Like hitting a mob – the death of a generation of cinematic gangsters


James was very convincing as “Sonny” Corleone in The Godfatherthat he was turned down when he tried to join a country club because its members believed that he, like his character, was a “made man”.

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James was very convincing as “Sonny” Corleone in The Godfatherthat he was turned down when he tried to join a country club because its members believed that he, like his character, was a “made man”.

CBS/CBS Image Archive via Getty Images

At the beginning The GodfatherIn a room shrouded in shadows, a wounded Sicilian undertaker, whose daughter has been brutally abused, kisses Don Corleone’s hand of Marlon Brando, pleading for justice in the way the Don indicated it was necessary.

In the background of the shot, the focus is not yet on either as a character or as an actor, but listening intently to Brando, James Kahn plays Sonny, the obvious Corleone family heir.

“One day, and that day may never come, I will invite you to do a service for me,” Don Brando says to the Undertaker.

Several months later, Sonny—who has long been in the spotlight as berserk, impulsive, and violent—lies bullet-ridden on a funeral slab, and “one day” has come.

The Godfather Changed the format of mob movies. He asked us to unite with the mafia.

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“I want you to use all your strength and skill,” the Don told the Undertaker, looking for one last respite for his son. “I don’t want his mother to see him that way.”

Then his voice breaks. “Look how they slaughtered my son.”

In gangster flicks of an earlier era, almost always from the point of view of moral authorities, such a scene did not exist. In 1972, The Godfather changed the formula. She asked us to sympathize not with the law, but with the mafia.

New model: realistic gangsters

In fact, it went even further: He asked us to Feel for the mafia. And we did. When the gangsters died in The Godfather, The audience cried.

And the actors who played these gangs were identified in ways like previous actors — say, Jimmy Cagney, who played strong men in The Enemy of the PeopleAnd the Roaring twenties, white heat, angels with dirty faces And dozens of other films – not done.

Of course, given the artificiality of gangsta flicks in the 1930s and 1940s, it made more sense that no one would confuse Kanye with the tough guys he played, more so than with Broadway showman George M. Cohan when he played. him in Yankee Doodle Dandy.

But soon after The Godfather Making him a superstar, James Caan was turned down when he tried to join a country club because its members believed in his performance and thought that like Sonny, he was a “made man”.

He told them, “I’m not Italian, I’m Jewish.” Did not matter. and with The Godfather Ushering in a new realism in mob movies, Kahn wasn’t alone.

Ray Liotta, who exploded to stardom when he starred as the young Martin Scorsese GoodFellaswho also struggled to avoid typecasting, going so far as to turn down a major role in soprano (Although he relented after many years, where he participated last year soprano prequel movie Many Saints in Newark).

Paul Sorvino and Ray Liotta both struggled with typecasting after his rise to fame in 1990’s GoodFellas.


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Paul Sorvino, who played Polly, Liotta’s thuggish mentor quietly GoodFellasI faced a similar struggle. Although he was an accomplished opera singer, poet, and comedian, he stuck in the public’s mind as a tough guy. He ended up playing mob bosses over and over again over the next three decades, including last year on television. Godfather of Harlem.

And the problem of gangs was not always the case for elite players. Quite a few Sorvino GoodFellas His followers found steady work with suburban mafia Tony Soprano a decade later, including Paul Hermann who played Bency Gaeta, and Tony Sirico who played Polly “Nut” Gualtieri.

With the Mafia receding, so must its translators


Actor Tony Sirico relaxes in his circa 2000 trailer on set soprano.

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Actor Tony Sirico relaxes in his circa 2000 trailer on set soprano.

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However, this wave of modern mafia epics was just a wave. culminated with the six seasons soprano Almost two decades ago. There are still occasional mob stories with Italian faces being produced. But in recent years, more egalitarian Hollywood has turned its attention to African-American anti-heroes, Asian cybercriminals and Latin American drug gangs. And as the Mafia recedes, so must its translators eventually.

All five of those actors—Kahn, Liotta, Sorvino, Hermann, and Sirico—were still going strong and running at the start of this year. Now, in just a few months, they’re gone – which may not come as an actuarial surprise, but it’s still a shocker. We tend to freeze actors in roles we remember best. He was, for example, in his early thirties—young and energetic—when he introduced The Godfather.

But now, half a century later. Liotta was in his thirties, and Sorvino, Sirico, and Hermann were in their forties and fifties. GoodFellas It was first shown and that was 32 years ago. We remember them all at their prime, which makes their loss feel like the lapse of a generation.

It happens for every genre – the great silent comedians, the ballroom dancing music stars of the 1930s and ’40s, the cowboys and lawmen who owned a movie set in the ’50s. There will come a time – one hopes, many decades from now – when audiences will mourn the passing of a generation of superheroes.

But it’s this crowd that we’re losing out on now: the gangs we care about so unexpectedly — and against all our best instincts.

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