Perhaps no other actor of recent times has injected so much pure character into so little screen time.
As fitting of an epitaph as any — there are indeed no scraps in Frank Vincent’s scrapbook.
Since any discussion of Frank Vincent inevitably involves shine box references (and rightfully so, since everything about the scene — both songs, the set, lighting, acting, its importance in the story — is absolutely epic) best to just get it out of the way from the start.
“What’s right is right!”
Goodfellas was not the first time that Frank Vincent suffered a beating at the hands of Joe Pesci (a longtime personal friend who introduced Vincent to Martin Scorsese). Vincent’s first major role came in Raging Bull, playing the mobster Salvy in the scene that would ultimately cause Jake (Robert DeNiro) to fall out with his younger brother Joey (Pesci).
Just a few innocent drinks…
Thanks no doubt to Martin Scorsese’s keen sense of irony, Vincent eventually was able to return the favor, beating Pesci’s character (along with his brother) to death with a baseball bat in Casino.
The Shine Box Cometh
Apart from the Shine Box scene, Vincent was best-known for his role in The Sopranos, playing Tony’s late-series nemesis, Phil Leotardo. Phil was at the center of most of the conflicts of the last three seasons, including the abortive war between Johnny Sack and Little Carmine, the murder of Tony Blundetto, Vito Spatafore’s downfall, his star-crossed attempts to mentor Vito Jr and the final war between the Lupertazzi and Soprano families.
If Lorraine Calluzzo had lived in Minneapolis instead of NYC, she’d be dead already.
The subplot involving Vito’s homosexuality was a masterwork of political incorrectness, which Vincent pulled off brilliantly.
Vincent invests Phil Leotardo with a harsh yet compelling moralism.
Consoling the soon-to-be widow over an incredibly delicate matter.
“I loved Vito like a brother-in-law.”
Reflecting upon a modern family tragedy.
Traditional to the end, Phil expresses his skepticism for modern ideas about gender fluidity.
Really Vincent was a genius choice to play the role of Phil Leotardo, bringing an effortless gravitas to his portrayal of the Old School mob boss.
No more compromises.
Frank Vincent also had a small but critical role in the classic Pope of Greenwich Village, being one of the mobsters who cut off Eric Roberts’ thumb.
Setting the scene for Eric Roberts in full early-career emoting: “They cut off my thumb!”
For whatever reason, Vincent seemed destined to act in so-called ‘gritty’ fare; he had another small part in Uli Edel’s Last Exit to Brooklyn — a deeply disturbing film — playing a priest who baptizes Ricki Lake’s baby.
In a respite from mob roles, Frank Vincent baptizes a child (perhaps the only truly innocent character in the sordid story).
RIP to one of the truly great character actors of film history. It’s an understatement to say he’ll be remembered.
Images from HBO Pictures (The Sopranos), Warner Brothers (Goodfellas), United Artists (Raging Bull), Universal Pictures (Casino), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Pope of Greenwich Village) and Neue Constantin Films (Last Exit to Brooklyn) included via Fair Use.