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Carlito's Way! An Illustrated Summary and Behind The Making of The Movie

Updated on February 13, 2012

Based off the novels After Hours and Carlito's Way by Edwin Torres, Carlito's Way is a crime/suspense noir film that was directed by Brian De Palma and released to mixed reviews in 1993. The movie follows the story of a once legendary Puero Rican heroin dealer who is released from prison and vows to go straight and retire to paradise. His past and his own "codes of the street," as well as his unusual sense of loyalty, makes him walk a dangerous fine line between being dragged down by the merciless criminal world he was once on top of or finally being able to escape it by coming up with enough money to retire in the Bahamas.

The film's adaptation was scripted by David Koepp, and the movie starred legendary actors Al Pacino and Sean Penn. Supporting actors included Penelope Ann Miller as Gail, Luis Guzman as Pachanga, John Leguizamo as Benny "from the bronx" Blanco, with a short appearance by Viggo Mortensen as Lalin.

Brain De Palma masterfully brings you into this fascinating world of Carlito Brigante. Although the character may be fictional, the vibrant and often gritty and merciless streets of East Harlem during the time isn't. This hub will provide an illustrated summary of the movie Carlito's Way as well as facts about the making of it and some behind the scenes look at one of the best crime noir films of the 90s.

CARLITO'S WAY - AN ILLUSTRATED SUMMARY AND MAKING OF

Beginning

The film begins with Carlito being shot at a train station by an unknown assailant. As the stretcher wheels Carlito through the train station, the stretcher wheels gets stuck into a crack on the ground, in which Carlito stares at a billboard sign that says "Escape to Paradise." It is here that, Carlito begins to recollect the events prior.

We next find Carlito Brigante beating a 30 year rap due to his lawyer and friend, Dave Kleinfeld's ability to exploit District Attorney's illegal use of wiretaps. Vowing to stay clean from his past life of crime, Carlito confides in Dave about his plan to escape to the Bahamas and buy into a car rental business if he can come up with $75,000. However, Carlito needs to find a way to come up with the money without breaking his vow of returning to the "dope" business.

THE MAKING OF CARLITO'S WAY - PACINO SPEARHEAD'S INTEREST

Al Pacino first brought the idea to producer Martin Bregman about making a movie about Carlito Brigante after reading the books After Hours and Carlito's Way written by New York state supreme court Judge Edwin Torres. The books were greatly inspired by the poverty, racial gangs, and drugs that permeated the East Harlem barrio where Torres was born and raised.

The character of Carlito Brigante was a composite of people he knew in the neighborhood, mainly three, as well as bits of himself. Pacino first heard of the character before the books were finished when he met Torres while shooting Serpico. Once the books were published, Pacino read them and instantly liked Carlito's character.

Martin Bregman claims the first script he read for the movie was absolutely terrible, but Pacino liked the character so much he kept pushing Bregman. Finally, it was decided that the script would have to be rewritten, and David Koepp was brought on to write the screenplay

Because Al Pacino couldn't play a younger version of Carlito Brigante, it was decided that the movie be more based on the second book After Hours. They entitled the movie Carlito's Way because of this fact and because Martin Scorcese already had a film called After Hours.

Koepp wrestled with the idea of using the voice over narrative while writing the script, but he didn't see how he could tell the story any other way.

When Brian De Palma's agent suggested he read the screenplay, De Palma was reluctant. He didn't want to do another movie about spanish-speaking gangsters and felt he already visited that area with Scarface.

Finally, De Palma caved and read the script. Realizing it was more than a gangster film, De Palma envisioned the movie as a noir film and liked the script so much he agreed to do the film.

SCENE FACTS:

Early cuts of the botched drug deal scene where Carlito's cousin is killed led the studio to say the scene was too long. De Palma felt the scene wasn't long enough.

Feeling he had failed to capture the geography of the scene in order for the audience to see Carlito's viewpoint on where everyone was and how close they were to give more emphasis on what the stakes were, De Palma extended the scene to bring more suspense. After the studio saw it, they remarked it was much better shorter when it was in fact longer.

Return to the Barrio

Carlito returns to the mean streets of Spanish Harlem, only to find that his barrio has drastically changed in the last five years.

Carlito (v.o): These young guys, I don't recognize 'em. Mi barrio ya no existe. (My neighborhood doesn't exist anymore).

Pachanga: Carlito, man! Death Valley out here, man. Mira, you know me. I'll take to the street with any of these mother f*ck*rs, man, but these new kids nowadays, man, they got no respect for human life. They shotgun you, man, just to see you fly up in the air, man. Chacho, you better off in jail.

When his cousin begs Carlito to accompany him to a drug deal in a local bar, Carlito reluctantly agrees to be the backup for his primo. The drug deal is botched, and his cousin is betrayed and killed. Carlito finds himself having to shoot his way out of the bar, and takes $30,000 grand of drug money that's left on the counter.

Carlito (v.o.): There ain't no more rackets out here. Just a bunch of cowboys rippin' each other off.

OFFENSIVE DIALOGUE

When David Koepp first wrote the script of Carlito's Way, he wrote the dialogue in the way the character's spoke from the books. One character who used heavy slang was Pachanga, for instance.

Some of the Latino cast members were offended by this. Koepp later changed the dialogue in the script to regular English and let the actors put the nuances of language to their characters.

Sasso's Place

Using $25,000 of the thirty grand, Carlito intends to buy his way into a successful nightclub run by Sasso. The unfortunate nightclub owner has a gambling debt, and Carlito muscles his way into buying a piece of the joint at half of Sasso's end. With little choice, Sasso has no choice but take Carlito's offer.

It's at this nightclub where he first meets a young, arrogant, up-and-coming drug lord named Benny Blanco. Benny is smitten in meeting the legendary Carlito Brigante.

Benny Blanco: You know who this man is? You know who this man is? This man here...he's the f%*king J.P. Morgan of the smack business.

Carlito: First time I ever heard that.

Despite Benny's admiration, Carlito shrugs off an invitation from Benny to sit and have a drink with him, as well as the attempts to discuss Benny's organization and business proposals.

Reuniting With Gail

Being reminded of Gail at Sasso's place, Carlito seeks out Gail and follows her to the ballet studio where she practices. Unable to get the chance to catch her before she walks in, Carlito waits outside for her and watches her dance. She finally finishes and walks out the door and past Carlito, not recognizing him. He calls out to her from behind.

Carlito: Hey, I know you, lady.

Gail: Buzz off!

Carlito: Yeah, sure you use to go out with that guy...what's his name? That good-looking guy. Oh, yeah, yeah...Carlito Brigante. That's right!

After she realizes that it's him, they both catch up at a diner and talk for awhile. Carlito learns that she is still a struggling dancer and actress, although she doesn't give too many specifics, and he subtly implies that he's done with the life. However, Gail is wary. They both part ways, both knowing that there are still feelings felt between them.

A Visit From An Old Friend

After a brief reunion with Gail, Carlito's former girlfriend, whom is a struggling actress and dancer while moonlighting as an exotic dancer to pay the bills, Carlito is visited by an old friend from the neighborhood named Lalin.

Shotgunned a few years back, Lalin, who is supposed to be in prison for 30 years, is now out but crippled and confined to a wheelchair. Carlito asks what happened to him.

Lalin: What do you mean? You didn't hear? I took a few in the back, yeah. You know when the streets when she mad at you, she don't put you in a box. She put you in one of these things.

Lalin soon starts fishing around about Carlito's activities, but Carlito tries to tell him that he's out of the dope business. Disbelieving Carlito, Lalin proposes an illegal business venture. Carlito discovers that Lalin is wired and a rat working for District Attorney Norwalk.

Carlito discovers from Lalin that somebody told Norwalk that Carlito was back in business and dealing again. Carlito let's Lalin live. Extremely upset, Carlito soon visits his friend and lawyer Dave Kleinfeld about the news. Kleinfeld assures Carlito there's nothing to worry about if Carlito is clean and that he'll take care of it.

Carlito: F@$king Lalin. There's nobody left.

TORRES ON CARLITO'S BEEF WITH BENNY:

Edwin Torres based the beef with Carlito and Benny Blanco on the resentment he'd seen with older gangsters coming back to the East Harlem barrio after serving quite a bit of time and finding these new bucks that have come up through the ranks. In the book After Hours, Torres expanded on this real-life concept he'd witnessed first-hand to bring even more tension to Carlito trying to move past his old ways.

In an interview, Torres claims that Benny Blanco, in essence, was Carlito when he was a younger and ambitious version of himself in the book Carlito's Way. Benny clearly looks up to Carlito, because that's who Benny wants to ultimately be by achieving the same legendary success that Carlito did in his "dope dealing" heyday.

However, because Benny Blanco reminds Carlito of the person he was before, and with Carlito trying to move past his old ways and the life of crime that got him incarcerated, he ultimately and extremely resents Benny Blanco and wants nothing to do with the "punk," as he calls him in this scene.

This is why Sasso is so shocked to see Carlito treat Benny Blanco with such disrespect. We see Carlito's street pride as well as the pride of his rep take over. However, we mostly see Carlito's denial and internal conflict that he's struggling with about himself in this scene. It's this denial and conflict about who he truly is that everyone else around him can see, and who he chooses to be.

Another Encounter With Benny Blanco

At Sasso's club, Carlito refuses Benny's insistence of sending over a waitress of the nightclub named Steffi, whom just had sex with Dave Kleinfeld. After sending a waiter over to tell Carlito everything was okay and to send Steffi over when he is ready, Carlito orders his staff and Sasso to ignore Benny's requests.

Shocked and stunned at Carlito's behavior towards Benny Blanco, Sasso chastises Carlito.

Sasso: What happened to you? Why are you acting like this for? It doesn't make sense you should hate this guy, because this guy is you twenty years ago.

Carlito: Never me! Never me!

Upset, Benny Blanco confronts Carlito, and Carlito publicly humiliates him. When Benny threatens Steffi, Dave pulls a gun on Benny Blanco. Pachanga, Carlito, and another drag Benny Blanco to the back of the club and stop him just before a stairway leading down to the backdoor.

Carlito threatens Benny to never come back. When Benny threatens him back, Carlito instinctively reacts by smacking Benny and causing him to fall down the flight of steps.

Now Carlito's faced with two unappealing choices. One is killing Benny and going back to his old ways. The second is letting him go, looking weak, and facing inevitable retribution from Benny later.

Carlito (v.o.): Dumb move, man. Dumb move. But it’s like them old reflexes comin’ back. I know what’s supposed to happen now. Benny’s gotta go down. And if I don’t do it, they’re gonna say: “Carlito, he’s flaky, man. Slacked-out. A used-to-be bad guy. Joint got to Carlito.” The street is watchin’. She is watchin’ all the time.

Carlito let's Benny go, knowing full well what the consequences will be.

Dave's Dilemma

When mob boss, Tony Taglialucci "Tony T," a client of Kleinfeld, accuses the lawyer of stealing a million dollars of his money, Dave Kleinfeld is threatened to help the mob boss escape from prison.

With connections inside the prison, Tony T will be let out and dropped in the water near a buoy 100 yards from Rikers Island prison barge. Kleinfeld is coerced to pick up Tony T in his yacht, while Tony T's son Frank accompanies Kleinfeld.

All coked up and worried about his dilemma with Tony T, Kleinfeld asks Carlito for help in this scheme. Because of his loyalty towards Dave for getting him released from prison, Carlito reluctantly agrees to help Dave, whom he considers a "brother" and friend.

FACTS ABOUT THE CHARACTER OF DAVE KLEINFELD:

Edwin Torres based Dave Kleinfeld's character off a few lawyers he had known and witnessed getting personally involved with their clients and caught up in the trappings of shady partners and business deals.

Like Dave Kleinfeld, these lawyers crossed a line that Carlito points out to Dave Kleinfeld during the movie. According to Edwin Torres, these lawyers he had known had got way in over their heads in terms of greed and power. Torres has stated that three of the lawyers that inspired Kleinfeld's character who had crossed this line were actually killed or murdered.

However, in the book After Hours, the character of Dave Kleinfeld was not killed. He was stabbed but recovers and lives on.

De Palma thought that this was too gloomy of a world to have Carlito die and Kleinfeld get away with all the character's wrongs and, especially, his betrayal to Carlito. The script was rewritten at the behest of De Palma.

Unlike the book After Hours, Dave Kleinfeld sees his end when Tony T's other son Vincent finds him in the famous hospital scene near the end and gets retribution for his father and brother.

Brian De Palma has stated during an interview that Sean Penn was remarkable. Without much discussion or even direction from De Palma, Penn just showed up to work with the frizzed hair look and shaved receding hairline.

Along For The Whole Ride

Carlito visits Gail and both rekindle their love, but when Dave Kleinfeld mentions a boat ride in front of Carlito and Gail while they're out dancing, the two lovers find themselves in an argument back at her apartment.

Gail doesn't like Kleinfeld, but Carlito's sense of ethics believes that he owes Kleinfeld. Angry and upset, Gail tells Carlito that he hasn't changed and that he'll never be able to get out of the life because of the way he thinks.

Gail: I know how this dream ends, Charlie. It isn’t in paradise. It ends with me carrying you into Sutton Emergency Room at three o’clock in the morning. And standing there, crying like an idiot... while your shoes fill with blood and you die.

Finally, Carlito is forced to face his denial and himself. He tries to explain as best as he can.

Carlito: Dave is my friend, Gail. I owe him. That’s who I am, That’s what I am, right or wrong. I can’t change that!

Carlito leaves Gail upset and angry.

A few days after, Carlito finds himself at the pier in front of Dave's yacht, keeping his word and promise to help his friend spring Tony T. They sail out to the proposed buoy near the prison and find Tony T alive in the water.

However, when Carlito isn't looking, Kleinfeld kills Tony T and his son Frankie on the yacht. Carlito is horrified at Kleinfeld, but helps him to throw Frank's body into the water. When they get back to shore, Carlito confronts his friend Dave, who tries to rationalize the murders by saying that if he didn't do it, they surely would've killed him.

It's here where we find out that Dave Kleinfeld did steal the mobster's million dollars.

Carlito: You ain’t a lawyer no more, Dave. You’re a gangster now. You’re on the other side. Whole new ball game. You can’t learn about it at school, and you can’t have a late start.

Making Dave swear that they were even, Carlito leaves but knows that Kleinfeld has just done them both in.

Visit From Norwalk And The Betrayal

After Carlito seeks out Gail to explain to her that she was right about Kleinfeld and how he's finally done with him, Gail reveals to Carlito that she's pregnant, but doesn't want to keep the baby. However, before they can discuss it, cops surround Gail and Carlito. The cops inform Carlito that his lawyer Kleinfeld is in the hospital recovering from a failed hit and that it's best if Carlito go with them for his safety. Gail demands to go with Carlito.

They take him to D.A. Norwalk's office in which he reveals to Carlito that Dave Kleinfeld has become quite dirty and corrupted while he was away in prison. Norwalk then plays a tape that reveals it was Kleinfeld who spread the lies that Carlito was dealing drugs again.

After informing that they know it's not true and that he's actually been clean since he's been released, Norwalk tries to get Carlito to testify against Kleinfeld in court, but despite the betrayal, Carlito refuses. Even when they police inform Carlito that the Italian mob know he was on the boat with Kleinfeld to help murder Tony T and his son, Carlito plays dumb.

They let Carlito go, and Gail tries to tell him that he has no other choice but to do it. Instead, Carlito buys two train tickets to Maimi and tells Gail to meet him at the train station later that night.

Carlito visits Kleinfeld in the hospital, who is under police protection, to find out if he really tried to set him up. Kleinfeld is obviously scared and tries to pull a gun he has underneath his pillow until he realizes it's Carlito.

Carlito walks over and takes the gun under the pillow to look at it. He asks Kleinfeld about the tapes and finds out that Kleinfeld did try to betray him.

Dave Kleinfeld: Fuck you and your self-righteous code of the goddamned street. Did it pull you out of a thirty-year stint in five years? Did it? No, I did. Did it get you acquitted four fucking times? No, it didn’t, I did. So fuck you, fuck the street. Your whole goddamn world’s about this big... ...and there’s only one rule: you save your own ass.

Carlito gives the gun back, telling Kleinfeld that he needs to put the gun in front of him, not behind his pillow. Carlito says his goodbyes to Kleinfeld and leaves the hospital. While he's leaving, a cop takes over the previous shift of the guard on duty and enters Kleinfeld's room. It turns out that the new guard is actually Vincent Taglialucci.

Vincent draws a gun with a silencer, while Kleinfeld reaches for his revolver. Kleinfeld is able to pull the trigger faster, but nothing happens. We then see Carlito walking down the street and tossing bullets into a trash bin. Carlito had taken out the bullets to Kleinfeld's gun.

Carlito: Adios counselor.

Vincent kills Kleinfeld.

The Great Chase

Carlito goes back to Sasso's place to get his money, but suddenly finds a crew of Italian gangsters waiting for him, one who he is acquainted with back in the day and use to do business with.

Carlito gets his money from Sasso. When Vincent shows up and remembers him at the hospital, Carlito slips out a secret entrance. The chase then begins, and Carlito runs in the subway station in which he boards a subway train. In one of the most amazing chase scenes ever captured on film, the Italian gangsters follow Carlito and chase him trough the various subway train carts while it's moving to the next station.

When a bunch of cops in training board the subway train cart, the Italians keep their distance. The train finally makes it to Grand Central Station, and Carlito somehow slips from the Italians sights while getting off the train.

They search all over Grand Central Station while Carlito tries to dodge them and get to the escalators that go down to the boarding platforms.

THE SUBWAY CHASE SCENE FACTS:

The famous subway car chase scene lasted from winter to summer. It was an extremely hard shot that Brian De Palma envisioned. During the summer, Al Pacino was wearing the heavy black leather coat and was sweating like mad doing take after take of running through the cars.

Pacino would often yell, "What are you doing?" to Brian De Palma who was in another train filming Pacino. One afternoon, Pacino just took the train back to where his trailer was. Brian De Palma went back to explain the difficulties of shooting this particular chase scene, as Al was constantly being blocked.

They went back and finally finished the scene. It would be one of the most suspenseful and articulate chase scenes. Pacino and De Palma remarked that the scene was one of the great moments in film history.

Carlito ends up lying down on the escalator going down in one of the most famous shoot out scenes in film. When an Italian goon sees him from above and gives away his position, a bloody shoot out happens on the escalators. As the Italian gangsters try to get to him as he rides down escalator lying down, Carlito ends up picking them off one by one.

When he reaches the bottom, Carlito calmly heads towards the train where Gail and Pachanga impatiently wait for him.

Although Vincent is wounded, he's not dead, and with gun in hand, tries to follow Carlito. Police end up shooting Vincent when he refuses to give up quietly.

Remember Me?

Carlito finally meets up with Gail and Pachanga, but just when Gail is grabbing her bags, Carlito turns around to see a familiar man standing before him and pointing a gun with a silencer at Carlito.

Benny Blanco: Hey, remember me? Benny Blanco from the Bronx.

Benny then shoots Carlito three times. As Carlito falls to the ground, Pachanga let's Carlito know he was the one who betrayed him by letting Benny know Carlito's plan to leave on this particular train. Benny ends up betraying Pachanga and kills him, too.

As Gail cries with Carlito in her arms, just as she predicted what would happen, Carlito tells her to take the money and get her and their unborn son out of New York. While Carlito is being wheeled out of the train station and gets stuck in the cracks of the floor, he stares at a billboard of "Escape To Paradise" above him just before he dies.

Carlito (v.o.): Gail’s gonna be a good mom. New, improved Carlito Brigante. Hope she uses the money to get out. No room in this city for big hearts like hers... Sorry, baby, I tried the best I could. Honest. Can’t come with me on this trip, though... Gettin’ the shakes now. Last call for drinks. Bar’s closin’ down. Sun’s out. Where we goin’ for breakfast? Don’t wanna go far... Rough night. Tired, baby... Tired...

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    • rabbit75 profile image
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      rabbit75 5 years ago

      Thanks Steve Lensman. Yah, this hub took me a while and Carlito's Way is one of my favorites gangster films. As for Pachanga, there's a few scenes in the movie that kinda shows that he's a snake. One is when Carlito sends him to be a body guard for Kleinfeld for a while, and Pachanga mentions to Carlito that Kleinfeld has stacks of hundreds in a safe - implying they should rob him.

      There's also another scene where Sasso tells Carlito that Pachanga is badmouthing Carlito and is spying on the place for Benny Blanco. It's the scene where Carlito traps the cockroach in a whiskey glass. Carlito just tells Sasso that Pachanga is his "brother". He doesn't know who's lying or telling the truth anymore.

      I think it was a good shock at the end where Pachanga ends up the betrayer. Thatnks for the vote up and stopping by to comment. Always good hearing from you.

      @Cammiebar, thank you as always. Yeah, I covered most of the movie, and it did take a while to write. Thanks for checking it out and commenting...always appreciated.

    • Cammiebar profile image

      Cammiebar 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Whoa, you went through a lot of the movie! This must have taken a very long time to write and it was done pretty methodically. Reminds me of why I follow you! Voted up!

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England

      Excellent hub on Brian De Palma's last great movie rabbit75. You seem to have covered everything on this film, it must be one of your favourites. :)

      I watched it again a few weeks ago, I have a nephew who's a huge fan of this and De Palma's Scarface, he brought his blu-ray copy round.

      The only thing I didn't like is that it starts off with Carlito being shot and likely dying which makes the ending a little less shocking and sad because we know its going to happen.

      I love that whole finale btw and also the botched drug deal at the beginning is expertly edited and pure De Palma down to the reflection in the guys sunglasses.

      And it's a little unlikely Pachanga would have betrayed Carlito, I mean he worshipped the guy, would he really have joined up with Benny Blanco from the Bronx? But that's up to the story writer he's pulling the strings.

      Voted Up and awesome! Scarface deserves an epic hub too.