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Family Values: The Mob and The Movies

 

By Beth Hannan Rimmels

Gangster movies, on the big screen or small, have always been popular, dating back to Edward G. Robinson and George Raft’s starring roles to today’s HBO smash, The Sopranos. But rather than just tell a mob story, TNT presents the relationship between the actors who play the mobsters, their real-life experiences and the roles they play in Family Values: The Mob and The Movies.

Participating in the special are performers from virtually every mob movie from the past 20 years including Vincent Pastore (The Sopranos, Gotti), Michael Squicciarini (West New York), Tony Darrow (Analyze This, Goodfellas), Frank Adonis (The Juror, Goodfellas), Tony Sirico (The Sopranos, Mob Queen), Dave Salerno (A Bronx Tale) and host Frank Vincent (Cop Land, Casino). The group has affectionately dubbed themselves "G.A.G." for Gangsters Actors Guild.

When The Godfather was first released in 1972, the movie was preceded by a disclaimer that the film did not imply that its depiction of Italian Americans was representative of the community. Tell that to the members of G.A.G. Each of them talks about growing up around real wiseguys, why the mobsters were respected in the neighborhoods and how many of them had to choose between being in the game or an actor who plays one. Far from a boring recitation, each actor’s reminisces help to explain the public’s fascination with these violent men. While their occupation is illegal and often bloody, they represent old-fashioned values like honor and loyalty as well as strange contradictions. For instance, having a "gomba," or woman on the side, is common but leaving one’s wife is unthinkable because it’s a betrayal of family.

Fleshing out the special are clips from movies like A Bronx Tale, Analyze This, Casino, Donnie Brasco, Goodfellas, Gotti, The Godfather and both the 1932 and 1983 versions of Scarface. In addition, FBI agents Art Ruffels and Joseph Yablonsky, James La Rossa (defense attorney for Paul Castellano) and Bruce Cutler (defense attorney for John Gotti) comment both on the mob lifestyle and the real-life people depicted in some of the films.

The most potentially creepy yet insightful information comes from Frank "Steel" Pontillo and Dominick. The former is currently serving 13 years in prison for his involvement in the Columbo crime wars and the latter is a former member of the Gambino organization who entered and then left the witness protection program. Both men talk about the circumstances that led them to "the life" without making it glamorous.

Family Value’s only real flaw is the opening sequence that tries to depict the process of someone taking the family oath and becoming a "made man." While well-intended, it simply comes across as hokey and does match the tone of the rest of the special. If you can’t get enough of organized crime dramas, Family Values is an intriguing and entertaining look at the fact and the fiction.

Family Values will air 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. (ET/PT) August 24; midnight  (ET/PT) August 27; and noon  (ET/PT) September 4 on TNT.

Review 1999 Beth Hannan Rimmels.