Frank Vincent never got top billing in a movie or television show; he was too busy stealing scenes from the stars and leaving an imprint on the viewer's soul. Carrying a face that could haunt and a voice that seared through memory, Vincent made a dent in the world of make believe.
Vincent was a classic face of cinema, someone you could place by his face and not his name. The multi-talented artist could scare you out of your pants in a movie and sing you a great tune in between takes. He was an actor, musician, and comedian who was born in Massachusetts, but raised in Jersey. A man with two strong names and a penchant for gangster roles was lost today at the age of 78 due to heart surgery complications.
Most film fans know him as the ill-fated Billy Batts in Goodfellas who told an angry Tommy (Joe Pesci) to go get his shinebox before being pummeled to death by Pesci and Robert DeNiro's Jimmy Conway. In a single scene, Vincent left a mark in one of the greatest movies of all time. His character was ultimately the reason that Pesci's tough guy was killed in the end. Billy was a made guy; Vincent was a made guy in Hollywood. You knew what you were getting when he appeared on screen. It was a good idea to message the protagonist and tell him or her to watch out.
Most people don't know that Pesci and Vincent actually squared off in three different films. Goodfellas is the most notable, but their character also met on violent terms in Scorsese's Casino and Raging Bull, with a baseball bat being brutally put to use in the former. In Casino, Vincent's Frank Martino and Pesci's Nicky were partners in crime, before Pesci's mad man went too far again. Pesci got the attention from critics, but Vincent played a big role.
He was Scorsese's secret weapon, but also lit up Spike Lee's two most well known films, Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever. Vincent is the go to guy for relentless violence, but it's still hard to watch him beat his daughter for sleeping with a black man in Jungle Fever. You hate him and wouldn't want to go near him, but you can't take your eyes off of him.
While most people remember Joe Pantiliano's Ralphie as Tony Sopranos' main problem, Vincent was a true thorn in Sopranos' side for a couple seasons, creating a new kind of heel in Leotardo, a man who stood up to the late James Gandolfini's boss as long as he could before literally being squashed.
Vincent was often "the other guy" or "that guy", but he worked for over 40 years in Hollywood, getting a late start in show business, but finding good work all the same. Recently, as filmmakers like Scorsese and Lee took longer breaks, Vincent's work decreased, limited to gimmicks or reprisals of older characters.
Billy Batts. Frank Martino. Salvy Betts. Don Mario Romano. Charlie. Mike Tucci. Tom Colletti. Eddie Loretti. Johnnie Marandino. The personalities that one man can inhibit onscreen without any makeup, accents, or white noise.
Frank Vincent was the real deal. Go check out some of his work. There are no special effects or high budgets involved. Vincent made his mark during an era where films were made because they had to be made or else something was missing. When film was pure and rich.
Rest in peace, tough guy. 78 years young.
Sometime, today or this weekend, I'll tell someone to go get their shinebox. They better get the reference.
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