Friday, November 02, 2007

The Sopranos - GOODFELLAS: The TV Show?

A few days ago I finally caught up with the 12 million Americans who watched the series finale of The Sopranos last July. It was hard to avoid hearing how it ended because it became a part of the National dialogue - I mean even Hillary Clinton spoofed it in a campaign ad!

For those of you who like me don't have HBO and held out from downloading it from torrent sites and haven't gotten the DVD set that was released last week - don't worry. I won't give anything away about the controversial last scene except that Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) can't parallel park to save her life and the Soprano family (Tony, Carmella, and A.J.) devour their onion rings whole rather than taking small bites. No surprise there. 

What was surprising is how much the scene left on the table and angered a lot of people because of it. I loved it though - the beautiful manipulation of the cutting and the use of Journey (quoted above) were glorious touches.

It's well known that The Sopranos owes a lot (maybe everything) to Martin Scorsese's amazing mob movie classic GOODFELLAS (1990). Creator David Chase once said that "GOODFELLAS was the Qur'ān for me". Even the opening credits are done in the same style. Ray Liotta was reportedly offered the role of Tony Soprano but thankfully he turned it down. It's difficult to imagine anyone else but James Gandofini playing the part and that connection may have been too much. Still, the connection is too strong to deny especially with Lorraine Bracco, Michael Imperioli, Tony Sirico and Vincent Pastore being just 4 out of the over 2 dozen actors who have been in both GOODFELLAS and The Sopranos (See below). 

Unlike THE GODFATHER series which is referred to so many times that the characters mention the movies by their Roman numerals (I, II, III obviously) and watch bootlegs of the series in the days before Paramount released it on DVD, The Sopranos appears to take place in the same universe as GOODFELLAS. This is despite the fact that the film is name-checked by Christopher (Michael Imperioli) who lists it as one of his screenwriting inspirations when he's taking a acting class. To my recollection that is the only time it's mentioned. 

If I'm wrong - that's what the Comments below are for.

If GOODFELLAS is the Qur'ān then Martin Scorsese is God which is what I've been saying on this blog the whole time! The second episode "46 Long" (1999) has Scorsese played by Anthony Caso (who was in GOODFELLAS as a truck hi-jacker) going into a club. From the crowd on the sidelines Christopher yells out "Hey! KUNDUN! I liked it!" 

One of all time favorite moments in the series. Christopher tries to show off that he's a hardcore fan by loudly acknowledging one of the man's least appreciated and little seen works. Kind of like if I saw Bob Dylan and yelled at him "Hey! "Knocked Out Loaded"! I didn't think it sucked!" Scorsese is mentioned usually by first name throughout the series as when Silvio (Steven Van Zandt) muses in one of the last episodes about Christopher's slasher movie-within-a-TV-show "Cleaver" - "Christopher was the last person I'd confuse with Marty but it wasn't bad." So to really get a hold on this whole thing we gotta take a good look at the players - 

The GOODFELLAS/Sopranos Master Crossover Cast List:

"GOODFELLAS spawned The Sopranos - you know, the Mob can be quirky and funny and real and accessible. If you look at the main cast of The Sopranos about half of those you can see in GOODFELLAS." - Director Joe Carnahan (BLOOD, GUTS, BULLETS AND OCTANE) from the featurette MADE MEN - THE GOODFELLAS LEGACY on the GOODFELLAS Special Edition DVD - 2005. 

Yep, there are a lot of familiar faces in said film/TV show though as you'll see many of them appear only in the background of nightclubs or in crowd scenes at receptions and restaurants.

Frank Adonis: (pictured on the left) A veteran of many Mob-related movies (KING OF NEW YORK, GHOST DOG, FIND ME GUILTY, etc.) usually playing a guy named Frank, Adonis played Anthony Stabile in GOODFELLAS (GF) and Guest #1 (see what I mean?) on the episode "House Arrest" (2000) of The Sopranos (TS). 

Frank Albanese: Played Mob Lawyer in GF and Uncle Pat Bludetto in four episodes from 2004 to 2007 on TS

Anthony Alessandro: This unlucky backgrounder was never given a name - he's just part of Henry's 60's crew in GF and a waiter in TS! Poor bastard. 

Vito Antuofermo: Prizefighter in GF and Bobby Zanone on 2 TS episodes - 2000-2001.

Tobin Bell: Jigsaw from the SAW movies! Yep, this guy's credits are extensive and impressive - he's always the heavy or a crucial creep (He even played Ted Kaczynski in a TV movie!). He's a Parole Officer in GF and Major Zwingli on TS. I also fondly remember him as Ron - the record store owner who refuses Kramer and Newman's business on Seinfeld ("The Old Man" - 1993).

Lorraine Bracco: Like Liotta turned down the Role of Tony, Bracco turned down the part of Carmella Soprano because she felt it was too similar to the character of housewife Karen Hill in GF. She took instead Dr. Jennifer Melfi - the psychiatrist that attempts to treat Tony throughout the show's run. Though Dr. Melfi does very much have a different dynamic to Karen - the motions that she goes through - her dropping him and taking him back as a patient again and again seems definitely rooted in that seminal scene in GF in which Henry Hill hands Karen a bloody gun. Karen: "I know there are women, like my best friends, who would have gotten out the minute their boyfriend gave them a gun to hide. But I didn't. I've got to admit the truth. It turned me on." 

Nicole Burdette: Carbone's girlfriend (that's her actual credit) in GF is given a name - Barbara Giglione and a nice 5 episode run on TS - 2000-2001. 

Gene Canfield: Plays a prison guard in GF and a cop in TS. A look at his filmography on IMDb shows that "Detective" comes up the most. Nice that he stays on the right side of the law, isn't it? 

Anthony Caso: Like I wrote above this guy oddly portrayed Scorsese on an early episode of TS. I thought it was Scorsese for years but from what I've read he's barely seen the show. Maybe he has too strong a "been there, done that" feeling.  

Nancy Cassaro: Joanne Moltisanti was a incidental female family member (seen mostly only at occasions like weddings and funerals) on TS played by 2 different GOODFELLAS actresses. See also Marriane Leone. 

John 'Cha Cha' Ciarcia: One of Batts' Crew (credited as #1 to be precise) in GF, Ciarcia played Albie Cianflone - Phil Leotardo's (Frank Vincent) 1st hand man in the last season of TS. 

Victor Colicchio: Another guy on the sidelines - one more of Henry's 60's crew in GF and a guy named Joe in an early TS episode. 

Daniel P. Conte: I gotta like this guy because he almost always plays characters named Dan - Dr. Dan in both GF and CASINO, and Danny in THE DELI. However on TS for 3 episodes in the final season he was Faustino 'Doc' Santoro.

Tony Darrow: (pictured on the right) As restauranter Sonny Bunz, Darrow has one of my favorite lines in GF - "he looked at me like I was half a fag or something!" He parlays that same kind of charm (or lack of it) into Larry Boy Barase on 14 episodes of TS (1999-2007). 

Joseph Gannascoli: Uncredited but listed on IMDb as "Guy who walks downstairs at Paulie's house" in GF. Got a much more substantial role as Vito Spatafore in 40 episodes of TS 1999-2006. 

Paul Herman:  Just a Dealer in GF but got named as Beansie Gaeta in 5 episodes of TS - 2000-2007.

Michael Imperioli: (Pictured on the left) Probably the most connected cast member here because his small but piviotal part as young lackey 'Spider' is one of the most memorable characters in GF. Spider gets shot in the foot then later whacked by Tommy (Joe Pesci) in one of the most powerful scenes in the picture. As Christopher Moltisanti on TS, Imperioli is able to pay homage to his former personage - in an early episode he shoots a young guy at the bakery in the foot and the guy yells "you shot me in the foot!" Chris: "it happens." 

Marianne Leone: see Nancy Cassaro. 

Gaetano LoGiudice: Talk about incidental - yet another member of Henry's '60s crew in GF and only listed as Bada Bing Patron, Guest at Wake, and VIP Room Guest on TS. 

Chuck Low: Annoying wig salesman Morrie Kessler in GF and Hasidic hotel owner Shlomo Teitlemann in TS. 

Vincent Pastore: Credited as "Man w/Coatrack" in GF - Think I'll have to watch it again. Don't remember seeing him. As Salvatore 'Big Pussy' Bonpensiero in 30 episodes of TS, 1999-2007 he's unmissable. 

Frank Pellegrino: Johnny Dio in GF, Agent Frank Cubitosi - 12 episodes, 1999-2004. 

Angela Pietropinto: Paulie's Wife in GF, Helen Barone - 1 episode of TS (2006)

Suzanne Shepherd: Karen's mother in GF, Mary De Angelis in 20 episodes of TS - 2000-2007)

Tony Sirico: (Pictured on the right) Another major connection. Though he has a very small part only in the opening sequence as Tony Stacks in GF it's such a glaring smiling mug he has that it resonates through to his immaculate performance of Paulie 'Walnuts' Gualtieri in 82 eipsodes of TS. A real hood back in the day, Sirico has carved quite a career out of his post Wise guy life. Nobody can scowl quite like him.

Frank Vincent: As Billy Bats in GF he gave the world a great catch-phrase - "why don't you go home and get your shine-box!" in his tension-teasing taunting of Tommy (Pesci). His character of Phil Leotardo on TS seems rooted in Bats' ballsiness. Of course looking at his other gruff work in DO THE RIGHT THING, COP LAND, and other Scorsese works like CASINO and RAGING BULL (in which his character's name was Salvy Batts by the way) that may just be all Vincent. 

I won't go into detail on the music angle because I wrote a piece last year on the use of music in the movies of Martin Scorsese: Exile On Mean Street (Oct. 22, 2006). It was mostly from a Stones angle but touched on the scorching soundtrack selections that enhance his oeuvre overall. 

The Sopranos builds on this by also featuring impeccable taste with an amazing synching of situations with the most perfect song. From Nick Lowe's "The Beast In Me" in the pilot through the retro-lounge replayings of Sinatra and the moralizing of Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody" to the final cryptic but gorgeously overwrought Journey anthem quoted above every choice was dead on. 

Ultimately, though I felt it would make a good blog post heading, to label The Sopranos as GOODFELLAS: The TV Show would be a gross simplification. While certainly built on Scorsese's blueprint it has established its own identity and presented sometimes a deeper context to the consequences and the mundanity of the daily routines,  the show certainly spent a lot more time in hospitals than the fast paced world of GOODFELLAS allowed. 

I'm just thankful to The Sopranos because it gave us room to spend more time with those themes and some of the same people whether at the breakfast table in the morning or at the clubs at night. 

Since like many I loved GOODFELLAS so much I was sorry to see it end and with The Sopranos it felt like it didn't have to.

Now that we've got both the special edition GOODFELLAS (have you heard the commentary the real Henry Hill did with former FBI Agent Edward McDonald? It's awesome T!) and the 86 episodes of The Sopranos on the shelve we can just focus on the good times. So don't stop... (cut to black) 

More later...


Anonymous said...

they do mention goodfellas more then once

Greg Walburn said...

When watching movies with Father Intintola, Carmela is telling him about Tony preferring Godfather 2 over the original. Father Intintola then asks Carmela where Tony rates Goodfellas.

Dan said...

Yes, it's a major oversight of this piece. I got the big complete Sopranos boxset and have been re-watching the episodes and I see many mentions of the movie GOODFELLAS. I still think that in a meta way the show is in the same world. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Max said...

The guy who played Big Pussy was in an early scene in Goodfellas. They are bringing in coatracks of mink coats to Morrie's shop, and he is one of the guys bringing in the racks. He has no lines, but you can't miss him.

philipjbender said...

Thank you for making such a comprehensive list! A lot of online accounts say that the movie and show have 5 or 10 actors in common, and I knew it had to be more than that. You're answered my question.

I just finished watching the entirety of The Sopranos for the first time, and it was so worth the wait. And also I discovered your blog! I'll be following.