' recently released period organized-crime title "Mafia II"
is a fairly accurate depiction of gangster life in the '40s and '50s. It features collectible (and NSFW
) Playboy magazine covers
, racial tension among the inhabitants of its NYC-inspired Empire City, and plenty of Italian wiseguys shooting, looting and screwing -- much to the chagrin of protesters
-- all while looking dapper in three-piece suits.
Of course, the in-game missions, which protagonist Vito Scaletta takes on in his quest to become a made man, are based on true criminal capers. We looked into the Italian mafia's history to bring you the facts behind the player's virtual actions.
Go on a "Buttlegging" Spree
In the game: "Buttlegging"
is the accidentally hilarious term for the illegal sale of smuggled or stolen cigarettes. In the mission "The Wild Ones," Vito and childhood friend Joe Barbaro (Jimmy the Gent
to Vito's Henry Hill
) take a truck loaded with cartons of contraband cigarettes and drive around Empire Bay selling them to groups of pedestrians in broad daylight -- a risky maneuver that garners the attention of a nearby cop. Luckily for the pair, he's a smoker.
This practice was win/win for both mobsters and smokers: The former made easy money, whereas the latter got their smokes minus that pesky government tax. While its etymological sibling bootlegging is more familiar, buttlegging is still a problem today
Whack FBI Informants
In the game:
Things don't end well for the rats of "Mafia II." Two key characters suffer shocking deaths as a result of singing to the authorities. Vito and Joe are actually tasked with eliminating one such person during a mission with ties to the original "Mafia" game. If snitches get stitches, FBI informants get cement shoes.
Despite taking the omertà
vow of silence, several mob members have turned stool-pigeon to varying results. Salvatore Gravano (or "Sammy the Bull"
as he's more widely known) received leniency and protection in return for his testimony against crime boss John Gotti Sr. Others met grisly ends -- like Abe "Kid Twist" Reles
, who took a swan-dive out of a sixth floor window while in police custody.
In the game:
During a drug deal not sanctioned by the more traditional mafiosi or "Mustache Petes,"
Vito, Joe and already-made-man Henry Tomasino (the "Young Turks"
of the game) are stopped by a few cops and told to hand over briefcases full of dope. Joe notices how nice one of the officer's shoes are, which tips off the group that these aren't cops but mobsters in disguise.
Another mission has Vito and Joe getting in touch with their blue collar roots by dressing up as cleaners (complete with fake mustaches) to gain access to a secret meeting room. Unlike those other
Italian mustachioed video game characters, their intentions are ill: to plant and explode a bomb, taking out a rival family's leader.
This sort of subterfuge was not uncommon for the actual mob either. The St. Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929
was an infamous reprisal allegedly coordinated by Al Capone against his Irish counterpart George "Bugs" Moran
. Several hired guns dressed in police uniforms raided Moran's liquor storehouse under the guise of the law, lined up the rival gangsters against a wall, then coldly mowed them down with Chicago typewriters
. None of the victims could retry the mission.
Piss Off Your Boss by Dealing Drugs
In the game:
Family life in "Mafia II" is constantly peppered with a battle for control and direction between two distinct ideologies. The style of mob boss Frank Vinci
is rooted in the old ways of honor and respect. He prohibits members from the drug trade. When it comes to his attention that Vito and Joe were involved in a dope deal gone bad, he arranges a "ride" for both. But like another famous mafioso, they have luck on their side and survive.
The Italian mafia of the early 20th century was a relatively insular entity -- only dealing with other Italians, and preferably Sicilians. Charles "Lucky" Luciano
helped change all that. He rebelled against the old ways, favoring the color of your money over the color of your skin. And he wasn't called "Lucky" due to gambling skill or success with women. He survived a brutal knifing that left him with a bit of a lazy eye.
Lucky Luciano launched an all-out war on the old guard, culminating in the murders of Salvatore Maranzano
and Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria
, the two men who stood between him and his dream of a more open organization. After that, the old guard was basically finished, and a new day dawned for the American mafia.