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A Bronx Tale

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A Bronx Tale (1993)

      A Bronx Tale marked the impressive debut of two talents: Robert DeNiro (a legend in his own right) as director and Chazz Palmintieri as screenwriter.  DeNiro was obviously influenced by his collaboration with filmmaker Martin Scorsese to whom he pays tribute in a scene reminscent of Goodfellas in which the main character as a youth serves drinks to unsavory characters in a social club and is well-paid with tips and with the presence of fellow Scorsese alumni Joe Pesci in the final scene.  As for Palmintieri, an answer to a question from a N.Y. Daily News reporter for the Spotlight section, made a revealing statement about the film A Bronx Tale.

Q: Your father was a big influence on you, wasn’t he?

A: Sure.  He used to tell me, “Don’t waste 

           your time.  Do something with your life.”  
           So, I always kept that in my head and then 
           one day I was working as a doorman at a 
           nightclub in Hollywood because I ran out 
           of money and I got fired.  I went home, sat
           on the edge of my bed, and thought, “What
           the hell am I gonna do?”  I went out and
           got five tablets of yellow paper and started
           to write A Bronx Tale.  A year later, I
           got the money to produce it.  From that

     moment, my life changed.  I’ve always
           thought, “What if that guy hadn’t fired 
           me?” (13)

A Bronx Tale is a film about influence.  Nine year old Calogero Anello has strong family ties which are good ones.  His parents Lorenzo and Rosina Anello care about him and are protective of him teaching and showing him right from wrong.  But because he lives in a bad neighborhood, he has to fight the lure of conflicting influences - represented by the dilemma pondered by the priest in the confessional who puts himself in Calogero’s place when Calogero’s guy on Earth (Sonny) is more a powerful god in the neighborhood than the spiritual God.  Both influences are played by DeNiro as Lorenzo and Palmintieri as Sonny.  In the Promotional Spots section in the Special Features section of the DVD, the theatrical trailer entitled "Action" has the following words on the narration: "In a neighborhood ruled by violence, a devoted father must battle the local crime boss for the life of his son."  A Bronx Tale is about the struggle for Calogero's soul.
Calogero’s mother looks out to window for her son’s arrival from school and expects him to go immediately upstairs to their apartment; when he is late, she finds and drags him away from the bar.  Calogero’s father Lorenzo reinforces his wife’s dictum: “Don’t go near the bar.” 

Sonny represents another influence.  Sonny is a local mobster who is feared by those who know him.  Life changes for Calogero when the youth witnesses a murder in broad daylight and the police ask Calogero to identify the man who held the gun.  Even though Calogero is surrounded by his parents who don’t want their son to get involved, he has to face the line of suspects - last of whom is the shooter - Sonny.  Lorenzo strains to tell his son to avoid picking someone who will definitely be trouble to them if their son tells the truth.  Fortunately Calogero lies which goes against everything he believes is right. 

Lorenzo and Sonny have different points of view on life.  Lorenzo is positive: “When you do the right thing, good things happen.”  Sonny is negative: “Nobody cares” and “The working man is a sucker”.

When Lorenzo, a hard working bus driver, drops Calogero off at their apartment building, he notices that Sonny watches them.  A hoodlum pal Jimmy Whispers tries to make matters right with the parent of the youth who didn’t send Sonny to jail by offering him a job for an extra $150 a week running numbers.  Lorenzo maintains his integrity by refusing even though, as his wife later mentions, they could use the money.  Both know that if they are going to be a good influence to their son, they have to practice what they preach.  Despite his wife’s objections, Lorenzo returns the $600 that his 9 year old son made from tips and the percentage of Sonny’s profits from the crap game.

Calogero is torn between different influences.  There are his male friends who are racists, are fascinated with guns, have bizarre attitudes about women (“Mario’s test” involves oral sex). There are other youth who live dangerously by riding the back of his father’s bus.  There is Lorenzo who makes the sign of the cross when he drives by a church and his son does the same thing. 

There is Sonny and his non-working friends.  Early in the film Calogero wanders into the bar Chez Bippy that Sonny owns. His mother drags him away, but the attraction is there.  Sonny gets his attention: When his friends mimic the mannerisms of the adult hoodlums on the corner, Calogero chooses Sonny; Calogero comments: “I tried to imitate him.”  Sonny repays Calogero by having him service his customers for lucrative tips.  When Calogero proves lucky for Sonny in a craps game, the bond is strengthened.

The game itself is indicative of the film’s theme.  While it is obvious that Calogero’s presence in the basement - a “low” place for a youth to be - is bad for him, good and bad influence is obvious when Sonny deems three players bad luck for him and has them stay in the bathroom while Calogero who wins is good luck and is allowed to stay. When Calogero warns Sonny that he does not know how to play, Sonny instructs him: “You just listen to me.”  Listening to Sonny has greater application to the film.

While Sonny tells Calogero not to be like him, it is difficult to do otherwise if an impressionable youth admires him.  Sonny has much in common with Calogero’s friends whom he ironically deems a bad influence.  Both have in social clubs (“All we cared about was hanging out”) and dress in suits.   Both have tests for women.  Calogero insults Mush for bringing bad luck.  Sonny lectures on the evils of carrying weapons and not socializing with the wrong crowd, but he does otherwise by shooting and killing a man.  In one scene, Sonny and his crew fight abusive bikers in his bar; Calogero’s friends assault blacks on bicycles prompted undoubtedly by their involvement in the assault on the bikers when they try to flee.  Violence is a way of life for Sonny: While Calogero does not want to be part of it, it seems likely that sooner or later his fighting in the future will be a rite of passage.

Getting romantically close to a member of another race takes courage.  To get close to Jane, Calogero has to distance himself from his crew which ironically makes Jane a good influence on him since his crew is bad for him - a fact that Sonny constantly confirms.  As Calogero walks Jane in the direction of her neighborhood, she asks him to pronounce his name.  His giving her Sonny’s nickname (“C”) shows Sonny’s influence; her preference to call him by his birth name shows the opposite.

Calogero’s association with his racist friends adversely effect his relationship with Jane Williams because he was present when they attack blacks in the neighborhood.  At one point, Jane walks away from Calogero because she is influenced by what her brother Willy says to her, by the lie that Calogero tells her about not being near the assault on her brother, and by Calogero calling her brother a “nigger”. 

Matters heat up when Lorenzo sees Calogero driving Sonny’s car.  Lorenzo tries to influence his son by making a derogatory remark about Sonny not trusting and turning against anybody (“You fuck up.  He’ll hurt you like anybody”).  While Calogero defends his friend and father figure, he learns the hard way when Sonny acts as if Calogero were responsible for the bomb that someone places under the hood of his car.  As Calogero notes in his defense, his affiliation with Sonny could have resulted in his and Jane’s deaths.  In desperation Calogero seeks the company of his peers when he learns almost too late that they are about to be involved in dangerous mischief.  He thinks about what both his father (“Don’t blow it, son”) and Sonny (“Be careful, C”) would say.  His thought to escape (“I wanted out”) has more than one meaning at the end of the story.  The decision is made by Sonny who appears and gets him out of the car.  That influence almost cost him his life.

In the end, Sonny is killed by a young man who was influenced by the death of his father by Sonny’s hands, and Sonny’s place is taken by an ex-convict named Carmine who extends his hand to Calogero; Calogero politely and wisely refuses.  In the end, he is also “out” of the mob’s influence.  In his final narration, Calogero states: “I learned something from these two men .... The choices that you make will shape your life forever.”  

In the end, much is learned.  One must be judicious about the advice that is offered.  One must consider that source of the advice.  And don’t follow everything that one person tells you.

Influence in the film is shown in other ways.  The boys’ imitating Sonny and Jimmy Whispers shows that these characters have an effect on them.  Eddie Mush is a bad influence on place their bets on his choices.   Money can influence: Sonny thinks he can buy Lorenzo who is immune to this influence.  Sonny’s association with the young Calogero influences Phil the Peddler who supplies him with free produce.  Asking for advice is looking for someone to influence your decision:  Concerning his date with Jane Williams, a black female, Calogero asks Sonny and his father.

   Because A Bronx Tale is a cautionary tale, it is filled with advice, instruction, directives.

The phrase “Listen [to me]” is used by Lorenzo to his son Calogero as they eat dinner; by Sonny to Calogero before the boy throws the dice and after the boy gets paid by Sonny; by Rosina to Lorenzo before he returns Sonny’s money to Calogero; by Calogero to his father after the money is returned, by Sonny to Calogero after Calogero tries to run down a debtor, during his “Dump her!” speech, and as Calogero is surprised by Sonny’s lack of trust in him; by Calogero to Jane before he leaves her to rejoin Sonny.

The phrase “Get the fuck out” is used by Jimmy Whispers to Frankie Coffeecake during the crap game, by Calogero’s friends to a black in a bus, by Sonny to Lorenzo when the father becomes belligerent and when Lorenzo senses a problem between his adult son and Sonny, by Sonny to Calogero’s friends during the gun display, by Calogero’s friends to the blacks, by the hostile blacks to Calogero after the explosion in their neighborhood.

The phrase “Come here” is used by Sonny to Calogero at the race track, when Calogero runs after a debtor, after the gun display incident, after Calogero’s unpleasant experience with Jane Williams, when Sonny wants to make amends with him for not trusting him, and before Sonny is shot and killed; and by one of Calogero’s friends to him during a racist fight and before he takes a fateful ride.

The phrase “Come on” is used by a police detective when asks Lorenzo and his son to join him outside; by Sonny’s associate to meet Calogero for the first time; by Eddie Mush during the crap game; by Lorenzo to Calogero before they return Sonny’s money: by a biker before a fight erupts in the bar; by Lorenzo to his son after his argument with Sonny in the bar and to his son to get him away from Sonny; by Calogero and Eddie Mush to the horse they bet on during the race; by Lorenzo to get him away from his racist friends; by a biker to Tony Toupee, by Jimmy Whispers to the bikers; by Calogero’s friend before Calogero meets Jane, after they fight blacks, after their car is damaged, after they offer Calogero a ride, and to Sonny before he removes him from the car, and as they reach their destiny; by Calogero before he walks her home; by Sonny to Calogero after his date with Jane ends before it starts and by his associate as they unknowingly enter a car with a bomb inside, to Calogero after he removes him from his friends’ car and before Sonny is shot and killed; by Calogero to Jane before she takes his hand.

The phrase “Look at me” is used by the police detective during the line-up, by Sonny to the offending biker and to Calogero after the gun display.

The words “Be careful” are said by Lorenzo to Calogero before his date and a fireman after the car explosion.

The following are told to “mind” their “business”:  Calogero’s friend by Sonny before Calogero is removed and a neighbor by Calogero as he courts Jane.

The words “Go home” are said to Sonny to Calogero after he earns gambling money and Lorenzo to Calogero at the funeral parlor.

As the story begins, a boyfriend is romancing his girlfriend: “Hey, Marie!  Get in the fucking car!”  As Calogero exits his father’s bus, he is told: “Go right upstairs, son.”  His mother instructs him: “Don’t move.  You wait right here.”  She scolds him for entering the bar: “Didn’t I tell you to come upstairs!”  Lorenzo also reiterates when his son is older: “I don’t want you in that bar.”  A police detective instructs men in an outdoor line-up: “Turn around”, “Take your hats off”, “Look this way”, “Straight ahead, fella”, “Hey, put your eyes up!”  The detective asks Calogero: “Give me an answer.  How about him?”  Lorenzo advises his son: “Eat your steak.”  Lorenzo instructs his son: “Go right upstairs, son, and watch the rest of the game.”  In confession a priest asks Calogero: “Can we back up a little bit and say that again.”  When they first meet, Sonny asks Calogero: “Sit down.  No, come over here.  Sit over here next to me.”  At the end, he says,” Stop the bus here.”  Sonny’s associate Jimmy Whispers instructs Lorenzo when he enters the bus: “Keep driving.  I want to talk to you.” 

At the crap game, Sonny demands one gambler (JoJo the Whale) to stop breathing and three gamblers (Eddie Mush, JoJo, and Frankie coffeecake) to be placed in the bathroom.  Rosina demands of her son: “Tell your father where you got the money.”  Lorenzo has a verbal altercation with Sonny for the soul of his son.


Lorenzo: You stay away from my son, okay?

Sonny: Hey!  You stay right over here.  C, why don’t you go outside.

           I want to talk to your father.

Lorenzo: I’ll speak to my own son.  Calogero, wait outside.

Sonny warns Lorenzo: “Don’t ever talk to me like that again.”

In the bus, Lorenzo tells his son: “Sit over here.”  After exploding at the gun display, Sonny says to Calogero: “I want to talk to you.  Get over here.”  Before the professional fight, Sonny tells Lorenzo: “You come by and say hello.” Before the fight starts, Lorenzo shows his son their seats: “Sit here.”  Sonny extends an invitation to join him through an associate: “We would like you to come down.  You know where the seats are.” When Lorenzo refuses the invitation and his son complains, Lorenzo chides him: “You want to go down there.  Go ahead.  Go down there.”  Calogero cautions the black: “Stay down!”

Sonny advises Calogero on dating: “Dump her.”  Lorenzo chastises his son: “Don’t you dare disrespect your grandparents!”  The driver of Calogero’s racist friends is told: “Back up .... Get out of here.”  Sonny demands an answer from Calogero about the bomb: “Talk to me!”  The driver of the car with explosives is told: “Slow down!”  Sonny threatens Calogero’s friends: “Last time.  Stay away from this kid.” 

Lorenzo’s bus takes people places, and passengers know where they are going by the destination in the front.  We know that Calogero lives at 667 E. 187th St.  Markers are shown on Lorenzo’s bus like City Island.  Signs indicate direction:  Overhead signs indicate “One Way”, “No Parking” for both bus stops and limited parking, “No Right Turn” during Lorenzo’s bus drive into a black neighborhood.  Stop signs appear at appropriate places: at the corner where Calogero gets into the car on one fateful night with his friends; on the street where the friends’ car is torched.   “Up” and “Down” are visible on the walls in a high school.  The religious make the sign of the cross.  Traffic lights are shown during the opening credits, when Calogero is driving Sonny’s car in the direction of Jane’s neighborhood, when Calogero’s friends beckon him to get in their car, when Sonny removes Calogero from his friends in their car.  In the words of one song “Ninety-Nine and a Half”: “Don’t be looking in the wrong direction.”


Characters point with their fingers: 

  •  a motorist to a character off-screen not to have his car sprayed with hydrant water
  • Sonny’s associate Jimmy Whispers to Tony Toupee and Frankie Coffeecake,     
  • Rosina to Calogero after he removes him from the bar and when she scolds him during \
  • dinner
  • Lorenzo to indicate to Calogero that he should stay outside below their window,
  • a black youth on the bus to Calogero’s racist friends,
  • Calogero and Jane’s brother to each other,
  • a hostile black to Calogero before a bottle is thrown at him and after the car explosion,
  • a woman to a vendor.


A Bronx Tale. Dir: Robert DeNiro. HBO/Rysher Ent., 1993.

“Q and A: New York’s hottest star Chazz Palmintieri”.  N.Y. Daily News.  Spotlight.  October 1, 1995.

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