Cleaver (The Sopranos)
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Cleaver is a metafictional film within a TV-series that serves as an important plot element toward the end of the HBO television drama series The Sopranos. Although very little film material is actually shown in the series, its planning and development are discussed at large throughout multiple seasons of the show. The extent to which Sopranos character Christopher Moltisanti mixes confidential and personal information about the Soprano mob family into the story elements of Cleaver is the focal point throughout its development. After the project eventually materializes, Cleaver can be categorized as a direct-to-DVD mafia-slasher film, described alternately as "Saw meets the Godfather II", "the Ring meets The Godfather", and "a story about a young man who goes to pieces and then manages to pull himself together again". Several characters are credited for their involvement in the project. The screenplay was written by J. T. Dolan based on a story by Christopher Moltisanti, directed by Morgan Yam and produced by Carmine Lupertazzi, Jr. and Moltisanti. The film starred Jonathan LaPaglia as Michael "the Cleaver" and Daniel Baldwin as mob boss Salvatore ("Sally Boy"). Also starring as Sally-boy's key advisors are George Pogatsia as Frankie and Lenny Ligotti as Nicky. Moltisanti and Lupertazzi initially attempted to recruit Ben Kingsley to fill the role of the mafia don in "Luxury Lounge (6x07)," but Kingsley turned down the part.
Cleaver—originally titled Pork Store Killer—stars protagonist Michael (a nod to actor Michael Imperioli), nicknamed "the Butcher". When Christopher proposes the plot to writer J.T. Dolan, he says the film is about a "young wiseguy, assassin, gets betrayed by his people. They whack him, leave his body parts in dumpsters all around the city. Long story short, he is put back together, by science...or maybe it's supernatural. And he gets payback on everyone who fucked him over, including the cunt he was engaged to. She was getting porked by his boss the night the hero was killed."
Several episodes in the film are drawn from Moltisanti's own life experiences as a made man in the Soprano Crime Family, including a misinterpreted and overblown rumor concerning a potential affair between Family head Anthony Soprano and Christopher's then-fiancée Adriana La Cerva. The film closes on a tight-shot of a crucifix and a cornicello, juxtaposing "the sacred and the profane" (or, as Lupertazzi malaprops, "the sacred and the propane.")
Moltisanti met Dolan while both were in rehab recovering from heroin addiction. In the episode "In Camelot" (5x07), their friendship was complicated when Christopher introduced J. T. to the underground world of high-stakes poker games, inadvertently giving the writer a new outlet for his addictive personality. Dolan rapidly found himself $60,000 in debt, and soon wound up back in rehab at Moltisanti's prompting.
The film itself originated in "Mayham" (6x03), when Moltisanti offered Dolan a way to clear his debts: write a screenplay for a digital slasher film based on a concept by Christopher. But the story had its genesis long before, when Christopher began his quest to write a screenplay in "The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti" (1x08). After struggling through 19 pages, Moltisanti became disillusioned and slipped into a depression, throwing away his work. He later had an affair with studio vice-president Amy Safir in "D-Girl" (2x07); through her he met Swingers and Made scribe Jon Favreau, with whom he discussed his film concept.
In "Kaisha" (6x12), he discussed the similarities between Sally Boy and Anthony Soprano with Julianna Skiff, describing both as men who think that everything belongs to them — a notion crystallized by Sally Boy in Cleaver's finale when he tells Michael: "What you have belongs to me" because "what's mine is mine; what's yours is mine."
- "The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti" (1x08)
- "D-Girl" (2x07)
- "In Camelot" (5x07)
- "Mayham" (6x03)
- "Luxury Lounge" (6x07)
- "Kaisha" (6x12)
- "Stage 5" (6x14)
In conjunction with the premiere of "Stage 5," HBO aired the seven-minute mockumentary Making Cleaver, detailing the film's production. Including in-character interviews with Moltisanti, Lupertazzi, Yam, Baldwin, LaPaglia, and special-effects make-up artist Steve Kelly, the behind-the-scenes look is broken up into four segments: "Concept," "Courting Kingsley," "Cast and Crew," and "A 'Family' Production." The mockumentary is included in the Season 6 Part 2 DVD set and in the Complete Series DVD collection.
- Lupertazzi's description of the movie at the premiere in "Stage 5"