Gangster Priest
The Italian-American Cinema of Martin Scorsese
Robert Casillo
University of Toronto Press, $39.95, 590 pp.

In one of his early poems William Butler Yeats memorably denounces those “old, learned, respectable bald heads” that “edit and annotate the lines that young men, tossing on their beds, rhymed out in love’s despair.” But if it weren’t for such boring old scholars, most of us would never have read that poem and perhaps never have heard of Yeats. Academics—the poor, slow unimaginative creatures—have always been an easy target, and Yeats was being as fatuous and unfair as, well, an academic, when he took potshots at them.

So a simple honest moviegoer ought to resist the temptation to denounce an ample and exhaustively researched volume of film criticism as a jargon-addled eruption of pedantic gasbagggery. But he also should be forgiven for doing so.

The prolific Martin Scorsese has directed some forty films, a rich and variegated canon in which Robert Casillo and other critics have noticed a sort of subgenre that they’ve identified as Italian American. People who like Scorsese’s work as much as I do will quickly notice that the category includes their favorites: Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Casino. What they all seem to have in common is the marked influence of the family and community in which Scorsese, a third-generation Italian American, was raised.

Casillo, a professor of English at the University of Miami in...

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About the Author

Michael O. Garvey works in public relations at the University of Notre Dame.