More Movies Set in New York City after 1969: Dog Day Afternoon, Taxi Driver, Saturday Night Fever

The following is a post to from Patrick Mackaronis. Patrick is the Director of Business Development for New York City-based social network Brabble. In this post, Patrick speaks about moves set in New York City after 1969. Patrick can be best reached on Twitter at @patty__mack.

The films of the day looked at short-fused civil servants, desperate bank robbers, troubled loners and people losing their jobs and minds.

Once the city got past the Son of Sam murders and blackout riots in 1977, things began looking up — and those who looked up long enough were met with a spinning, shimmering disco ball.

Lights, camera, angst:

The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 (1974) Sure, it’s a heist movie, but in this case, the real fun takes place away from the heist scene. The criminal crew’s objective: Take subway passengers hostage and demand a ransom from the city. All hell breaks loose at City Hall and among mass transit officials as a plethora of brash New Yorky character actors ham it up as they rage and rant over what to do. Should they pay the ransom? How can the crew be stopped after the ransom is paid? Looks simple, considering the hostage area is a subway car underground, seemingly hemmed in, but it isn’t so simple. One gets the feeling the city was seriously on edge before the standoff, then was pushed over the cliff after the caper goes down.

The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975)The besieged Everyman has been done before. Mr. Blandings had a hell of a time building his dream house, and George Bailey went through a gantlet of horrors before learning it’s a wonderful life. But in Prisoner of Second Avenue, Manhattan dweller Jack Lemmon loses his job and begins losing his mind as everything and everyone seem to be aggravating an already tough situation. His wife, played by Anne Bancroft, grows more stressed by the day after going back to her old job to make ends meet. Lemmon’s pushy older brother won’t let him alone. His annoying neighbors’ antics become much more annoying as he wrestles with so much spare time at home. It’s a tale of jaded New Yorkers, but there’s a heart at its core. Think of Lemmon’s character from The Out-of-Towners, another Neil Simon-penned story about the darker side of New York, then add 10 times more anxiety.

 

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)Sidney Lumet and Al Pacino made a good team for Serpico, and their reunion on Dog Day Afternoon reaped a jackpot of hot, New York summer angst. Pacino plays a squirrelly bank robber whose desire for quick money has a purpose that adds to an unfolding midsummer soap opera of madcap proportions that percolates around the Brooklyn bank. For most of the film, Pacino and partner John Cazale are holed up with hostages, demanding a ransom after the heist plan unravels. Like Pelham, the reaction outside the hostage area sizzles with grit and characters, but unlike Pelham, the action in the hostage area gets just as tense as the situation outside the bank, where throngs of people cheer on Pacino as a kind of folk hero. Like Serpico, this also is based on a true story.

Taxi Driver (1976)In a world gone mad, cab driver Travis Bickle’s deteriorating psyche acts as a microcosm for a New York populace forced to absorb such 1970s horrors as Son of Sam, the summer blackout riots of 1977 and general urban decay. Bickle is portrayed as a lonely, decent man whose despair over the depravity he sees in his fares — from a homicidal jilted husband to a 15-year-old prostitute — melds with an already festering loneliness, pummeling his sanity with a one-two punch. Desperate for some level of control over his environment, he turns to violence in a bid for justice. It’s less in-your-face than Martin Scorsese’s Little Italy thug drama Mean Streets three years earlier — at least until the climax — but like Mean Streets, there’s heart beneath the blood spatter.

Saturday Night Fever (1977)

Finally, a tense town lets loose and gets down. Just ignore the disco music if you can’t stand it. Sure, it’s ubiquitous in this youth drama, but it does set the scene of New York in the late 70s. From Studio 54 in Manhattan to the disco in Brooklyn where John Travolta becomes a hero every weekend, the city pulsated with “four on the floor” beats during this era. The real driving force of this film is the American yearning for acceptance and success. a yearning that always seems more pronounced when New York is the backdrop. It’s really the Great Gatsby transferred from Long Island to Brooklyn. Gatsby created his persona, and in Saturday Night Fever, Travolta creates a weekend persona of a suave disco stud, admired by men, adored by women, yet he knows deep down — especially while working a dead-end job during the week — that he’s mired in the old neighborhood. Little is resolved at the end as far as his future. (Screen the wretched sequel “Stayin Alive” at your own peril.) But one feels a glimmer of hope for him. There’s also a subtext of immigrant striving as well. Travolta’s crew is made up of second- and third-generation Italian Americans who act like they own the world as they try and cloak their inner insecurities about their lots in life. Their ancestors came here at the turn of the century hoping for a better life, and they find themselves going no place fast in polyester, on the dance floor.