Michael Franzese made the decision to leave the gang. Unusually, after turning snitch, he didn’t disappear into the FBI’s witness protection program.
The ex-mafioso who was shot one morning wasn’t even heading to his car. Franzese was sworn in as a “made man” (to use gangster slang) in the middle of the 1970s. He was born into the criminal underworld, his father serving as an underboss for the Colombo crime family.
His life became a never-ending series of legal disputes followed by periods spent in the big house as a result of his involvement in various money-making schemes, including cheating the government of millions of dollars in tax through a gasoline scam. Then he gave up, leaving his old life behind, and went on to write and talk about motivation.
Due to all of this, Franzese is the ideal person to discuss gangster movies. Which films are well-researched, and which are full of exaggerated nonsense? Here is his assessment of a few well-known scenes.
‘The Many Streets of Newark’ – street shootout
Alessandro Nivola plays Dickie Moltisanti, Christopher Moltisanti’s father, in David Chase’s 2021 Sopranos prequel, which centers on his life and death. Dickie is frequently mentioned in the venerable TV series. In this scene from the movie, a bloody gunfight takes place at night on a street, resulting in the deaths of multiple people.
How convincing is the scene? The street shootout is greatly dramatized. You know, you usually scouted someone out. You’re watching them, and it will only happen once. You know, they’re not even ready for it. They accidentally into a trap. I’ve never been involved in a street shooting. And it didn’t come to the point where I needed to carry a gun around with me all the time to make sure I was protected.
‘The Godfather Part 2’ – Fredo’s betrayal
Middle child syndrome affects John Cazale’s character, Fredo Corleone. He is eager to impress the family, but he is disregarded and, in his opinion, treated disrespectfully. It gnaws at his soul that no one takes him seriously. Fredo confesses to Michael that he has betrayed him and is tired of being the family joke.
How convincing is the scene? “ Unfortunately, betrayal happens all too often in our life. Many men became informers because they didn’t want to serve the lengthy prison terms associated with the racketeering statutes when the government first began to utilize them. So many of the males began to betray one another all too frequently.
“As far as sibling rivalry, I didn’t experience much of that. I don’t think it’s any different in the mob than it might be on the street or in corporate America. I had a brother, and unfortunately, he had a severe drug problem for most of his life. So I think, at times, he probably was jealous of my position versus his position. But you know, that’s just a normal sibling rivalry that you would have anywhere else.”
‘Gotti’ – charismatic leaders
Bosses and capos that are larger than life are commonplace in gangster movies. The notorious Gambino family head is portrayed as a charismatic man with the gift of gab in this 1996 HBO drama starring Armand Assante, who earned an Emmy for his compelling performance.
How convincing is the scene? “John Gotti was a larger-than-life character on the street, no doubt, the way he carried himself. And this is not a good thing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s eventually what’s going to bring you down. It’s going to bring a lot of heat on life. My dad to an extent was larger-than-life, because of the amount of media attention and law enforcement attention that he got.
“Carlo Gambino, who was at one time the most powerful guy in all of the New York families, was very low-key. He didn’t want to be noticed, he did it the right way. He was an old-timer. You know, Frank Costello, who was the boss at one time of the Genovese family and very well connected politically, he was larger-than-life. But with these larger-than-life guys, it’s just that’s the attention that they draw. I think John Gotti might have wanted it, but the others didn’t. It just happened to them.”
‘Casino’ – when bosses end up in court
When the Vegas moguls have their backs against the wall and legal troubles multiply in Martin Scorsese’s 1995 film Casino, it’s time to purge the office and put an end to any actual or hypothetical dangers. The hitmen get to work in one of the director’s well-known music and voiceover montage scenes.
How convincing is the scene? “The employer can order that person to be removed if you believe they are weak and pose a risk to your safety. That has occurred in my life. Therefore, it is not greatly inflated. It’s a regrettable fact of that life. A similar thing happened in Goodfellas when Jimmy Burke, who played “Jimmy Conway” in the film, was worried that the other guys would let the government to observe the Lufthansa robbery. It seemed quite realistic that many men were slain.
Murder is treated gravely in that culture. Although it’s been discussed, only the boss has the authority to give the order. People can’t just declare, “Hey, I don’t like this man, I want to kill him,” because it’s not some random cowboy situation. The matter is treated seriously. After some deliberation, the boss decides on something.
‘The Departed’ – Costello smells a rat
The Departed, a remake of the South Korean smash Infernal Affairs, was released in 2006 and stars Jack Nicholson in his final standout performance. In this amusing scene, Frank Costello, the paranoid mob leader played by Jack Nicholson, confronts Billy (Leonardo DiCaprio) about being a rat. Later it is discovered that Costello is also an informant.
How convincing is the scene? I was never called a rat throughout that period of my life. But you’re constantly being encouraged to, you know, check your speech. The phone is a cop, it’s the same as a cop, as my father used to say. Some guys are therefore always aware of that. One of those guys was me. I was quite selective about who I spoke with. I was unable to admit anything, even in my own life, because following orders doesn’t need you to consult anyone before carrying them out. That completes the sentence. That’s it.
“Now, there was somebody in our family who was talking, who was an informant, for over 20 years. We didn’t know it, but he was providing information and I was very close to him. I thought I was going to be in trouble for it. I wasn’t, but in situations like that, you have to be conscious of it because it’s something that you constantly need to worry about.”
‘Donnie Brasco’ – FBI infiltration
In the 1997 film Donnie Brasco, FBI agent Joe Pistone (Johnny Depp) uses the identity Donnie Brasco to infiltrate the Bonanno crime family. He achieves this by posing as a jeweler with insider knowledge and befriending Bonanno foot soldier Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero (Al Pacino).
How convincing is the setting? “In that circumstance, they acted very irresponsibly. They didn’t thoroughly investigate him, I mean. He was an earner who generated income. And regrettably, they welcomed him with wide arms. However, it was definitely a mistake.
“I met Joe Pistone on the street, because I knew Sonny Black and I knew Lefty. Joe and I have [since] become very good friends. Donnie Brasco was undercover for six years. And he really risked his life because, at any point in time, if there was a slip-up, and somebody found out who he was, he could have walked in a room and that would have been the end of his life. It’s fascinating that he was able to last for six years. That was unbelievable.”
‘American Gangster’ – sadistic violence
The heroin trade is the subject of Ridley Scott’s film American Gangster, as seen through the eyes of crime boss Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington). In this scenario, Lucas sets a victim on fire and then douses him in gasoline before shooting him to death. It’s an incredibly sadistic piece of work.
How convincing is the setting? “Let me tell you, there were people like that in our life, sadly. Roy DeMeo, a member of a different group, was notorious for killing people, dismembering corpses, stuffing them in drums, and other atrocities. Therefore, it’s a personal choice. The proper way to take care of something is never taught to you. However, there are those who went that far.
“Roy DeMeo had a headquarters called the Gemini Lounge. And a lot of people were killed in the Gemini Lounge, then chopped up and disposed of in different ways. But again, that’s a personal thing. If a guy is doing that on his own, he’s doing it on his own. You’re not taught to do that. You’re not told to do that. I mean, he was basically a serial killer. And unfortunately, he was part of our life. But that’s the extreme. It’s the exception, not the rule.”