Robinson played a psychiatrist, studying Bogart’s gangster, and the two characters bond while keeping a wary distance. This is very similar to the dynamic between Tony Soprano and Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) on The Sopranos. She even worried the mob boss was using their therapeutic sessions in the furtherance of crime, something Bogart’s character did in the B-movie gangster film, King of the Underworld, which is awful and I never miss. I love that movie, not in spite of Bogie’s misunderstanding of the meaning of “the moronic type,” but because of it. He doesn’t do that in other movies, even in the masterful B-movie gangster comedies, It All Came True and All Through the Night.
But Bogart also made Dead End (1937), a quality piece, which happens to be my favorite film, ever. Based on the play by Sidney Kingsley, it spends a lot of its time in the same way The Many Saints of Newark does: teaching the young generation how to be gangsters. This is seen even more blatantly in the film Angels With Dirty Faces (1938), which paired James Cagney with the Dead End Kids. But threads of this even reach the juvenile delinquent movie Blackboard Jungle, also not a big-budget film, but realistic enough to show the teenagers were actually moving swag for bigger names.
It happens in real life, the mob looks to street gangs for promising young movers. Future dons make their bones wearing colors. Gangster films capture this. From Nino Brown (Wesley Snipes) in Mario Van Peebles’ New Jack City to Spike Lee’s Clockers, original gangstas groom carbon copies. Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) sees potential in young Tony Soprano (Michael Gandolfini) during The Many Saints of Newark. Great potential.
When Tony and his young gang hijack the Mr. Softee truck and give out ice cream to kids for free, it feels like The Sopranos creator and The Many Saints of Newark co-screenwriter, David Chase, was chasing the feel of the East Side Kids. Old Bowery Boys movies were aired weekly in the New York/New Jersey area when Tony was growing up, and all those movies were made by the icon of B-Movie studios, Monogram Pictures.
Monogram Pictures sat on Hollywood’s “poverty row,” and churned out pictures as fast as Detroit made cars. The Bowery Boys comedy troupe made almost a picture a month alone. But just like the Warner Brothers assembly line occasionally manufactured transcendent art, some of the cheapies are magnificently crafted. Sopranos fans should watch Angels in Disguise, one of the lesser-known gangster comedies, directed by Jean Yarbrough in 1949. It is, if not the first, one of the first mock-documentaries, and it is a good bet David Chase saw it, more than once. Leo Gorcey is even more of a master of the malaprop than Carmine Lupertazzi Jr. (Ray Abruzzo) on The Sopranos.
Monogram Pictures also caught the attention of French directors François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, who structured films based on their model, according to the book The Films of Jean-Luc Godard by Wheeler W. Dixon. It is no wonder, the studio’s almost-no-budget 1947 quickie Dillinger turned RKO contract player Lawrence Tierney into an icon of film noir. The Fall Guy, from the same year, dared to coke up the star Leonard Penn, and we’re not talking soda pop.