The nun rape plot thread was inspired by a real rape of two nuns in a convent in New York City. Just like in the film, rumors circulated of a cash reward being put out for the rapists' capture. The detective who caught the rapists, Bo Dietl, played a detective in this film. He is now a best-selling author.
The first time Harvey Keitel read the script, he threw it after fifteen pages, arguing it was "a piece of junk". When he started reading it again, he read the scenes with the nun's rape, and was so captivated by her story, that he understood the movie would be a unique experience.
Abel Ferrara said a scene that epitomized the movie for him, even though he never got around to filming it, was one where the Lieutenant robs an electronics store, leaves, then gets a call about a robbery at the electronics store. He responds in an official capacity (they don't recognize him), takes a statement, walks out, and throws the statement in the garbage. "And that to me is the Bad Lieutenant, you know?" Ferrara said.
The lead role was originally earmarked for Christopher Walken, who worked with Director Abel Ferrara on King of New York (1990). Walken worked with Ferrara on three more films during the 1990s. Walken pulled out at the last minute. Ferrara was shocked. "He (Walken) says, 'You know, I don't think I'm right for it.' Which is, you know, a fine thing to say, unless it's three weeks from when you're supposed to start shooting", Ferrara said. "It definitely caught me by surprise. It put me in terminal shock, actually."
Much of the movie was filmed guerrilla style. Like many indie-minded directors of low-budget films, Abel Ferrara didn't bother with permits most of the time. "We weren't permitted on any of this stuff", Editor Anthony Redman admitted. "We just walked on and started shooting." For the scene where a strung-out Lieutenant walks through a nightclub, they sent Harvey Keitel through an actual, functioning club during peak operating hours.
According to Abel Ferrara, the film was originally supposed to be funny. "It was always, in my mind, a comedy", Ferrara said. He cited the scene where the Lieutenant pulls the teenage girls over, as a specific example of how Christopher Walken would have played it, and how Harvey Keitel changed it. "The Lieutenant was going to end up dancing in the streets with the girls as the sun came up. They'd be wearing his gun belt and hat, and they'd have the radio on, you know what I mean? But oh my God, Harvey, he turned it into this whole other thing."
For its video release, the British Board of Film Classification insisted that one minute and forty-seven seconds of footage be excised. The cuts were largely made in the scene where Harvey Keitel takes drugs with Zoë Lund.
Such was Abel Ferrara's fury of when Werner Herzog directed Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009), he said, "As far as remakes go, I wish these people die in Hell. I hope they're all in the same streetcar, and it blows up." Herzog's film was neither a remake nor a sequel to this movie.
The baseball series and games portrayed are fictional. The Mets have battled the Dodgers for the National League championship once, in 1988. For the narrative, Ferrara wanted the Mets coming back from a 3-0 deficit to win the pennant. And footage from real Mets versus Dodgers games (including Darryl Strawberry's three-run homer from a game in July 1991), as well as added fictional play-by-play.
The song that plays through the credits, "The Bad Lieutenant" was written by Abel Ferrara, and performed by him and Paul Hipp, who portrayed Jesus in the film. Abel Ferrara based the screenplay on this song.
Because of its NC-17 rating, Blockbuster Video refused to stock the film. An R-rated cut was specially created so that the film could be rented from the chain. This version does not include the infamous masturbation scene.
A great deal of the dialogue and action were made up on the fly. The script was only about sixty-five pages at first, which would have made for about a sixty-five-minute movie. "It left a lot of room for improvisation", Producer Randy Sabusawa said, "but the ideas were pretty distilled. They were there." Script Supervisor Karen Kelsall said supervising the script was a challenge. "Abel didn't stick to a script", she said. "Abel used a script as a way to get the money to make a movie, and then the script was kind of-we called it 'the daily news'. It changed every day. It changed in the middle of scenes." Abel Ferrara was unapologetic about the script's brevity. "The idea of wanting ninety pages is ridiculous."
Zoë Lund admitted in an interview that she "co-directed" several scenes in the film. Lund also claimed that she wrote the screenplay alone, and believed that Abel Ferrara did not put much effort in his contributions in the film.
Editor Anthony Redman, comparing Christopher Walken to Harvey Keitel to play the Lieutenant in this movie, thought that Keitel was a better choice anyway. "Chris is too elegant for the part", he said. "Harvey is not elegant." Both actors would go on to star in Pulp Fiction (1994), but didn't have any scenes together.
The organ music playing during the scene depicting the rape of the nun, amongst others, was added at a later date.The score playing during the scene was originally supposed to be the rap track "Signifying Rapper" by Schooly D (featuring a famous Led Zeppelin guitar rift). However, due to legal disputes over copyrights, the other music was substituted, and all references to Schooly D were omitted. The version with the Schooly D music was, I believe, played during the Channel 4 forbidden season.
As part of 13 Great Facts About "Bad Lieutenant", "Movie buffs were baffled in 2009, when Werner Herzog directed Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, starring Nicolas Cage. It sounds like a sequel (or a remake), but in fact had no connection at all to the earlier film, except that both were produced by Edward R. Pressman. Herzog said he'd never seen Ferrara's movie, and wanted to change the title (Pressman wouldn't let him). Ferrara, outspoken as always, initially wished fiery death on everyone involved. Ferrara and Herzog finally met at the 2013 Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, where Herzog initiated a conversation about the whole affair, and Ferrara expressed his frustration cordially." Indeed in a list of Abel Ferrara quotes, it reads: "I don't have a problem with Werner Herzog".
Roger Ebert wrote in his critic review, going back to when Harvey Keitel first worked with director Martin Scorsese, "Keitel starred in Scorsese's first film and has spent the last 25 years taking more chances with scripts and directors than any other major actor. He has the nerve to tackle roles like this, that other actors, even those with street images, would shy away from. He bares everything here - his body, yes, but also his weaknesses, his hungers. It is a performance given without reservation".
According to Zoë Lund, "There was a lot of re-writing done on the set. Two other characters were cut, and my character modulated and took on more and more. A lot of things had to be changed and improvised. The vampire speech, which is crucial to the Lieutenant, was written two minutes before it was shot. I memorized it, and did it in one take. The speech is important, because she is acute in knowing the journey the Lieutenant makes. She shoots him up, sends him off, knowing of his passion, she lets him go." Incidentally Abel Ferrara would later direct a vampire movie, The Addiction (1995).
Roger Ebert wrote in his critic review, "Harvey Keitel plays this man with such uncompromised honesty that the performance can only be called courageous; not many actors would want to be seen in this light". This extract perfectly sums up the lieutenant Keitel plays, who is supposed to investigate homicides, but is instead corrupt, lascivious, alcoholic, and addicted to drugs and gambling.
In Turkey, the movie was originally released under the title "Hasin Polis" (Tough Cop) rather than "Bad" because the Turkish government decided that "A policeman cannot be bad." Later releases were renamed "Kötü Polis" (Bad Cop).
ReelViews critic James Berardinelli seems to feel that there isn't enough character development to LT (Harvey Keitel), and that he doesn't have much of a backstory as illustrated in the following extract, "While the first two-thirds of the movie work sporadically as a lurid character study of the Lieutenant, they are incomplete. One of the most obvious unanswered is how he got where he is, what events ignited his moral disintegration, or has he always been like that? Not only does the film make no attempt to probe that issue, it's not concerned about it."
What LT (Harvey Keitel) says as the angry, foul-mouthed approach to his sons (Brian McElroy and Frankie Acciarito) in the car on their way to school, when they missed the bus because of Aunt Wendy being in the bathroom is, "Hey, listen to me! I'm the boss, not Aunt Wendy! When it's your turn to use the bathroom, you tell Aunt Wendy to get the fuck out of the bathroom! What are you, men or mice? She's hogging the bathroom! Call me, I'll throw her the fuck out!"
Back in 2005, when the film was broadcast as part of Channel 4's Controversial Movies, Tim Roth introduced it. Roth and Harvey Keitel appeared in Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994), but had no scenes together in the latter.
The Lieutenant (Harvey Keitel) and Beat Cop (Victor Argo) have co-starred with Brad Pitt. Keitel in Thelma & Louise (1991), and Argo in True Romance (1993). Incidentally, the Scott brothers, Ridley and Tony, directed these films respectively.
An extract from 13 Great Facts About Bad Lieutenant is as follows: "Harvey Keitel's title character, whose name is never given, is indeed a bad, bad Lieutenant: corrupt, sleazy, drug-addled, irresponsible, and lascivious, all while he's on the job. (Imagine what his weekends must be like!)"
A humorous take on Bad Lieutenant (1992), as this extract from VueWeekly illustrates: "Some of those moments: Keitel's unnamed Lieutenant stumbling, stoned out of his mind, listening to Johnny Ace croon "Pledging My Love" in some strange woman's apartment, eyes shut, his bulldog torso naked, his arms extended in some Christ-like pose or perhaps an attempt to fly, emitting this weird whimpering sound like my dog used to make when he wanted something and knew he wouldn't get it if he barked".
Editor Anthony Redman referred to Christopher Walken, the original choice to play LT, as "Chris", for short. According to the trivia for Walken, "He adopted the name 'Christopher' when a friend told him the name suited him better than 'Ronnie'. Has since stated that his adopted name sounds 'like a sneeze', and he prefers to be called 'Chris'."
Notice during the opening scene, the different tones of voice that the Lieutenant (Harvey Keitel), uses with his sons (Brian McElroy and Frankie Acciarito), when they join him in the car. "How many times have you been late for school? Your sister always gets to school on time! Huh? What's the problem with you guys?" (Spoken clearly). "Why don't we turn around like you're a prisoner, like I'm your goddamn chauffeur?" (Mumbled).
Harvey Keitel was criticized in an extract from User Reviews for his extreme emotional outbursts at various points in this movie as follows: "In the scenes where Keitel is supposed to be "exploring the depths of this evil soul" and "wrestling with this man's self-hatred" (to quote some of the more overzealous reviewers), he scrunches up his face and makes a sort of howling/whining noise, akin to the noise an injured dog might make. Is this supposed to be a career defining performance? Looked more like someone who got kicked out of drama school to me."
Keitel has a USMC tattoo on his arm. Rather than being a make up appliance, Keitel actually joined the marines decades ahead of the movie being scripted. Marine also sounds like Mary and there is a prominent Virgin Mary statue in the church.
An extract from Users Reviews offers an amusing take on Harvey Keitel's bad lieutenant as follows, "I had reasonable expectations from this movie but was disappointed. The story about a "bad" cop learning to forgive and clean up his act was promising but ruined by trying to be too real. The movie is absolutely and unequivocally about this one bad cop. It goes to the extent of showing minutes-long scenes of him walking like a drunkard from one end of a corridor or road or dance hall to the other end. This gets terribly boring after a while because we pretty much understand the character enough and don't need to witness everything he does short of take a crap".
A humorous extract from Bad Lieutenant: Special Edition Blu-ray Review as follows: "This title is labeled a "special edition," but there's nothing particularly special about the bonus content, which consists only of an obligatory audio commentary and "making of" featurette: Audio Commentary with director Abel Ferrara & director of photography Ken Kelsch It All Happens Here (1.78:1; 480i/60) -- Abel Ferrara and the Making of Bad Lieutenant: Part One: Pre-Production Part Two: Production Part Three: Post-Production"
James Berardinelli wrote in his critic review, about how director Abel Ferrara worked with Harvey Keitel, plus Berardinelli compared Ferrara with Martin Scorsese, "At least the mood isn't unremittingly bleak. There are numerous instances of black humor, some of which are probably unintentional. The extreme excesses of the bad lieutenant are at times comical, but it's unclear whether director Abel Ferrara wanted us to laugh on these occasions. Nevertheless, aside from Keitel's often over-the-top and always brilliant performance, there's little of value in Bad Lieutenant. As good as the lead actor is, he's not enough to save this picture from landing on the scrap-heap of uninspired, derivative, and grotesquely distasteful character studies. Ferrara is definitely no Martin Scorsese".
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Also contains spoilers for Reservoir Dogs (1992): After the Lieutenant (Harvey Keitel) has tried (and failed) to persuade the nun (Frankie Thorn) to identify her rapists so he can punish them, she leaves him alone in the church. When the Lieutenant hallucinates, seeing Jesus Christ (Paul Hipp), he howls in anguish, and begs for forgiveness. This is similar to a scene in Reservoir Dogs (1992), in which Mr. White (also played by Keitel) howls in anguish near the end of that film, when Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) owns up to being the rat, when the diamond heist went wrong.
In a thought-provoking extract from Osuz' World Movie Reviews by Dennis Schwartz, with the sub heading "The only truth in this film was the sleaze", he wrote in his critic review as follows, "The film leaves you believing that anyone can be redeemed, even the hateful rapists -- even Keitel. So if we followed this film's fickle logic to its conclusion, let's not arrest anyone and let God take care of all our problems. The story was so twisted and Ferrara's Catholicism is so suspect and his act of redemption seemed so absurd, that I thought the film should have ended by having the Mafia bookie forgive Keitel for his gambling debt of $120,000 and, I suppose, the bookie would have also found salvation".