No sooner do I finish a tribute to the late David Warner than I get the equally disheartening news that Paul Sorvino (1939-2022) has passed. I adored Sorvino as only someone from the very Italian state of Rhode Island can. I loved him all the more for the fact that, nearly as often as not, he went against type. He was a very cultured man, an opera singer and aficionado, a sculptor, a gourmand. I was a fan of his since childhood, long before Goodfellas (1990) and Law and Order (1991). Mike Nichols’ Day of the Dolphin (1973) was undoubtedly the first thing I saw him in.
The following year he was in the still jaw-dropping TV movie comedy It Couldn’t Happen to a Nicer Guy (1974), in which he plays A MAN…WHO GETS…RAPED. Talk about the adolescent fantasies of geeky male comedy writers — the rapist is gorgeous Joanna Cameron, later of The Secrets of Isis, and he feels violated! (Sure!) The all star cast of comedy character actors includes Roger Bowen, Bob Dishy, Adam Arkin, and Michael Learned of The Waltons as his wife who is “trying to understand”. Definitely has to be watched, and I’m ready to watch it again after nearly a half century! I was nine when it first came out and only understood about half of it the first time.
Another memorable comedy performance of Sorvino’s from that era is the George Burns–John Denver comedy Oh, God! (1977), directed by Carl Reiner, in which he played — wait for it — a Southern televangelist preacher! And he’s great! For some reason he reminds me of Steve Martin in the role. He really is totally hilarious in the movie, as funny as any comedian would have been.
As you can see, in his early years he really did not do the Italian stereotype thing of strictly playing gangsters and cops. Later he seems to have given in and yielded to the temptation of constant work and lots of dough. But early on he really does seem to have steered clear. Other early work included Carl Reiner’s Where’s Poppa? (1970), the early Pacino vehicle Panic in Needle Park (1971), A Touch of Class (1973) and James Toback’s The Gambler (1974).
He was in scores of classics and non-classics over the ensuing half century, but rather than just list them I refer you to IMDB. His last several roles are still in post-production. He was 83 when he kicked and I bet he didn’t regret a single cigar.
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