22 Unforgettable Character Introductions in Movies

By Jeppe Kleijngeld

Sometimes a character is introduced in a movie in a way that immediately tells you all you need to know. Is this character friendly, bad, cool or slick? Is he/she the ultimate hero? The ultimate badass? The ultimate gangster? In this list you will find 22 character introductions that stick. If you’ve seen the movies, chances are you probably remember them. Enjoy!

22. Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather

Played by
: Marlon Brando
First lines: “Why did you go to the police? Why didn’t you come to me first?”
Why memorable: What better way to introduce the mighty Don Corleone than to show him during a day at the office? We learn a lot of things from this. For one thing, he has power, lots of power. He has everybody in his pocket. Respect and honor matter more to him than money. Don Corleone knows how to treat a friend, but when you’re in his debt you can expect him to ask something in return. Through three little visits by relations we learn exactly how the Don works (a favor for a favor), what his principles are (“you can act like a man!”) and how he sees himself (“we’re not murderers, despite of what this undertaker says”). Marvelous.

21. John Tuld in Margin Call

Played by
: Jeremy Irons
First lines: “Please, sit down.”
Why memorable: He arrives by helicopter, the CEO of a big Wall Street bank, at the brink of the mother of all market crashes. The moment he enters the conference room, he hypnotizes everybody, including the audience. Jeremy Irons completely rules in this scene. He has great lines to work with (“Maybe you could tell me what is going on. And please, speak as you might to a young child. Or a golden retriever. It wasn’t brains that brought me here; I assure you that”), and his delivery is completely mesmerizing.

20. Garland ‘The Marietta Mangler’ Greene in Con Air

Played by
: Steve Buscemi
First lines: “He’s a font of misplaced rage. Name your cliché. Mother held him too much or not enough.”
Why memorable: The fun thing about Con Air is the high density of insane criminals on board of a hijacked airplane; Cyrus ‘The Virus’ Grissom; Johnny 23; Diamond Dog; et cetera. When you think you’ve got them all, a new bunch arrives, including Garland Greene aka the ‘Marietta Mangler’, who slaughtered 37 people. “Should be interesting”, Grissom says. Greene’s entrance is pretty hilarious; a steel security truck; a gimp-like suit; loads of guards and impressed remarks by the toughest of criminals. Then Grissom has his mask removed and we look at…Steve Buscemi, a creepy Steve Buscemi no less. Later, he surprisingly turns out to be pretty friendly.

19. Isaac Davis in Manhattan

Played by
: Woody Allen
First lines: “Chapter 1. He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion. Uh, no. Make that; he romanticized it all out of proportion. Better.”
Why memorable: This particular scene really nails Woody Allen. While we view beautiful black and white images of Manhattan, we hear him in a voice-over describing why he loves this city. Typically Allen, he does so in a really neurotic way, changing his description about six times in only a few minutes. Boy, can he talk! Arguably Allen is not portraying Isaac Davis here, but he is really playing himself. In either case, you get to know the man right away with this intro. Whether that is positive or negative is a matter of taste.

18. Django in Django

Played by
: Franco Nero
First lines: “Whatever I’m doing here is none of your business.”
Why memorable: What a great way to start a movie! First, we get a credit sequence in which we see a mysterious man carry a coffin behind him through the desert. We don’t see his face. The campy credits seem to come straight out of an old Italian horror flick. The title song ‘Django’ plays and not only is it beautiful, it also tells us the story; once you’ve loved her, whoa-oh…now you’ve lost her, whoa-oh-oh-oh…but you’ve lost her for-ever, Django. In the scene after, Django eliminates five sadistic bandits that want to burn a girl alive. It is confirmed, Django is a bloody hero! No matter what happens next, we will be with him.

17. Amélie Poulain in Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain

Played by
: Audrey Tautou
First lines: “Les poules couvent souvent au couvent.” (‘The chickens cluck more often than the rooster crows.’)
Why memorable: The romantic fairytale Amelie, opens with a depiction of the childhood of main character Amélie Poulain in Paris neighborhood Montmartre. Because of circumstances and the personalities of her parents, Amélie grows up at home, where she retreats into her own fantasy world where vinyl records are made like crepes and crocodile monsters come to visit her. This introduction gives us the perfect sense of who Amélie will become as she grows up; a woman who wants to make people happy with little things and a woman impossible not to love.

16. Bill in Kill Bill

Played by
: David Carradine
First lines: “Do you find me sadistic? You know I’ll bet I could fry an egg on your head right now if I wanted to.”
Why memorable: His handkerchief tells us who he is; Bill from the title. The guy that needs to die! What he does in the first scene is unforgivable; shooting the lovely Bride (Uma Thurman) through the head. Yet, there is this duality about Bill that makes him interesting. He is a cold blooded bastard here, but the way he touches the Bride and the things he says, tell us that he really cares about her. We want to learn more about him. The fact that we don’t see his face only adds to his mystery. Add to that his awesome voice (David Carradine’s) and you’ve got a character (and bad guy) entrance to dream of.

15. Lolita in Lolita

Played by
: Sue Lyon
First lines: “Goodnight (kisses mother). Goodnight (kisses Humbert Humbert).”
Why memorable: The middle-aged college professor Humbert Humbert (James Mason) immediately rents the room of the house he is checking out when he sees 14-year-old nymphet Lolita in the garden. “What was the decisive factor?”, asks landlady and Lolita’s mom Charlotte Haze. “Was it the garden?”
“No, I guess it’s your cherry pie”. Yeah right Humbert, you horny old goat. It is understandable though. Actress Sue Lyon looks terrific and plays the seductive vamp Lolita completely and utterly convincing. Mason’s facial expressions in response to Lolita are hilarious.

14. Darth Vader in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

Played by
: David Prowse (body) and James Earl Jones (voice)
First lines: “Where are those transmissions you intercepted? WHAT have you done with those PLANS?”
Why memorable: The ultimate sci-fi baddie makes his introduction right at the start of Episode IV. His evil nature and his power are apparent from the first frame; his black cape, his helmet, his breathing, et cetera. The way he chokes a rebel to death makes us fear him. Darth Vader is evil, incarcerated, or rather incyborgated. A really great introduction to a brilliant character.

13. Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men

Played by
: Javier Bardem
First lines: “Step out of the car please, sir.”
Why memorable: In his first two scenes in No Country for Old Men, Anton Chigurh is like the Devil himself. Although his haircut is something awful, this man surely is frightening. Even the hardened sheriff played by Tommy Lee Jones thinks so. First, Chigurh uses his handcuffs to kill the cop who arrested him. He does so with a sardonic pleasure, almost as if he is possessed. Afterwards he immediately kills another man, a civilian this time, using an oxygen tank. This is beyond much doubt the most brutal introduction to a mad killer ever.

12. Bridget Gregory in The Last Seduction

Played by
: Linda Fiorentino
First lines: “I can’t hear you people! You maggots sound like suburbanites. 50 bucks for a lousy coin set, you sell one at the time. I got a hundred bucks for the next sucker who makes a triple sale.”
Why memorable: The greatest of femme fatales is Bridget Gregory in The Last Seduction. Right from the get go her deadliness is obvious. Yet, she is still stunningly sexy and irresistible. In this scene, she is bullying men around in a sales office. Her aggression is off-putting, yet she could pull in any guy like a magnet. Bridget is a woman you just don’t say no to, no matter how obviously bad for your health she is.

11. Harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West

Played by
: Charles Bronson
First lines: “And Frank?”
Why memorable: Three men that look like bandits are waiting for a train. When it arrives nobody exits. Then, when they are about to leave they hear the music. Hello Harmonica. Our mysterious hero plays rather than talks. He seems to be looking for a man named Frank, who the bandits work for. It is not hard to guess his purpose with Frank when he kills the three men. Harmonica does not only play, he knows how to shoot too.

10. Harold Shand in The Long Good Friday

Played by
: Bob Hoskins
First lines: “Good old George.”
Why memorable: Our favorite British gangster Harold Shand, is introduced when he arrives at the airport. He walks around in a cool white suit and with a very cool, tough guy expression. The musical score is awesome. This is a guy who is in control. He is the man! We definitely want to spend more time with Harold. A great character like Harold Shand deserves an introduction like this.

9. Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark

Played by
: Harrison Ford
First lines: “This is it… This is where Forrestal cashed in.”
Why memorable: The first thing we see are his whip and his hat, the two most important items Indy carries with him. He wouldn’t be Indiana Jones without them. We don’t see his face though. That comes later when one of his companions wants to shoot him in the back. He turns around and uses his whip to take away his revolver. You don’t surprise Indiana Jones like that! From here on we know; this is the greatest adventurer in the world and we will gladly follow him to the darkest places.

8. Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Played by
: Betsy Brantley (performance model) and Kathleen Turner (voice)
First lines: “You had plenty money nineteen twenty-two. You let other woman make a fool of you.”
Why memorable: When you hear the name Jessica Rabbit, wife of wacky toon character Roger Rabbit, you just assume you are dealing with a rabbit. Wrong! She is the most beautiful woman ever animated. Gorgeous, voluptuous shapes and a face to dream off; Jessica oozes sex. Private detective Eddie Valiant is stunned when he sees her perform in a nightclub and with him the audience.

7. Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean

Played by
: Johnny Depp
First lines: “What do you say to three Shillings and we forget the name?”
Why memorable: The pirate of all pirates is introduced brilliantly. Jack Sparrow is seen standing proudly on a mast in a beautiful tilting shot, supported by epic-sounding music. But, as it turns out; the ship is not as impressive as it initially appears. It is a small sized sloop and it is sinking. The best part is that Jack exactly makes it to the shore; the second he puts foot on land, his ‘ship’ is gone. That immediately makes clear the dilemma of his character; he is a pirate without a ship. And he walks kind of funny, but hey; it is Johnny Depp after all.

6. Jesus Quintana in The Big Lebowski

Played by
: John Turturro
First lines: “Are you ready to be fucked, man?”
Why memorable: Talking about unforgettable… Everybody who has ever seen The Big Lebowski remembers this scene: the purple outfit, the one polished nail, the bowling ball licking, the perfect strike and his Latin dance to celebrate. Jesus Quintana is forever branded in the collective cinematic consciousness thanks to this moment. This is truly legendary stuff.

5. Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Played by
: Gene Wilder
First lines: “Welcome my friends”
Why memorable: Which kid wouldn’t want to meet a master chocolate maker? Before his entrance in the movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, he is already presented as legendary; he was born to be candyman. Then we meet him 40 minutes into the movie and we think; so this is the guy? Hehehe. Gene Wilder puts one quite the show. He first fools the crowd by acting as a cripple and then he charmingly invites the lucky golden ticket winners into his factory, including poor kid Charlie Bucket and his granddad. Heart-warming and lovely.

4. Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd.

Played by
: Gloria Swanson
First lines: “Have him come up, Max.”
Why memorable: A screenwriter, Joe Gillis, has a blow-up and walks up to a fancy Hollywood house to get a spare. Then he meets her; Norma Desmond, a famous actress from the Hollywood silent pictures era. Her motto: “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.” Her madness is apparent from the beginning as she takes Gillis for the funeral director there to bury her deceased chimp. Then they start talking about movies and we learn her narcissistic personality, forever ruined by her career. She is both sad and dreadful, a wonderful character, and introduced very poignantly.

3. Jill in Once Upon a Time in the West

Played by
: Claudia Cardinale
First lines: “Sweetwater. Brett McBain’s farm.”
Why memorable: You don’t need words for a great introduction, director Sergio Leone shows us. In this beautiful scene we witness how a strong, independent woman arrives in the Wild West and things are about to change. The music by Ennio Morricone is breathtaking and so are the images of Jill walking through the town looking for her escort. We don’t need an explanation; just seeing her on that train station tells us all we need to know.

2. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs

Played by
: Anthony Hopkins
First lines: “Good morning. You’re one of Jack Crawford’s aren’t you?”
Why memorable: Hannibal is introduced as the character was originally envisioned; deeply scary and fascinating. It is the anticipation that is created before meeting him that makes his introduction work like hell. FBI agent Starling is nervous about the meeting and so are we. FBI-boss Crawford tells Starling; don’t tell him anything personal, you don’t want Lecter inside your head. Prison director Chilton calls him a monster. Then, when Starling finally arrives at his cell, he is already standing there; this is enough to give you the chills. In the conversation that follows we learn that he is charming, extremely intelligent and psychopathic, but in a very complex way. This whole scene is unforgettable.

1. Frank in Once Upon a Time in the West

Played by
: Henry Fonda
First lines: “Now that you’ve called me by name.”
Why memorable: Henry Fonda originally turned down the role of Frank. Director Sergio Leone flew to the United States and met with Fonda, who asked why he was wanted for the film. Leone replied: “Picture this: the camera shows a gunman from the waist down pulling his gun and shooting a running child. The camera pans up to the gunman’s face and…it’s Henry Fonda!” (source: IMDb). Until then, with one exception, Fonda had only been cast in ‘good guy’ roles. Leone wanted the audience to be shocked. And it works like hell. Combined with his own theme music (all main characters in OUATITW have musical leitmotifs that relate to them), it is the most powerful character introduction ever. Those deep blue eyes, that sardonic smile… this is what evil looks like.

Originally published on FilmDungeon

My Sopranos Obsession: Final Analysis

By Jeppe Kleijngeld

In 1999, a mobster walked into a psychiatrist’s office and changed television history forever. The Sopranos was a revolution because it taught us that television can be just as good as cinema. Many of the 86 episodes that would eventually be produced are as brilliant as the best five star movies.

The show’s creator, David Chase (an Italian-American originally named DeCesare), wanted to achieve a number of things with the show. It had to be entertaining; he and his friends would have to enjoy it. It had to be set and filmed in the state he grew up in: New Jersey. And it would have to feature local Italian-American actors to make the portrayals as real as possible. Thematically, the show was mostly about realising the American dream and achieving happiness in the modern era. A time in which many Americans feel that the best is over.

At the centre of the Sopranos-universe Chase placed a character that might never be surpassed in how three-dimensional, how larger-than-life and how monumental he would be written and performed. The late James Gandolfini made Tony Soprano the anti-hero of all anti-heroes, and the most memorable lead for any tv-show before or since. James Gandolfini really delivers a Marlon Brando/Vito Corleone kind of performance. The beauty is: this is 86 episodes, so the depth he is able to create for this character is nothing less than astonishing.

Chase had always been a big fan of gangster movies like The Godfather, GoodFellas and the old James Cagney classics, and decided it would be interesting if the main character – originally named Tommy Soprano – would be a New Jersey wiseguy. This had never been done before. Gangster films are mostly set in New York, L.A., or Chicago, so this would be a big differentiator of the show. The Jersey suburbs and wastelands would form a very interesting canvas against which the characters would perform their outrageous, damning and often hideous acts. Beyond every envelope Tony receives from one of his underlings, there is a story of pain and suffering. Like the time when mobster Paulie suffocates an old lady with a pillow to get his hands on some cash.

Not only would the main character be a mobster, he would be a mobster in therapy. Tony starts going there from the pilot onwards to deal with panic attacks, a condition that resulted from growing up with a wiseguy father and batshit crazy mother. Chase’s own mother, a terribly negative and dysfunctional woman, formed the inspiration for Tony’s mother Livia. Fantastically portrayed by Nancy Marchand, Livia would become the most famous villainous mother character in television history. She would also be key to one of most incredible storylines of the show, the one in which Livia – together with Tony’s uncle Junior – tries to have her own son whacked for putting her in a nursing home. This is a comedy. But a very intelligent one.

It is no surprise that The Sopranos instantly became my favorite tv-show ever, if you know that GoodFellas is ever since its release my all-time favorite movie. The Sopranos is – in a way – 86 episodes of GoodFellas-style quality viewing. But it is by no means a rip-off. What the two productions have in common is that they portray the lifestyle of the street level wiseguy. And in both cases it becomes quickly apparent that there is nothing remotely glamourous about these lifestyles. The Soprano family in New Jersey make their money by offering ‘protection’ to businesses (mostly the garbage industry) against other gangsters looking to rip them off. They also lend money to gambling addicts at ridiculous interest rates. And they always make their money through (the threat of) violence.

Mobsters are capable of this vicious behaviour because they lack empathy. They don’t mind ruining a guy’s life or murdering him if that can make them a quick buck and they can get away with it. It is this psychological aspect of the gangster’s life that gets a lot of attention in The Sopranos and it’s fascinatingly done. As an audience, you’re spending a lot of time in the company of killers. The thing is, these guys are really funny and it’s extremely entertaining to see how they go about their daily business and what their private lives look like. Therefore as a viewer, you often forget what they are really about. And then, time and again, you’re confronted with savage behaviour and brutal violence often aimed at the unlucky and innocent.

The main characters of this show are thus all sociopaths capable of terrible deeds. Even their wives lack empathy. How else can they stand being around these guys for so long? The very first episode already shows us who these people really are. The young mob wannabe Christopher (Michael Imperioli), who wants to prove himself, murders a guy just to hang on to some stupid garbage scheme. And Tony purposefully hits a degenerate gambler with a Lexus and then savagely beats the crap out of him. The casual way this violence occurs should tell us: This is what these guys do, have been doing, and will forever be doing. It is really bad and will get worse. How can they cope with it and how should we as viewers? The show doesn’t judge, but just shows us these characters for what they are. We are the moral judges ourselves.

According to Michael Rispoli – who was in the running for playing Tony and ended up playing Jackie Aprile – the pilot script already had the brilliance built into it. He was therefore not surprised at all that it became a hit. There were so many ways you could go with this story. And he was right. Chase and his very talented writing and production team really went for the best cinematic quality they could accomplish.

After the pilot was shot in 1997, HBO ordered a full season which was shot in 1998 and premiered on the pay channel in 1999. It became a huge success. Audiences, in that first year 10 million viewers, loved it and became instantly hooked. The first season, which might very well be considered as a 13 episode mega movie, is an absolute masterpiece. In an early review in 1999, The New York Times wrote it may just be the greatest work of American popular culture of the last quarter century.

What was a very smart move by creator Chase – who had worked before as writer/producer on such shows as The Rockford Files and Northern Exposure – was to include elements that a wide audience would enjoy: Tony’s ‘normal’ family life with his wife Carmela (a fantastic Edie Falco), interactions with non-criminal locals in New Jersey, the modern Italian American lifestyle and the very realistic therapy scenes. But by making Tony a depressed arch criminal who enjoys beating and killing rivals, he added dimensions that make the show much more layered than the sitcom audiences were used to: The Sopranos is so rich and accomplished in its writing that you can watch it five times and still find it immensely enjoyable and discover new details every time. Even in what is considered one of the worst episodes of the series – ‘Christopher’- there are classic moments. Like the mobsters sitting on their asses in front of the pork store complaining about Native Americans. “When did we ever get anything without having to work our asses off?” says Vito dead serious. “I would like to sit on my ass all day, smoking mushrooms and collecting government checks”, says Bobbie. And this happens after the episode ‘No Show’ in which the crew gets paid for doing absolutely nothing whatsoever. These characters…..

After the extremely positive reactions to the first season, Chase and his teams went for an even better second season. When I viewed the Season 2 finale – ‘Funhouse’ – for the first time, I knew right away: this is an entirely different league than anything that I have seen before on the small screen. It can comfortably compete with the best of Scorsese, Kubrick, Tarantino and Coppola. Yes.

Rather than copying the proven formula of the previous season or successful episodes, they took the show in a new direction every time. The first season centered mostly around the power struggle between Tony and his uncertain uncle Junior (a brilliant turn by Dominic Chianese). It famously ended with Tony surviving an assasination attempt orchestrated by his mother and uncle, and then becoming the new boss of New Jersey. A major plotline in the second season is Tony’s friend and associatte Pussy’s betrayal to the feds. When his own best friends are forced to murder him in the final episode, it becomes ever more clear that they will have to make very costly sacrifices to maintain their lifestyles.

Season 3 starts with Livia’s death (due to the death of the actress who portrayed her) and the feds increasing their efforts to bring down Tony. Had Livia been around she would have played a major role in season 3. Instead, three new volatile characters are introduced: Jackie Jr., the dumb son of the deceased old boss of the Family Jackie Aprile, Ralphie (Joe Pantaliano), the craziest mobster ever, and Gloria (Annabelle Scoria), the new borderline love interest of Tony who can be considered as a temporary replacement for Livia (along with Tony’s crazy sister Janice who was introduduced in season 2).

Halfway through the season, the makers confront us with two shocking episodes. In ‘Employee of the Month’ – Tony’s psychiatrist Dr. Melfi, the only moral character apart from Charmaine Bucco, is brutally raped and due to mishandling of the evidence, the rapist is released. Rather than putting Tony on the rapist, Melfi stays true to her personal values. Not since The Godfather has the delivery of a simple “no” made such an impact. In ‘University’, like in ‘College’ in season 1, it is the audience that is getting schooled. In this incredibly hard to watch episode, we witness Ralphie beat a young prostitute – and mother to a young boy – to death because she insulted his ego. As disturbing as the act itself are the crew’s reactions to the violation (‘she was just a whore’ and ‘he disrespected the Bing’). These are the guys we enjoy so much watching. It’s like the relentless psychiatrist Dr. Kwakower tells Carmela halfway through the season: ‘You can never say you haven’t been told’.

The season ends with the hilarious ‘Pine Barrens’ in which Paulie and Christopher – the Maffia’s own Cheech and Chong – get lost in the woods. Two characters get a resolution this season. Tony uses mobster Patsy to end the affair with Gloria (“my face will be the last you’ll see, not Tony’s. We understand each other? It won’t be cinematic”) and Jackie Jr. gets killed after pulling an incredibly stupid robbery on a made guy’s card game. Villain Ralphie surprisingly survives the season, only to get killed off in the ninth episode of season 4 right after the makers manage to evoke sympathy for the character. That season’s final shock is the disintegration of the Soprano marriage. The final episode ‘Whitecaps’ features some of the greatest acting ever in a television show between James Gandolfini and Edie Falco who both won an Emmy Award for Best Lead in a Drama Series.

In the fifth season, things are really turning dark and the show – inevitably – becomes harder to watch. The season showed us that no one can escape Tony Soprano. Both Carmela and Tony’s cousin Tony B. (Steve Buscemi) find this out the hard way. The only character to ever pull this off is Furio, who fled the country in season 4 after losing respect for his boss because of the way he treated Carmela, the woman he fell in love with.

After Pussy had to go in season 2, another major character is killed off in episode 12 ‘Long Term Parking’. Christopher’s fiancée Adriana La Cerva (Drea de Matteo) was talked into cooperating with the feds in season 3 and in this shattering episode, she meets her tragic demise. Imperioli’s and De Matteo’s stellar acting earned them both an Emmy for this season. At the end of season 5, a war with the much more powerful New York Family is averted and its new boss Johnny Sack is pinched by the feds. Tony buys his way back into Carmela’s life by giving her a spec house. And finally, he murders his own cousin to appease the New York mob.

The first part of the final season starts off with a shock. Tony is shot by his demented uncle Junior and nearly dies. During his coma, he travels to another domain of existence in which he leads an alternative life as heating system salesman Kevin Finnerty. After his awakening, he briefly has a more positive outlook on life. But in this depraved world, we learn once again that no one, not even Tony himself, can escape it.

And so, the bulldozer Tony continues on his destructive path through Jersey leaving loads of misery (and corpses) in its path. “You’ve caused quite some suffering yourself, haven’t you?” Dr. Melfi confronts Tony at one point. But there is really no point in trying to get through to this narcissistic sociopath. No point whatsoever. At the end, Melfi realises this too and kicks him out of therapy. But not before he causes even more misery. Like his mother before him.

In Season 6 B – the final 9 episodes – Tony alienates even his closest friends and associates. Even more disturbingly, he becomes more and more like his evil mother. In the first episode ‘Sopranos Home Movies’, he enjoys telling his sister Janice a horrible story about a child drowning just to upset her (which succeeds perfectly). He also sends his brother-in-law Bobbie out to murder somebody just to get back at him for some petty beef. And he sinks even lower in episode 6 ‘Kennedy and Heidi’. In this very dark episode he suffocates his own nephew Christopher after a car crash. He may have had reasons to do so, it is still a definite damnation of his soul.

The final season doesn’t end with Tony searching for redemption like Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part III. In fact, like Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller rightly observed in their terrific book ‘The Sopranos Sessions’, in the final scene it seems that everything that has transpired barely made a dent in this guy’s thick skull.

In the final season, everything is building towards that final moment in which Tony and his family are, like in the season 1 finale, in a restaurant (a final analysis of the ending can be found here). It is a quantum mechanical ending in the sense that it is all things at once. It is a death scene and not a death scene. There seems to be threats and everything seems to be cool. The family is together and not together (we never see Meadow enter). Tony got away with everything (Phil is dead), but is also in deep shit (Carlo is testifying). What will occur after the screen goes black? We can only ask ourselves. David Chase – the artist – said that he just wanted to show that life is precious and the ending can come for all of us at any time. Then he uses a quantum mechanical term: the probability that someone like Tony would get killed is of course much greater than the average person. What ending will be manifested? That is up to the viewer.

Life itself caught on to the ending in an ironic way when the ending for James Gandolfini indeed came out of nowhere. May he rest in peace. And so, the legendary show, that ended so legendary in 2007, gave us a real life shock six years later when Gandolfini departed.

It is now 2021 and the show is still ‘alive’ in every way. Two prominent actors of the series – Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa – started a podcast ‘Talking Sopranos’ which features many cast and crew members, including Lorraine Bracco, David Chase, Dominic Chianese, Steven van Zandt, Terence Winter and Vincent Pastore.

For those – like me – who still can’t get enough, this is a blessing. Even better, in October the long awaited prequel The Many Saints of Newark arrived in cinemas. Most television shows are quickly forgotten after release, but I am pretty confident that The Sopranos will be around for a very long time. Like the music of The Beatles or the plays of Shakespeare, it is a timeless piece of art.

In Talking Sopranos, Imperioli, Schirripa and many of their guests reflect on what a unique experience the making of this show has been for them. Never before or after, did they enjoy working on a production that much. What they describe is the magic that happened when this show got made. I immediately felt it when I started watching: this is something truly special. And now, 20 years later, I realise all the more that this was really a rare thing. That something comes together so well. Like with The Beatles, it was unbelievable that four musicians so talented found each other and were able to pull it off. In The Sopranos, the brilliant original vision of the creator found the perfect cast and collaborators to bring it to the screen, and – let’s not forget – the perfect platform in HBO to put it out there. I don’t expect to see anything like this anytime soon, but like The Beatles, I can always go back and revisit the series anytime and experience the magic once again.

 

Who are the Five Families in ‘The Godfather’?

There are a lot of references in Mario Puzo’s famous novel to ‘The Five Families’, which doesn’t seem to include the Corleone Family.

For example in the following passage: ‘For the last year the Corleone Family had waged war against the five great Maffia Families of New York and the carnage had filled the newspapers. If the five families include the Corleone’s, then why doesn’t it say: … against the other four great Mafia Families?

There are many other references, like: ‘The heads of the Five Families made frantic efforts to prepare a defence against the bloody retaliatory war that was sure to follow Sonny’s death.’ Or: ‘The Five Families and the Corleone Empire were in stalemate.’

Then the big meeting of bosses comes, so we can finally learn who the Five Families are and Puzo messes it up. It reads: ‘The representatives of the Five Families of New York were the last to arrive and Tom Hagen was struck by how much more imposing, impressive, these five men were than the out-of-towners, the hicks. For one thing, the five New York Dons were in the old Sicilian tradition, they were ‘men with a belly’ meaning, figuratively, power and courage; and literally, physical flesh, as if the two went together, as indeed they seemed to have done in Sicily. The five New York Dons were stout, corpulent men with massive leontine heads, features on a large scale, fleshy imperial noses, thick mouths, heavy folded cheeks. They had the look of no-nonsense busy men without vanity.’

Don Corleone is already there from the beginning, so you would expect five bosses to be introduced now, but we only get four: Anthony Stracci, Ottilio Cuneo, Emilio Barzini and Philip Tattaglia. What the hell?!?!

There is also another passage here pointing to five families besides the Corleones. It reads: ‘Of the five New York Families opposing the Corleones, Stracci was the least powerful but the most well disposed.’ That proves it: there is a family missing here.

Yes, in real-life there are five New York Families (Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, Lucchese) and not six, but these passages in the novel make it very clear that the Corleone Empire is NOT considered as one of the five. Why did Puzo create this unclear situation? This seems rather sloppy for a capable writer like him.

Francis Ford Coppola could have corrected this mistake in the movie, but he didn’t. The movie also includes a few of these references. Like Tom Hagen proclaiming: “All the five families would come after you, Sonny.…” Or Don Vito saying: “I want you to arrange a meeting with the heads of the Five Families.”

I have searched for an answer, but found nothing. We, lovers of popular culture, will have to live forever with this frustrating, inconsequent, mess-up. Good luck with that.

The Don’s Dilemma Reconsidered

A dilemma in business is usually a choice that one must make between two outcomes that are both undesirable. For a great example, look no further than The Godfather, in which family patriarch Don Vito Corleone has to decide whether or not to enter the drug trade. As a reminder of this deal – that sets The Godfather’s whole plot in motion – read Tom Hagen’s notes here below:

“Sollozzo is known as the Turk. He’s supposed to be good with a knife, but only in matters of business with some sort of reasonable complaint. His business is narcotics. He has fields in Turkey where they grow poppy. In Sicily he has the plants to process them into heroin. Now, he needs cash, he needs protection from the police for which he gives a piece of the action. I couldn’t figure out how much. The Tattaglia family is behind him here in New York. They have to be in it for something. He is known as a top narcotics man.”

The Consiglieri Question: What would you advise Don Vito about the Turk’s proposal?

Now this is much more tricky as it may seem at first glance. Don Corleone is very well connected, but his current rackets (gambling, unions) are easily overlooked by corrupt police officers and politicians. Drugs: different story. So, entering this trade would create a major problem for the Don in maintaining his valuable business relationships which he also considers as dear personal friendships. On the other hand, the attractiveness of narcotics, moneywise, is way too big for the Mafia to resist. The Don’s major competitors will surely get involved with Sollozzo, and if the Corleones won’t play ball it might lead to serious conflict. Maybe even war. And off course, this is exactly what comes to pass.

The Don’s consigliere Tom Hagen seems to focus mostly on the second consideration. This is his advice to Don Vito: “Well I say yes. There’s more money potential in narcotics than anything else we’re looking at. Now if we don’t get into it, somebody else will. Maybe one of the five families, maybe all of them. Now with the money they earn, they can buy more police and political power. Then they come after us. Now, we have the unions and gambling, and they’re the best things to have, but narcotics is a thing of the future. If we don’t get a piece of that action, we risk everything we have. Not now, but ten years from now.”

Is Hagen right? Is it the smart play to help the Turk? If you consider the shitstorm the Corleone Family ended up in after Don Vito turned him down (“I must say ‘no’ to you, and I’ll give you my reasons”) you would probably say yes. Definitely yes. But maybe Vito’s answer wasn’t so wrong after all. You see, every business starts with the core principles of the founder(s). Vito started out by helping the community he lives in. Off course, he also used despicable violence against those who opposed him, but he didn’t believe in squeezing out poor people like the old Mustache Pete’s were doing in New York. Similarly, he thinks drugs will bring destruction to the communities they live and operate in. He knows very well that saying no to Sollozzo might lead to repercussions. But rather than going against his principles, he turns him down anyway.

And this a valuable lesson for any business leader dealing with a major dilemma. If one of the options goes against your core values and the other doesn’t, then you know what decision you have to make. Even if it means, you will have to deal with major negative consequences, at least you will have stayed true to your core principles. And in the end, this always lasts longer.

© Jeppe Kleijngeld, maart 2020