42nd Street Theaters, Part 2: SHAKEDOWN (1988)

19 Apr

SHAKEDOWN (1988), directed by James Glickenhaus, is a buddy cop thriller distinguished chiefly, for me at least, by a couple of scenes shot on 42nd Street during the waning heyday of the Deuce. The plot has to do with a legal aid lawyer (played by Robocop himself, Peter Weller) teaming up with a maverick plainclothes cop (Sam Elliott), originally from Texas, who seems to operate without any supervision. (The  harried police captain, usually a staple of these films, is the one cliché missing here.) The lawyer’s client is a black drug dealer who shot a white undercover cop to death and claimed self-defense, thinking the cop was a robber seeking to kill him for his drugs. Elliott’s character helps the lawyer with his investigation, penetrating a porn-sex-and-drug ring with ties to a whole network of corrupt cops. From there, in true R-rated ’80s fashion,  it’s a steady stream of chases, shootouts, fistfights, preposterous plot twists, and ample nudity in various sex clubs, including one situated several floors above the New Amsterdam Theater.

Peter Weller and Sam Elliott leaving the Lyric Theater in SHAKEDOWN

The two protagonists’ first joint scene is at the Lyric Theater on 42nd Street, where Elliott apparently sleeps. Weller has evidently gone there to wake him up. The double feature playing there is THE SOLDIER (1982) and THE EXTERMINATOR (1980), both directed by Glickenhaus and clearly an homage to himself. They leave the theater and patronize a hot dog stand outside to discuss their respective situations, thus allowing us to see other Deuce marquees in the sequence.

During the sequence a lot of passersby look at the camera, leading me to conclude that those are actual pedestrians on the street and not paid extras.

(For the record, the Lyric is the first theater I attended on 42nd Street and the Harris, seen across the street from the hot dog stand, was, I believe, the last theater I went to on the street.)

Later in the film, Elliott and Weller team up to track down an informant in the labyrinth of sex rooms above the New Amsterdam only to find he’s been killed by the big bouncer from one of the clubs seen earlier in the film. The New Amsterdam is offering X-rated titles, while the Cine 42 next door  is offering two double bills: CATCH THE HEAT and PROM NIGHT 2 and a kung fu combo of RIVALS OF THE DRAGON and MAD, MAD SWORD.

When Weller and Elliott show up, presumably later on the same day as their first scene together, the marquee on the Lyric is now announcing a different double feature: FATAL BEAUTY, in which Elliott was a co-star, and DISORDERLIES.

Long story short: the bouncer they’re seeking escapes and confronts some unlucky cops:

Elliott has seen all this from a window above the New Amsterdam and makes a daring Douglas Fairbanks-style leap out to try and catch up with the fleeing killer:

He and Weller commandeer a motorcycle with a back seat in order to give chase:

Notice that the marquee on the Cine 42 has completely changed its double bills in the space of about 1o seconds:

A quick shot of the Empire on the western end of the Deuce:

Finally, one long shot of the Deuce looking east from Eighth Avenue:

Here are some pix I took on 42nd Street a year or so before the film was shot. The Lyric is the third marquee from the left:

The Empire, which was then closed:

The New Amsterdam, also closed, and Cine 42:

How the street looks these days:

Back to SHAKEDOWN, the film includes an entertaining chase scene at Coney Island’s amusement park later in the film, which features a perilous ride on the Cyclone roller coaster that ends badly for the fleeing heavy. There’s a ludicrous scene in which Weller climbs up the outside wall of Police Headquarters at night, as if they actually close the building after hours, to break into the police evidence room to find a crucial tape, as if these were the kinds of skills a nerdy legal aid lawyer would possess. Towards the end, there’s a car-and-plane chase that culminates with Elliott leaping onto a plane’s tire casing from a speeding sports car while the plane is taking off. I don’t think even Fairbanks would have been foolhardy enough to try that.  It’s not a good movie and I don’t necessarily recommend it, but it does offer a vivid time capsule glimpse of the Deuce near the end of its glory period before redevelopment completely transformed the street.

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