The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984)   6 comments

“Horses ain’t like people, man. They can’t make themselves better than they’re born.”

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Charlie (Mickey Rourke) puts the finishing touches on his ensemble as Frank Sinatra croons Summer Wind in the background. Like the dressing scene in American Gigolo (1980), this glimpse into Charlie’s pre-work routine gives us some insight into his character. Unlike Gere in Gigolo, Charlie travels in working class circles, but yearns for something more. He manages a restaurant in a predominantly Italian New York City neighborhood and dreams of owning his own place. His ne’er-do-well cousin Paulie (Eric Roberts) works as a waiter in the restaurant and from the start we see what an irresponsible man-child he is. After Paulie steals from the restaurant, the owner fires him and Charlie. Desperate for money to support his ex-wife and son and to pay the rent, Charlie agrees to help with the burglary of a payroll office. They’ll stroll into a closed office building, Barney (Kenneth McMillan) a clock repairman and small time thief will open the safe, and the three men will walk out $50,000 richer. Easy, right? A side story involving crooked cops, local wise guys, and dirty money complicates their simple caper and the rest of the film shows us the strength of Charlie and Paulie’s friendship.

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The break-in and its aftermath don’t drive The Pope of Greenwich Village though. The characters do. Filled with actors like Val Avery, Tony Musante, M. Emmet Walsh, and Burt Young, the film has a real neighborhood bar look to it. Performances by Geraldine Page and Jack Kehoe as a mother and son stand out. The Academy nominated Page for an Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in this film, but she lost out to Peggy Ashcroft for A Passage to India. All I can say is Ashcroft must have been awesome because Page hits it out of the park. I couldn’t take my eyes off her boozy, chain-smoking mother or make a sound for fear of missing a single word she spoke.

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Another nomination?

All the characters have great lines. Vincent Patrick wrote the novel and screenplay and has a real feel for his characters. An exchange between Paulie and his father played by Philip Bosco has the dad telling his son about a relative who is successful. He has a wife and kids and a home. Paulie counters with, “Pop, he shines his own shoes.” When his dad asks Paulie what success means to him, he says “I took 500 from shylocks, Pop, to see Sinatra at the Garden. Sat two seats away from Tony Bennett. That’s success, Pop.” Those few lines speak volumes about Paulie. Charlie has some great things to say too. When Charlie’s girlfriend Daryl Hannah gets fed up with Paulie’s antics she asks, “When are you going to outgrow him, Charlie?” Charlie answers, “Diane, maybe WASPS outgrow people. Italians outgrow clothes, not people.”

daryl
Why am I in this film? Oh right.

Originally, The Pope of Greenwich Village had Robert DeNiro cast as Charlie and Al Pacino as Paulie with Michael Cimino directing. Delays in the shooting schedule forced Cimino to drop out so DeNiro and Pacino followed. Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke, The Laughing Policeman) directed and does a nice job of giving us the feel of the neighborhood and the people who live there. Music by Dave Grusin lets you know this is a film from the 1980s, but the real reasons you watch this film are the performances by Rourke and Roberts. Rourke showed great promise in Barry Levinson’s Diner (1982) and Roberts impressed critics with his performance in Star 80 (1983). Together they have great chemistry. Scenes with the two cousins walking arm in arm through the neighborhood or swaying to a Sinatra song while taking over a kids’ stickball game look natural. You believe they grew up together. I recommend this film. It falls short in showing you Charlie’s one foot in each world indecision, but as a character study full of lovely, small performances, it succeeds. Look for a fun bit of business with a tow-happy policeman and a horse physic and Mink DeVille’s pretty song Just to Walk That Little Girl Home.

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I wrote this piece for the 1984-a-Thon hosted by forgottenfilmcast.wordpress.com on twitter @ForgottenFilmz
Check out his blog and the other films reviewed for this blogathon.

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6 responses to “The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984)

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  1. Pingback: 1984-a-thon Day 5 | Forgotten Films

  2. Geraldine Page is in this? I’m in!

    This sounds like a terrific film. I know I’m going to love this. Thanks for including it in the blogathon. 🙂

  3. Pingback: 1984-a-thon Day 5 | Retro Bunny

  4. I picked this up cheap on DVD a few months back and really enjoyed watching it again. As you point out it features so many great performers and Mickey Rourke really was the man at that time. I am always left stunned by Mickey’s ability to emote on screen. When Paulie comes to him after his thumb has been cut off, Rourke’s reaction as Charlie is astounding. As he watches Paulie fall apart, and starts to cry, it’s easy to see why critics at the time considered him the next Brando or James Dean.

    ps. The scene with the cop and the horse physic is hilarious.

    • Rourke and Roberts played off each other well and I agree. Rourke is at the top of his game in this film. Thank you for reading my post! Yes! I love the bartender’s reaction after Roberts dopes the cop. So funny.

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