Chazz Palminteri as Sonny LoSpecchio, local mob capo
The Bronx, New York, Fall 1960
Film: A Bronx Tale
Release Date: September 29, 1993
Director: Robert De Niro
Costume Designer: Rita Ryack
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Thirty years ago this week, A Bronx Tale was released in theaters across the United States, two weeks after it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. This mobbed-up coming-of-age story was adapted from Chazz Palminteri’s autobiographical one-man show of the same name, recalling Palminteri’s own childhood experiences growing up in the Bronx during the 1960s.
Palminteri had been staging his play for a year when Robert De Niro attended a performance in 1990. Impressed by the play, De Niro met Palminteri after the show and the two entered a gentlemen’s agreement to bring the play to the big screen, with Palminteri adapting his own work into the screenplay and De Niro making his directorial debut—dedicated to his father, who died the same year A Bronx Tale would be released.
Having turned 40 in May 1992, three months before filming started in Queens (which retained more of the period than the Bronx had by then), Palminteri was far too old to play the teenage version of himself and instead portrayed “Sonny”, the feared but fair-minded local mob capo. Palminteri’s nomen à clef, Calogero Anello was portrayed at age 9 by the young actor Francis Capra and as a 17-year-old by Lillo Brancato, who would later appear throughout the second season of The Sopranos. De Niro himself would also star as Calogero’s father, based on Palminteri’s own father who—like his screen counterpart—was an honest bus driver named Lorenzo.
Unfortunately for Lorenzo, young Calogero is more awed by the shrewd Sonny who rules their neighborhood. “Nobody’s cooler than you, Sonny,” the nine-year-old Calogero whispers to himself one warm afternoon in October 1960. That same day, Calogero’s relationship to the charismatic and cunning capo changes forever when he witnesses Sonny fatally shooting the driver of a two-toned Mercury who was attacking the driver of a black Cadillac with a baseball bat.
“It wasn’t over a parking space, they just met at the wrong time in their lives,” Lorenzo assures Calogero before the police show up to question the youngster about what he saw. Despite Sonny and Calogero both knowing the other knows exactly what happens, Calogero impresses the neighborhood by refusing to identify Sonny as the triggerman—earning Sonny’s admiration in return.
Eight years later, the teenage Calogero—or “C”, as dubbed by Sonny—is teetering on the precipice of determining which path his life will take: the easy life of crime illustrated by Sonny’s crew and his own violently bigoted friends or the honest route encouraged by his father, who repeatedly reminds his son that “the saddest thing in life is wasted talent.”
What’d He Wear?
The action is set during the 1960 World Series, when Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski made baseball history with his series-winning home run against the Yankees in Game 7 (go Bucs!) Though this dates the scene to October, it’s evidently a warm fall day in the Bronx as most of the men are still dressed for summer in short-sleeved sport shirts.
Sonny stands out as an exception in his fashionable gray silk jacket, which serves both form and function: presenting the dignity of his elevated position while also practically concealing the snub-nosed revolver we soon learn he keeps concealed in his waistband.
Sonny’s single-breasted sports coat is made from a gray silk, uniquely woven in a series of twill stripes that are intermittently broken up by four-by-two-threaded series woven in black, a darker contrast that presents a check-like effect.
Tailored to flatter Sonny’s frame, the jacket has wide, padded shoulders that emphasize an imposing, masculine silhouette. The fashionably narrow notch lapels roll to two buttons, positioned to meet the top of the trouser waistband at Chazz Palminteri’s natural waist. The three dark-gray vestigial buttons on each cuff match the two on the front. The jacket also has a welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, and—consistent with trends of the early ’60s—narrow side vents.
Sonny maintains a cooler-toned palette with his ice-blue voile shirt, patterned with tonal sets of double satin stripes. We see the shirt has a long point collar and front placket, and the lack of cuffs visible from the ends of his jacket’s long sleeves suggest that he’s likely wearing a short-sleeved shirt.
The shirt design likely follows the white voile short-sleeved shirts Sonny would wear in subsequent scenes set in 1960, also featuring point collars and front plackets. Since he removes his jacket with this shirt, we see the elbow-length short sleeves with reinforced side vents. The box-pleated breast pocket closes with a single button through the pointed flap.
The sheer qualities of his plain-woven voile shirts reveal the outline of Sonny’s white cotton sleeveless undershirts.
Sonny balances the visually interesting jacket with plain black trousers, which rise to Palminteri’s waist where they’re held up with side adjusters. Unlike sliding-buckle or “Daks top”-style button-tab side adjusters, these straps resemble mini-belts with silver-toned single-prong buckles that close through metal-finished notches. These darted-front trousers have full-top “frogmouth”-style front pockets, a button-through back right pocket, and plain-hemmed bottoms.
Sonny’s black calf leather cap-toe oxford shoes and black socks are appropriately understated and formal footwear for a man in his position, appropriate both with a smart sport jacket and slacks as well as the full silk suits and ties he often wears after the sun goes down.
Sonny keeps his jewelry minimal but intentional. His wristwatch is clearly a Movado Museum, distinctive for the minimalist black dial detailed only with two silver hands and a silver-finished “dot” marking the 12:00 position. The 40mm stainless steel case is fastened to a smooth black calfskin leather strap that closes through a silver-toned single-prong buckle.
The teenage Calogero narrates that “Sonny had five fingers, but he only used three.” One of this three is his left pinky, which he dresses with a silver ring that flares out to a round, diamond-encrusted faced filled in black.
After Sonny ascends to greater gangland power by 1968, he’s rarely seen without a matching silk suit and tie, unlike the 1960 sequences where he’s more frequently dressed down in sport jackets and open-necked shirts.
Sonny uses a “snub-nosed” Smith & Wesson Model 36 to commit the pivotal killing that changes his relationship to the young Calogero.
Developed a decade earlier, Smith & Wesson had introduced this five-shot .38 Special revolver during the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) convention in 1950, where the attendees voted on its initial moniker as the “Chiefs Special”. Built on Smith & Wesson’s small J-frame with a five-round cylinder that narrowed the width from its six-shot competition like the Colt Detective Special, this double-action revolver with cops, crooks, and civilians as an easily concealed “belly gun” that packed plenty of power with its .38 Special ammunition.
When Smith & Wesson transitioned to a numeric nomenclature system later in the ’50s, the Chiefs Special was redesignated the Model 36, as it would have been known in 1960 when Sonny fatefully shot the driver of the two-toned Mercury. Smith & Wesson produced the Model 36 with both two- and three-inch barrels, with the snub-nosed two-inch configuration as wielded by Sonny being the most popular.
Perhaps having learned his lesson from the heat that the killing brought down on the block, or just having grown older and wiser with his elevated position in the Mafia, Sonny enforces a no-gun policy for Calogero and his reckless pals when they attempt to buy from a local thief in the 1968 scenes.
How to Get the Look
Constantly walking the balance of being loved and feared, Sonny dresses consistent with his position as a respected neighborhood gangster: the silk jacket, pinky ring, and luxurious watch are all indicative of his mobbed-up lifestyle, with an open-neck shirt that both keeps him cool and doesn’t look overdressed for an afternoon on the block with his cronies. His subdued shades of gray, black, and blue avoid flash that would advertise his illicit associations to law enforcement.
- Gray patterned silk twill single-breasted 2-button sport jacket with narrow notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and short side vents
- Ice-blue tonal track-striped voile short-sleeved shirt with point collar, front placket, and breast pocket
- Black darted-front trousers with buckle-tab side adjusters, full-top “frogmouth”-style front pockets, button-through back-right pocket, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black calf leather cap-toe oxford shoes
- Black dress socks
- White cotton sleeveless undershirt
- Silver pinky ring with round diamond-encrusted, black-filled face
- Stainless steel 40mm Movado Museum dress watch with black dial (with silver-toned 12:oo dot) on black calfskin leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
I had the pleasure of seeing Chazz Palminteri perform his play live when he came to Pittsburgh last fall, and it was a delight to witness the now-70-year-old actor tell his story with all the energy, emotion, and humor at the heart of A Bronx Tale. I recommend checking out Palminteri’s one-man show if you get the opportunity!