-06)
Running time
125 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$65.2 million[1]

It was filmed on locations in the Bronx. Author Tom Walker sued Time-Life Television, alleging that the film infringed on his book Fort Apache, but lost after a lengthy court battle. At the time of its filming and release, the movie caused controversy, as Hispanic and African-Americans objected to their depiction as drug dealers and criminals. The film received mixed reviews; however, Newman's acting was noted as a strength of the film.

Plot summary

Police officers face many challenges in the decaying, impoverished, high-crime South Bronx region of New York City. Among these officers are NYPD officers Murphy and Corelli, who work out of the 41st Precinct, nicknamed "Fort Apache" because to those who work there, it feels like an army outpost in foreign territory. The streets are filled with dangerous gangs, criminals, and drug dealers. Unemployment is very high and the neighborhood is filled with garbage and wrecked buildings. While Murphy is a hard-drinking and lonely divorced father, he has a great camaraderie with Corelli. Murphy's life also improves when he meets a young nurse, Isabella, and they start a romantic relationship.

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. Additionally, the precinct's officers do not represent the large Puerto Rican community, as only 4% of the officers are Hispanic in the largest non-English speaking section of The Bronx. Corelli and Murphy attempt to maintain law and order by catching pimps and robbers, but they have conflicts with corrupt fellow officers, and a newly appointed police captain, Connolly. There is rioting due to alleged police brutality, as well as issues related to the deaths of two rookie cops, who were shot by a drug addict at the film's beginning. During the riot, Murphy and Corelli witness an officer throwing an innocent teenager off an apartment roof to his death. As Murphy becomes more intimate with Isabella, they begin a sexual relationship. While she is sleeping, Murphy notices "track marks" on her skin. She later admits that she uses heroin as a way to relax from working in such a stressful environment. She tells him that other hospital employees also use heroin.

Illustrating the futility of policing in the precinct, the killer of the two cops is never found, despite mass arrests and interrogations. The drug addict who killed them is later also killed and her body is shown as an anonymous bundle dumped in roadside trash. Murphy is broken when Isabella dies from a drug overdose and wrestles with the moral question of whether he should maintain the "blue code" and not inform authorities about the officer who threw the teen off the roof. Murphy decides to resign and report the killing, a decision that will make other officers hate him and view him as a "stool pigeon". Murphy seems to be on the verge of quitting the force, when he sees the purse snatcher fleeing from a house he burglarized. Murphy and Corelli chase the robber, and the image freezes as Murphy leaps to tackle him.



The film grossed over $65 million worldwide at its time of release in 1981.[1] On release, reviews were mixed.[2] On Rotten Tomatoes, which collects both modern and contemporaneous review, the film has an 86% approval rating based on 14 reviews; the average rating is 6.6/10.[3]

Richard Schickel, in TIME, called it "more like a made-for-TV movie". He also added, "The film is not quite up to its star" and is "somewhere between Barney Miller and the works of Joseph Wambaugh". Of the acting, he wrote, "But mainly it is Newman, now 56, who gives Fort Apache its modest distinction".[4] Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times, called it "...the most complete collection of cop-movie clichés since John Wayne played a Chicago cop in McQ". He criticized the number of unnecessary scenes and "story threads that lead nowhere". Ebert said about Newman that he is "good in his role", but called the film more of a TV show.[5] Variety labeled the film "... a very patchy picture, strong on dialog and acting and exceedingly weak on story", and criticizes it for its lack of depth.[6] Nick Sambides, Jr. at Allmovie calls it "...flinty but otherwise forgettable character study".[7] The New York Post published a photo of Newman on the set with a caption that he stated was inaccurate, calling the paper "a garbage can". Because of the dispute the Post banned him from its pages, even removing his name from films in the TV listings.[8]

Local community groups threatened to file suit against the producers because of the way it depicted their neighborhood in the Bronx and for the depiction of ethnic minorities (Blacks and Hispanics). Because of this pressure, some changes were made to the script and a note was added to the title card at the beginning of the film.[6][9]

After the release of the film, an author, Tom Walker, filed a lawsuit[10] against one of the production companies, Time-Life Television Films (legal owner of the script), claiming that the producers infringed on his book Fort Apache (New York: Crowell, 1976. ISBN 0-690-01047-8). Among other things, Walker, the plaintiff, argued that: "both the book and the film begin with the murder of a black and a white policeman with a handgun at close range; both depict cockfights, drunks, stripped cars, prostitutes and rats; both feature as central characters third- or fourth-generation Irish policemen who live in Queens and frequently drink; both show disgruntled, demoralized police officers and unsuccessful foot chases of fleeing criminals". But the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that these are stereo-typical ideas, so called "scènes à faire" (French for "scenes that must be done"), and that the United States copyright law does not protect concepts or ideas. The court ruling stated: "the book Fort Apache and the film Fort Apache: The Bronx were not substantially similar beyond [the] level of generalized or otherwise nonprotectible ideas, and thus [the] latter did not infringe copyright of [the] former".[11][12]

Newman also filed a claim against Time-Life claiming that they had undersold the TV rights (on which he was due 15%) by selling to HBO for $1.5 million and not offering it to others and also understated foreign distribution receipts by over $3.75 million on which he was due 12.5%. An agreement was settled out of court.[13]

See also


  1. Fort Apache, The Bronx. – The Numbers
  2. Battaglio, Stephen (2010). David Susskind: A Televised Life. Macmillan Publishers. p. 309–310. ISBN 9781429946148.
  3. "Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 9, 2016.
  4. "Conscience in a Rough Precinct". – TIME. – February 16, 1981. – Retrieved: 2008-06-10
  5. Ebert, Roger. – "Fort Apache, The Bronx". – Chicago Sun Times. – January 1, 1981 – Retrieved: 2008-06-10
  6. Film: "Fort Apache, The Bronx". – Variety. – January 1, 1981. – Retrieved: 2008-06-10
  7. Sambides, Nick, Jr. – Review: Fort Apache, the Bronx". – AllMovie. – Retrieved: 2008-06-10
  8. DiGiaomo, Frank (December 2004). "The Gossip Behind the Gossip". Vanity Fair. Archived from the original on September 29, 2011. Retrieved September 13, 2011.
  9. Cultural Desk: "'Apache' Film's Debut Protested". – The New York Times. – February 7, 1981
  10. Walker v. Time Life Films, Inc., 784 F.2d 44 (2d Cir. 1986)
  11. Margolick, David. – Legal Notes: "Writer Told 'Ft. Apache' isn't Just His". – The New York Times. – August 25, 1985
  12. Beeber, Jessie, and Maura Wogan. – "Is Scènes à Faire Really 'Necessary'?". – Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Journal. – Spring 2004. – Vol. 15, No. 1
  13. Girard, Tom (February 23, 1984). "Newman, Time Inc., Agree On 'Apache' Compensation". Daily Variety. p. 8.
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