The Anderson Tapes (1971)

Directed by the consummate Sydney Lumet and starring Sean Connery, Martin Balsam, Alan King, and a young Christopher Walken, The Anderson Tapes is a quirky heist movie, which also takes a critical look at the pervasive use of surveillance in modern society. Whether it’s government wire taps, residential security cameras, prison monitors, or bank ID photos, the film lets us know that someone is constantly keeping tabs on us.

Although a commendable attempt at exposing the moral ambiguity of prolific monitoring technologies in the 1970s, it does feel a bit dated today. I believe that if Lumet pushed the surveillance theme to the absurd levels as he did in his 1976 film, Network, this film might’ve retained a more timeless quality,. I also think Quincy Jones’ futuristic electronic soundtrack was somewhat distracting, invariably reminding you that you’re watching a 1971 film that’s trying to be hipper beyond its decade. However, the film does have its charms. Almost all the leading actors give engaging performances, and I’m always a sucker for a good heist story. Plus, Lumet being Lumet, he offers us a slew of interesting NYC locations.

 

 

Arriving from Prison

Port Authority
After being released from prison, Duke Anderson and two other ex-cons arrive at Port Authority Bus Terminal at 625 8th Avenue, exiting Gate 19 on the lower level.
Port Authority
They take an escalator to the upper level.

 


It was already established on several websites that this scene was shot in the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 8th Avenue. But since the images in the film didn’t resemble what the bus station looks like today, I was in search of any vintage photos to confirm it was the same place.

After a little digging around, I stumbled upon a few black & white photographs from the late 1960s, showing what PABT looked like before it got remodeled in 1979. Amazingly, the station was much more charming in appearance, looking more like a small airport than a bus terminal. 

Looking west on the main level of Port Authority circa 1969, with a shot from The Anderson Tapes (inset) looking in the reverse direction. (Red arrow indicates the escalator the three characters ride up in the film.)

 

Looking at the southern mezzanine at Port Authority circa 1969 (above) and a still from The Anderson Tapes featuring Connery and Walken (below). Red arrow above shows their approximate location. (Photo by Lehnartz/ullstein bild)

 

After finding those black & white images, not only was I certain they filmed inside PABT, but I now had a better idea where the scene on the mezzanine took place. Although, I was never able to find any information or vintage photos of where they shot the very end of this sequence, which featured several futuristic-looking seating stations

For more information about the history of Port Authority Bus Terminal, see my article on the Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), where I look at the history of an array of bus terminals in NYC.

Late Night with Larry Bud Melman
From a 1983 episode of Late Night with David Letterman, Larry “Bud” Melman stands in the lower level of PABT, not far from where The Anderson Tapes was filmed. This was only a few years after the station was remodeled, and still looks more or less the same today.

 


Prior to this sequence at PABT, the movie begins with Duke Anderson and his fellow inmates being processed and released from prison. Several modern sources indicated they shot these scenes on Rikers Island, but I was very cautious to blindly assume that they actually filmed there.

This caution came from my experiences doing research for this “NYC in Film” project. Over the years, I have encountered instances when one person cites an incorrect filming location (usually on IMDB or Wikipedia) and then several other movie websites would promulgate this error, giving the impression that the purported filming location was backed up with multiple sources. And the last thing I wanted to do was repeat this malfeasance on this website.

Fun City

But I had high hopes that the information for this scene was correct. I figured if it was explicitly indicated in the screen story that these characters were leaving Rikers Island, someone might’ve simply cited RIkers as a filming location on a website without doing any research. But since the characters were being released from an unnamed prison (opposed to Rikers which is exclusively for people awaiting trial or serving a sentence of one year or less), I assumed there must be some reliable sources out there that were the basis for this filming location assertion.

However, after my initial research into the subject, I couldn’t find anything outside of movie websites that indicated that Lumet used the New York facility. I later found a 2016 article in the Queens Gazette that said The Anderson Tapes was filmed there, but the author could have gotten her information from a modern (and potentially unreliable) source like IMDB. 

Finally, I was able to track down one contemporaneous source that referred to the production being on Rikers Island — a syndicated news article by Earl Wilson which was circulated in late-September/early-October of 1970.

 “This city’s bad!” Sean Connery said. Speaking, of course, of Fun City. “But it’s the most colorful in the world. In my hotel a woman threw a bag on the elevator right at the door so the lift couldn’t go down, then she ran back inside. I waited, then I went in to say, ‘Hey!’ She was packing another bag. 

“I was walking down the street with Marty Balsam when a man came up and shouted an anti-Semitic remark at me. I said ‘ME?’ Marty told the fellow. ‘Not him! ME!.’

I was trying to get breakfast in a little restaurant when a woman who bad two sets of eyebrows painted on her eyebrows screamed at me. ‘YOU CAN’T ORDER AHEAD OF ME. I WAS HERE FIRST!'”

Connery, who’s here filming “The Anderson Tapes,” shooting scenes in Rikers Island Prison among other places, says he got into the mood and put on a holdup man’s mask walking the street. “And nobody noticed anything strange!”

 

I kind of doubt all of those wild Connery stories are true, but one unexpected thing that caught my attention in that article was a reference to “Fun City” — which turns out was a short-lived moniker for NYC in the 1960s and 1970s. Apparently, it was based on a statement made in 1966 by the city’s newly-elected mayor, John Lindsay, who was facing a debilitating transit-strike, but declared, “I still think it’s a fun city,.”

John Lindsay
John Lindsay, 1965, shortly after being elected the new mayor of New York City.

His upbeat, but rather ineffective outlook in the face of the city’s mounting problems —the garbage and teachers’ strikes, prison riots, soaring poverty and crime— was met with mockery by cynical Gothamites.

New York Herald Tribune writer, Dick Schaap, was the first to coin the phrase, satirizing the mayor’s “fun city” quote in his metro column, making the point that a lighthearted attitude won’t solve the city’s dire situation.

”I grabbed the words, capitalized them and ran with them,” he later wrote.

For the next couple of years, the sardonic nickname was embraced by many New Yorkers, regularly appearing in news articles, advertisements, and Times Square porno shops. It even became the title of a Joan Rivers play that briefly ran on Broadway in 1972, and was the name of one of tracks for John Barry’s soundtrack for the 1969 film, Midnight Cowboy. 

Fun City
The Fun City Theater at 113 W 42nd Street in Manhattan, which was owned and operated by Marty “King of the Peeps” Hodas, circa 1970s. 

 

Since then, the moniker has basically disappeared from the New York lexicon. However, there was a brief reference to it during Michael Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor when critics of his bans on smoking and oversized sugar drinks began referring to New York as “No-Fun City.”

Fun City
Broadway’s Morosco Theatre in January 1972, featuring a sign for the comedy “Fun City,” starring Joan Rivers (who also co-wrote it), Rose Marie, Paul Ford and Louis Zorich. The failed show ended up closing after only nine performances.

 

Even though the reference to Rikers Island in that 1970 news article was only in passing, it was enough to make me fairly confident that the movie was indeed shot there. But I still wanted to find some pictorial evidence to give me full satisfaction. I watched several harrowing documentaries about the nearly century-old institution, but I couldn’t find any images that matched any of the shots from the film.

Finally, after sifting through endless pictures of Rikers Island (most of which were of the outside), I found a couple from the 1930s and 1950s that appeared to show some matching details.     

Rikers
A photograph of a Rikers Island cellblock from the 1930s (left) compared to a still from the 1971 film. (Red boxes indicate matching elements.)

 

After having studied these vintage photos, I was now confident that production filmed on Rikers Island, and believed they most likely used a cellblock inside Rikers House of Detention for Men (HDM). Constructed in 1933, the 1,200-bed, maximum security complex was the island’s first permanent jail. It was renamed James A. Thomas Center in 1989 to honor the DOC’s first African-American warden (which is ironic since, according to reporter Sylvia Kronstadt, Thomas thought it was a “barbaric facility”). Still-standing, the three-story structure is no longer used to house inmates (but this past summer, its rooftop was used as an escape route for a fleeing prisoner).

 

Banking and Shopping

Korvette's on Fifth
After getting an account at a bank, Duke’s face and a personal check are photographed by a sales clerk at Korvette’s department store at 575 Fifth Avenue.

 

 

Finding the location of the store was fair simple since the name “Fifth Avenue Korvettes” appears on one of the walls. After a little research I found the specific address to be 575 Fifth Avenue.

In 1962, Korvette opened a store that not only gained the company national publicity but proved to be hugely profitable in its own right, and also helped cement the direction of a major part of Korvette’s merchandising going forward. I’m referring to the famous eight-floor “Fifth Avenue Korvettes”, which opened on July 24, 1962 at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 47th Street in the heart of Manhattan’s “Gold Coast” retail district.

In the months leading up to the store’s opening, the store became the subject of many jokes (and much genuine concern) within Fifth Avenue’s elite retail enclave, which at the time included such luminaries as Lord & Taylor, Tiffany and Co. and Saks Fifth Avenue, among others. The basis of this was a fear that Korvette would open a stereotypically tacky discount store with barren walls, poor lighting, pipe garment racks and substandard goods, thus tarnishing the area’s image.

They couldn’t have been more wrong. The store (which was opened in the former location of W.J. Sloane, a famous New York furniture store which had resided there for the previous 50 years) was very tastefully decorated in a classy, elegant manner via a million-dollar renovation. Moreover, Eugene Ferkauf and his subordinates did a superb job of merchandising, stocking the store with a fine array of upscale apparel, including cashmere sweaters, furs (very much in vogue at the time though extremely controversial now) and other high-end items, in addition to their normal midprice offerings.

The store was a smashing success, and limousines picking-up and delivering well-heeled patrons were a common sight. On top of that, the store became something of a tourist attraction and would remain so for much of the next decade, even after Korvette declined in other areas. The Fifth Avenue store greatly influenced Korvette merchandising, leading to an increased emphasis on soft goods (clothing) and more upscale store décor.

The photos shown are all from 1962, the store’s first year, and show a bustling Fifth Avenue sidewalk scene, a beautiful night view, and a sizable crowd shopping in the women’s department. I really like the night picture. You can almost picture this scene several hours later – the sun is rising, peering between the buildings and down the street, which is still virtually devoid of people – then Audrey Hepburn appears, holding her cup of coffee and danish and gazing through one of the windows as “Moon River” strains in the background. You know, “Breakfast at Korvettes”, right? Well, maybe not.

 

The one confusing thing involved the appearance of the building. Today, the building at no. 575 looks nothing like , and my research partner, Jeff Blakeslee, found the location of the bank. Admittedly he found the more difficult location. Adroit

 

 

The Apartment Building

atapes-apt1a
Duke stands in front of the Central Park wall on 5th Avenue between 91st and 92nd Streets.

 

atapes-apt1b
He looks at the large building at 1 E 91st Street from 5th Avenue.

 

atapes-apt2
Duke then checks out the building from the 91st Street side.

 

atapes-apt3
He steps closer, staring at the 91st Street entrance.

 

atapes-apt5
He enters the vestibule.

 

atapes-apt6
A camera watches all.

 


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Mob Restaurant

 

My research partner, Jeff Blakeslee, found the location of the bank. Admittedly he found the more difficult location. Adroit

 

Pop Calls Duke

 

Hardware Store

 

 

 

 

 

 

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