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Saturday September 23rd 2023

Bad Lieutenant | 1992

Bad Lieutenant filming location: St Paul’s Church, East 117th Street, Harlem
Bad lieutenant location: the exterior of the church in which the nun is violated: St Paul’s Church, East 117th Street, Harlem

Harvey Keitel is shockingly intense as a conflicted Catholic cop who witnesses the rape of a nun in Abel Ferrara's unclassifiable drama, which plays like Andy Warhol filming a rejected Martin Scorsese script on a grant from the Catholic Truth Society.

It was filmed around New York’s Little Italy area, in the Bronx and in Jersey City in an era closer to Travis Bickle than Sex And The City.

The neighbourhood of the unnamed lieutenant (Keitel) is the Morris Park section of the Bronx, which was director Abel Ferrara's old neighbourhood.

Not the most engaged parent, the cop drops his sons off at the nearby Monsignor Cagnina Auditorium of St Clare of Assisi School, Hone Avenue at Rhinelander Avenue, before his first bracing coke of the day.

Understandable since his first duty of the day is to investigate the bloody murder of two women found in a car parked on Union Square at East 16th Street.

Burned out by the sleaze and violence, the cop blitzes his senses with a toxic mix of drugs, sex and high stakes gambling. The room in which he cavorts drunkenly with a pair of hookers, was filmed in the Mayflower Hotel, which stood at 15 Central Park West and 61st Street on the west side, until being demolished in 2004.

Popular with the acting crowd – Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci famously stayed here during the making of Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull – scenes were actually filmed in what was then Mickey Rourke's suite.

The hotel was featured on-screen a couple of years later in Mike Nichols' Wolf, with Jack Nicholson as a lycanthrope. Another sad loss to the city – the block now occupying the site is bland to the point of invisibility.

Other interiors were also filmed in the Mayflower which functioned as a makeshift studio, and even the crucifixion of Christ (Paul Hipp) was filmed on the Mayflower's rooftop.

In Midtown Manhattan, the Korean grocery store where the Lieutenant sorts out the robbery was Median Foods, now Dali Market, 461 Seventh Avenue near 35th Street.

But it's back in the crazy chaos of the old Lower East Side's Alphabet City that the cop attempts unsuccessfully to lift a stash of drugs from the site of another murder on Avenue B, between East 3rd and East 4th Streets. A notoriously rough area at the time of filming, it's now of course gentrified.

The turning point for Keitel's lapsed Catholic is the brutal rape of a nun inside a 'Spanish Harlem' church. As per usual practice, the church is filmed at two separate locations.

Bad Lieutenant filming location: East 117th Street, Harlem
Bad lieutenant location: the perpetrators are apprehended in the crack den: East 117th Street, Harlem

The exterior is St Paul’s Church, 113 East 117th Street at Park Avenue in Harlem (you can see the elevated Park Avenue line crossing the road in the background). The crack house (which was then the real thing) in which the two perpetrators are finally apprehended stands directly opposite.

The desecrated interior, where the Production Designer was allowed a surprising amount of freedom, is that of St Anthony of Padua, 457 Monmouth Street in Jersey City, New Jersey.

St Anthony's was built in 1892 to serve what is now the oldest Polish-speaking parish in New Jersey who, prior to the church's construction, had to take a ferry across to New York City.

The cop heads off to New York's notorious Limelight Club, and this is the real deal. Fitting the film's sacred/profane duality, the club occupied a deconsecrated church on the Avenue of the Americas at West 20th Street.

The Limelight hit peak notoriety in 1996, when club kid and party promoter Michael Alig was arrested and later convicted for the killing (and dismemberment) of Angel Melendez, a fellow member of the Club Kids. The 2003 biopic Party Monster, starring Macaulay Culkin and Seth Green, dramatised the event.

The Limelight was closed by the police, and although reopening several times during the 1990s, closed its doors for good in 2007.

It's a sign of the times that this one-time den of debauchery now houses a gym, Limelight Fitness.

Bad Lieutenant filming location: Port Authority Bus Terminal, Eighth Avenue, Midtown
Bad lieutenant location: the cop finds a kind of redemption: Port Authority Bus Terminal, Eighth Avenue, Midtown

When all of his options have run out, the lieutenant finally attains a kind redemption, handing over the money which would have saved his life, to the two rapists, before seeing them onto a bus out of town at the Port Authority Bus Terminal on Eighth Avenue between West 40th and West 42nd Streets.

Opened in 1950, PABT remains the the city's main gateway for interstate buses. It's the largest in the US and – by traffic volume – the busiest in the world.