Even some of the most classic Brooklyn films make mistakes in capturing America’s favorite borough. IMDB’s user-generated goofs section dares to question many an iconic New York moment, noting anachronisms, continuity issues and geography errors that just go to show, “there’s no guy livin’ dat knows Brooklyn through and through, because it’d take a guy a lifetime just to find his way aroun’ duh goddamn town” — to quote Thomas Wolfe’s Only the Dead Know Brooklyn.
Below, some handpicked mistakes taken from eight of the most Brooklyn movies around. Note, they’re significantly more interesting if you’ve seen the films, or have an extensive knowledge of subway car models and police badge colors.
The French Connection (1971)
William Friedkin’s The French Connection contains what is considered to be one of the greatest car-chase scenes in cinema, most of which is filmed under the elevated tracks along Stillwell Avenue in Bensonhurst. Starring Gene Hackman and Fernando Rey, the movie tells the based-on-a-true-story tale of a stakeout by two narcotics detectives.
- When the subway motorman is shot and slumps in the motorman’s cab, the “dead man’s feature” should have taken effect, automatically applying the train’s brakes when his hand comes off the controller. Instead, the train continued at the same speed.
- The subway train used in the chase sequence consists of R-42 units. During the automobile crash, the train directly above Popeye’s car uses older R-32 units.
- On the subway, a two-buzz highball is normally used only when a train departs from a terminus, makes an unscheduled stop or has to add or drop cars along its route. It is not used during a route’s normal stops, such as Bay-50th Street.
- During scenes shot from above, the train is operating on one of the outer (local) tracks. During scenes shot from the front of the train itself, it is operating on the center (express) track.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Al Pacino and John Cazale play two rookie crooks robbing a bank, the exterior of which was filmed on location in Windsor Terrace, on Prospect Park West between 17th and 18th streets. The interior of the bank, however, is a set created within a warehouse.
- In 1972, NYC police squad cars were dark green and white, not blue and white as seen here. The latter debuted about two years later
- The World Trade Center, completed in 1973, appears in the film’s opening scene, but the Dog Day Afternoon is set in August 1972.
- The New York State license plates of the time were orange on blue, not blue on yellow as seen here.
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Credited with helping to popularize disco, Saturday Night Fever also helped make a name for John Travolta — and Brooklyn. The movie was filmed entirely in Brooklyn, largely in the southwestern neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst and Sunset Park.
- Just before Tony gets off the subway for the first time, 45th Street station signs are visible from inside the car. After he’s gotten off the train, he is waiting for a train at 53rd Street, one stop away. Neither station is a transfer point.
- Incorrectly regarded as a goof: Near the end of the film, during the “How Deep Is Your Love” music sequence, there is a time-lapse sunrise over the Brooklyn skyline. The shot is taken from New Jersey or Liberty Island. Some mistakenly believe it to be a time-lapse sunset (in reverse) or a sunrise over the Manhattan skyline.
All right, only the first and last 10 minutes of this flick are actually set in Brooklyn, but The Warriors is an honorary Brooklyn movie as it tells the story of a gang of kids who, wrongly blamed for the death of a rival gang leader, are trying to get home from the Bronx to Coney Island. A campy classic based on Sol Yurick’s novel of the same name, The Warriors is a wonderfully dramatized peek back into ’70s New York.
- In the beginning of the movie, the Warriors board a D train leaving Coney Island. When the train leaves the station, in the far shot of Coney Island, they are instead on a B train.
- In the 96th Street and Union Square subway stations you can see on the tile walls a lot of the names say Hoyt.
- After the Warriors leave Mercy in the Bronx, she walks the streets looking for them. She passes a black street sign with white lettering (the signs that tell you what street you are on), indicating she is really in Brooklyn (where the scene was filmed), not the Bronx. In the ’70s, the street signs were color coded: Brooklyn’s were black with white lettering, and the Bronx’s were blue with white lettering. (Manhattan’s were yellow with black lettering and those are in many shots.)
- The 96th Street entrance, where the Warriors meet the Baseball Furies, is actually the 72nd Street and Broadway entrance. The Gray’s Papaya visible in the scenes has been there since 1973.
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Spike Lee’s signature film stars himself as Mookie, a Bed Stuy delivery boy lacking ambition. The film’s title refers to the moral ambiguity of the racial tensions abounding in the neighborhood between the black community and Sal, the Italian pizzeria owner. More than 25 years after its production, many of the themes in Do the Right Thing are still eerily relevant in today’s Brooklyn.
- The story takes place at the intersection of Bedford and Stuyvesant avenues. In reality, the two do not cross each other, however, the film was shot in Bed Stuy.
A Scorsese masterpiece, Goodfellas is the film adaption of Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguy, the story of the rise and fall of a Lucchese crime family associate. The 146-minute-long film takes place from 1950-88, leaving plenty of room for accidental anachronisms.
- When we first see Paulie’s house, a cable TV wire is clearly visible on the outside, but cable TV wasn’t available in New York’s outer boroughs until the mid 1980s.
- The mob men grab Henry’s mailman leaving work from a post office named “Pitkin Ave Station, Queens, N.Y.,” but Henry lives in East New York, which would be in a different zip code.
- While walking through the nightclub kitchen, Henry and Karen pass a cook wearing a modern Mets hat.
Sergio Leone’s epic follows Robert De Niro from a childhood in the Jewish ghetto to a prominent position in the mob. Told non-chronologically, most exterior shots were done on location, but some scenes, such as the flashbacks to Grand Central Terminal, were filmed in Paris. The poster image of the Manhattan Bridge can be seen today in DUMBO, down Washington Street.
- In the iconic shot of the Manhattan Bridge between the two buildings, a modern streetlight is visible by the base of the bridge.
- During the famous scene where the young boys are crossing the street with the Manhattan Bridge in the background, the building on the right has a visible window air conditioner, which were not available until 1932.
- In 1968, Noodles returns to the train station and opens a briefcase full of money. As he gets set to close the briefcase, we hear the chug-chug of a steam locomotive starting up in the background, then a steam whistle sounds. New York City banned steam locomotives in 1860. In the U.S., most steam engines were replaced with diesel locomotives by 1958.
- When Noodle stabs Bugsy they are on the left side of the Manhattan Bridge, but the scene is moved to the right side of the bridge when the police are coming.
- The boys first put money in a locker at the Lackawana Terminal in Hoboken. But when they come out into the street, they are at the base of the Manhattan Bridge in Dumbo.
The Squid and the Whale (2005)
Written and directed by Noah Baumbach and produced by Wes Anderson, The Squid and the Whale is about two boys from Park Slope dealing with their parents’ divorce. Filmed in 2005 but set in the ’80s, this arthouse dramedy was shot on a handheld camera with Super 16mm film.
- The subway cars shown throughout the film were introduced in the late ’90s, but the film takes place in the ’80s. The subway cars of 1986 would be coated with graffiti both inside and out.
- In the middle of the movie, Walt is waiting on a subway platform. When a train goes by, you can glimpse an American flag on the side of the train, but flag decals weren’t put on subway trains until after September 11, 2001.
- Bernie’s car has a Statue of Liberty license plate, which first appeared in 1986. But his car’s registration says 1986 on it, which means it was issued in 1984, so it should have the older blue-on-yellow license plate.
- The ambulance that takes Bernard away is painted FDNY red. EMS was not merged into the fire department until the ’90s, and before that ambulances were painted in the EMS colors: orange, blue and white.
- The police officer who issues Bernard a ticket for double parking is wearing a post-1994 navy-blue uniform. The uniforms in 1986 were sky blue.
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