Hollywood Myths, Cracked: 4 Things About Mobsters We Believe Because Of Movies And Shows
We’ve covered many, many Hollywood favorites that have become such tropes, we sometimes forget that things are a bit different in real life. This includes the world of mobsters and Mafia gangs, because while people really dig movies about bad guys being all badass and whatnot, everyone thinks they’re an expert in the ways of The Mob. To which we simply say: “Fuhgeddaboudit.”
Myth: If You Rat, You’re Dead
This trope is as part of mafia and gangster movies as are fedora hats and Jersey accents. Tony Soprano, for instance, killed that ex-mobster turned informant guy after randomly running into him years later because his therapy clearly wasn’t working.
Of course, there’s the famous conversation between Al Pacino and Johnny Depp in Donnie Brasco that probably cemented this overused idea:
The trope is based on an old school Southern Italian code of silence called omertà that is still used there today, but has long been abandoned (at least, traditionally) in the U.S., and isn’t an automatic death sentence. If it was, we wouldn’t have guys like informant Sammy “The Bull” Gravano living out in the open in Arizona doing podcasts, or the former hitman Frank Cullota giving tours in Las Vegas and consulting on Hollywood movies.
We’re not saying all informants and what code-guys call “snitches” lived to tell their tales, but the idea that betraying a mobster automatically means you have to run for your life is just Hollywood’s way of upping the stakes every time. After all, actually killing someone just puts a bigger spotlight on a mobster when they're usually going for the opposite effect.
That is why …
Contemporary Mobsters Are Less Violent Than They Used To Be
In old gangster movies, you needed a massive shootout scene to show that these movie mobs mean business … and also to keep audiences from falling asleep. In Suburra, a 2015 Italian crime drama financed by Netflix, bodies stack up at the speed of machine guns, but Giancarlo De Cataldo — who is the co-writer of the movie and the book about organized crime in Rome — says that today’s mobsters are just not that violent anymore. “All Mafia guys say: ‘When you kill someone, you have to take care of the corpse.' It's very expensive.”
The street carnage we’re used to seeing in the movies is also played for dramatic effect. Take the street shootout in The Sopranos prequel, The Many Saints of Newark:
Michael Franzese, a former New York mobster and ex-capo of the Colombo crime family, gave his two cents on that scene: “It’s highly exaggerated, the shootout in the street. You know, normally, you scoped somebody out. You’re watching them, and it’ll be a one-shot (thing). They’re not even prepared for that, you know. They just walked into a trap. I’ve never experienced a shootout in the street. And I didn’t have to carry a gun on me every day to make sure that I protected myself, it didn’t get to that extent.”
And while many gangster movies are full of sadists salivating at the chance of doing some macabre things to other people, Franzese says it’s pretty uncommon: “Let me tell you, unfortunately, there were people in our life like that. Roy DeMeo, who was in a different crew, had a very serious, bad reputation for killing people, chopping up bodies, putting them in drums and things like that. So it’s an individual thing. You’re never taught that this is how you have to take care of something. But there are people that went to that extreme.”
Crime Deals Are An Event Where Everyone Shows Up
Seriously, our high school reunions didn’t even have as many people show up as a mob deal in a movie. The Departed probably did this best, with the gangs rocking up in numbers, all for a simple money trade. You know, to show paranoia or whatever.
These movie mobs also band together for meetings among the top brass because apparently they just really like hanging out with each other. We saw it in Bugsy:
It was played up in Analyze This:
Heck, even The Dark Knight had all the goons conversing in the same room to watch Joker do his magic pen trick:
The problem is that big meetings like this make everyone involved super vulnerable. Mike McGowan, a former undercover FBI agent, said that such an event simply wouldn’t happen because not only does it create too many potential witnesses, but the logistics of it all is simply laughable. It’s way easier for two mob bosses to just meet on their own.
McGowan also brought up the trope of gangsters doing deals in abandoned warehouses and other remote locations in the city. “If I have an important meeting I'll have it in the lobby of the Plaza Hotel, you hide in plain sight.”
Mobsters Don’t Take Out Law Enforcement Left And Right
In the movies, it’s not just the snitches and the rats who get taken out. Even law enforcement officers have to fear for their lives because if they ever cross paths with a mobster, it’s tickets.
And that huge shootout scene between the mob and cops in Gangster Squad might be the most Hollywood scene ever:
According to Franzese, taking out law enforcement is unpopular because, simply put, it’s bad for business. These guys want to cut deals with those supposedly working on the side of the law, and killing a law official not only closes that door, but will most probably result in a general outcry to actually arrest these mobsters. Which, you know, is the number one thing they’re trying to avoid.
Well, that, and getting caught with a bad haircut, apparently.
Thumbnail: HBO, Warner Bros. Pictures