This mid-80’s action film is about a special effects man named Rollie, who is hired by the Department of Justice to fake the murder of a mobster. But after he’s double-crossed by the people who hired him, Rollie fears he may have actually killed the mobster, and soon finds himself pursued by both crooked government agents and the New York Police Department. His only hope is to use his skills as a movie special effects man to gain the upper hand against his unrelenting enemies.
This is one of two of my favorite 1980’s action films that take place in New York City — the other bring 1985’s “Remo Williams.” But unlike “Remo,” “F/X” is actually a fairly solid film, with an ingenious premise and very few plot holes. It also benefits from a well-rounded cast, including Australian actor Bryan Brown, Jerry Orbach, Brian Dennehy, Roscoe Orman (best known for playing Gordon on “Sesame Street”), Diane Venora, Cliff De Young, and Mason Adams (who I recognized mostly as the ubiquitous voice-over artist for countless TV commercials).
The Movie Within a Movie
Finding this filming location was a rather easy task since the very unique-looking Citigroup Center was featured prominently in the scene (although admittedly, not knowing the exact address or official name of the building, I originally had to search online for “the Manhattan skyscraper with slanted top”).
When it was built in 1977, the 59-story Citigroup Center (originally named Citicorp Center) was the seventh-tallest building in the world. Even though the 45-degree angled top makes this skyscraper stand out in the NYC skyline, the nine-story stilts at the base is what makes it particularly unique — especially since the stilts aren’t located at the corners but in the middle.
The reason there are stilts is because when the Citicorp Center was being designed, chief structural engineer, William LeMessurier, was required to accommodate St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, which occupied one corner of the construction site on Lexington Avenue. Therefore, they had to build their skyscraper around the church, requiring them to put the stilts at the midpoint of each side, opposed to the corners.
This unusual base naturally made the building less stable, so LeMessurier designed a specific bracing framework for its skeleton and installed a “tuned mass damper” to prevent structural failure. At the time, it was considered an ingenious application of engineering, but in 1978 it was discovered that the building was vulnerable to quartering winds (winds that strike the building at its corners), and LeMessurier determined that a strong-enough storm could topple Citicorp Center.
To fix this potentially-catastrophic flaw in the building’s design, LeMessurier and his team worked with Citicorp to coordinate emergency repairs, which consisted of secretly welding in reinforcement plates under the cover of night, right around the same time Hurricane Ella was approaching the northeast. Fortunately, the repairs were completed before any brutal windstorms hit the city, so the public —as well as Citicorp Center’s occupants— never realized how close they came to a major disaster.
The first step in figuring out this scene’s location was to try and guess what general neighborhood it was filmed in. By the looks of the tall corporate buildings in the background of the last shot, I figured they probably were midtown somewhere. But the fact that there were small apartment buildings near the “movie studio” made me think they weren’t in the center of the island, but rather in a residential neighborhood on the westside. (I eliminated the eastside as a possibility because the residential buildings to the east of midtown tend to be big doorman high-rises.)
The other big clue I had to go on was a playground and building across the street that looked like it was a public school. So, my first plan of action was to go to Google Maps and search for any school in the 40s or 50s to see if they matched the one in the film.
Surprisingly, it didn’t take long before I stumbled upon P.S. 111, whose building looked very similar to the one that appears in the scene. A little more investigating and I was certain I found the right place.
I was rather pleased it look very little time to nail this location — it just took some educated guesswork and a little bit of good luck.
There aren’t a whole lot of F/X‘s filming locations documented on the web, but Rollie’s apartment happens to be one of them, probably because it’s situated right next to one of New York’s most famous movie sites — the firehouse from Ghostbusters. So, needless to say, it didn’t take long for me to figure out this location. I just went to IMDB and found the address right away.
When I went down to Tribeca one morning to take pictures of the building, I happened upon a man standing on the steps in front of the entrance, staring at his watch. Whenever I take pictures of movie locations, I do my best to avoid having any people prominently in the frame, so I waited around, hoping that the man would eventually leave. But after a few minutes, I could see he wasn’t going anywhere. So, I did what New Yorkers are not known for doing — I politely asked him if he could step aside so I could take a picture of the building. He looked up from his watch and nodded, then slowly stepped down onto the sidewalk, somewhat baffled why he was obliging me.
As I took my pictures, a girl of around 10 or 11 came running by, and the man with the watch looked up and shouted, “three more!” I quickly surmised that he probably lived in the building and was timing his daughter who was running laps around the block. Once I was finished taking pictures of the front entrance, I started talking to the man and confirmed that he did indeed live in the building. I told him about how F/X was shot there and showed him some stills from the movie on my iPhone. I asked him if the apartment doors looked as they did in the film, but was told that they were not. But he did inform me that the stairwell was more or less unchanged, except it was now closed off with a locked door. At this point, his daughter was done running laps and they were about to go back inside when I boldly (but politely) asked if I could step in with them and take a quick peek at the stairwell. Surprisingly, he agreed, and let me in the building where I was able to snap a couple pics of the lobby and the stairwell through the door window.
It pays to be polite.
When I saw this scene, I didn’t think it’d be possible to figure out the location since all you really see is one corner of a generic-looking lobby of an apartment building. The camera does look out the front door and onto the street, but it’s dark and rainy, so it was hard to make out any significant details.
But then I noticed a little bit of writing on the window next to the door, and hoping it was an address, I took a frame from the film, reversed it, and zoomed in on the lettering. It wasn’t a street address per se, but I could make out one word that said “Van” and another word that ended with a “gh,” and thought it could be the name of the building.
The first phrase that came to mind was, “Van Gough,” and I immediately checked to see if there were any apartment buildings in New York City with that name. And sure enough, I found a listing for “The Van Gough Apartments,” located at 14 Horatio Street. Even before checking out the location in Google Street View, I had a good feeling I got the right place because it was only a couple blocks away from several other F/X filming locations.
Even though there weren’t any pictures of the lobby online, the street view offered a bunch of clues that helped confirm this location. The 45 degree cross-street with an open lot on the opposite side seemed to line up perfectly with what is seen out the front door in the film. Plus, the brickwork on the building exterior matched what appeared through the window in the film.
When I went to the building to try and get a photo of the lobby, I was a little apprehensive, since doormen and security guards often don’t allow any picture-taking on their property. In this instance, the doorman actually stopped me before I could even get in the building, telling me that it was against policy to let a non-resident in the lobby, while also obstinately denying that the lobby was even used in the film. But after doing a little pleading, I was allowed to take a peak inside, but with him standing over my shoulder, I couldn’t take any photos.
Despite the doorman’s strong conviction, I was pretty certain I found the correct location. So I returned to the building about a month later when a different doorman was on duty. And as luck would have it, someone was delivering a package when I entered the lobby, so while the doorman was busy dealing with the delivery, I was able to sneak several photographs.
The only awkward part was after the delivery guy left, I had to pretend I was there for a legitimate reason. So I asked the doorman if there was a a “Tom” in apartment 14E (a name and number I completely picked out of thin air), which he responded with a puzzled look. After glancing at the computer screen behind the desk, he told me that a “Susan” lived in 14E.
I then acted frustrated and confused. “Really? Tom doesn’t live there?”
The doorman was about to shake his head no, when he checked the computer one last time, then said with a surprise, “Oh! Yes, Thomas lives in 14E, too.” I too was genuinely surprised, but staying in character, I acted as if I was relived.
When he called up to the apartment, I prayed that no one would pick up. Someone did pick up — it was Susan, and she told the doorman that Thomas was not in. Continuing with an Oscar-worthy reformance, I let out an exaggerated sigh, thanked the doorman and headed out, shaking my head as if saying, “where is that guy?”
And… end scene!
Driving the F/X Truck
Meeting on the Overpass
It didn’t take long to figure out where this scene was shot. There are only a handful of two-way streets in Manhattan and the only overpass I knew that ran over one was at Tudor City near the U.N. Building. A quick check in Google Street View confirmed my guesswork.
Taking the “after pictures” at this location proved to be little tricky, only because it happens to be a popular spot for tourists to come and take pictures down 42nd Street and of the Chrysler Building. In fact, I had to come to the location twice in order to get all the pictures I wanted and not have throngs of foreigners posing along the railing.
Whenever I see a picturesque street with a crook in it, I figure it’s either a movie studio backlot, or Minetta Street, and since as far as I could tell F/X was shot entirely on location, I guessed this scene took place on Minetta as well. Granted, there are similar-looking streets in the West Village with the same kind of bend in them, but Minetta is definitely used most often in films.
Since the scene took place at night in the rain, it was a little difficult to figure out exactly where the car and F/X truck were parked, but eventually I noticed a driveway/alleyway next to 9 Minetta Street that appeared behind Lipton’s car, and from that, got a good idea where the action took place.
Assassination at a Restaurant
This is a location I had trouble finding for a while, and I ended up revisiting it several times before figuring it out — although technically Blakeslee found it first.
Like the scene on Minetta Street, this scene took place at night and in the rain, which made it more difficult to make out any details. But by bumping up the brightness and contrast of a still from the film, I was able to see the address number 1422 outside the restaurant. But because the restaurant looked kind of fake, I thought the address number was fake, too. In fact, at first I thought the entire restaurant was a set on a soundstage, but then I realized that there was a single continuous shot that started inside the restaurant and ended on a street that was unmistakably an actual New York location.
By the width of the street, it was most likely an avenue, and by looks of the tall residential buildings, I guessed it was the Upper East Side, so I checked all the 1422’s on every eastside avenue just in case that address on the restarant was real. But after checking each avenue, none of the buildings matched the stone facade seen in the film.
I next tried to use the stores that appeared across the street as the car drove away as a way to figure out the location. It was difficult to see many details since it was dark and raining —not to mention the image was blurry because the camera was moving— but one of the stores looked like a Chinese restaurant with a sign that said “—Joy” and another store had a sign that said “Churchill Fu——.” After several failed internet searches using those keywords, I went to the library to look up “Churchill F—,” in a 1986 phonebook and found a listing for “Churchill Furniture,” but none of its locations matched what was in the scene.
My third tactic was then to see if I could find a building in Google Street View that matched the big white residential building that appeared in the background. I just virtually cruised up and down each avenue on the eastside from around 34th Street to 100th Street to see if I could spot it. In particular I was looking for a large light-colored building that had a notch on the corner, with narrow windows along that corner notch and wider windows along the main sides.
As I was doing this very time-consuming virtual tour of the Upper East Side, I passed along all my clues associated with this scene to Blakelsee. And after he had no luck figuring out the identity of any of those stores across the street, he decided to look at every eastside avenue’s no. 1422 building as well. And before I could tell him it was a waste of time because I already did that, he found the restaurant’s location — 1422 Third Avenue.
I figured the reason I missed it on my first go-around was because the building’s street-level in 2018 looked nothing like it did in 1986. All the stonework got removed and replaced with glass, which is something I didn’t even consider a possibility. I just assumed from an engineering standpoint, removing large stones from the foundation of a building wouldn’t be feasible.
Another problem when I was originally checking all the 1422s — at the time, I wasn’t using that big white residential building down the street as a way to conform the location, but when Blakeslee checked the 1422s, he did. It was a little frustrating that I missed it several months prior to his finding it, but I was happy we got this mystery location solved.
Reading the Newspaper
Dressed as Bums
The Government Office
Kidnapping Agent Lipton
Torturing Agent Lipton
The Auto Impound
The Chase – The Hudson River
The Chase – Meatpacking District
The Chase – West Village
St. Mary’s Hospital
After successfully killing all of his enemies, Rollie fakes his own death and his body is brought to St. Mary’s Hospital at 135 S Center Street in Orange, NJ.