“America was born as a rebel country, and Americans have always had a soft spot for the outlaw.”
Professor Maurice Yacowar
Married to the Mob by Mark Sauer
One of my favorite discovers since starting this blog in 2008 is being able to find the connective tissues between ideas, scenes, ideas, characters and sometimes entire stories found in movies and TV shows. Often writers are open about their influences and yet other times plead ignorance for similarities.
Many critics said The Sopranos was indebted to Goodfellas—I can’t remember who called it “the companion guide to Goodfellas.” But there is a key element to The Sopranos that I think was taken from Donnie Brasco. Much was made about how fresh and original it was for Tony Soprano—a mobster—to go therapy.
But Johnny Depp’s character in Donnie Brasco is an undercover agent who has infiltrated the mafia. And when what started out as a six month FBI assignment starts turning into years it causes friction at home with his wife. Like a military man or a truck driver his lifestyle is somewhat unorthodox, yet there is something about the job that he loves. In the scene below his wife (Maggie played by Anne Heche) says tells her husband that he’s becoming like the mobsters he’s investigating.
Eventually Depp’s character’s wife says she wants a divorce. He tells her, “There hasn’t been a divorce in my family since back to Julius Caesar. Divorce someone else.” They settle on going to marriage counseling.
The Sopranos first aired in 1999 , Donnie Brasco was released in 1997. Here’s the beginning of the first counseling scene from a Donnie Brasco script dated 1992.
INT. DAY. OFFICE
SHELLY BERGER, late 40s, flannel shirt, earth shoes -- PSYCHOTHERAPIST --
sits with Donnie and Maggie.
...He comes home at all hours of the
night, without announcing when or
why, or where he's been for three
weeks. Or three months. Then he
expects everything to be just the
way he wants it. He vacuums the entire
house. Do you know another man who
vacuums? It's abnormal. Of course,
he expects the girls to drop their
lives when he shows up...
I'm their father, Maggie. I ring
that doorbell I expect them home.
They think it's a Jehovah's witness.
You'd think he'd tell me where he
goes or what he's doing --
That's for your own protection.
I know he's cheating on me --
While Donnie Brasco screenwriter Paul Attanasio used the book Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life as his foundation, he said the counseling concept came from his imagination. This doesn’t take any thing away from what the great David Chase created with The Sopranos, it just helps us understand how the creative process works.
And since Donnie Brasco was not a made man in the Mafia, but FBI agent Joe Pistone that means the Tony Soprano—unless there is a film/TV show I’m unfamiliar with—was technically the first Mafia man depicted in a counseling setting. File it under, “the same thing only different.”
In my post Where Do Ideas Come From? I quoted James Young Webb, “ An idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements.” Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Orson Welles all acknowledged they built on what came before them.
P.S. Of course, Attanasio including a romance into Donnie Brasco accomplished many things including adding pressure (i.e. conflict) in Donnie Brasco/Joe Pistone’s. (On top of his pressure of some in the FBI questioning the operation, pressure from the mob itself, life or death circumstances if his cover is blow, and conflict with himself over his relationship with mobster Lefty Ruggiero, who will be killed or go to prison because of the undercover operations.
The Mike Newell directed film was not a box office hit when it first came out, but it has aged very well.
But about that husband/wife element of Donnie Brasco, Oscar and Emmy-winning director Sydney Pollack once stated something to the effect that each of his film always had a romance element. Certainly true of Out of Africa, The Electric Horseman, The Way We Were, and Tootsie.
P.P.S. I was enjoying The Dialogue series that was put on You Tube, but it went dark yesterday. Anyone know why. It now says those videos are private. If anyone knows why please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Note: While I’ve used the term cloning before, I now prefer the concept of sampling to describe what goes on in connecting movies.)
Movie Cloning (“Raiders”) Some of the DNA of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Movie Cloning (Pirates) Some of the DNA of Pirates of Caribbean.
Movie Cloning (Part1)
Scott W. Smith
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