The Irishman | 2019
- DIRECTOR |
- Martin Scorsese
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With 309 scenes filmed on 295 different sets and locations, it’s claimed, plus a three-and-a-half-hour running time, there’s a lot of ground to cover.
It’s centred in ‘Philadelphia’ (home of Sheeran) and ‘Detroit’ (home of union boss Jimmy Hoffa) and structured around a car journey between the two cities.
The sheer number of authentic period locations needed was mind-boggling, so it was necessary to build interior sets at the New York State Armory, 355 Marcy Avenue in Brooklyn. The old Armory is frequently as a soundstage, for productions such as Will Smith sci-fi I Am Legend, Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes and Mark Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Various hotel rooms and interiors were built here but the biggest and most elaborate set is the incredibly convincing dining room of Philadelphia’s ‘Villa di Roma’ restaurant, where mob figures conduct much of their business.
The film is bookended with a narration by the aged Sheeran (Robert de Niro) from ‘Pembrooke Health and Rehabilitation Residence’, which is Summit Park Hospital & Nursing Care Center, Pomona, in Rockland County, New York, a facility which was available for filming after being closed down in 2015.
The road trip begins in 1975 when Sheeran and his longtime friend Russ Bufalino (Joe Pesci), with their wives, set out from ‘Philadelphia’ to attend the wedding of the daughter of Russ’s cousin, Bill Bufalino (Ray Romano), in ‘Detroit’.
When Sheeran loads up the car and leaves his house, it’s 63 Lincoln Avenue in White Plains, Westchester County, New York. He goes on to pick up the Bufalinos from their home, which was filmed in Great Neck on Long Island.
Their first stop for a smoking break, coincidentally, turns out to be right alongside the spot where Frank and Russ had first met many years before, triggering off the flashback-within-a-flashback structure.
Their paths cross when Russ gives Frank a hand with his malfunctioning delivery truck after he pulls into a gas station. The ‘Texaco’ station and the ‘Stuckey’s’ store alongside it are no more than set dressing added to buildings at the entrance car park to the Great Hunger Memorial Park on the Saw Mill River Parkway, just north of Ardsley, a few miles west of White Plains.
The Park houses a Memorial, unveiled in 2001, to commemorate the suffering of millions of people who died or were forced to emigrate during the Irish potato famine of the 1840s.
The ‘Friendly Lounge’, in ‘South Philly’, where Frank is introduced to owner Skinny Razor (Bobby Cannavale) was an empty property at 880 Woodward Avenue at Catalpa Avenue, Ridgewood in western Queens.
In fact, Ridgewood stands in for quite a bit of the ‘South Philly’ neighbourhood.
The baptism of Frank’s daughter Margaret (‘Peggy’) is held at St Matthias Roman Catholic Church, 5815 Catalpa Avenue, just a few doors southwest of the ‘Lounge’.
Frank ‘persuades’ one of Razor’s reluctant debtors into his car on Onderdonk Avenue at 69th Avenue, with the spire of St Matthias in the background.
And the grocery store, where Frank demonstrates his love for his daughter by crushing the fingers of the store owner who ‘shoved’ her, was created in the property at 58-53 Catalpa Avenue at Woodward Avenue, directly opposite the ‘Lounge’.
The legitimate front for Russ’s mob activities is a drapery business. Under the set-dressing of ‘Penn Drape and Curtains’ is Rob’s School of Music, 104 Lafayette Avenue at Suffern Place in Suffern, New York, near the New Jersey border.
The cinema across the road from the store, showing The Three Faces of Eve, is the Lafayette Theatre, 97 Lafayette Avenue, a classic 1924 movie house which still boasts a single-screen and houses a mighty Wurlitzer organ.
More mob business involves a hit on crime lord Albert Anastasia in the barbershop (which in reality took place in New York City’s Park Sheraton Hotel), which was filmed in the lower level Shopping Arcade of the famous Roosevelt Hotel, 45 East 45th Street at Vanderbilt Avenue, in Midtown Manhattan.
The Roosevelt is a regular screen star, having appeared in Boiler Room, The French Connection, The Dictator, Men In Black 3, Presumed Innocent, Maid in Manhattan, Quiz Show, Malcolm X, and as the fictitious ‘Dolphin Hotel’ in 1408, but its greatest moment on screen came when Gordon Gekko delivered his ‘Greed is good’ speech in the hotel's Grand Ballroom in Oliver Stone's Wall Street.
As his family grows, Frank needs a little extra work and takes on a job offered by Whispers (Paul Herman), whom he meets in 'Philadelphia’s Melrose Diner’.
The exterior will be familiar to Scorsese fans. It was the Maspeth Diner in Queens but after its famous appearance in GoodFellas was renamed – the Goodfellas Diner, 5626 Maspeth Avenue, Maspeth, Queens.
Sadly it was severely damaged by fire in 2018 (just a couple of days before I arrived to take a photograph) and its future seems uncertain.
The ‘Melrose’ interior, though, is Cajun Diner Biscuits and Barbeque, 106 East 2nd Street at Hudson Street, Mineola, on Long Island. The suitably retro diner has also been featured in TV’s 50s-set The Marvelous Mrs Maisel.
This job, which involves firebombing a laundry, turns out to be not such a good idea since the business happens to be part-owned by the quietly terrifying high-up Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel).
Frank needs all the good graces of his friend Russ when he’s summoned to a meeting in the ‘Villa di Roma’. As we’ve already seen, the restaurant was a set but the exterior seen is 131 Grand Street at Berry Street, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Back at the road trip, the first overnight stop for Frank and Russ and their wives is Ardsley Acres Hotel Court, 560 Saw Mill River Road, Ardsley, Westchester County, just down the road from the ‘Texaco gas station’ site.
Another conveniently sited location is ‘Fair Furriers’, where Russ needs to stop to make a money pickup, which is flooring company Artistic Floors, 88 Lafayette Avenue, just a few doors away from Russ’s ‘Penn Drape’ business back in Suffern.
Further back in the past, the intimidating Russ tries to ingratiate himself with Frank’s wary daughter Peggy at a family bowling outing. This is at Van Nest Lanes, 1756 Bronxdale Avenue, Morris Park in the Bronx, a real old school bowling alley – which you might remember as 'Cosmic Lanes' with the 'head bowling' from Men in Black 3.
In a moment that turns out to be fateful for all concerned, Russ recommends Frank to Teamster union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), who is looking for some muscle. Frank duly heads off to ‘Chicago’ where his first task is to oversee the attack on a cab company planning to deal with a rival to the all-powerful Teamsters.
The fleet of yellow cabs is pushed into the waters not of the ‘Chicago River’ but of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
The experienced Frank points out that there’s a much easier way of doing things – using ‘candy’ (dynamite). The rest of the cabs are blown up in a yard on Smith Street opposite Creamer Street, just south of the trestles of the Gowanus Expressway in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
More than a trusted right-hand man, Frank becomes a friend to Hoffa. Unlike Russ, the union chief quickly bonds with Frank’s family over ice cream at Weir's Ice Cream, 2159 NY-94, Salisbury Mills, New York. Weir’s has been operating since 1956, but it’s only open during summer months (April to September).
With loans made and favours returned, the Teamsters begins to get entangled with organized crime. When JFK’s brother Robert (Jack Huston) is appointed Attorney General, he begins to investigate not only the mob but Jimmy Hoffa himself.
The Congressional Hearings – and Hoffa’s subsequent trial in ‘Nashville’ – are filmed in the Bronx County Courthouse, 851 Grand Concourse, Bronx. The austere 1930s deco block, also known as the Mario Merola Building, was previously featured in Brian de Palma’s 1990 film of The Bonfire of the Vanities, with Tom Hanks, as well as in several TV shows.
Frank is next dispatched to ‘Milestone Hauling’, a cement company in ‘Baltimore’ to pick up a truck from “a fairy called Ferrie”. The plant is Seville Central Mix, a ready-mix concrete batching facility, 101 Johnson Road, in Lawrence, on Long Island across Head of Bay from JFK Airport.
The line between politics and organized crime is blurred when this cargo turns out to be an arms shipment for the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. The ’Florida Coast Greyhound Track’ to which Frank delivers the shipment to Howard Hunt (“a guy with big ears”) is the Aqueduct Racetrack, 110-00 Rockaway Boulevard in Queens.
When Jimmy Hoffa addresses the Teamster Convention in Miami, that’s the unmistakable exterior of the Deauville Hotel, 6701 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach (currently closed for major renovation) – but the interiors were filmed in Leonard's Palazzo, 555 Northern Boulevard, Great Neck, a luxury wedding venue on Long Island.
People – apart from Jimmy Hoffa who’s more interested in his ice cream – are shocked by the announcement of John Kennedy’s assassination on TV at Hildebrandt's Ice Cream Parlor, 84 Hillside Avenue, Williston Park on Long Island. It’s a traditional family business in operation since the 1920s – and open all year round.
The exterior of the Teamsters HQ in ‘Washington DC’, where Hoffa fends off questions from the press, is Hempstead Town Hall, 1 Washington Street, Hempstead, on Long Island.
Hoffa is finally convicted for jury tampering and sent off to ‘US Penitentiary Lewisburg’ in Pennsylvania. The film’s prison is East Jersey State Prison, 1100 Woodbridge Road, Avenel in New Jersey (formerly and better known as Rahway State Prison), which has also featured in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, The Hurricane and Steven Soderbergh's Ocean’s Eleven.
Among those questioned by RFK is “Crazy Joe” Gallo, a loose cannon, showing reckless disrespect and not afraid to be a high-profile celeb – signing autographs when he attends the Copacabana nightclub in New York.
The Copa, on East 60th Street, famously appeared in Scorsese’s GoodFellas in 1990, but it’s closed down to become a restaurant, so a similar exterior was used and the interior recreated inside the Gotham Comedy Club, 208 West 23rd Street at 7th Avenue, alongside the legendary Chelsea Hotel in Chelsea.
Gallo is clearly living on borrowed time and it’s Frank who’s tasked with taking him out, very publicly to send a message, in the heart of Manhattan’s Little Italy.
The real Umberto’s Clam House, where Gallo was gunned down, has moved from its former premises, 129th Street on the corner of Hester Street (I remember it still being there when I first visited NY in 1996), but which is now unrecognisable.
An awful lot of exterior cladding was needed to transform fashion store Scotch & Soda, 90 Orchard Street at Broome Street, on the Lower East Side, into the 'Little Italy' restaurant. Digital artistry seamlessly blends this exterior with an interior which was recreated in meticulous detail on a soundstage. Oddly, this is another location seen in the Men In Black movies – it was, more recognisably than here, Jeebs' pawnbroker shop in the original film.
Umberto's Clam House now lives on at 132 Mulberry Street.
When Hoffa is eventually released from jail, he’s treated by Frank to his favourite chili dogs steamed in beer from ‘Lum's Restaurant’ in ‘Miami’. Standing in for 'Lum’s' is the Orange Top Diner, 192 Route 17, Tuxedo Park, Orange County, New York.
A meeting with union rival Tony Pro (Stephen Graham) goes horribly wrong when Hoffa proves unable to keep his cool. This marks a split that will grow to have catastrophic consequences.
To help heal the rift, Russ and Frank meet up with ‘Fat Tony’ Salerno (Domenick Lombardozzi) in the ‘Palma Boys Social Club’ which was a real establishment on 115th Street in New York. And that’s where the exterior is filmed – 416 East 115th Street at First Avenue, East Harlem.
Things simply get worse: to send him a clear message, the boat of one of Jimmy’s friends is blown up at the Harry Tappen Marina, Shore Road, Glenwood Landing, near Glen Cove on Long Island.
Jimmy Hoffa retaliates by blowing up the car belonging to the son of a union rival outside ‘Nemo’s’ in ‘Detroit’. Lee's Tavern, 60 Hancock Street, Dongan Hills on Staten Island, was transformed into ‘Nemo’s’ and the explosion filmed outside in front of 58 Hancock Street.
At a grand testimonial dinner in the ‘Latin Casino’ in ‘Cherry Hill, NJ’, held to honour Frank, matters come to a head with Hoffa being given what he refuses to believe is a final warning.
The exterior of the casino was the closed, and since demolished, Pathmark Super Center supermarket, which stood at 1754 Grand Avenue, Baldwin, Long Island.
The interior was recreated in the Alhambra Ballroom, 2116 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard at 126th Street in Harlem.
The Alhambra, built in 1905, was a vaudeville house which later became a cinema with the ballroom upstairs. The Ballroom itself closed in the Sixties and stood abandoned, until being reopened as an events venue in 2006.
The real Latin Casino was a nightclub in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, relocated in 1960 from an original Forties venue in Philadelphia. Despite becoming a successful Vegas-style nightclub, it closed in 1978 and has since been demolished.
‘Otto’s Garage’, where Frank calls Hoffa from a payphone is Jessie's Bagels, 203 Orange Turnpike, Sloatsburg, Rockland County, New York, just down the road from the restaurant that was used as ‘Lum’s’.
Hoffa takes the call on the waterfront terrace of his ‘Lake Orion’ home – a 1962 private house on Lake Oscawana, Putnam County, New York.
For the final night of the drive, Bufalino, Sheeran, and their wives stop at a Howard Johnson’s hotel. The design, and the orange-and-aqua colour scheme of the chain, are unmistakable but the location team managed to find a recently closed but relatively intact HoJo’s on Long Island’s Jericho Turnpike, which was briefly brought back to life.
The hotel has now become the Rodeway Inn, 270 West Jericho Turnpike, Huntington Station, central Long Island.
The hotel’s kitchen, where Russ quietly but chillingly announces a slight change of plan to Frank (“We did all we could”), is that of the New Corner Restaurant, 7201 Eighth Avenue, Dyker Heights, Brooklyn.
This change of plan involves a drive to ‘Port Clinton’ for a flight to ‘Detroit’. The small airfield from which Frank departs is Brookhaven Calabro Airport, 135 Dawn Drive, Shirley, Suffolk County way over in the east of Long Island.
The 'Machus Red Fox' restaurant in Bloomfield Township, Michigan, became famous as the spot where the real Hoffa was last seen. It’s been redeveloped as Andiamo Ristorante, 6676 Telegraph Road, Bloomfield Township, so for the film, the notorious site had to be recreated near the village of Suffern.
On the pretext of attending a reconciliation meeting, Hoffa is driven from the 'Red Fox' to a private home nearby, where the trusted Frank carries out the inevitable hit.
The house is 83 Smith Avenue, White Plains. It’s been a short journey in the real world – this isn’t far from the location used as Frank’s home.
Frank is back in time to complete the drive to ‘Detroit’ and attend the wedding of Bill Bufalino's daughter, filmed in St John the Baptist Church, 670 Yonkers Avenue, Yonkers.
As a postscript, hitman Salvatore ‘Sally Bugs’ Briguglio (Louis Cancelmi) himself is later gunned down by Frank (due to an unfortunate misunderstanding) outside the ‘Andrea Doria Social Club’, a famous mob hangout which stood at 140 Mulberry Street not far from Umberto’s in the heart of New York’s Little Italy.
For the film, an empty property at 268 Smith Street, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, stands in.
Coincidentally keeping with the running motif of Hoffa’s story – it’s now Malai Ice Cream Store.
• Many thanks to Michael Schaeffer for enormous help with this section.