From Goodfellas to The Godfather, Donnie Brasco to The Irishman, there are no shortage of movies about the mob. Some are based on true stories, others are not, but the inner workings of America’s most notorious crime families have always been of interest to moviegoers and critics alike. So, just how accurate are they?
On Tuesday’s show, Megyn was joined by Michael Franzese, a former top mafia member and host of the YouTube program Sit Down with Michael Franzese, to discuss which films truly capture what life in organized crime is like and the connection between Hollywood and the mob.
We all know that Hollywood takes liberties when it comes to adapting real life stories to the silver screen. While some of the most beloved mob movies are no exception, Franzese said there is a lot they get right.
Donnie Brasco, for instance, was the 1997 flick starring Johnny Depp and Al Pacino based on the true story of Joseph Pistone (Depp). Pistone was an FBI agent who infiltrated the Bonanno crime family in New York City during the 1970s under the alias Donnie Brasco. He developed a relationship with Pacino’s character, mob hit man Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero.
Surprisingly, Franzese shared that he actually developed a friendship with Pistone. “He was an undercover agent, he was doing his job, and he did his job better than we did ours,” he said. “You don’t get mad at a guy when they’re not framing you, when they’re doing their job and they outgun you.” He also believes the movie is some of Pacino’s finest work. “In my view, that was his best role,” he said. “I knew Lefty fairly well, and he just nailed it.”
The 1990 classic Goodfellas starred Ray Liotta as Henry Hill, the mobster associated with the Lucchese crime family of New York City until he became an FBI informant. While Franzese said he has an “affection” for the late Hill, he said the depiction of him was very generous. “Henry never looked so good as he did in that movie,” he noted. “That’s for sure.”
In his view, the film took some liberties with the truth. “I can tell you this: [Hill] never walked in the door back to the Copacabana without Paulie [Paul Vario] or somebody being with him,” Franzese explained. “He didn’t have that kind of prominence.” Ultimately, Hill “was made to look great in that movie,” he added.
Hollywood and the Mob
There have always been rumors about possible connections between the mafia and Hollywood. While a lot of it remains speculation, Franzese said there was certainly some overlap. “It’s not that they were like part of a crew or anything like that,” he said. But there were relationships.
A few examples: “Jimmy Kahn was very close with my one-time captain Andrew Russo,” he shared. “Lenny Montana, who played Luca Brasi in The Godfather, was very close with me and we were together out here on the West Coast before he passed away.” Franzese also pointed to the late actor Tony Sirico. While he notably played gangster Paulie Walnuts on The Sopranos, he had ties to the mob before getting into acting.
At the end of the day, connections were part of the business on both sides. “A lot of guys had relationships but, again, we were all over the place,” Franzese concluded. “So, we met with a lot of people and we had a lot of relationships – no doubt.”
You can check out Megyn’s full interview with Franzese by tuning in to episode 674 on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen. And don’t forget that you can catch The Megyn Kelly Show live on SiriusXM’s Triumph (channel 111) weekdays from 12pm to 2pm ET.