Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985)

Based on The Destroyer pulp paperback series, this film follows the creation and training of Remo Williams, a New York City cop who is unwillingly recruited as an assassin for a super-secret government agency, known as CURE. Although it fared poorly in the box office, and received mixed reviews upon its released, “Remo Williams” has become somewhat of a cult classic in its ensuing years. Filmed partially in Brooklyn and Manhattan, “Remo” offers a nice glimpse into 1980’s New York, including the iconic Statue of Liberty surrounded by massive scaffolding as it was undergoing major restorations. The film stars Fred Ward in the title role and Joel Grey in old man Korean make-up.

 

The Opening

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The movie opens with a shot of the Manhattan Bridge from the corner of John Street and Adams Street in Brooklyn.

 

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The camera tilts down to reveal the Brooklyn Bridge and the Downtown Manhattan skyline in the background.

 

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Officer Sam Makin sits in his patrol car, parked in front of 135 Plymouth Street, when a suspicious-looking guy runs past him.

 

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A few seconds later, two street thugs run by, chasing after the first guy.

 

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The two thugs run past a fire hydrant in front of 1 John Street.

 

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The action then jumps about 2 miles north, where the two thugs corner the other guy in a small, dilapidated pier on the East River between India Street and Huron Street.

 

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Officer Makin sneaks up in his patrol car, with the factory/warehouse at 1 Huron Street in the background.

 

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After beating up all the suspects, Makin and his patrol car are shoved into the East River by a big industrial truck. 

 


Filming along the East River looking towards Manhattan Island seemed to be a ubiquitous motif in NYC films during the 1980’s. It was an easy way to show the gritty, deserted terrain of a poverty-ridden New York, while also highlighting the iconic skyline in the background. And because the desolate waterfront area of Brooklyn and Queens was a short trip across the East River, it helped keep costs down and prevented the cast/crew from having to go too deep into the dangerous urban jungle.

Naturally, with the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges in the background, it wasn’t very hard to get a general fix on the location of this opening scene, but to figure out the exact spot, I had to do a little roaming around the neighborhood. Once I discovered the bricked-up windows of 135 Plymouth Street, I could see that they matched the ones the thugs run past at the top of the scene. From there, I deduced that the police car was parked on the corner of John and Adams. ( I also noticed that the production reused the corner of John and Adams later in this scene, making it look like it was a block away.)

However, after the two thugs run past the fire hydrant on John Street and wind up at a pier on the water, I got a little lost. I could tell there was a major jump in geography because we could now see the Empire State Building across the river (which is on 34th Street in Manhattan). Knowing the dilapidated pier seen in the film was surely long-gone, I used the Manhattan skyline as a guide to get a fix on where it used to be, and judging by the positions of the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings, I figured it was somewhere in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Using Google Street View, I checked out the shoreline of Greenpoint, hoping that one of the brick warehouses featured in the film was still around. I did this search in 2017, but knew that the neighborhood had been going through a rapid gentrification, so I tried to keep my street views as old as possible. (Google has a great feature that allows you to switch to older views from their archives —going back as far as 2007— essentially giving you a virtual time-machine.)

Turns out this was a smart move, because when I finally stumbled upon a factory/warehouse on Huron Street that looked like the one from the film, I realized that it would have been gone if I was looking in Google’s 2017 view. The building got torn down around 2015 to make way for another ridiculous, high-rise luxury apartment complex — just was Greenpoint needs!

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Dull-eyed real estate developer, Seth Schumer, superimposed in front of an early rendering of 1 Huron Street.

 

When I first spotted the factory in Google Street View, I wasn’t one-hundred percent sure I got the right place, since a lot of these generic industrial buildings look the same. The thing that originally drew me to this address was the fencing on the rooftop that appeared to match the fencing in the film, but I wanted to try and match up any other details on the building as well. That turned out to be a little tricky since we’re looking at the back of the factory in the film, and Google only had a view from the side.

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A 2013 shot of 1 Huron from Google, offering only an oblique view of the back wall.  

 

Eventually I found a decent high-res photo of the back of the factory from an article on CurbedNY and was able to see that several details were matching up, giving me more confidence that I found the right place.

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A photo of the factory, circa 2010, taken from a Curbed NY article (left), compared to a still from the 1985 film (right).

 

Written by Nathan Kensinger, the article featured several wonderful shots of Greenpoint’s industrial shoreline from around 2010 —including two photos of the former Huxley Envelope Factory at 1 Huron Street— just a few years before things would change dramatically.

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A wider shot of the former factory at 1 Huron Street, found on Curbed NY.

 

In the article, the author used the industrial shoreline of Greenpoint as the perfect archetype of the perpetual destruction and redevelopment of NYC neighborhoods. The main factor for such a rapid change in the landscape in the past decade is probably the local government’s penchant for rezoning, allowing areas that used to have strict height-restrictions to now accommodate gigantic, towering buildings. Under mayor Bloomberg, 37 percent of the city was rezoned, giving developers free rein to demolish many of New York City’s historic neighborhoods, including Brooklyn’s waterfront area. And under mayor De Blasio, there doesn’t seem to be any policy change in sight, as he’s supported rezoning plans for both upper Manhattan and the Bronx.

 


My one last stumbling block with this scene was creating the before/after pictures. Taking a current photo of 1 Huron was problematic because, not only was the factory no longer around, but a construction crew working on the new apartment building had the entire block closed off, preventing me from getting even get close to the actual filming location.

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Corner of West and Huron, November 2017.

 

Wanting to use an image that still had the factory in place, I ended up using one of the 2010 photos from the CurbedNY article to serve as my “after ” picture. (I originally used a screenshot from Google Street View which I had to drastically stretch and warp so it would line-up with the shot from the film. Needless to say, it wasn’t very pretty.) I suppose once the new building is completed, I’ll go back and take a more current photo, but for now, I like to pretend that the factory is actually still there.

 

The Funeral

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A funeral for Officer Makin (soon to become Remo Williams) is held at a cemetery along the East River. But it really takes place at Queensbridge Park in Long Island City.

 

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After watching the funeral, Conn MacCleary leaves the “cemetery,” walking towards the Ravenswood Generating Station.

 


Like the opening sequence, this funeral scene obviously took place on a riverbank, which helped limit the number of possible filming locations. Since I was unaware of any cemeteries directly on a shoreline, I assumed it was most likely a park set-dressed to look like a cemetery. Like the previous scene, I used the skyline across the river as a way to help figure out the location. I couldn’t spot any obvious skyscrapers like the Empire State Building or the Twin Towers, but the sheer congestion of buildings suggested that we were in Brooklyn or Queens, looking towards Manhattan. The other clue was the large factory complex appearing at the end of the scene, but like the factory/warehouse from the previous scene, I knew there was a chance it’d be gone today.

So, the first thing I did was check out any city park along the eastern bank of the East River, especially in Queens. Since there were no landmark buildings seen across the river, I figured we were somewhere north of midtown Manhattan.

It didn’t take me long to figure out Queensbridge Park in Long Island City was the location of this funeral scene. The main clue was the extant Ravenswood Generating Station found just to the north of it. The 2,480 megawatt power plant is still around today and looks almost as it did when they filmed Remo Williams. Although not seen in the film, Ravenswood has a very distinctive set of smoke stacks which would prove to be a helpful landmark when figuring out other filming locations, especially for scenes taking place on nearby Roosevelt Island.

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When I first started this film location project in 2016, Remo Williams was one of the first films I decided to work on, mainly because Remo has been one of my favorite guilty pleasures since I was a teen, and there wasn’t much information on its filming locations on the web. Being new to the game, I originally thought finding this funeral location was going to be a long, daunting task, but once I applied some simple logic, I found it fairly quickly.

I can still remember the thrill I felt when I figured out this filming location, and it got me addicted to the hunt for more locations.

 

Escaping the Hospital

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Establishing shot of the former St. Clare’s Hospital at 416 W 52nd Street.

 

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A restless Remo escapes from his hospital room and into 52nd Street.

 

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Meanwhile, an elderly man is wheeled from an ambulance to the hospital entrance.

 

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Remo then steals the ambulance, much to the dismay of its driver.

 

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The vehicle travels east on 52nd and turns right onto 9th Avenue.

 


Obviously, with this scene, the first thing I did was research the hospital name seen above the entrance in the establishing shot. I had never heard of “St. Clare’s Hospital and Medical Center,” and thought that perhaps it was just set-dressing. But turns out it was a real place.

Founded in 1934 by the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, this small Catholic hospital served mostly immigrants and working class residents, with a capacity of around 250 beds, as well as a small psychiatric unit of 12 beds. In the 1970’s, the hospital expanded to provide social services, including a small shelter in a nearby abandoned brownstone, made solely for homeless women. In the late 1980s, despite protests from some Catholic leaders, the hospital was designated the country’s first comprehensive center for AIDS patients.

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An abandoned 6th floor room from the former St. Clare’s Hospital, months before it ceased operations in 2007.

Then, after declining funding that began in the 1990’s, St. Clare’s Hospital got saved from being shut down when it was absorbed by St. Vincent’s in 2003. However, the hospital’s reprieve was short-lived, as its doors were closed for good just a few years later. The building is currently being gutted and readied to be converted into condos.

When I was first trying to figure out this filming location, the one thing that temporarily tripped me up was that when I looked up the hospital’s old address, it was listed as 415 W 51st Street. But when I looked on Google Street View, the buildings on 51st didn’t match the ones in the film, which puzzled and frustrated me. Then I figured it out — they just shot the scene at the back entrance of the hospital on 52nd Street, opposed to the main entrance on 51st Street.

 

C.U.R.E. Headquarters

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The stolen ambulance drives down Exchange Place towards Hanover Street.

 

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Remo parks the ambulance in front of the Hanover Street entrance to the secret headquarters of CURE, found inside 20 Exchange Place.

 


In figuring out the location of this quick scene, I noticed that the ambulance drove past a street sign which read, “Hanover.” Knowing there was both a Hanover Street and Hanover Square in downtown Manhattan, I did a quick poking around in Google Street View and found an intersection at Hanover Street and Exchange Place that matched the scene in the film.

Unfortunately, the CURE headquarters building at 20 Exchange was covered in scaffolding, which made for a lousy “before/after” photo.

 

Remo’s First Assignment

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Remo Williams and Conn MacCleary drive down 5th Avenue and turn onto W 11th Street.

 

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They pull up in front of 12 W 11th Street.

 

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MacCleary tells Remo his first assignment is to assassinate the man inside the building.

 

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Remo ducks down some side steps so he can slip in a side entrance.

 

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He takes one last look at MacCleary in the parked car before going in.

 


This is one of those rare instances where being a long-time New Yorker came in handy when trying to identify a filming location. Even though there were no visible street signs or obvious landmarks in this scene, there was something about the neighborhood that looked familiar. When the car first turned the corner and parked on a cross street, I instinctively thought the buildings in the background looked like they were on Fifth Avenue, somewhere south of 14th Street.

A quick visit to Google Street View and I confirmed this instinct — finding a match on 5th Ave and W 11th Street.

The reason I recognized those rather run-of-the-mill buildings on 5th so quickly is because my aunt lived just three blocks north of that intersection, and I found myself walking in that area a lot over the years. Even though I never specifically took notice of any those buildings along 5th Avenue, I guess their image just lingered in my subconscious, ready to help me out out with a film location puzzle when the time arose.

 

Moving in with Chiun

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MacCleary takes Remo to the home of his new trainer, Chiun, a Korean martial arts master. They enter Jones Alley from Lafayette Street.

 

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They walk down the alley to a freight elevator in the back of 1 Bond Street. 

 

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After parting ways, MacCleary walks back towards  Lafayette Street. 

 


When I began researching this film, I had already identified several locations for the 1985 film, Desperately Seeking Susan, which included a chase scene that took place in Jones Alley. And since Remo was shot around the same time, it wasn’t unreasonable to think that perhaps they used the same alley for Chiun’s residence.

Since Google Street View didn’t offer great images of the alley, I decided to go there in person, and sure enough, it didn’t take me long to find enough matching elements to confirm that I found the right spot.

 

Training on a Rooftop

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Following Chiun’s lead, Remo Williams skirts along the edge of a roof at 520 W 49th Street.

 


This is another filming location I found by using the skyline to help figure out the general area the scene was filmed in, then going to Google Street View and scanning around until Fortunately in this scene, there is a POV shot of Remo on the edge of the roof which shows several major Manhattan buildings in the background, as well as smaller tenement buildings on the nearby avenue.

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A still from the film, where Remo Williams looks out from the precarious edge of the rooftop.

 

Using the Chrysler building as a start mark, it didn’t take long to figure out they were somewhere in the neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen on the west side. From there, it was just a matter of checking out a couple avenues in Google Street View before I finally found matching tenement buildings along Tenth Ave. Then I just looked about halfway down the block on the adjacent 49th Street, and found the Red Cross building at no. 520 that matched the building seen in the film.

There have been a few alterations to the structure over the last few decades, but it was pretty clear I got the right place.

 

Training at Coney Island

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Remo’s training involves hanging from Denos Wonder Wheel at Coney Island.

 

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After successfully climbing to the top of a car, Remo rides the ferris wheel to the bottom.

 

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He and Chiun then exit towards the boardwalk, via the underpass that leads to the kiddie rides.

 

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Meanwhile, a very New Yorky barker (played by the inimitable William Hickey) works a hoop game at Denos Kiddie Park.

 

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Remo and Chiun approach the hoop-on-the-bottle game (which is not far from the practically unchanged Tilt-A-Whirl ride.)

 

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After winning the game, the two walk home with a giant stuffed Pink Panther in tow.

 


Not much of mystery of where they filmed this scene — it’s pretty hard to find a more obvious landmark than Denos Wonder Wheel in Coney Island.

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The Wonder Wheel, nicknamed “Dip-the-Dip.” when it opened in Coney Island, 1920.

Initially called “Dip-the-Dip” when it opened Memorial weekend in 1920, the inventor of the Wonder Wheel promised the giant ride would combine the thrill of a scenic railway, ferris wheel and Chute-the-Chutes. A contemporary article in Science and Invention described the Wheel as a “real thrill like you have probably never had before—at least not at this great height!”

The iconic Ferris wheel got renamed “Deno’s” in 1983, when it was bought by Greek immigrant, Constantinos Dionysios “Deno” Vourderis, who had dreamed of buying the ride ever since he proposed to his wife in front of it in 1948. After spending the last few years fixing and maintaining the kiddie rides in Coney Island, Deno bought the Wheel for $250,000. And supposedly the ride didn’t come with any operating instructions — only a handwritten note on the back of a carton of cigarettes that said, “Good Luck.”

Thankfully, the Wonder Wheel will remain in Coney Island for many years to come, as it was designated an official New York City landmark a few years after this scene from Remo Williams was filmed.

After Fred Ward and Joel Grey get off the Wonder Wheel, it took me a little time to figure out the exact spot they walked to where they encountered William Hickey and the hoop-on-the-bottle game. I basically used the tall residential buildings in the background to figure out the general orientation of the camera, but it wasn’t until I went to Coney Island in person that I was able to figure out the exact spot they filmed the scene, due to the fact that both the merry-go-round and the Tilt-A-Whirl were still in the same place they were in 1985.

 

Remo Learns to Float

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Remo learns to float as he runs along the Coney Island shoreline.

 

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Chuin stands in front of the former Stauch Baths on the corner of Stilwell Avenue and the boardwalk, watching Remo float above the beach.

 


I knew this scene also took place on Coney Island, but I figured out the exact location by identifying the former Stauch Baths building in the background, which used to be on on the corner of Stillwell Avenue and the boardwalk.

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Coney Island in the summer of 1939, with Stauch Baths in the background.

At the time this scene was filmed, Stauch Baths was a dilapidated remnant from a bygone era in Coney Island, when dozens of competing swimming pools and bathhouses dotted the boardwalk.

The reason there used to be so many bathhouses is because before 1923, all the beaches at Coney Island were actually privately-owned, and visiting sunbathers had to pay an admission price at a bathhouse to gain access to the ocean.

These bathhouses that lined the beach front offered a variety of amenities, such as games, food & drinks, saunas, whirlpools, sunbathing decks, and large salt-water swimming pools. They also rented lockers and, more importantly, rented bathing suits, since most New Yorkers of the late 19th century and early 20th didn’t own their own suits.

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New York beachgoers play ping pong at Washington Baths, circa 1950.

 

And these folks didn’t flock these bathhouses strictly for entertainment purposes either. Back in these early years, not everyone had a bathtub or hot running water in their homes, so these public bathhouses (both at Coney Island and throughout the city), offered them a reliable place to cleanse and refresh themselves.

One of largest and longest-lasting bath pavilions in Coney Island was Stauch Baths. The eponymous founder of this bathhouse, Louis Stauch, began his life in Coney Island when he was just a teenager, working as a piano player for Daniel Welch’s Saloon (located on what was known as Bowery Lane). To save money on rent, Louis slept on the saloon’s kitchen floor at night, and after a few years of skimping and saving, he was able to accumulate enough money to lease Welch’s for himself, at a rate of $700/year.

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Before opening one of Coney Island’s largest bathhouses, Louis Stauch owned and operated a bar and restaurant that also offered live entertainment,

 

After a series of fires and subsequent rebuildings, Louis eventually expanded his establishment far beyond a simple bar & restaurant. By 1903, he had constructed a grand, three-story bathhouse and entertainment center which was in the heart of Coney Island.

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Stauch Baths, along with several other bathhouses, on the Coney Island Boradwalk, circa 1924.

 

By the 1930’s, under the city’s newly increased powers of eminent domain, Robert Moses was able to convert the majority of Coney Island’s beaches into city parks, making them free and open to the public. It was right around this time that a lot of the bathhouses became settings for homosexual rendezvous, and Staunch’s Baths infamously became the epicenter of unabashed gay activities.

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Staunch Baths, shortly after its closure, circa 1975. (Photo by Rocco Galatioto.)

 

Even after WWII, when there was a major crackdown on homosexual activity in New York, Stauch’s remained an establishment where the gay community was able to thrive — and it continued all the way up to its closure in the early 1970’s. After Stauch Baths went out of business, the abandoned building became a decrepit shell on the boardwalk, emblazoned with the word, “Warriors,” which was spray-painted when the 1979 action film of the same name was filmed there.

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A 1986 photograph of the abandoned Stauch’s Baths building with “Warriors” spray-painted on the front. (Photo by Matt Weber.)

 

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Another photograph of Stauch’s Baths, taken by Matt Weber on Stillwell Avenue, circa 1985. 

 

The big spray-painted letters actually remained on the building for the next decade, until the monumental, three-story bathhouse was finally demolished in the winter of 1992. In its place, there now sits an unremarkable one-story restaurant.

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The site of Stauch’s Baths after it was razed in 1992. The wooden Thunderbolt rollercoaster sits in the background, which would be demolished eight years later.

 


According to Forgotten New York, as of 2018, Coney Island’s last remaining bathhouse structure from this era is the former McLochlin’s Baths on West 25th Street and the boardwalk.

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A 1930 photograph showing the boardwalk entrance to McLochlin’s Baths.

 

Erected in 1922, McLochlin’s Baths was a fixture on the boardwalk for a couple decades, before finally closing its doors in 1945. The baths themselves might be gone, but the building on W 25th Street is still standing today, and is now home to the Parks Department’s Garage and Dispatcher’s Office.

 

Remo Follows Major Fleming

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Major Fleming crosses 6th Avenue from Bryant Park.

 

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After a unproductive meeting, Fleming tries to hail a cab in front of 1095 6th Avenue (which has been extensively remodeled since 1985). 

 

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Remo Williams steps in and offers to help her hail a cab.

 

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A creepy thug, named Stone, honks his horn at Remo.

 

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Remo spews upon Stone a mouthful of sarcasm (while catty-corner to 47 West 42nd Street). 

 

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After applying a chokehold to the man, Remo is told by a cop to release his kung-fu grip.

 


Finding the building the Major went into wasn’t too hard to find since Bryant Park (seen across the street) is fairly recognizable. A lot of the other neighboring buildings that appear in the scene are still around today, but it took me a while to realize that the building the Major went into is also still around — it simply has gone through a major renovation and face-lift.

3 thoughts on “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985)

  1. This was amazing. I came here because I always thought Remo and Chiun’s loft apartment was sort of like a dream residence and was hoping to find out if it was actually a place, or just converted for film. This was a very nice surprise to see all these places and how much has changed in NY since I was a teenager. I don’t know NYC as well as the author, but I lived and commuted from NJ to NY for much of my life. I appreciate the work that was done in this research. I never expected to see the day where no one really knows this film anymore, but I guess that’s how it goes when you get older. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. 🙂

    Like

    1. Thanks for dropping a line. When I was writing this post, I knew it would be for a relatively small audience, but hoped there’d be a few folks out there who’d appreciate a location-breakdown of this oft-overlooked film.

      Like

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