Public Enemy influence on Sopranos Influence of The Public Enemy (1931) on The Sopranos

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Essay: Public Enemy influence on Sopranos

Influence of The Public Enemy (1931) on The Sopranos

David Chase's influence by William Wellman's classic gangster film extends beyond specific details to the ambiguous overall intention of the work. Specific episodes pay explicit homage. In the most dramatic reference, when Livia dies Tony watches that film on TV. Obviously, Junior's pie in his mistress's face (I, 9) echoes Tom Powers' (James Cagney) grapefruit in his Kitty's (Mae Clark). But where Tom's action characterizes his misogyny Junior's marks his own denial of his sensitivity and generosity. And though the Irish-American of the 1930s cops and robbers film gives way to the Italian-American, some of the most dramatic scenes in both works happen over dinner. But of course, the classic film's relevance to The Sopranos runs deeper than those obvious citations.

Wellman's film focuses on the rise and fall of a Chicago hoodlum in the early years of the 20th Century.

As a boy Tom plays tough guy. He accepts his policeman's father strapping with stoic disdain. He ridicules his older brother Mike's (Donald Cook) virtues: a legitimate job on the streetcars, night school study to improve himself, volunteering for the marines. Mike's virtuous romance with Molly Doyle (Rita Flynn) contrasts with Tom's leading her brother Matt (Edward Woods) into a life of crime.

Tom anticipates the Sopranos' life of hedonistic and excessive pleasure. After the introductory Chicago montage the first scene establishes the Wellman film's ethos. A man toting six pails of beer crosses paths with a Salvation Army band, parading in the opposite direction. It passes a bar, from which young Tom and Matt emerge with a pail of beer, presumably to deliver. Tom's heady swig leaves him with a beer foam, not milk, moustache. To the band' "Brighten the corner...