Five Essential Roles
Raging Bull (1980)
Salvy Batts is a local wise guy looking to capitalize on boxer Jake LaMotta’s good fortune. To do this, Salvy gets close to Jake’s brother, Joey (Joe Pesci), and, incidentally, Jake’s young wife, Vickie (Cathy Moriarty). Everything is all well and good until Joey spots Vickie and Salvy having a drink together at the Copacabana. And who can forget the scene that follows? Joe Pesci, pissed as a rabid Jack Russell Terrier, attacks a fresh faced Frank Vincent, beating him to a pulp in the middle of the street. Better still is the hilariously awkward Kiss and Make Up scene a mob boss forces Joey and Salvy to endure later. That’s 1 point Pesci, 0 points Vincent.
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Vincent’s scene in Do the Right Thing is arguably the funniest thing Spike Lee has ever put on film. As Charlie cruises down the street in his antique convertible, he warns a few kids to not spray him or his car with water from a fire hydrant. They say they won’t, and as Charlie is driving by, they completely drench his ass. The master shot of the car being soaked is funny enough, but the real fun starts when Charlie gets out of the car and starts screaming at two cops to make an arrest.
“I’m fucking SOAKED!” Vincent yells. “Yeah, I wanna file a complaint. I want ‘em locked UNDER the fuckin’ jail.”
Can’t watch this scene without laughing. Utterly priceless.
“Now go home and get ya fuckin’ shine box!”
Jungle Fever (1991)
Frank Vincent has done some pretty awful shit in movies, but few things are more upsetting than watching him beat his on-screen daughter, Annabella Sciorra, after he learns she’s slept with a black man. Jungle Fever is often regarded as second-tier Spike Lee, but it’s actually one of his most racially charged films. He exposed both the black and white dynamics of an interracial relationship with equal fervor. Vincent is the main antagonist on the white side of the argument, and he sells his hatred in a way that’s so disturbingly convincing.
In the history of mafia movies, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more gruesome reversal of fortune than Frank Vincent and Joe Pesci’s story arc in Casino. Throughout the entire film, Vincent’s character, Frankie, is a perfect right hand to Pesci’s character, Nicky. They laugh together, drink together, kill together; hell, Frankie even lies to the bosses just to protect Nicky. But if you’ve seen the film, you know where this is going. And watching Frankie execute his baseball bat orders with such manic glee makes for some of the most disturbing content Martin Scorsese has ever captured.
Technically it’s now 2 for Pesci and 1 for Vincent, but I think Vincent wins the entire battle with this one.
The Best of the Best
The Sopranos (2004-2007)
If you add up the amount of total screen time Frank Vincent has in the five roles I’ve mentioned so far, it’ll likely be about 20 minutes of screen acting. So it goes without saying that his two season arc on The Sopranos is his most substantial role to date. It was so nice to watch Vincent really dig into a character and explore an enraged man’s angst, vulnerabilities, suspicions and fears in a way that was immensely compelling.
When we meet Phil, he’s a captain of the New York-based Lupertazzi Crime Family. He slowly makes his way up the ranks, eventually becoming the boss of the whole family. And after a few too many personal beefs with Tony Soprano (everything from Tony referring to Phil as “The Shah,” to one of Phil’s guys sexually berating Tony’s daughter, Meadow) Phil decides to go to war with Tony’s family.
“Leotardo. That’s my fuckin’ legacy,” Vincent coldly delivers from a bar stool. John Cooper Clarke’s “Evidently Chickentown” eases its way onto the soundtrack. “No more," Vincent says. “No more of this.” And right then, a war is waged. One that Tony Soprano will spend the rest of his life running from.
The Death Collector (1976)
Wise Guys (1986)
Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989)
Mortal Thoughts (1991)
Men Lie (1994)
She’s the One (1996)
Night Falls on Manhattan (1996)
Cop Land (1997)
The North End (1997)
NYPD Blue (2000)
Gun Shy (2000)
The Crew (2000)
This Thing of Ours (2003)
Shark Tale (2004)
Chicago Overcoat (2009)