Five True Stories Behind “Carlito’s Way”
In honor of SundanceTV’s new mob drama GOMORRAH, we’re taking a look at the most iconic mob movies of all time and exploring their many close, and sometimes deadly, ties to the actual Mafia.
The critically-acclaimed film, directed by Brian De Palma and starring Al Pacino and Sean Penn, follows Carlito Brigante’s tragic rise and fall as he gets sucked back into New York’s crime scene. Read on to discover five true stories behind Carlito’s Way:
1. Carlito’s Way is based on novels written by a State Supreme Court Judge.
Carlito’s Way is based on two novels written by Edwin Torres, who began his career as a criminal defense attorney and went on to become a New York State Supreme Court Judge. The first of the two books about Carlito Brigante, Carlito’s Way, focused on Carlito’s early life, while the second book, After Hours, followed his later life and is the basis for the film. However, director Brian De Palma wanted to avoid the title After Hours, since Martin Scorsese released a film by the same name in 1985.
2. Torres based the novels on his own experience with gangs while growing up in New York.
Judge Edwin Torres based the violence of the novels on what he saw in his neighborhood while growing up in the gang-riddled New York City of the late ’40s and early ’50s. Torres was born into an impoverished family in Spanish Harlem just as heroin was sweeping the streets and violence and racial tension between gangs was spiking. However, unlike his peers, Torres’ father influenced him to stay on the straight-and-narrow and become a lawyer.
3. Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino) is based on three real-life people Torres knew.
Carlito Brigante, Al Pacino’s character, is based on three people that Torres actually knew. However, because of their ties to crime, Torres has always refused to name them.
4. Similarly, David Kleinfeld (Sean Penn) is a composite of real-life lawyers Torres knew who got too close to their clients.
The character David Kleinfeld, portrayed by Sean Penn, is based on several lawyers Torres knew during his career as a criminal defense attorney. Like Kleinfeld, the lawyers became too entrenched in the criminal world of their clients: Torres was acquainted with three attorneys who were killed because of their involvement in their clients’ criminal work.
5. The film features a direct homage to Scarface.
Director Brian De Palma alludes to his classic mob movie Scarface, also starring Al Pacino, in a small homage in the film. Carlito’s nightclub, “El Paraiso,” shares the same name as the food stand that Pacino’s character, Tony Montana, operates in Scarface.