MOTW: What Makes "A Bronx Tale" a Classic Gangster Movie?

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A father becomes worried when a local gangster befriends his son in the Bronx in the 1960s. This leads to the 17 year old son having to choose between two life paths, the path of his father, or the path of his friend.
Photo Credit: Savoy Pictures
April 22nd, 2013

MOTW: What Makes "A Bronx Tale" a Classic Gangster Movie?

"A Bronx Tale" was quite the spectacle amongst gangster movie aficionados when it came out. It marked the directorial debut of Robert De Niro, who was no stranger to crime movies, so everyone was looking forward to seeing what a movie with him at the helm would look like. He also decided to cast himself in the good guy role, allowing Chazz Palminteri to take the role of the antagonist. The film itself was a departure from the normal mafia fare, because it centered on a young boy who actually wasn't a member of the mafia as he grew up in a hardscrabble neighborhood. Despite this, "A Bronx Tale" still has many elements to it that make it a true classic gangster movie and one of the best in its genre.

Huge Egos

A gangster film would not be the same without at least a few characters having huge egos. It is this ego that propels them forward and allows them to make the bloody power plays necessary for dominance in such a violent world. However, the problem with egos is that they can quickly cause problems if not kept in check, which is exactly what happens to more than one person in most mob movies.

In "A Bronx Tale," Sonny LoSpecchio (Palminteri) rules the neighborhood with an iron fist that is mostly relentless. He has few soft spots other than Calogero, a young boy who witnesses a mob hit but doesn't say anything to the police, gaining Sonny's trust. His ego blinds him to the danger of some of his actions, which is what ultimately leads to his inevitable downfall.

Brotherhood

In gangster films, the henchman all have a fairly strict code that they abide by which swears them to secrecy about their actions. They also put this brotherhood before everything else, treating each other like family. If one of their own goes down, the rest won't hesitate to find out who took down their brother and make him pay. When Calogero (who Sonny would later nickname "C") witnesses the murder at the beginning of the film, it is in retaliation for a previous beating that left Carmine (Joe Pesci) with some serious scars. When Sonny found out what had happened to Carmine, he didn't think twice about killing the man who beat him. This, along with his inflated ego, would lead to his death.

Violent Death

A mob movie without death is probably not really a mob movie at all. Many mob films show the downfall of the kingpin, and "A Bronx Tale" is no different. After years of ruling with an iron fist and calling for many hits, one would think that Sonny would be a little more careful about security. One evening, he enters a bar where a party is in full swing, only to find himself at the mercy of a gunman who would shoot him in the back of the head, ending his life. It's a violent end to a violent man, and it was a mix of his loyalty to the brotherhood and his ego that brought him down. His ego made him think he was invincible, and the gunman was the grown son of the man whom Sonny ordered to be killed at the very beginning of the movie. Had Sonny either had better security or let Carmine heal without finding his assailant, Sonny probably would have ruled the Bronx for quite a bit longer.

Taking Advice

Advice is in large supply in gangster films, especially when older hitmen concern themselves with the development of their eventual replacements. In the film "Donnie Brasco," low-level hitman Al Pacino takes newbie Johnny Depp under his wing and gives him enough advice to fill a book. In "The Godfather," Clemenza wisely advises Paulie to "Leave the gun; take the cannoli" when they are sent on a murderous detour while getting the cannolis that Paulie's wife asks him to bring home.

In "A Bronx Tale," Sonny gives C various pieces of advice over the years, but the most important advice is when he tells a young C that his friends are wannabe gangsters who will get him in trouble. He is absolutely correct, because the boys later get C involved in a racial skirmish that quickly escalates to include Molotov cocktails, serious injury, and death. C's father Lorenzo (De Niro) had been advising him all along to stay away from Sonny, to no avail. There is a lot of advice given to the impressionable young boy, most of which he doesn't follow, that puts him in some very bad situations. Not taking advice is a tried-and-true gangster trope that helps elevate "A Bronx Tale" from crime film to a gangster classic.