Tuesday, April 7, 2015

In Character: Frank Vincent

Frank Vincent is one of the premiere mafiosos currently in the film game. For nearly 35 years he’s brooded and beat his way all over contemporary classic cinema. With notable tough guy work in various Spike Lee Joints and Martin Scorsese Pictures, it’s impossible to look at Vincent and not be intimidated by him. I hope you enjoy my thoughts on Vincent’s career (and the embedded clips). When you’re done checking out the post, I expect you to go home and get your shine box.

Five Essential Roles
Raging Bull (1980)
Salvy Batts
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.

Goodfellas (1990)
Billy Batts
“Now go home and get ya fuckin’ shine box!”

Two-0, Pesci.

Jungle Fever (1991)
Mike Tucci
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.

Casino (1995)
Frankie Marino
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)
Phil Leotardo
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.

Other Notable Roles
in Chicago Overcoat
The Death Collector (1976)
Wise Guys (1986)
Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989)
Mortal Thoughts (1991)
Men Lie (1994)
She’s the One (1996)
Gotti (1996)
Night Falls on Manhattan (1996)
Cop Land (1997)
The North End (1997)
Belly (1998)
NYPD Blue (2000)
Gun Shy (2000)
The Crew (2000)
This Thing of Ours (2003)
Shark Tale (2004)
Chicago Overcoat (2009)


  1. One of the finest character actors ever. I love him in Goodfellas. That is a made-man. I would love to get some young little punk and give him a lesson about character and life and then tell him to get his fucking shine box and shine my fucking Nikes!

    1. Haha yes! That scene will outlive us all. People will be quoting it forever. Love the hell out of Vincent's delivery there.

  2. He might have been the most ruthless evil bastard in Sopranos and he played it well.

    1. Hell yeah man. And his final scene... jesus. So fuckin' rough.

  3. Ah, finally, I have the name to match the face! I loved his work on The Sopranos. It's a shame Jungle Fever isn't as well regarded as other Spike Lee Joints, I think it's his best film after Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, 4 Little Girls and 25th Hour (granted, I've only seen 5 of his films).

    By the way, I listened to the link of that Marvin Gaye song, and now I am currently listening to any live performance of his I can find. So thank you :)

    1. I really like Jungle Fever as well. Horrible, horrible, horrible final scene, but the rest is very solid.

      And I LOVE that you like that recording of Distant Lover. It kills me. The pain in his voice is so real. Fun fact about Gaye's live performances (sorry, I'm just a HUGE fan): the man had absolutely no rhythm whatsoever, and he couldn't dance at all. That's why he's always standing there, just shuffling back and forth. I love that my favorite musician of all time couldn't dance worth a lick!

  4. Oh, brilliant choice! I didn't know Vincent by name, but I knew I'd seen that face before. The Sopranos is another show that I REALLY need to watch!

    1. Thanks man! The Sopranos is a slow burner of a show, but it's essential. I watch the whole thing every few years. So good.

  5. As soon as I opened this site I started laughing my ass off. "It's Billy Batts!"

    He is great in Do the Right Thing and Good Fellas. I'm glad you chose Phil as his best role. "There's no scraps in my scrapbook."

    1. Yes! Love that line. Phil, man, whatta monster. So happy you're a fan of Vincent's work.

  6. I still need to get around to watching The Sopranos. It's been on my 'to watch' list for forever now. Frank Vincent is so great in movies like Goodfellas and Casino so i'm guessing a role on that show is what he was born to play.

    1. Hell yeah man, Vincent was born for Phil Leotardo. It's a big undertaking, that show, but SO worth it.

  7. I f--king love this guy. Everything about him is just so perfect for to play dignified scumbag. I say that with the utmost respect, you know? His characters are these fallen souls, who present a sense of having their shit together, are quietly dying inside. Frank Vincent owns this. Hell, without saying a word.

    And that Goodfellas scene? Shit. Is there anything better? (I love De Niro so much in that scene...er, movie)

    1. Dude, this comment rocks. Couldn't agree more, and SO well said on your part. That Goodfellas scene is perfect. Bobby De: "You're gonna get it... you're gonna get it."

  8. Ah man I LOVE Frank Vincent, was wondering when you'd get around to him. I called almost this whole list with exception of Jungle Fever, I haven't seen it. The Scorsese movies of course deserve a spot on this list, and Sopranos, I was watching it waiting for him to appear. I figured he would turn up sooner or later in it, and when he did he killed it. Anyway great list, Frank Vincent is awesome.

    Real quick, while talking about primarily gangster movies on this list, I'm looking to buy a gangster movie, Underworld from 1927. I'm looking to buy it on Blu-ray, but can't find it anywhere. The DVD is on Amazon, but again, I'd really like a Blu-ray copy. I've looked in Criterion Collection and they had it, but don't think they make it anymore. Basically do you know if they make Blu-rays of silent films like this, and if they do would you know anywhere to look for them. Please don't spend forever looking or anything, just if you have any ideas of places to look I'd really love to know. Thanks for any help you can give.

    1. Awesome man, so happy you're a Vincent fan. He really did kill it on The Sopranos. Love him in that show.

      There are definitely Blu-Rays of silent flicks, but depending on how rare the movie is, it may not have received a Blu-Ray conversion yet. Underworld seems like a pretty rare film, so I'd honestly go with the DVD for now.

  9. Not a movie, but Frank Vincent voiced Salvatore Leone in three Grand Theft Auto games - San Andreas, GTA3 and Liberty City Stories. Very notable games in the gaming world as I am sure you are aware.

    I haven't seen much of his film, but his 'shinebox' scene is one my personal favourite scenes.

    1. I love that he voiced characters in the GTA games. That's priceless. Dude's voice is amazing.