The Park Is Mine is a Canadian-American drama based on the 1981 novel of the same name by Stephen Peters and directed by Steven Hilliard Stern. The film focuses on Vietnam War veteran, Mitch (Tommy Lee Jones), who takes forceful control of Central Park to remember those who served and died in the Vietnam War and draw attention to veterans’ issues. As this wonderful book review by Grady Hendrix points out (beware, plot spoilers): You’ll see elements of other “urban blight” dramas, such as Death Wish (1974), Taxi Driver (1976), The Warriors (1979), Al Pacino’s Crusing (1980), and First Blood (1982), which this was obviously made to cash-in on the runaway success of 1985’s Rambo: First Blood Part II.
But make no mistake: The Park Is Mine is not some cheapjack Rambo rip-off of the Cirio H. Santiago variety (we love you, Cirio!). This Tommy Lee Jones-led film is, quite frankly, one of the best TV Movie of the ’70s and ’80s ever produced, ranking alongside Richard Crenna’s The Case of the Hillside Strangler (Sam review, R.D Francis review) and Michael Gross and David Soul’s In the Line of Duty: The F.B.I Murders.
In addition to featuring New Zealand-born and Canadian-bred singer Gale Garnett (best known to U.S AM radio listeners for her self-penned, 1964 Grammy-winning folk hit, “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine“), the film also features mainstay Canadian actors Lawrence Dane (1976’s The Clown Murders, top-billing with Hal Holbrook in 1977’s Rituals, 1981’s Scanners and Happy Birthday to Me, 1983’s Of Unknown Origin, and 1987’s Rolling Vengeance), as the ulterior motive-driven Commissioner Keller, and Peter Dvorksy (Harlin the cable tech in 1983’s Videodrome and Dardis in The Dead Zone), as Dix, the sniveling Deputy Mayor. Co-starring with Jones are Yaphet Kotto (Alien) and fellow Canux-actor Helen Shaver (the redneck-trucker romp High-Ballin’ and The Amityville Horror).
Mitch attends the funeral of his former war buddy who jumped from the roof of the veteran’s hospital. Returning to his motel room (his wife, played by Gale Garnett, recently kicked him out of their apartment), Mitch discovers that prior to his friend’s suicide, he mailed him a letter containing a key. The key gives Mitch access to a makeshift ammunition dump in a warehouse, then to another ammo dump in an abandoned sewer grate: his friend spent the last year planning to take over Central Park to raise awareness of Veterans’ issues; however, realizing his war-related cancer was too far advanced and he’d be unable to carry out the attack, he killed himself and “recruited” Mitch for the job.
Mitch accepts and an all Rambo-hell breaks loose in New York. If Travis Bickle had access to explosives and the intelligence to wire-up Central Park—and Tommy Lee’s character had driven a cab—you’d have a Michael Bay-styled action film. If Mitch had taken over a bank, you’d have Dog Day Afternoon (1975). One could also say that if John Carpenter directed, you’d have a pseudo-sequel to Assault on Precinct 13 (1976).
Shaver is the persistent, pain-in-the-ass reporter (think Patricia Clarkson’s Samantha Walker from the 1988 Dirty Harry sequel, The Dead Pool) who sneaks into the park for the “exclusive,” regardless of Mitch’s “message,” while Yaphet Kotto’s Eubanks is the sympathetic, ex-war vet S.W.A.T commander who wants to bring Mitch in before two mercenaries sanctioned by the more-concerned-about his-career deputy mayor go into the park to kill Mitch.
Courtesy of Stern’s understated hand, what we do get: a real, humanized version of Rambo that, unlike Rambo, sells its introspective story regarding the plight of America’s Vietnam veterans—and other “voiceless,” forgotten Americans. It’s all about Stern intelligently toning down the Rambo’d cartoon violence and emphasizing the political angle of the story. Thus, we get a Stern-directed story that’s as good as any of those previously mentioned, New York-set “urban blight” tales.
Other works in Stern’s superior TV movie oeuvre (on U.S TV and cable; in Canada, they ran as theatrical features) are the James Brolin-starring The Ambush Murders (1982), the pre-stardom Tom Hanks-starring Mazes and Monsters (1982), and the Ned Beatty-starring (Ed and His Dead Mother) Hostage Flight (1982).
The film was released in 1985 on VHS by Key Video. It had originally been released on DVD overseas, but not in the United States, outside of grey market VHS and DVD imprints. However, on December 13, 2016, Kino Lorber released the first official Blu-ray Disc and DVD. They also released Jones’s Black Moon Rising and The Executioner’s Song, and Stern’s Death Wish-inspired hicksploitation trucker romp, Rolling Vengeance.
You can watch the full film on You Tube. As the lead comment on the video’s comment section declares: “I remember watching this on HBO (and we all do!) back in the ’80s. This has got to be Tommy Lee Jones’s best acting role.”
The Park Is Mine is the sixteenth soundtrack album released by Tangerine Dream and their forty-second album overall. As with The Keep, its release came years later after its recording, not seeing release until 1991. All of the tracks were composed by Edgar Froese, Christoph Franke, and Johannes Schmoelling.
Prior to entering the world of film restoration and distribution as part of the Kino International family and their The Criterion Collection series serving film aficionados, Lorber was part of 20th Century Fox Studios. As Fox Lorber Features, the studio shingle released their debut film, A Matter of Degrees, in 1990.
Be sure to catch up with B&S Movies’ love of TV Movies and Canadian-made films with our tributes “Lost TV Week,” “Week of Made for TV Movies,” and “Sons of Made for TV Movies Week,” “Grandson of Made for TV Movie Week,” and “North of the Border Horror.” You can also catch up on the “urban blight” cycle of films with our “Death Wish Week.”
We sadly lost Peter Dvorsky in March 2019. Steven Hilliard Stern passed away in June of last year.
*Sam and I share a mutual love of Tangerine Dream. Be sure to surf on over to our collaborative reviews of Tangerine Dream’s Top 10 scores with “Exploring: Ten Tangerine Dream Film Soundtracks.”