You Never Knew The Mafia Was Connected To These Movies

No other criminal organization has been simultaneously romanticized and vilified quite like the Mafia. We like our real-life mobsters in stripes before a judge, and our fictionalized versions getting whacked by Tony Soprano, and either way we're just as eager to watch. It probably won't surprise you to learn that the mob has cast a long shadow over the entertainment industry in general, and Hollywood in particular, because the mob always goes where the money is and Tinseltown has always been run by sentient gobs of cash in suits. But a surprising number of well-known films had brushes with organized crime on their way to theaters, beginning way back in the days when the entire world was still in black and white. (They don't teach you this stuff in school.)

Scarface (1932)

Gangster flicks were all the rage in the early days of Hollywood because real gangsters were doing gangster-y things at such an alarming rate that it preoccupied the entire FBI for over a decade. A lot of those guys weren't too psyched about their thinly veiled fictional portrayals; Al Capone himself called the entire genre "terrible kids' stuff," with the exception of the film that bore his famous nickname.

According to The Guardian, Howard Hawks' 1932 classic Scarface: The Shame of a Nation drew attention from Capone early in its production, for much the same reason a film called Yeezy: The Shame of Rap would draw the attention of Kanye West. Capone wanted to make sure that his fictional doppelganger wasn't some cheap thug, so he sent a couple lackeys to Hollywood to have a little conversation with screenwriter Ben Hecht, according to Hecht's autobiography. When asked why the film was called Scarface if it wasn't explicitly about Capone, Hecht pulled this out of his rear end: "Al is one of the most famous and fascinating men of our time. If we call the movie Scarface, everybody will want to see it, figuring it's about Al. That's part of the racket we call showmanship."

Since Ben Hecht could apparently sell ice to a polar bear, the project moved forward with Capone's blessing. Not only was Capone satisfied with the final product and the character of Antonio "Totally Not Al Capone" Camonte, he ended up with his own cherished print of the film. 

From Here To Eternity

By the 1950s, mobsters and the Hollywood elite had plenty in common: high profiles, expensive tastes, shady deaths, and powerful political friends. Take Marilyn Monroe, whose Mafia buddy Johnny Roselli's calm insistence that Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn sign her to a contract may have had something to do with kick-starting her career. Monroe eventually had an affair with a president who almost certainly had mob ties of his own. And if you hear Johnny Roselli tell it, Frank Sinatra also owed his comeback role in From Here to Eternity in 1953 to a serious strong-arming.

Eternity was another Columbia production, and by this time the Chicago mafia had a virtual stranglehold on the studio. Cohn was probably displeased to see Roselli show up once again to gently suggest that Sinatra be cast in an important role, but he was likely far more displeased with the state of his trousers at the visit's conclusion. Cohn had a few connections of his own and supposedly threatened to "make a few phone calls." But it was a bluff — Roselli's connections were far more extensive, and both men knew it. "Harry," Roselli said, "if we have a problem here, you're a f**king dead man." Sinatra got the part, and to add insult to crap in trousers, an Academy Award for best actor in a supporting role.

The Godfather

Iconic director Francis Ford Coppola had to expect a little attention from the mob when he set out to adapt Mario Puzo's epic mob novel The Godfather (starring Marlon Brando), but he didn't get a little, he got a lot. And it wasn't the "you'd better get these details right" or "we actually don't eat pasta that terribly often" kind of attention. It was more the "we might kill people if you persist in making this movie" kind.

According to The Guardian, New York boss Joe Colombo Sr. was then the head of a not-at-all-mob-related, totally-down-with-law-and-order organization called the Italian-American Civil Rights League, and he used the group to demand (and receive) consultation rights on the film. The group loudly and publicly called for production company Paramount to shelve the film on the grounds that it portrayed Italian-Americans as vicious thugs, but when this didn't work, they had some vicious thugs stalk, harass, and threaten producer Al Ruddy. A Paramount executive and his family were also threatened via anonymous phone call, and a bunch of expensive equipment was stolen off the lot, but Paramount didn't decide enough was enough until two bomb threats were phoned into its offices. Ruddy was sent to meet with Colombo, who had only one demand: the word "mafia" could not appear in the script. It was there only once, so Ruddy cut that line and everyone left the meeting happy and alive.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the greatest horror films of all time, and it wouldn't have happened without the mafia's burning need to launder the hell out of that truckload of Deep Throat money. The profits from that film were used to found Bryanston Distributing Company, a seemingly innocuous company run by Louis "Butchie" Peraino. It wasn't a great deal for the cast and crew, who had to sue to get paid not-very-much-money after the film's investors were paid back and the horse-head pasta parties were all paid for.

But then, justice intervened, sort of: Peraino was brought up on obscenity charges over Deep Throat, and the filmmakers saw their opening to sue. Bryanston couldn't pay and went bankrupt. This enabled fledgling distributor New Line to acquire the rights for a song, and the film made its way into theaters and into the nightmares of a generation of baked '70s teenagers. The cast and crew still didn't make much — star Gunnar Hansen, Leatherface himself, only pulled down about $4,000 in today's money — but they got to be a part of film history, and a young John Larroquette got perhaps the coolest payment ever: director Tobe Hooper personally rolled him a thank-you joint for doing the film's opening narration.

Behind the Green Door

Behind the Green Door is one of the most infamous adult films of all time for reasons that we literally cannot describe in detail here. Suffice it to say that it turned a squeaky clean Ivory Soap model into a raunchy sex goddess overnight, and depicted stuff that's pretty freaky even by today's standards, which is saying a lot. And the mafia was right there to rake in the dough.

In 1973, with all that Deep Throat money still looking really green and launder-able, representatives for the Gambino family approached notorious adult filmmakers the Mitchell Brothers for the rights to their latest feature, according to researcher Luke Ford. They suggested a 50/50 cut (for no logical reason other than that they wanted a 50/50 cut) and threatened to steal the film's prints and ice the brothers out altogether if they refused. The brothers said no, and the Gambinos made good on their threat. Within weeks of the conversation, hundreds of illegal prints were flooding shady theaters across the country, almost certainly screwing the brothers out of more profits than if they'd just taken the crappy "deal."

The Cotton Club

Francis Ford Coppola is obviously a glutton for punishment. The legendarily insane Apocalypse Now shoot, which was more like a suicide camp than a film production, is evidence enough of that. But if you need more, look no further than the fact that a decade after his experience with gangsters on The Godfather, he got involved with another gangster-themed picture: 1984's The Cotton Club, a gigantic flop that revolved around a 1930s club frequented by New York mobsters. The New York mob didn't get involved in real life, though; it was the Chicago mob. Big difference.

As recounted by Gangster Report, Robert Evans, a producer on The Godfather who also should have known better, was 50/50 partners on the film with Roy Radin, a concert promoter looking to break into film. They were good buddies; Evans' then-girlfriend, Lanie Jacobs, was their mutual coke dealer. But according to the LA Times, Jacobs felt she was owed a cut, and in May 1983, kidnapped and killed Radin with the assistance of some muscular friends.

This spooked the hell out of Evans, who cozied up to "hotel owners" Eddie and Freddie Doumani for the film's funding. The Doumani brothers really helped to ease the tension around the production. They were well-connected to the Chicago mafia, and soon had the set just lousy with hired goons who would stand around looking tough and occasionally beat up associate producers in the name of protecting their bosses' investment. Since the film made back less than half its budget, the fact that nobody got whacked is a small miracle.

Winter Kills

If you've never heard of the 1979 film Winter Kills, you're certainly not alone. It's one of those weirdly high-concept '70s flicks, a black comedy centered around a fictionalized version of the JFK assassination that barely managed to eke out $1 million at the box office. It's really only notable for featuring Jeff Bridges and for being possibly the lowest-profile film ever to have a mob killing associated with its production.

According to mob researcher John Fleming, the film was being produced by Robert Sterling and Leonard Goldberg, two rich drug dealers who had sunk their profits into the adult Emmanuelle series. Problematically, the duo did not actually have enough money to make the movie, so they went to some even richer, mobbier parties for financing. When the film kept going over budget, Goldberg reasoned that their investors would have to let them live long enough to ensure they'd make a profit, a colossal gamble that he decisively lost. Midway through the film's production, Goldberg was kidnapped and handcuffed to a bed, and shot in the head. The film lost a ton of money, partially because it only played in theaters for a couple weeks after the distributor got cold feet over its subject matter. The grisly mob-related murder of its drug-dealer producer didn't seem to hurt it much.

The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

1971's The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight was an early comedic vehicle for Robert DeNiro, who actually jumped ship on The Godfather to swap roles with Gang's original lead, Al Pacino. DeNiro plays an Italian immigrant bicycle racer who gets caught up with gangsters, one of whom is played by veteran character actor Jerry Orbach, later of Law and Order fame. As a result of his work on the film, Orbach might have witnessed the murder of mob boss Joseph "Crazy Joey" Gallo, the inspiration for his character. 

While Gallo wasn't a huge fan of the movie, he took a shine to Orbach and the two became friends — not just buddies, but close enough that Gallo got married in Orbach's apartment in March 1972. Just a few weeks later, Gallo was celebrating his birthday at a local clam house with Orbach and Don Rickles (of all people). The New York Times reported Orbach later said he left just after the midnight show, but some believe he was still there at 4 a.m. when a bunch of thugs burst through the door and pumped Gallo full of lead. The murder was never solved, and according to a former officer with the NYPD's organized crime homicide unit, Orbach responded to any and all police inquiries regarding the incident with a big, fat middle finger, consistently, until his death 32 years later.

Analyze This

DeNiro returned to the world of mob-related comedy nearly three decades later with Analyze This, a film about an anxious mafia boss who enlists the services of a psychiatrist. The film was well-received and spawned a sequel, but during its production, rumors surfaced that DeNiro was palling around with mobsters to research his role and that he'd even invited notorious gangster Anthony "Fat Andy" Ruggiano to the set. These rumors persisted quietly for years, but they blew up in 2009 when a picture came out in a mob trial of DeNiro, right there on the set of Analyze Thisjust chillin' with his arm around Ruggiano.

DeNiro spokesman Stan Rosenfeld, smoothly clarified to the New York Daily News that the shoot was a long time ago and that DeNiro obviously had just forgotten that he had been visited on set by and been totally chummy with one of the mobbiest mobsters who ever mobbed. He also added that DeNiro "seldom, if ever, discusses his research techniques." That's understandable if they involve gifting world-class scumbags with VIP passes to the sets of major film productions.