OTJ at the movies: Fort Apache, The Bronx (PART I)

On the John at the movies, with…

Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981)

Cast: Paul Newman, Pam Grier, Rachel Ticotin, Ken Wahl, Ed Asner, Danny Aiello, Sully Boyer

Review: May 19, 2010

FOR Avril Brown’s take on Fort Apache, check out her column Rogue Element at Comics Waiting Room

The first movie Avril and I ever watched together must surely have been Addams Family Values at the old Evanston theatre on Central Street somewhere between October and March of 6th grade. We have seen many movies together since then, including a well-populated Back to the Future marathon at her parents’ house.

I have always maintained that Back to the Future is without question or rival cinema’s greatest trilogy. I will expand upon that assertion another day. What strikes me today is the need to clarify “the old Evanston theatre” – that seems a sad bit of trivia as well as another fascinating experience in aging, watching your hometown steadily morph into 1955 Hill Valley.

The generations are marching forward and backward. In celebrating my parents’ 30th anniversary in April, my brother and I spent six months contacting close family and friends of our folks, compiling stories, photos, and well-wishes for a memory book.

The writer’s father, seen at age 20, far left.

I enjoyed this project a great deal, I believe, because it was a physical version of something every person does from childhood onward, that being the reconstructing of history. In this case, we are talking about family history, which I appreciate as a parallel to world history.

For instance, the best photograph collected was without doubt a shot from June 1971, from a hot summer Moving Day with what was, from my view, two categories of friends: life staples (Mickey Lipkin and Sue Varick), and Legendary Unknown Dad Friends (Danny Zimbroff, Mike Fagin, and Ernie Simon).

Pop is a month shy of his 21st birthday here, hair flowing, muscles prominent, and with his usual undisclosed half-grin.

And now I look in the mirror and see that I am passing the thumb test with ease these days. (The thumb test is simple: place the tip of your thumbs on either side of your widow’s peak area, lining your nails up at the bottom of where you think your hairline should be. If your thumbs rest entirely on skin moving up your head, you pass the thumb test.)

My father always said this would happen. I only kind of believed him – that is a disadvantage of youth: we have little sense of history and no grasp of the future.

But age runs, and soon you see your life as lived at the midpoint of, say, 1910 and 2110.

Those were the days…

Thinking grows heavy at times like this. (Though yes, perhaps you are granted the briefest of levities when you chuckle to yourself: “Why is everything so heavy in the future?”) You begin to more fully investigate your total place in the world as both an individual and a member of various demographics, re-evaluating what you Know vs. what you’ve only Assumed, reviewing the true nature of your society, your community, your family, yourself…

…and it is at these heavy moments when, sometimes, a person must seek his or her oldest movie friend for Movie Night.

It had been more than two months since the last A&J MN. (District 9, my first time.) “What are you thinking?” she asks as I hand her some chocolate.

True Romance.”

“You say that every time.”

“But we probably only watch it a sixth of the time.”




Life of Brian.”

(thinking) “Next.”

Almost Famous.



Jim Morrison, seen here dispensing advice to Kuffs.

“Just watched it.”

And then, as I always do at this time: “How about Fort Apache, The Bronx. What’s the story with that again?”

“My sister gave it to me.”

“A gift from your sister!”

“No – more like she got rid of it to me.”

I examined the box. “I think we should watch this.” And I proceeded to tell her why I was certain this would be a memorable viewing experience, giving all of the same reasoning I will now give you.

First of all, take a look at that cast. When have you ever not enjoyed a Paul Newman performance? That’s correct. You’ve enjoyed them all. Now we fill it out with character actors, one of my favorite aspects of the movies. While men have the thumb test, character actors have the character test. Can this actor be identified directly as “Buffalo Bill,” or at least indirectly as “Penny Hardaway’s mother in Blue Chips? If so, they pass.

Heat is the king of the character test. Along with Michael Corleone and Travis Bickle, we have Iceman, Buffalo Bill, Jack Scagnetti, Benjamin Buford “Bubba” Blue, Joe Buck, Pedro Cerrano, the knife-thrower from Desperado, the blind guy from Contact, “Indian in Desert” from The Doors, John Connor’s foster father who is T-1000’d while drinking from the carton of milk, Young Natalie Portman, Tone Loc, Henry Rollins, the original Toothfairy, Juding Amy, Moe Szyslak, one of the Judds, a guy who resembles Andre Rison, and of course Waingro, who in only one widely known performance earned full Character Name Status. Hell, even Ari Gold shows up as a doctor!

Fort Apache doesn’t quite line ‘em up like Heat, but it does its best. We’ve got Miss Athletic, Sleezy, Demure Brunette (also known as The Guard in Con Air Who Almost Gets Raped by Johnny 23, (who, of course, has already been mentioned, and will soon be known only as Machete)); we’ve got Lou Grant, now known to the younger crowd as Carl from Up (though he’ll always be Guy Bannister to me – “You little weasel! You didn’t see a goddamn thing!”); we’ve got Dellaventura, known to most as Sal of Sal’s Famous Pizzeria or maybe Hudson Hawk’s turncoat partner; we’ve got Mr. Mulvany, the bank manager in Dog Day Afternoon; and of course Miss Foxy/Jackie Brown herself.

And then there’s Corelli, Paul Newman’s young, loyal police force partner who, like Waingro fourteen years later, earns his Character Immortality as “Paul Newman’s partner Corelli in Fort Apache, The Bronx.”

End of Part I. Check back tomorrow for Part II. Same bat time, same bat channel.


If you enjoyed the discussion on character actors and have not yet seen the glory that is fametracker.com, I am pleased to be the one who finally told you. Shame on the other people who know you better.


3 Replies to “OTJ at the movies: Fort Apache, The Bronx (PART I)”

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