AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
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The New Centurions
Director: Richard Fleischer (Dir)
Release Date:   Aug 1972
Premiere Information:   World premiere in Los Angeles, CA: 1 Aug 1972
Production Date:   early Oct--mid-Dec 1971
Duration (in mins):   103
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Cast:   George C. Scott ([Andy] Kilvinski)  
    Stacy Keach [Jr.] (Roy [Fehler])  
    Jane Alexander (Dorothy [Fehler])  
    Scott Wilson (Gus [Plebesly])  
    Rosalind Cash (Lorrie [Hunt])  
    Erik Estrada (Sergio [Duran])  
    Clifton James (Whitey [Duncan])  
    Richard Kalk (Milton)  
    James Sikking (Sgt. Anders)  
    Beverly Hope Atkinson (Alice)  
    Mittie Lawrence (Gloria)  
    Isabel Sanford (Wilma)  
    Carol Speed (Martha)  
    Tracee Lyles (Helen)  
    Burke Byrnes (Phillips)  
    William Atherton (Johnson)  
    Peter DeAnda (Gladstone)  
    Ed Lauter (Galloway)  
    Dolph Sweet (Sgt. Runyon)  
    Stefan Gierasch (Landlord)  
    Debbie Fresh (Rebecca [Fehler])  
    Michael Lane (Lumberjack)  
    Roger E. Mosley (Truck driver)  
    Charles H. Gray (Bethel)  
    Read Morgan (Woodrow Gandy)  
    Michael DeLano (Ranatti)  
    Adriana Shaw (Drunk mother)  
    Pepe Serna (Young Mexican man)  
    Bea Thompkins (Silverpants)  
    Hilly Hicks (Young black man)  

Summary: In Los Angeles, police rookies Roy Fehler, Gus Plebesly and Sergio Duran complete their training and, partnered with senior officers, begin patrolling city streets. Roy, a part-time law student with a wife and young daughter, plans to go into criminal law and hopes the police experience will provide invaluable lessons along with a much-needed salary. Also a father with three children, Gus simply longs to prove himself worthy of being a good cop. Serge, a Chicano former gang member, intends to leave behind his street life. He tells his new partner, Galloway, that he finds it ironic that he has been assigned to the East L. A. Hollenbeck division located in his former neighborhood. Roy, assigned to night patrol with senior officer Andy Kilvinski, discovers that the veteran has several unorthodox methods in dealing with the constant crime of the streets. One evening in a police paddy wagon, Roy and Andy pick up numerous prostitutes and although it is illegal not to arrest them, drive around for several hours before releasing them, thus disrupting one night of their trade. To keep the women content, Andy provides them with liquor and snacks. Meanwhile, Gus is paired with Whitey Duncan, an old-timer who efficiently handles a complaint about a drunken brawling couple by convincing them that as a policeman, he has the ability to provide them with a divorce. Several nights later, Gus and Whitey respond to a burglary call at a small corner store. While Whitey takes the details of the robbery from the owner’s son, Gus searches an alley behind the store and, seeing a figure with a gun, calls out, then fires twice. Examining the dead victim in the light, Gus is horrified to see he is the middle-aged black storeowner and remains in shock as the man’s distraught son curses him. Later in the squad car, Whitey assures Gus that he would have responded the same, but Gus is still unnerved. The men continue their night patrols, dealing with drunken, abusive parents, petty thieves and violent gang members. At home, Roy’s wife Dorothy, initially supportive of Ray's job, grows gradually disenchanted with his increasing obsession with the work, his decision to drop out of law school and his growing detachment from their young daughter. On one evening patrol, Andy tells Roy how much he loves working the streets. When the men drive by a convenience store, they notice some unusual activity and pull over to investigate. As Roy watches the front of the store from across the street, Andy investigates the back entrance. Huddled by cars parked on the street, Roy notices a couple cuddled together in one car and opening their passenger door, advises them to drive away. He is stunned when the man, who is part of the robbery, abruptly shoots him. Painfully wounded, Roy recovers slowly over several weeks and initially allows only Dorothy and Andy to visit him in the hospital. Dorothy pleads with Andy to talk Roy into quitting the force, but Andy tells her Roy must make his own choices. Later, Gus confides to Serge his great fear of being wounded and his admiration of Roy's courage. Andy is reassigned with Serge and the team answers a complaint by a white landlord of a slum apartment who insists the tenants are illegal immigrants who owe him two months back rent. Discovering the small apartment crowded with frightened men who eagerly provide a receipt for the rent, Andy is angered to realize the landlord is charging excessive rent because the men are not citizens. Returning to the landlord, Andy demands he lower the rent and threatens him. Several weeks later, Roy returns to the division and after a period doing desk work, returns to the street partnered with Galloway. After the men are involved in a robbery-hostage shootout, Roy expresses relief that he was not afraid to be back in action. A year after the rookies began, Andy retires on his twenty-fifth anniversary with the force. At a strip club farewell party, Andy tells Roy he is disappointed that the constant modifications in the law make it increasingly difficult for police to do their work. He accuses judges and courts of being too removed from the victims to realize that evil exists and must be constantly battled with strong methods. Roy insists that despite the continual restrictions, police serve a necessary function in society and always will. Some months later, Roy joins the undercover vice squad, but is dismayed when the night patrol assignment consists of going through a suspected bookie’s garbage and baiting possible homosexuals. At home, Roy relates the practices to Dorothy only to have her announce that she is leaving him because he has continually placed his work ahead of her and their daughter. A few weeks later, Roy returns to street duty at his request. The men are delighted when Andy, who had moved to Florida to live with his daughter, returns for a visit. Early one morning, Andy telephones Roy to reflect on his life with the force, which he admits meant everything to him. After the phone call, Andy shoots himself, traumatizing Roy and the other patrolmen. Under the pressure of Andy’s suicide and his impending divorce, Roy, now teamed with a young rookie, Johnson, begins drinking while on patrol. One evening the men answer a burglary call and the victim, nurse Lorrie Hunt recognizes Roy from his stay in the hospital. Later that night, a tipsy Roy confronts a prostitute as she gets in her car and, fearful of arrest for the marijuana she is carrying, the woman brazenly drives off with Roy hanging on to the car. After being slammed into other cars and the side of a building, a battered Roy finally tumbles off the car and makes his way to Lorrie's where he pleads for help. Receiving three weeks suspension for drinking on the job, Roy takes the time to begin dating Lorrie and the two fall in love. Reflecting on Andy's death, Roy tells Lorrie that for the first time in his life, he realizes personal relationships are the most important thing to him. Soon after, Roy accompanies Serge and Gus on patrol and is pleased to learn that Gus is going to night school and Serge is engaged. Roy admits he is thinking of marrying again when a woman in the street flags them down to say that her husband struck her and is behaving irrationally. The three officers approach the upstairs apartment and as Roy climbs the steps toward the front door, a man comes out with a gun and shoots him. As Serge disarms the man, Gus cradles the dying Roy who laments that he had just learned what was important. 

Production Company: Chartoff-Winkler Productions, Inc.  
Distribution Company: Columbia Pictures  
Director: Richard Fleischer (Dir)
  Russ Saunders (Asst dir)
  Mack Harding (2d asst dir)
Producer: Irwin Winkler (Prod)
  Robert Chartoff (Prod)
  Henry Gellis (Assoc prod)
Writer: Stirling Silliphant (Scr)
Photography: Ralph Woolsey (Dir of photog)
  Chris Schweibert (Cam op)
  Ron Vidor (1st asst cam)
  Jim Glennon (2d asst cam)
  John R. Monte (Stills)
  Frank Leonetti (Gaffer)
  Bob Shaw (Best boy)
  Marty Kashuk (Key grip)
  Don Jacob (2d grip)
Art Direction: Boris Leven (Prod des)
Film Editor: Robert C. Jones (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Harry Reif (Set dec)
  Joe LaBella (Prop master)
  Albert Indrisano (2d propman)
  William Black (Lead man)
Costumes: Guy Verhille (Cost des)
  Izzy Berne (Ward man)
  Ron Dawson (Ward man)
Music: Quincy Jones (Mus)
  Edit-International, Ltd. (Mus ed)
Sound: William Randall (Sd)
  Arthur Piantadosi (Sd)
  Jack Night (Boom op)
Special Effects: Pacific Title (Titles)
  Augie Lohman (Spec eff)
  Tom R. Ward (Spec eff)
  Edit-International, Ltd. (Spec eff ed)
Make Up: Dave Greyson (Makeup)
  Del Acevedo (Makeup)
  Delree Todd (Hair styles)
Production Misc: Lynn Stalmaster (Casting)
  Russ Saunders (Unit prod mgr)
  Jeff Benjamin (Asst to prod)
  Duane Tober (Scr supv)
  Bill Venegas (Loc mgr)
  Sgt. Richard Kalk (Tech adv)
  Vern Jacobs (Transportation capt)
  Emily Torchia (Pub)
  Tom Clark (Pub)
Stand In: Carey Loftin (Stunt coord)
MPAA Rating: R
Country: United States
Language: English

Source Text: Based on the novel The New Centurions by Joseph Wambaugh (Boston, 1970).
Authors: Joseph Wambaugh

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. 1/8/1972 dd/mm/yyyy LP41236

Physical Properties: Sd:
  col: Eastman Color
  Widescreen/ratio: Panavision

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Police
Subjects (Major): Criminals
  Los Angeles (CA)
  Vocational obsession
Subjects (Minor): Ambition
  Attempted murder
  Death and dying
  Family relationships
  Gunshot wounds
  Interracial relationships
  Neglected wives
  Vice squads
  Wounds and injuries

Note: Russ Saunders' onscreen credit reads "Unit manager and Assitant director." The New Centurions was the first novel by police sergeant Joseph Wambaugh, who based his work on his own earlier experience as a Los Angeles police patrolman. According to a May 1971 HR news item, Columbia's deal with Wambaugh included a bonus of $1,250 for every week the novel remained on the NYT best-seller list. A Var item in Aug 1971 noted the book had been on the list for twenty-six weeks. A Nov 1971 HR article on the film quoted director Richard Fleischer as praising the Los Angeles Police Department's Chief Davis for offering them full cooperation during production, despite the fact that the book modeled several of its characters on situations and individuals at the department.
       After the success of The New Centurions and Wambaugh's next book, The Blue Knight , he resigned from the police force as he had become too recognizable, but he continued writing and produced several more popular novels centered on police work and crime. Wambaugh was also involved in the adaptations of several of his novels into films, including the 1977 Universal release The Choirboys , the 1979 Embassy production of The Onion Field and the 1980 Embassy production Black Marble . Wambaugh was also instrumental in the development of the NBC television series Police Story (1973--1977).
       Despite the popularity of the original novel, The New Centurions was poorly received by film critics, who found it stripped of the book's gritty authenticity. Unlike the film, which takes place in contemporary Los Angeles, the novel begins in 1960 and concludes with the infamous Watts riots in 1965. The confrontation between the predominantly white police force and a black neighborhood protesting racially motivated police brutality leant additional meaning to the storyline of white patrolman "Roy Fehler" becoming romantically involved with "Lorrie Hunt," who is black.
The New Centurions was shot at various Los Angeles locations including the Hollenbeck Police Station in Boyle Heights and St. Joseph's Hospital in Burbank, according to contemporary sources. HR production charts add Cal Brown, Jorge Rivero and Evelyn Cuffee to the cast. Modern sources add Dick DeCoit, DeWayne Jessie, Kitten Natividad and Anne Ramsey to the cast.  

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   7 Aug 1972   p. 4511.
Daily Variety   21 Sep 1971.   
Daily Variety   7 Jul 1972.   
Filmfacts   1972   pp. 370-73.
Hollywood Reporter   5 Mar 1971.   
Hollywood Reporter   10 Mar 1971.   
Hollywood Reporter   5 May 1971.   
Hollywood Reporter   1 Oct 1971   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Oct 1971.   
Hollywood Reporter   27 Oct 1971.   
Hollywood Reporter   29 Nov 1971.   
Hollywood Reporter   24 Dec 1971   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Jul 1972.   
Los Angeles Examiner   2 Aug 1972.   
Los Angeles Times   3 Aug 1972.   
New York Times   4 Aug 1972   p. 17.
Newsweek   7 Aug 1972   p. 62.
Variety   30 Jun 1971.   
Variety   25 Aug 1971.   
Variety   26 Jul 1972   p. 14.

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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.
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