HBO’s Mafia-based drama The Sopranos is full of references to movies about “the Mob,” including a memorable scene with Junior that is a subtle nod to James Cagney and his classic 1931 crime-drama The Public Enemy (not to be confused by Johnny Depp’s Public Enemies). Throughout The Sopranos, the various gangsters are frequently shown discussing and enjoying movies like The Godfather and Goodfellas — in fact, Tony watching Cagney’s Public Enemy is a plot point in season 3, as it prompts his disastrous conversation with Meadow’s new boyfriend Noah, and later causes Tony to weep while remembering his dead mother. However, the movie was actually referenced earlier in season 1 — by a darkly comedic scene centered on Junior Soprano.
Although Junior spent most of his time on The Sopranos under house arrest, he was quite active during season 1, often butting heads with his nephew Tony Soprano. Typically, Junior’s storylines revolved around his dynamic with the rest of his crew, his health, and his family drama, but one episode featured a different side of the character: his romantic spirit.
The Sopranos, season 1, episode 9, “Boca” showed Junior’s softer side, following his regular trip to Boca Raton, Florida with his long-time romantic partner Bobbi Sanfillipo (as an employee of a company he manages, Bobbi is able to illegally divert funds to pay for the trip). The title “Boca” works on two levels: it references the place where Junior regularly takes his lady friend, and is also the Spanish word for “mouth” — referencing the plotline involving a certain skill Junior possesses. After Bobbi is a little too open with her girlfriends about Junior’s talent, word gets out among the mafia wives and eventually gets back to Junior — who responds by aggressively confronting poor Bobbi.
During the confrontation, Junior angrily smushing a pie in Bobbi’s face. The pie scene references the infamous grapefruit scene in Public Enemy. In the movie, Cagney’s character Tom angrily pushes half a grapefruit into his girlfriend’s face after she gives him too much “lip” (which, of course, is a gross over-reaction to her suggesting he not drink before breakfast). While some remember the scene as funny, it’s really not played for laughs: Kitty (played by an uncredited Mae Clarke, who would later play Elizabeth in Universal’s classic horror movie Frankenstein) acts hurt and angry by the act, and the moment is one of many hinting at the moral decline of Cagney’s character. Tom of course dumps her, and later pursues bad girl Gwen Allen, played by the blonde bombshell Jean Harlow.
The pie scene in The Sopranos is like the grapefruit scene in many ways. The moment is on the surface funny — after all, getting a pie to the face is a classic comedic gag — but underneath, the act is both violent and humiliating. Junior isn’t acting playfully with Bobbi; he’s breaking up with her, and doing so in a way that’s demeaning. Certainly, his fellow gangsters have done much worse to the women in their lives, like when Adriana is killed offscreen in The Sopranos season 5 by Dante, and in some ways, it’s a relief that he doesn’t raise a hand to her. Still, the scene turns the humorous prospect of the situation into something much more tragic, and Bobbi is left absolutely heartbroken by Junior’s actions.