The Mafia has had a broad history in film and on television, and one thing that has always bothered me is how fans always seem to focus only on the violence in the stories. True, the mob life is a violent one, but there is so much more to it then just that. Just like anyone else in the world, these are people with dreams, hopes, families, and failings, but it seems to get lost sometimes in the shuffle. So, I’ve gathered up five scenes from various works that revolve around the mafia that I feel best demonstrate how the lifestyle is about more than just killing.
I will warn you there is a lot of strong language in these clips, but it is unavoidable.
Donnie Brasco was based on the true story of an FBI agent infiltrating the mafia to bring down certain members from the inside their own organization. Given the subject matter, and the angle it was approached from, the world of the mafia was a bit less glamorous than most portrayals we see. This scene about how Al Pachino’s character will introduce Johnny Depp’s Donnie Brasco is fascinating for displaying the subtleties of the mafia hierarchy, but when Pachino asks Depp for money, it shows that not all mafia members always have a wad of cash on them, and wear gorgeous ties. It was nice to see a work cut back on some of the “glamor” that always permeates these works.
“You broke my heart, Fredo,” says so much about the mindset of a mafioso. ‘The Family’ comes before family, and this scene demonstrates it probably the most clearly when John Cazale’s Fredo has betrayed Al Pachino’s Michael in Godfather, Part II. While for most Italians there is nothing more important than their families, for someone in the mob, there is nothing more important that “the family”, and if it means that a member of your blood does wrong, then that’s the way things are, and they too must go.
Martin Scorsese is arguably one of the greatest living filmmakers, if not one of the greatest ever, so picking one scene from all of his mafia moments is next to impossible, but it had to be done. The “Then He Kissed Me”/kitchen walk scene from Goodfellas is powerful and amazing as a moment of artistry, and as an example of showing how a mafioso of the time period was treated like a prince. Ray Liotta walks through like what is happening is perfectly normal, handing out $20 tips like candy, having a table added to the dance floor for them, while Lorraine Bracco looks on in amazement. Finally she asks, “What do you do?”, and it dawns on the audience just how odd and surreal this life truly is to an outsider.
Perhaps a mob comedy may seem like an odd choice for this list, but a husband/wife argument between Alec Baldwin and Michelle Pfeiffer over their child knowing where a gun is, and how their house is a mish mash of things that fell of trucks, seems to fit. Life isn’t always easy for the wives of mobsters, and while The Godfather Trilogy showed this from a dramatic point of view, this scene seems to be a bit more “real”.
Maybe not a scene not a lot of people would have thought of for a moment from The Sopranos, but Frank Vincent’s speech as Phil Leotardo about what happened to his family name, and his brother, says so much about Italians, and part of what caused the mob culture to continue here from the old country. As someone who spent years trying to find out what our original family name was, I can relate to some of what goes on here.