Villainy isn't just found in an evil plot, a straight razor, or a hockey mask. Sometimes it's a crippling state of mind and place that sucks the soul out of its heroes and heroines. It can be Purgatory, it can be hell, it can be a mental asylum, or it can be a bustling metropolis. So, I'd like to salute 1970s New York as being one of the most vicious, ruthless villains to ever wreck havoc on the silver screen.
By now you're regarding me with skepticism, outright derision, or a need to see Pinhead or Jigsaw saluted for the millionth time on a Halloween list. But think about the lurking menace behind Serpico, Taxi Driver, Fort Apache the Bronx, Cruising, Dog Day Afternoon, Klute, Mean Streets, Death Wish and dozens more. (Every once and awhile Hollywood mixed it up and set something in San Fransisco. But it always felt like a New York stand-in, didn't it?) The city's sickly decay spawned Watchmen. Without the drugs, spiraling crime rate, police corruption, and riots you wouldn't have Travis Bickle or Rorschach, who are rejected, broken, and made by what they witness on the city streets. In 1976, you wouldn't have had a charming dramedy called New York, I Love You. It probably would have been called New York: You'll Die Violently. The class and romance seen An Affair to Remember wouldn't come back until Disney dressed it up again.