Tony Sirico as “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri, mob captain and Army veteran
New Jersey, January 2001
Series: The Sopranos
Episode: “Pine Barrens” (Episode 3.11)
Air Date: May 6, 2001
Director: Steve Buscemi
Creator: David Chase
Costume Designer: Juliet Polcsa
This year marks the 20th anniversary since The Sopranos made its debut on HBO, and the milestone has encouraged many to revisit the series, sharing their takes on their favorite episodes, characters, and moments. One episode that receives nearly unanimous praise is “Pine Barrens”, the famous third season episode that finds Jersey Mafia soldiers “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri (Tony Sirico) and his ostensible protégé Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) stumbling through the snowy woods of south Jersey after a simple money pickup turns into a hit-gone-awry.
The concept originated from Tim Van Patten, the prolific director and writer whose CV includes Deadwood, The Wire, Boardwalk Empire, and Game of Thrones. Following a discussion with co-writer and future Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter—who would write this episode teleplay—the two presented their concept to series auteur David Chase. The task of directing went to Steve Buscemi, who would go on to direct a total of four episodes of The Sopranos and co-star during the show’s fifth season.
And so, after the production team was denied a permit to film in their originally desired New Jersey location, the cast and crew found themselves at Harriman State Park in New York, where an unexpected snowfall created a natural mise-en-scène and added obstacles for our underdressed protagonists in addition to their pursuit of Valery (Vitali Baganov), the former MVD commando who won’t seem to die, allowing Paulie a rather obvious but well-timed Rasputin joke among other witticisms and malapropisms.
Paulie: You’re not gonna believe this. He killed sixteen Czechoslovakians. Guy was an interior decorator!
Christopher: His house looked like shit.
Here in Pittsburgh, the polar vortex of 2019 was chased away by some unseasonably warm weather that lulled many back into sartorial security… until the snow returned with a vengeance this weekend and sent many scrambling back to the comfort of wool coats, mittens, and scarves. This #MafiaMonday, don’t get caught unseasonably dressed like our pal Paulie Walnuts!
What’d He Wear?
Expecting the day to consist of no more than a simple pickup from a guy’s apartment, neither Paulie nor Chris had reason to prepare for a night tramping through the snow and instead both dressed in the wiseguy’s daily favorite of a leather zip-up jacket, slacks, black leather shoes, and—of course—gold jewelry.
Paulie zips himself into one of his favorites, a tan leather jacket from the Macy’s house brand Alfani, that he wears throughout the duration of the series through the final season. In addition to being positively identified in a November 2015 auction listing (both at Julien’s Live and The Golden Closet), the “ALFANI” brand stamp can be clearly read on the silver-toned rectangular pull tab on the gold zip front.
Paulie isn’t known for his subdued style, but the no-frills jacket stays refreshingly simple with just a flat, shirt-style collar and slanted hand pockets. The cuffs are plain with no buttons, snaps, tabs, or zips.
The Alfani jacket makes a few appearances throughout The Sopranos, including in the third season finale (“Army of One”), “The Strong, Silent Type” (Episode 4.10), and “The Ride” (Episode 6.09), but it’s arguably featured the most in “Pine Barrens” as his primary protection against the bitter January cold.
Under the jacket, Paulie wears one of the lightweight knit mock-neck shirts that are popular among the gents of SopranoWorld. The black long-sleeve jumper would hardly provide the warmth and comfort of a heavier winter sweater in this context, but at least it would likely keep Paulie better insulated than the thin red silk shirt that Christopher wears under his jacket.
No matter the context, Paulie tends to prefer suspenders to belts, wearing them even under his untucked casual shirts—and, thus, over his undershirts—to keep his trousers in place.
When he draws his Glock from his trouser waistband toward the end of his and Christopher’s adventure in the woods, we briefly see the bottoms of his black suspenders, clipped onto the top of his trouser waistband with silver clips.
Based on the style and Paulie’s somewhat retro-minded sensibilities his black gabardine flat front trousers likely date back to the disco era. They have no belt loops, held only in place by the aforementioned suspenders and the likelihood that they’ve conformed to Paulie’s hips over three decades of wear.
The waistband has a short tab on the front that fastens with a single mixed brown plastic button. The only pockets are two gently slanted frogmouth pockets on the front, and the bottoms are plain-hemmed with no cuffs.
At one point in the chase, the guys think they’ve caught a break and spot what they believe to be Valery. Christopher takes off, blasting four shots from his .45 in the direction of the movement he saw. The two come upon Chrissy’s prey, only to find a dead deer. Chris is impressed in spite of the situation to see that one of his shots hit the deer in the neck: “If we were tryin’, we wouldn’ta come close!”
Paulie, on the other hand, is only able to lament “I lost my shoe!” and wiggles his right foot, now clad only in a thin black Gold Toe sock, to demonstrate his predicament.
“I can’t stand touchin’ fuckin’ shoelaces. Ever go to tie your shoes and you notice the end of your laces are wet? From what? Why would they be wet?” Paulie posed to his colleagues in the first episode of the season. “You go to public bat’rooms? You stand at the urinal…? Even if the lace is dry and even if you don’t touch the body of the shoe, bacteria and virus migrate from the sole up… Your average men’s shit house is a fucking sewer. You look at ladies’ johns, you can eat maple walnut ice cream from the toilets. Eh! There’s exceptions. But the men’s? Heh. Piss all over the fucking floor, urinals jammed with cigarettes and moth ball cakes. And they can pour all the fuckin’ ice they want down there, my friend, it does nothin’ to kill germs. Even if you keep your shoes tied, and your laces aren’t dragging through urine…”
Paulie goes on a bit too long before his friends shut him up about the topic while they’re trying to eat, but he makes his distaste for shoelaces quite clear, and thus it’s a pair of black calf leather loafers that he’s sporting when trekking out into the treacherous Pine Barrens with Christopher and Valery.
Loafers may be convenient for being able to easily slip onto one’s foot, but the flip side of that coin means that they can easily slip off as well, particularly when taking a tumble through a snow bank. It’s in pursuit of the aforementioned deer that Paulie loses the loafer from his right foot and, from that moment on, he is the “one-shoe cocksucker” to whom Christopher refers during a tense moment.
“I’ve been wearing it for 30 years,” Tony Sirico told Ilene Rosenzweig for “Ba-Da-Bing! Thumbs Up for the Pinkie Ring,” a January 2000 article in The New York Times article that published the same night that the second episode of the second season aired in January 2000. “It’s part of my life.”
Mr. Sirico was discussing his pinkie ring, the same one he wears when playing Paulie Walnuts on The Sopranos, the HBO mob opera that started its second season last week. “They say Mafia wear pinkie rings, but men of style wear pinkie rings,” Mr. Sirico said. “So long as they’re not gaudy and the man has a nice hand — not too feminine a hand.” Mr. Sirico, who favors what he called a “sexy” black onyx look, said he was unaware that pinkie rings had gone out of style.
Tony Sirico recently explained on The TODAY Show’s 20th anniversary reunion with the cast of The Sopranos that David Chase patterned the Paulie Walnuts role on Sirico himself after the actor initially auditioned for the part of Corrado “Junior” Soprano. Thus, much of Sirico’s own mannerisms, background, and sense of style make it to the screen, including the gold pinkie ring with its mesh-like sides and black onyx stone bordered by a diamond-studded square.
(And, in case you weren’t convinced that Paulie Walnuts is just a more larcenous version of Tony Sirico himself, consider the context that Rosenzweig adds: “Mr. Sirico spoke by telephone, during an afternoon of watching the horses on television and ‘making sauce’ in his Brooklyn apartment, where he lives with his mother.”)
Paulie preferred Movado Esperanza watches, wearing both stainless and gold-finish models over the course of the series, sporting the latter for much of the third, fourth, and fifth seasons including this episode. The Movado is a perfect watch for Paulie’s character: distinctive-looking and Italian-sounding (though Swiss in origin) but ultimately inexpensive, at least when compared with the boss’ $10,000 gold Rolex.
This Movado, ref. no 0607059, has the marque’s minimalist “museum dial” in matte black with a gold-toned concave dot at 12:00 and gold hands. The case is 39mm yellow gold PVD-finished stainless steel, worn on a matching “free-falling bracelet design with signature open links and push-button deployment clasp,” according to the official web description of the Movado Esperanza.
Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall included a 2017 discussion of the famous episode in their 20th anniversary book, The Soprano Sessions, featuring the following behind-the-scenes insight from Terence Winter:
That was maybe the biggest negotiation we’d ever had in the middle of our lives. Tony Sirico is standing in the middle of the woods, and his character is so well put together. By design, the episode opens with him being manicured, in his pristine state, and then we were going to take him and destroy him by the end of the episode.
So when we shot the episode, we were out in the middle of the woods and the stuntman did the tumble down the bank of snow, and he had a wig but his hair was completely askew, so that was our opportunity. We got Tony Sirico in, and he never lets you touch his hair, ever. This is completely true. He does his own hair. We said, “Tony, you’ve got to mess up your hair.” He said, “I’m not touching my hair.” “But this is the reality. Look at the stuntman. His hair is sticking out!” So, he very reluctantly went like this [mimes barely touching his hair], put a couple of hairs out of place, and Steve [Buscemi] got involved! We were like, “Tony, come on!” The one way to appeal to Tony as a performer was by saying, “It’s so funny, it’ll be so funny. We’ve never seen you like this.”
Finally, after fifteen minutes of negotiating in three feet of snow, he was like, “Fucking cocksuckers!” and he messed up his hair and we were like, “Go, go! Get it on film!” It was great, and he was such a great sport about it. He stayed like that for the rest of the episode.
Go Big or Go Home
Citing his four-year stint in the Army, Paulie clearly believes himself to be a resourceful man of the world. After all, he’s been able to rise the ranks in the north Jersey underworld despite an admittedly limited intellect, rising to the position of capo (captain). Thus, it’s hard for him to accept that he wouldn’t be able to easily lead he and Christopher out of their unfortunate situation in Pine Barrens.
Paulie: We were drivin’ south and the sun’s settin’ there.
Christopher: What good’s that do us?
Paulie: At least we know what direction we’re headed.
Christopher: Yeah but we’re still fuckin’ lost.
Paulie: We’re not lost. Stop gettin’ cunty.
Paulie’s sense of leadership takes another blow after losing a shoe, but he still grasps any opportunity to be resourceful from wrapping pieces of carpet and twine around his foot for a makeshift boot (“Bruno Magli over here,” Christopher muses) to concocting the perfect recipe to sustain them overnight:
Paulie: What’s that?
Christopher: Nathan’s bag. Fuck, there’s some ketchups and shit.
Paulie: They clean?
Christopher: I don’t know. They were in the bag. They’re a little halfway frozen.
Paulie: Fuck it, gimme some… Not bad. Mix it with the relish.
Despite his initial swagger and still trying to pull rank to assert leadership even as their situation grows more desperate, it’s ultimately Paulie who has to request of Christopher to promise not to leave him behind.
Christopher: You know how fast I can run, I’ll leave you in the fuckin’ dust.
Paulie: All the shit we’ve been through, you think I’ll really kill you?
Christopher: Yeah, I do. (laughs)
Paulie: Promise me you won’t leave me here.
Christopher: I’m not gonna leave ya.
Of course, it is also Paulie’s actions that ultimately lead to his and Christopher’s salvation but purely as an accidental by-product of the wing-haired captain’s impulsive anger, firing multiple rounds from his Glock into the disappointing van rug—thus alerting Tony and Bobby Bacala of their location.
“That’s no deer hunta,” observes Bobby Bacala (Steven R. Schirripa), who accompanies Tony on his rescue mission, upon hearing the trifecta of shots that Paulie fired from his Glock into what remained of the van carpet he had fashioned into a makeshift boot.
Based on its more compact size than full-size models like the Glock 17 and the fact that 9 mm rounds tend to be the industry standard for blank-firing semi-automatic pistols in movie and TV shows, it can be deduced that Paulie’s sidearm in “Pine Barrens” is a Glock 19.
Paulie never showed much consistency regarding his choice of firearms, but Glocks—particularly the compact Glock 19—seem to be the most frequent handgun in the hands of the Soprano crew, carried and used by almost all of the main cast at some point.
The Glock design goes back to the early 1980s in response to the Austrian Ministry of Defense’s 17 criteria for a new safe, semi-automatic pistol chambered in 9x19mm Parabellum. Vienna-born engineer Gaston Glock had little experience with firearms but brought his experience working with polymers to develop the Glock’s frame, which would establish it as the first commercially successful line of polymer-framed pistols. By 1982, the Glock 17 was ready for production, so named as it was the manufacturer’s 17th patent… though it also carried 17 rounds of 9 mm ammunition and adhered to all 17 criteria.
After the development of the selective-fire Glock 18 four years later, the compact Glock 19 would follow in 1988 with an eye on the law enforcement market. The “compact” size comes from a half-inch reduction in barrel and pistol grip length, though it could still take the Glock 17’s factory 17-round magazines. In the years and decades to follow, Glock would follow the same template to introduce full-size and compact pistols for additional rounds including .357 SIG, .380 ACP, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, and it’s proprietary .45 GAP ammunition. A subcompact model for civilian carry was also introduced for each caliber.
How to Get the Look
Paulie Walnuts’ look isn’t all tracksuits and white plimsolls, and his Macy’s-to-Movado outfit of tan leather jacket, black underpinnings, and gold jewelry would probably serve him well anywhere but a winter night in the snow-covered Pine Barrens.
- Tan leather waist-length jacket with shirt-style collar, zip front, plain cuffs, and slanted hand pockets
- Black knit mock-neck long-sleeve jumper
- Black suspenders with silver clips
- Black gabardine flat front trousers with fitted waistband, frogmouth front pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black leather loafers
- Black Gold Toe socks
- Movado Esperanza 0607059 gold-coated stainless steel watch with black minimalist dial on gold-finished “free-falling” open-link bracelet
- Gold pinky ring with diamond-bordered black onyx stone
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the whole series, but you can find this fantastic episode among the third season‘s offerings. Once you’re done, treat yourself to “like five of them Grand Slam breakfasts” from Denny’s. You can also read more about this landmark episode in this review from The AV Club as well as in Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall’s masterful The Soprano Sessions, which yours truly was lucky enough to receive as a Valentine’s Day gift.
Fuck it. Lets go home.
Do any fans of the show have thoughts about what happened to Valery?
Supposedly, David Chase begrudgingly shed some light on this…
OK, this is what happened. Some Boy Scouts found the Russian, who had the telephone number to his boss, Slava, in his pocket. They called Slava, who took him to the hospital where he had brain surgery. And then Slava sent him back to the Soviet Union.
Although, Tony Sirico also mentioned a different proposed scenario…
We had a scene this season when Chris and I are talking in the bar about whatever happened to that Russian guy. And in the script we were supposed to go outside and there he was standing on the corner. But when we went to shoot it, they took it out. I think David didn’t like it. He wanted the audience just to suffer.
Paired with the camera’s POV, looking down from a tree in a voyeuristic style as Chris and Paulie search for the wounded man, the evidence points to the theory that Valery indeed lived, despite the cold and the gunshot wound, but was probably too dazed or brain-injured to remember enough about what happened since Slava would have most certainly taken revenge on the Soprano family.
Of course, since we don’t really know what happened in the finale…