- The US mafia has featured in many classic movies from the 1920s onwards.
- We sat down with Michael Franzese, a former New York mobster. Michael is now a motivational speaker travelling all over the world.
- We discuss the cultural significance and accuracy of famous crime scenes in movies and TV shows, such as “The Godfather” and “The Sopranos.”
- Michael also points out inaccuracies in scenes from mob comedies such as “Analyse This.”
- We also discuss true stories and real-life characters featured in “Goodfellas,” “The Irishman” and “Casino.”
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Below is a transcript of the video.
Michael Franzese: If a mob boss was ever visiting a psychiatrist, he’d be in the trunk of his car by the end of the week. Along with the psychiatrist. That would never happen.
My name is Michael Franzese, and I was a former capo in the Colombo crime family, one of the five New York Mafia La Cosa Nostra families. I’m now residing in the Los Angeles area, and I’m here to be a movie critic.
“The Godfather” (1972)
This would never happen. First of all, it’s too much work involved in this, you know? You’ve got so many guys. Usually mob hits are not done like that. I mean, they’re normally done at close range, small-calibre guns and shotguns being used. I never saw anything like this before. I know back in the ’20s they used machine guns. “Tommy guns” was the term back then. But, to me, this scene seems to be unrealistic.
“Analyse This” (1999)
There was always a guy of that size. In every crew and every family there was always somebody that big that was around. Italians eat a lot, and some of them get real big. You know, I doubt you’d ever see this many people. The last time something like this occurred was Appalachia, back in New York, when guys from all over the country came in. I think they probably modelled this scene after that. You know, ever since law enforcement invaded that meeting, it never happened again. And that I know for a fact.
“The Godfather: Part II” (1974)
We infiltrated society on every level, from the guy on the street, the numbers business, right up to the White House. And you would never see a politician talk to us like that because most of them we supported. And I’m wondering if I would have been able to stay calm. Which was the right thing to do
This kiss of death, that was a Sicilian thing, I believe, and certainly something that might’ve happened in Italy. This is a scene that, you know, that became close to me because I had a brother, I have a brother that actually turned informant. Testified against my dad, and actually tried to hurt me, and went into the Witness Protection Program. Haven’t seen him in 10 years. It’s very hard to bear, hard to deal with. Since I walked away from that life and basically, you know, violated my oath just by walking away, not that I ever hurt anybody, but just by walking away, contract on my life, the whole bit. Did you ever worry about your family? And my answer is no. We didn’t go after law enforcement. We didn’t bother anybody’s family, that was hands off. In Italy, you know, they go after your family, law enforcement, I mean, you know, there’s no rules when it comes to stuff like that.
I can tell you this scene is not unrealistic, because, you know, in a mob-run casino, we certainly wouldn’t have tolerated anybody cheating like that. So it could’ve been this, I mean, you break somebody’s legs, put them in a hospital. Even though this is Lefty Rosenthal, he wasn’t a made member, but he was an associate, but he dressed the part. De Niro and Gotti, and, you know, even myself, we dressed up pretty good. At every weekend, I was at weddings and funerals. Half the time I didn’t know who died or who was getting married, but we had to go as a matter of respect. So we had to dress up quite a bit. I mean, I probably had 50 suits at that time.
“Donnie Brasco” (1997)
All right, I gotta tell you this. This is probably one of the most realistic scenes in all of mob moviedom. You know, it’s funny. I’m a speaker now, and every time I say, “fuggedaboutit,” which I say by habit, people laugh, you know. This scene made that word famous. It applies to everything. Just like the sit-down. Anytime you had any kind of meeting, it was always at a sit-down. Had a sit-down, and discuss, you know, a life-and-death matter. We had a sit-down just to have dinner. Everything was done at a sit-down.
“Get Shorty” (1995)
It’s, No. 1, it’s the perception that this person is a serious guy, that can, you know, maybe hurt you, and that intensifies that look. ‘Cause I know a lot of times, you know, people said, “Hey, all you’ve got to do is look at somebody, and they get nervous.” Travolta, I thought, killed this role. You know, a lot of mob guys, I mean, myself being one of them, got involved in entertainment. Travolta took it to another level, wanting to be a director and whatever it was. We were more or less behind the scenes, you know, financing some of these things, getting to know some of the people, some of the perks involved with it. Really, that was it.
Yeah, no, I don’t think he really looked like me. I’ll be honest with you, I was in the theatre. I had just gotten out of prison, and I went to see this with my wife. And after a few minutes she looked at me and she said, you know: “Is this really what you guys did? Is that what your life was all about?” And I said: “Honey, c’mon, it’s a movie. They make things up.” You know, “Don’t pay attention.” No sooner do I say that than they introduce my character, and she looks at me, and I say, “C’mon, we gotta go.” And I walked out, ’cause I didn’t know why they put me in. It was a different crew.
People say, “Well, how did you come up with those nicknames?” You know, like, there was a guy that we called Chicken Head. And the reason we called him that because he used to shoot the head off of chickens when he was practicing his marksmanship. You know, we had Benny Eggs. “Well, why’d you call him Benny Eggs?” Well, he liked eggs. He ate them all the time. So we weren’t really original with the names. We had Fat Tony Salerno. “Why’d you call him Fat Tony?” Well, he was fat.
You know, they made Henry out to be a lot more significant in the life than he really was. He was just a lost soul. He always had a drug problem, alcohol problem. For me, Joe Pesci is the best portrayer of any mob guy. You know, he was around street guys, he knew guys out on the street. And he just had it down so perfectly.
“A Bronx Tale” (1993)
You know, most of the local police, they didn’t bother us. You know, it was really the FBI and, you know, investigative agencies like that, especially the feds. I doubt if anybody, even though he was protecting his son, would ever come right out front like that and look to put people on front street, so to speak. Front street, in other words, you’re telling the police that, you know, one of these guys might be guilty of doing something. So you’re actually, you know, in mob terms, you’re becoming a rat or a snitch. And, you know, you pay a price for that.
“Mean Streets” (1973)
You know, this whole shylocking scene, you know, very accurate. Shylocking, loan sharking, you know, basically lending money at usurious rates. And everybody that was in that life was in that business. That had any money. You know, he plays these roles good. I think, today, you know, the way De Niro’s acting, he thinks he really is a mob guy, you know. It’s kinda permeated his whole being and his character.
“The Simpsons” (2006)
A lot of things fell off a truck. I mean, that was the expression that we used. Whether it be clothing, a suit, you know, electronics, cars, whatever. You know, hijacking was a big thing back in the day, no question about it. And there was some guys that were professional hijackers. Today, it’s very difficult, but it was a lot easier to change the serial numbers and make a new car out of it, and nobody could ever find it, so.
“The Irishman” (2020)
You know, I’m a little bit jaded when I look at this film, only because I know that the Sheeran story is fiction. I mean, he didn’t kill Hoffa. I didn’t know Jimmy Hoffa personally, but it was during my time. But I do have insight into, you know, what really happened there. He was a hot-headed guy, and he was one of the most powerful guys in the country at that point. Remember this, you control the teamsters, in a big way, you control the country. You know, No. 1, you got zillions of dollars in your pension funds. You call a strike as a teamster, you know, you’ve got 2 1/2 million people stopping, nothing gets delivered, everything stops, and that’s a tremendous amount of power.
The Joey Gallo killing, that was, ’cause I know, you know, for a fact, what happened there. Like I said, that was our time. And, you know, I was in the middle of that. I wasn’t the shooter, don’t get me wrong, but I knew it was our family. For him to be so, you know, outspoken about doing that, it was just so wrong. I mean, the scene was accurate. I mean, he did get killed in that way. He did get out into the street, and they did get him there, and his family was there, the whole thing. But Sheeran wasn’t the shooter.
“The Untouchables” (1987)
I mean, he certainly looked the part. You know, everybody looks at Capone like he was a 40, 50-year-old guy. He was, like, 29 years old. He was in his 30s when he passed away, I think.
You know, Capone was bigger than life in the movies. He wasn’t bigger than life with us. I mean, nobody really regarded him. You know, even my father said, you know: “We chased him out of Brooklyn. He went to Chicago.” And my father’s 103, so he was around all of these guys.
You know, unfortunately, I get asked about all the time is about murder in that life. And I will tell you this. Murder was taken very seriously, OK? It can only be approved by the boss. So I’ve been very, very fortunate to be here, where I am now, and not dead or in prison, like just about all of my associates.
“The Sopranos” (1999-2007)
If a mob boss was ever visiting a psychiatrist, he’d be in the trunk of his car by the end of the week, along with the psychiatrist. That would never happen.
There’s no way in the world if a mob boss hit anybody that that guy would come back at him. No way. Especially in front of audience. If he did, you don’t ever raise your hand to a made guy. No matter who you are, you raise your hand to a made guy, you’re dead, and so, and they know that. So this is not a realistic scene.
So David Chase gets in touch with me through a friend of mine, Jack Gilardi at ICM, and he says: “Look, I’m doing this series for Fox. And we want you to be involved as a consultant.” And I said, “You know, I’m on parole and all this stuff.” So I turned it down. That’s how smart I am, right? “The Sopranos.” But I always wondered why he contacted me. In my house, back in the ’60s when it was being built, the government, the FBI, installed a bugging device. They had it in the kitchen of our house, and they picked up a lot of the conversation on a daily basis. And I am telling you that Tony Soprano’s mother was so much like my mother. You know, maybe he got the Freedom of Information Act, maybe he did something, but he got a hold of that surveillance tapes, and he patterned that woman on my mother. And I said, I would, I tell you, I would almost stake my life. I’ve never had a chance to talk to him about it.
That’s not true at all. I mean, I saw…[scoffs] you know, on a hot summer day in Harlem, you know, guys would sit out in front of their social clubs, and they’d be in shorts. Even the boss. I mean, you know, that’s not true. I mean, you go on a boat, you’re in shorts. Or maybe somebody told them that that, you know, didn’t know what they were talking about. But that’s not true.
Produced by Ju Shardlow