Harvey Keitel as “The Lieutenant”, morally corrupt NYPD lieutenant
New York City, Fall 1991
Film: Bad Lieutenant
Release Date: November 20, 1992
Director: Abel Ferrara
Costume Designer: David Sawaryn
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Released 31 years ago today in 1992, Abel Ferrara’s controversial drama Bad Lieutenant features a fearless, uncompromising performance of a lifetime from Harvey Keitel, who replaced Christopher Walken in the titular role as the unnamed detective who regularly neglects his law enforcement duties in favor of a nightmarish spiral of blow, baseball, and broads.
The LT’s crime scene investigations are a joke, only paying attention when he can advance his own debauched interests, whether it’s ogling an attractive victim or being tipped to recover “a key sitting on the backseat” of a homicide. Indeed, he seems determined to ingest seemingly every drug in New York, snorting coke, smoking crack, and shooting heroin with his friend Zoe (played by Ferrara’s co-screenwriter Zoë Lund).
Almost always under the influence of some combination of substances, the LT hits an on-screen low when he pulls over a yellow station wagon with two teenage sisters from New Jersey inside and agrees to let them go if they humiliate themselves while watching him gratify himself:
Well, you know something, two such beautiful girls like you? I could give you a warning. You want a warning? Here’s the warning: you do something for me, and I’ll do something for you, whaddya say about that?
His gambling debts compounding during the Mets vs. Dodgers championship series, the LT grows intrigued with the case of a nun who was raped in Spanish Harlem. His interest grows from cynical disrespect for the church’s $50,000 reward to his own search for redemption, nonplussed by the nun’s insistence that she has forgiven her two attackers even after he offers to “do justice, real justice.”
Come on, lady, these guys put out cigarette butts on you. Get with the program! How could you? How could you forgive these motherf- these, these guys? Excuse me. How could you? Deep down inside, don’t you want them to pay for what they did to you? Don’t you want this crime revenged?
Hardly able to fathom her sense of forgiveness, the LT breaks down in the church and ends up confronting—and confessing to—Jesus Christ himself… though it turns out that Christ is simply a pawn shop owner’s wife, who may have a clue to where the LT can find the two men who attacked the nun. What will he do?
What’d He Wear?
After the LT spends the first day of Bad Lieutenant dressed in a plain black suit with an ivory shirt buttoned to the neck, he continues wearing the same trousers but orphaned with a silky gray sports coat that he wears for most of the film’s remaining action. The jacket is woven in a black-and-white nailhead, which presents a gray semi-solid finish. The sheen and slubs suggest either silk or a silk-and-wool blend.
The cut and style of the LT’s nailhead sport jacket follows trends of the late 1980s into the early ’90s, including the low-gorge notch lapels that correspond to the lower two-button stance. The jacket has a fashionably full fit that hangs from the padded shoulders through the ventless back. The sleeves are finished with three-button cuffs. The straight flapped hip pockets align with the second button on the front of the jacket, and the LT occasionally hooks his NYPD badge from the welted breast pocket.
The first time we see the LT’s nailhead jacket, he wears it over a scarlet-red silky-knit long-sleeved polo shirt with three matching red plastic buttons that he initially wears fully buttoned to the neck.
For Bad Lieutenant‘s final act, the LT wears a charcoal button-up shirt styled with a point collar, breast pocket, and button cuffs. Unlike his other shirts that he wears buttoned to the neck (“air tie”-style), he always leaves at least the top button of this shirt’s plain front undone.
As the night grows longer for the LT, the shirt gets more unbuttoned, showing the top of his usual white ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirts as well as the silver cross he wears on a very thin silver necklace.
The LT’s black silky flat-front trousers are likely orphaned from the two-piece suit he had worn for the film’s first act, styled with belt loops, side pockets, button-through back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms that have a full break, consistent with the full, baggy fit through his legs.
He holds up the trousers with a black leather belt that closes through a squared silver-toned, slightly curved single-prong buckle. The LT regularly keeps his Ruger revolver holstered in a tan leather IWB holster that clips over his belt just to the right of the buckle, an early instance of the now-popular “appendix carry” (AIWB) method.
The LT’s black leather plain-toe derby shoes are more like heavy-duty work shoes than dress shoes, just dressy enough to not look out of place with his suits or sport jacket while still appropriate for his line of work. The full break of his trousers typically engulfs the top of his shoes, but we see that he wears black socks.
The LT wears a bright stainless steel rectangular-shaped wristwatch on a matching silver-toned expanding band. Detailed with Arabic numeric hour indices, the white dial’s softly rounded corners fill the rectangular case.
The LT may be one of the worst husbands I’ve chronicled on BAMF Style, but he still wears a gold wedding ring.
The LT carries a Ruger SP101, which he draws—and often fires—with hilarious indiscretion, at one point blasting a single shot into his car’s radio after hearing a double play that ruined his big bet on the Mets vs. Dodgers championship game.
The Southport, Connecticut-based Sturm, Ruger & Co. first distinguished itself when it introduced the Ruger Standard, a .22 LR semi-automatic target pistol that found design inspiration from the German 9mm Luger and the Colt Woodsman. The success of the .22-caliber Standard launched Ruger’s standing in the American firearms market, as the company now specializes in a range of well-regarded firearms from single-action revolvers to AR-15 rifles.
Ruger replaced its aging traditional-double-action (DA/SA) Security Six revolver in the mid-1980s with the robust and durable GP100, built with a strong frame and triple-locking cylinder system and designed to accommodate the .357 Magnum/.38 Special rounds, though later versions would fire .22 LR, 10mm Auto, .327 Federal Magnum, and .44 Special, with the cylinder capacity corresponding to caliber size. The GP100 series is visually characterized by a humpbacked frame, contoured under the cylinder release latch.
Three years later, Ruger introduced the SP101 as a more compact and concealable option that retained the GP100’s rugged construction but in a smaller frame more suitable for concealed carry. The SP101 has a stainless steel frame, black synthetic grips, and standard barrel lengths of two or three inches. Given the size difference, SP101 revolvers chambered in .357 and .38 have five-shot cylinders while .22-caliber SP101 revolvers can carry six.
Launched at the end of the ’80s, the SP101 was relatively new to the market by the time the LT holstered his 3″-barreled model in Bad Lieutenant. This aligns with the brief period when the NYPD authorized new recruits to carry the special “GPNY” model designated for police use, typically modified with a matte finish and “bobbed” hammer that converted it to double-action only (DAO), per departmental policies against traditional double-action revolvers.
With its stainless finish, DA/SA-style spurred hammer, and frame size, the LT’s revolver is clearly an SP101 rather than the GPNY, though the department’s acceptance of the Ruger series may have made it easier for the LT to gain in-universe approval to carry it… not that he’s the type to care much about regulations. The LT may have favored the SP101 for its relative novelty compared to his Colt and Smith & Wesson-wielding colleagues.
What to Imbibe
Oh god. Well, first off, the Bad Lieutenant should not at all be a model for how to ingest substances. There’s a difference between enjoying a vodka on the rocks with friends at the bar (which the lieutenant does) and beginning the day with a mouthful of Stoli after waking up drunk in the back pew of a vandalized church (which the lieutenant also does.)
Likely chosen without the brand’s participation or endorsement, 80-proof Stolichnaya is the lieutenant’s drink of choice, imbibed straight from the bottle—whether that’s a 200mL half-pint bottle when driving (please don’t do this) or a full 750mL fifth while watching two women get it on before joining them (YMMV there, but the LT doesn’t seem to actually have any fun in the situation.)
Given how much the LT drinks while on the job, it’s likely that he landed on vodka for its affordability and the fact that it has less of a distinctive odor on one’s breath than other spirits. But again, please do not drink like the bad lieutenant does. There’s a reason he’s a bad lieutenant.
How to Get the Look
While I must insist not drinking (or acting) like the bad lieutenant, I have no conjunctions against dressing like him. The cuts of his wardrobe may be dated to the ’90s, but I like the simplicity of a gray odd jacket and black trousers with a pop of color added through a smart scarlet knitted shirt.
- Black-and-white nailhead silk-blend single-breasted 2-button sport jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Scarlet-red silk-knit long-sleeved polo shirt with 3-button top
- Black silky flat-front suit trousers with belt loops, side pockets, button-through back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black leather belt with silver-toned curved single-prong buckle
- Tan leather IWB holster for 3″-barreled Ruger SP101 revolver, worn at 1:00 AIWB
- Black calf leather plain-toe derby shoes
- Black socks
- Gold wedding ring
- Stainless steel rectangular-cased watch with white dial and expanding band
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
I been dodgin’ fuckin’ bullets since I was 14. No one can kill me. I’m blessed. I’m a fuckin’ Catholic.