Prince of the City (1981)

R | 167 mins | Drama | 19 August 1981

Director:

Sidney Lumet

Producer:

Burtt Harris

Cinematographer:

Andrzej Bartkowiak

Production Designer:

Tony Walton

Production Companies:

Orion Pictures Company, Warner Bros., Inc.
Full page view
HISTORY

Prince of the City is based on the 1978 book of the same name by Robert Daley, who served as the Deputy Police Commissioner in New York City, 1971--72. The book tells the true story of Robert Leuci, a member of an elite narcotics unit of the New York Police Department. Leuci worked undercover with the Justice Department to collect evidence on crooked cops, resulting in the indictment of fifty-two of the seventy officers on that special narcotics squad, two of whom committed suicide.
       Five months before the Oct 1978 publication of Prince of the City, the 8 May 1978 Publishers Weekly announced that Orion Pictures had purchased the film rights for $500,000. Orion acquired the book because the studio had just signed a two-picture deal with actor John Travolta, who expressed interest in a film adaptation.
       Orion hired David Rabe to write the script, marking the playwright’s first foray into screenwriting, and Brian De Palma to direct, the 5--11 Aug 1981 Village Voice reported. However, Travolta dropped out of the project, deciding to film Urban Cowboy (1980, see entry) instead. The project was offered to actor Robert De Niro and later Al Pacino, but neither would commit. Meanwhile, Orion was unhappy with Rabe’s screenplay and opted not to use it. At the same time, De Palma left the project; Orion said that De Palma quit, while De Palma said he was fired.
       In Sep 1979, Orion approached Sidney Lumet about directing. Lumet said he did not want to use any stars, and that he would need at least a three-hour running time to do ... More Less

Prince of the City is based on the 1978 book of the same name by Robert Daley, who served as the Deputy Police Commissioner in New York City, 1971--72. The book tells the true story of Robert Leuci, a member of an elite narcotics unit of the New York Police Department. Leuci worked undercover with the Justice Department to collect evidence on crooked cops, resulting in the indictment of fifty-two of the seventy officers on that special narcotics squad, two of whom committed suicide.
       Five months before the Oct 1978 publication of Prince of the City, the 8 May 1978 Publishers Weekly announced that Orion Pictures had purchased the film rights for $500,000. Orion acquired the book because the studio had just signed a two-picture deal with actor John Travolta, who expressed interest in a film adaptation.
       Orion hired David Rabe to write the script, marking the playwright’s first foray into screenwriting, and Brian De Palma to direct, the 5--11 Aug 1981 Village Voice reported. However, Travolta dropped out of the project, deciding to film Urban Cowboy (1980, see entry) instead. The project was offered to actor Robert De Niro and later Al Pacino, but neither would commit. Meanwhile, Orion was unhappy with Rabe’s screenplay and opted not to use it. At the same time, De Palma left the project; Orion said that De Palma quit, while De Palma said he was fired.
       In Sep 1979, Orion approached Sidney Lumet about directing. Lumet said he did not want to use any stars, and that he would need at least a three-hour running time to do the material justice, perhaps as much as three hours and twenty minutes. The final cut of the film came in at two hours and forty-seven minutes.
       Once Orion agreed to his terms, Lumet and screenwriter Jay Presson Allen wrote the script in three weeks. The pair had previously worked together on the comedy Just Tell Me What You Want (1980, see entry), the 8 Oct 1979 DV reported. Much of the dialogue used was lifted directly from the tapes Robert Leuci recorded while working undercover.
       Principal photography began on 10 Mar 1980, according to a 21 Mar 1980 HR production chart. The film was shot entirely on location in and around New York City, making it the nineteenth movie Lumet had filmed there. Promotional materials in AMPAS library files indicate the film used 130 different locations, had 280 scenes, and 126 speaking roles. The 23 Aug 1981 LAHExam noted that Lumet shot the film in a mere fifty-nine days, even though it was scheduled for an eighty-day shoot. Budgeted at $10.4 million, Lumet completed it for $8.6 million.
       To prepare for his role as “Danny Ciello,” the character based on detective Robert Leuci, actor Treat Williams rode along with police every night for several weeks. After that, he lived with Leuci for a month to better understand the man he was portraying onscreen. Although Williams learned to mimic many of Leuci’s mannerisms and the two became close friends during their time together, Leuci told the 28 Aug 1981 LAHExam that he was disappointed by the actor’s portrayal of him, feeling he got too emotional in scenes.
       Orion originally planned to open Prince of the City in Mar 1981, but Lumet requested the studio wait until the fall where it stood a better chance of performing well at the box office. Lumet believed that the slow platform release pattern the studio wanted to use would have the film opening widest in May and competing against the summer escapist movies. Lumet requested Orion add $800,000 to the budget to cover the interest costs for holding the film for six months, the 5 Aug 1981 Village Voice reported.
       Prince of the City opened exclusively at New York City’s Cinemas I, II, and III on 19 Aug 1981. A week later, it opened in Los Angeles, CA, at the Cinerama Dome, and in Toronto, Canada. After the film developed good word of mouth, the 18 Jul 1981 NYT reported the studio intended to open it in five or six more cities in early Oct 1981.
       Reviews tended to be mixed, most admiring the film's ambitiousness, but also mentioning the need for tightening the script. The 19 Aug 1981 NYT commented, "Prince of the City begins with the strength and confidence of a great film, and ends merely as a good one. The achievement isn’t what it first promises to be, but it’s exciting and impressive all the same.” The 10 Aug 1981 DV remarked, “the film’s complex scope, near three-hour length and relentless demands on even the most admiring viewer’s mind and gut, make solidifying its deserved commercial impact a difficult chore.” The 27 Aug 1981 LAT opined, “Scriptwriter Allen takes two hours and 47 minutes (which seem longer), yet the film is a lumpily structured endurance test, as we in the audience tread water a good deal of the time.”
       The film was considered a box-office flop, taking in less than $6 million, the 9 Dec 1981 Village Voice reported.
More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
8 Oct 1979
p. 1, 10.
Daily Variety
10 Aug 1981
p. 3, 13.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Mar 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Aug 1981
p. 7.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
23 Aug 1981
Section E, p. 1, 10.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
28 Aug 1981
Section D, p. 5, 37.
Los Angeles Times
27 Aug 1981
Calendar section, p. 1.
New York Times
18 Jul 1981
p. 9.
New York Times
19 Aug 1981
p. 17.
Publishers Weekly
8 May 1978.
---
Variety
12 Aug 1981
p. 18.
Village Voice
5--11 Aug 1981.
---
Village Voice
9--15 Dec 1981.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Orion Pictures Company
Warner Bros A Warner Communication Company present
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITERS
Based on the book by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
Stillman
Gaffer
Rigging gaffer
Key grip
Rigging grip
Steadicam® by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst film ed
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Scenic artist
Standby scenic
Set dec
Set dresser
MUSIC
SOUND
Supv sd ed
Sd mixer
Boom man
Re-rec mixer
Sd ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Title seq by
Title seq by
MAKEUP
Hairstylist
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit mgr
Loc mgr
Scr supv
Prod office coord
Asst to the dir
Asst to Mrs. Allen
Asst loc mgr
Auditor
Casting
Transportation capt
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book Prince of the City by Robert Daley (Boston, 1978).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
19 August 1981
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 19 August 1981
Los Angeles opening: 28 August 1981
Production Date:
10 March--mid May 1980
Copyright Claimant:
Orion Pictures Company and Warner Brothers, Inc.
Copyright Date:
14 December 1981
Copyright Number:
PA122720
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex® camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
167
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
26239
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In the 1970s, New York Police Department detective Danny Ciello has been on the police force for eleven years and is the youngest cop in the Special Investigative Unit (SIU), a narcotics division which has seventy cops and citywide jurisdiction. Working virtually unsupervised, the SIU cops have been called the “princes of the city” because they enforce the law as they see fit and choose their own targets. The SIU officers have arrested many drug dealers over the years, but have also let other drug dealers go in exchange for money when there was not enough evidence for a conviction, and then pocketed the money for themselves. They have also been known to harass, or “shake down,” mafia men for money. Danny Ciello is the leader of his five-man SIU team. He and his partners are close and their families routinely socialize together. Danny has many informants who are addicted to heroin and he keeps them supplied with drugs in exchange for information. One night, Danny robs a junkie in a back alley to get drugs for one of his informants, who is suffering from withdrawal. Despite that, Danny has an ethical line he will not cross. When his younger brother, junkie Ronnie Ciello, is going through heroin withdrawal, Danny steadfastly refuses to help him. However, over time, Danny realizes the ethical line between the police and the crooks is getting blurred. Amid rumors of widespread police corruption, New York City convenes the Chase Commission to investigate. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Cappalino calls Danny in to talk, saying the SIU will come under special scrutiny since there is so much money involved in narcotics. Cappalino advises Danny that ... +


In the 1970s, New York Police Department detective Danny Ciello has been on the police force for eleven years and is the youngest cop in the Special Investigative Unit (SIU), a narcotics division which has seventy cops and citywide jurisdiction. Working virtually unsupervised, the SIU cops have been called the “princes of the city” because they enforce the law as they see fit and choose their own targets. The SIU officers have arrested many drug dealers over the years, but have also let other drug dealers go in exchange for money when there was not enough evidence for a conviction, and then pocketed the money for themselves. They have also been known to harass, or “shake down,” mafia men for money. Danny Ciello is the leader of his five-man SIU team. He and his partners are close and their families routinely socialize together. Danny has many informants who are addicted to heroin and he keeps them supplied with drugs in exchange for information. One night, Danny robs a junkie in a back alley to get drugs for one of his informants, who is suffering from withdrawal. Despite that, Danny has an ethical line he will not cross. When his younger brother, junkie Ronnie Ciello, is going through heroin withdrawal, Danny steadfastly refuses to help him. However, over time, Danny realizes the ethical line between the police and the crooks is getting blurred. Amid rumors of widespread police corruption, New York City convenes the Chase Commission to investigate. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Cappalino calls Danny in to talk, saying the SIU will come under special scrutiny since there is so much money involved in narcotics. Cappalino advises Danny that if he has information to share, to come directly to him.Sometime later, Danny begins working with Cappalino and Brooks Paige, the head of the anti-corruption unit at the Justice Department. Danny makes it clear that he trusts no one but his partners, whom he refuses to "rat out." Aside from them, Danny is happy to help collect evidence on crooked cops. Cappalino and Brooks promise not to go after any of his four partners and arrange to have the team rotated into other divisions. Danny confesses to three acts of misconduct in which he personally accepted illegal money. Cappalino and Paige promise they will expose and diffuse those misdeeds so he will not be prosecuted for them. However, he will be their star witness in many trials and they emphasize that if he is caught committing perjury, they cannot protect him, and all the cases they are working on will be forfeited. Danny assures them that those three cases are his only misdeeds. With offices set up in an old New York City post office building, the Justice Department arranges for Danny to wear a hidden wiretap to meetings with other police officers as well as mafia men and drug dealers. Undercover officers from out of state follow him everywhere to serve as backup and record the conversations. They allow Danny to use his best judgment on when to wear the “wire.” Soon, Danny feels so confident that he stops wearing his gun, leaving it in his attaché case. Over the next two years, Danny gets evidence on many criminals and corrupt cops. However, one day, a television news report states that a police informant whose first name begins with the letter “D” is about to testify before the Chase Commission. Mafia bondsman Dave DeBennedeto comes to suspect Danny, and threatens to kill him. Danny’s cousin, mafia man Nick Napoli, steps in, telling DeBennedeto that it is alright to kill the cop, but he had better be one hundred percent sure before pulling the trigger. DeBennedeto lets Danny go, but the detective becomes paranoid about being exposed. Nonetheless, he continues his work and soon Cappalino and Paige have sixteen indictments ready to go based on evidence Danny helped collect, with four other investigations ongoing. Prosecuting Assistant U.S. Attorney Santimassino comes from Washington, D.C. to oversee the cases. When Santimassino wants Danny to collect evidence on his idol, legendary SIU cop Gino Mascone, Danny protests, saying that was not the deal he agreed to. Santimassino reminds him the deal was not to prosecute any of Danny’s partners, and that Mascone was never his partner. Another informant, Marcel Sardino, gets evidence against Mascone. Santimassino arrests Mascone, who commits suicide rather than face prosecution. Danny is devastated by the death of his friend. After the funeral, Danny has dinner with his SIU partners, who say they have heard rumors that Danny is the informant, but they do not believe it and offer to get him money if he is having financial problems. Danny assures them he had nothing to do with Mascone’s death, but a few days later, a newspaper investigation exposes Danny as the police informant. The Justice Department stations officers around the clock at Danny’s house to protect his wife, Carla, and their two young children. Mafioso Rocky Gazzo, who has always admired Danny, offers him $150,000 to start a new life somewhere else, but Danny declines, saying he does not have anywhere to go. When both Richard Cappalino and Brooks Paige get promotions and are no longer involved with the case, Danny becomes paranoid that Santimassino will prosecute him and his partners. As a final favor, Danny arranges for Paige to have Gus Levy, his SIU partner and closest friend, transferred to an undercover case involving the garment industry. When the trials begin, Justice Department officials move Danny’s family to a cabin he owns in the Catskill Mountains. Danny visits them on weekends and is confined to a barracks on Governor’s Island during the week. Justice Department officials work with Danny on his testimony, but after two years and hundreds of recordings, he has a hard time keeping the details straight. While working undercover, Danny sold transcripts of grand jury testimony to crooked lawyer Michael Blomberg, who is the first to go on trial. Blomberg’s lawyers bring up the three cases of misconduct Danny confessed to, but also question him about giving drugs to junkie informants. Danny lies, saying he never did that, and Blomberg is convicted. However, shortly after the trial, one of Danny’s street informants, “The King,” comes forward, saying Danny gave him heroin on fifteen occasions. Santimassino promises to prosecute Danny if it is true, but “The King” fails a lie detector test. In the following months, Danny works with multiple prosecutors on multiple trials. When Danny’s cousin Nick’s body is found stuffed in a trash can, the Justice Department moves Danny and his family to a home in Virginia for safety. New York City District Attorney Kanter wants to get tough on police corruption and promises to indict crooked police officers, observing that an indictment, regardless of whether it is legitimate, is enough to ruin an officer’s career. Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney George Polito intends to prosecute Danny and his partners. Danny meets with his old partner, Gus Levy, and the two promise not to give any evidence against each other. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mario Vincente befriends Danny, telling him the tide has turned thanks to D.A. Kanter’s anti-police corruption stance and likely every SIU detective will be prosecuted. Soon, Polito issues indictments against Danny and the four men on his SIU team. Danny gives an eighty-four page affidavit confessing to numerous acts of misconduct, including giving drugs to informants and accepting payoffs, as well as forty instances of perjury. Danny tries to convince his four SIU partners to cooperate with the district attorney. While detectives Joe Marinaro and Dom Bando are open to the idea, Detective Bill Mayo commits suicide. Gus Levy feels betrayed by Danny, but refuses to cooperate, saying the "Feds" will have to take him to trial. Feeling responsible for what is happening to his closest friends, Danny contemplates jumping off a bridge, but cannot go through with it. With Danny’s confession, crooked lawyer Michael Blomberg appeals his conviction, but the judge upholds the decision. Meanwhile, New York District Attorney Charles Deluth meets with the many prosecutors who worked with Danny, getting their input on whether to prosecute him. Cappalino and Paige remind Deluth that Danny took a tremendous risk agreeing to help them, saying that no other police officer will ever come forward again if Danny is indicted. Deluth declines to prosecute Danny. Danny gets a job as an instructor at the police academy. However, when some of the students learn who Danny is, they walk out of class. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.