MOTW: Five Things You Didn't Know about "A Bronx Tale"

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A father becomes worried when a local gangster befriends his son in the Bronx in the 1960s. This leads to the 17 year old son having to choose between two life paths, the path of his father, or the path of his friend.
Photo Credit: Savoy Pictures
April 23rd, 2013

MOTW: Five Things You Didn't Know about "A Bronx Tale"

Released in 1993, "A Bronx Tale" is a heartwarming tale of a boy growing up in the Bronx during the 1960s, the father who loves him, and the mobster who tries to show him a different way of life. The film takes audiences on a wild ride in which they go from tears to laughter to anger over and over again.

"A Bronx Tale" begins in 1960 on the gritty streets of the Bronx, where Lorenzo Anello (Robert De Niro) and his wife Rosina (Kathrine Narducci) are busy raising their son, Calogero (Francis Capra). During this era, the Mafia permeates the Bronx, and Calogero is fascinated by the colorful gangsters. One of the local chiefs, Sonny LoSpecchio (Chazz Palminteri), takes a special interest in the boy.

Much of the movie revolves around the relationship that Calogero develops with Sonny as Calogero grows into a young man, as well as around his father's struggle to keep him away from the mobsters. In the end, Sonny is murdered, and Lorenzo admits to his son that Sonny had always maintained a level of morality even in his criminal activity. The two patch up their relationship and walk off into the sunset sharing the lessons they have learned over the years.

"A Bronx Tale" is one of many gangster films to come out of Hollywood, and some consider it to be one of the best. The movie and its cast have some interesting backstories, however, that give fans a little glimpse behind the scenes.

From Stage to Screen

Many people do not realize that the film was based on the early experiences of Chazz Palminteri, who grew up in the Bronx during the 1960s. Palminteri originally wrote "A Bronx Tale" as a one-man stage play that made its debut in Los Angeles in 1989 and subsequently made a successful off-Broadway run. The show's success was noticed in Hollywood, and offers poured in for the rights to the story. Palminteri knew what he wanted, though, and refused to sell the story's rights unless it was guaranteed that he would be cast in the role of Sonny and would also be tasked to write the screenplay. He was so adamant that he even turned down a viable $1 million offer when the prospective buyer would not meet his terms.

A New Role for De Niro

Despite De Niro's celebrity status and previous recognition, which included an Oscar for his 1975 portrayal of Vito Corleone in "The Godfather: Part II" and another for "Raging Bull" in 1980, "A Bronx Tale" marked De Niro's directorial debut. It all came about after the actor saw the stage show and was smitten with the story. He approached Palminteri and told him that if he was allowed to direct the film, he would also act in it and agree to all of Palminteri's stipulations. De Niro took things even further than that; he insisted on authenticity and remaining true to the story so much that he made sure that Palminteri was involved in almost every aspect of the making of the film, including casting, sound mixing, and selecting locations for the shoots.

The Setting

Although the entire movie takes place in the Bronx, only a portion of the movie was actually filmed there. The Astoria neighborhood in Queens was the setting for the neighborhood where the Anellos live and where much of the movie was filmed. The African-American neighborhood where many important scenes take place was actually an area of Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn. The scene that takes place on City Island, however, was shot on the actual location in the Bronx.

De Niro Look-Alike

Lillo Brancato, who plays the teenage Calogero, was completely new to acting when the movie was filmed. It all started on a lazy summer day at Jones Beach when talent scouts, who were scouring New York looking for the perfect De Niro look-alike, discovered him. He was the right age for the film and had the right look, stature, and voice. An impersonation he did of De Niro from "Taxi Driver" sealed the deal, and he wound up landing the plum role despite his lack of experience.

Casting Call

Like Lillo Brancato, Kathrine Narducci was a complete newcomer to acting when she was cast in the role of Lorenzo's wife and Calogero's mother. It all started when she brought her nine-year-old son to an open casting call hoping he would land the role of the young Calogero. When they got to the audition, she realized that the role of Rosina Anello had not yet been filled, and she asked if she could try out for the role. Although it worked out well for her, Francis Capra was eventually chosen to play the part her son had auditioned for.