It’s a movie all about love–love of family, love of romance and love of New York City. And while Moonstruck doesn’t exactly fall into the strictly “classic movie” category (filmed in black and white between the 1920s-1950s), it is one of my all time favorite films both for its fairy tale look at romantic love, love of the Big Apple and of course, the moon, that crazy moon!
When the film opens, Loretta Castorini (Cher), a widowed accountant, is about to get engaged to her longtime beau Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello), a bumbling momma’s boy who can’t seem to take care of himself. It’s obvious however, that this relationship is not a very romantic one. When Loretta realizes that Johnny is about to propose, she has to practically beg Johnny to get down on his knee–an act that Johnny at first resists as he says this is his one good suit. Loretta reminds him however, that she was there when he bought the suit and it came with two other pair of pants. Obediently, Johnny then goes down on his knee.
Loretta then realizes that Johnny doesn’t have a ring to give her. She then tells him to give her his pinky ring. “But I like this ring,” Johhny proclaims. When Loretta reminds him that a woman deserves a ring when she is being proposed to, Johnny begrudgingly removes the ring from his finger and gives it to her. Loretta meekly takes it and accepts Johnny’s proposal. Right after the proposal however, Johnny must fly off to Italy to see his dying mother one last time. Before he leaves however, he tells Loretta to call his estranged brother Ronnie to invite him to their wedding. Loretta agrees.
On her way home, Loretta stops in a liquor store and purchases a bottle of champagne. When she arrives at the large house in Brooklyn Heights that she shares with her mother, Rose (Olympia Dukakis) her father, Cosmo (Vincent Gardenia) and her grandfather (Feodor Chaliapin, Jr.), she pops open the champagne and tells her parents the news about her engagement. Unfortunately, her father isn’t very pleased. Cosmo feels that Johnny is just a big baby. Her mother however, is happy for her. When Rose asks Loretta if she loves Johnny, Loretta honestly says no, “but he’s a good, sweet man”. “Good,” Rose replies. “When you love them, they drive you crazy because they know they can.”
The next day, Loretta calls Ronnie (Nicolas Cage) but after being rudely hung up on, she decides to meet him in person at the bakery where he works. As Loretta soon discovers however, Ronnie is a moody, angry soul who wears a prosthetic hand after he lost his real hand in a freak accident which he blames on his brother.(Johnny distracted Ronnie as he was cutting salami and the deli slicer cut off his hand.) Ronnie then discloses that his fiancee was so disgusted by his appearance, she left him. For this reason, Ronnie has no interest in attending the wedding and storms off to his apartment.
Not one to take no for an answer however, Loretta follows him. Once inside the apartment, she proceeds to cook him dinner and then calls him a “wolf” as she believes the cutting off of his hand was actually his way of getting out of a bad relationship. Ronnie explodes in anger at this suggestion but soon his anger turns to passion and in seconds, he passionately kisses Loretta, picks her up and carries her into his bedroom. At first, Loretta is resistant, but within seconds her desire and animal attraction to Ronnie takes over and soon, there is no holding back!
But while these two young lovebirds are just beginning to manuver their way to a possible romance, Loretta’s uncle Raymond (Louis Guss) and his wife Rita (Julie Bovasso), are rekindling their own passion. As Raymond stares wondrously at the full moon outside their bedroom window, Rita stares at him and tenderly declares, “you know, in that light, with that expression on your face, you look about 25 years old.” After some giggling and a mutual twinkling in their eyes,the camera slowly pans away as these two paramours prove that while there may be snow on the roof, there’s still fire in the stove!
The spectacular full moon also has an affect on Ronnie and Loretta who are both awakened by its brilliant light.
Even Grandpa Castorini and his five dogs can’t resist the spell of this particular moon. As he and his dogs stop at an old pier overlooking the Hudson River, Grandpa encourages his canine friends to “howl!” When they don’t, Grandpa demonstrates how it’s done. Within seconds, his friends finally catch on and soon all we hear are the sounds of unbridled laughing and howling!
The next morning as Loretta awakens, she looks over at Ronnie and suddenly realizes what she has done. Quickly, she jumps out of bed and promptly gets dressed. Just as she’s about to leave however, Ronnie awakens and no sooner does Loretta tell Ronnie that she’s marrying Johnny and they can never see each other again, does Ronnie profess his love for her. Loretta’s reaction?-just as in any good ol’ screwball, Tracy-Hepburn movie, she slaps him clear across the face and proclaims, “snap out of it!” Begrudgingly, Ronnie agrees but on one condition–Loretta must accompany him to his favorite opera, La Boheme, that very night. Loretta agrees.
Be it due to her newly awakened passion for life or her overpowering, can’t-be-denied attraction for Ronnie, Loretta decides to go full-out glam for the evening, going to the Cinderella (where else?) hair salon to get the gray out of hair and purchasing a glamorous frock. Still being the good Catholic girl however, she goes to church to confess her sin of infidelity. As she leaves the church though, she runs into her mother who tells Loretta she believes her father is having an affair. Loretta tells her mother she’s being ridiculous for thinking such things, yet at that very moment, Cosmo is indeed with his mistress, Mona (Anita Gillette), dining at a fancy restaurant and showering her with jewelry.
That night, like a page out of Cinderella, Loretta steps out of a taxi in front of Lincoln Center which in its pre-Christmas glory, shines like a luminous box of jewels. As she scours the crowd looking for Johnny, their eyes finally meet. And as they slowly walk towards each other, they simply can’t take their eyes off one another. Ronnie immediately notices Loretta’s beautiful hair and makeup while she notices Ronnie’s spiffy tuxedo.
As Ronnie reaches to kiss her however, Loretta backs away saying she only promised to attend the opera with him, that is all. Ronnie accepts this and escorts her inside. As he helps her off with her coat, Ronnie is momentarily speechless, thoroughly bedazzled at the sight of Loretta’s dress and beauty. And so enamored is Ronnie that he breathlessly says “thank you”–“thank you for coming with me, thank you for your hair, thank you for your beautiful dress.” Their feelings for each other soon become even more romantic as Loretta tears up at the opera’s tragic ending and they slowly take each other’s hand.
As they make their way into the lobby at the opera’s conclusion however, they have an operatic moment of their own when they run into Loretta’s father and Mona. After both realizing that they should not be with who they are currently with, Loretta and Cosmo decide to keep each other’s dirty secret.
While things at the opera are heating up, Rose is having some drama of her own. While dining alone at a local restaurant, Rose invites Perry (John Mahoney), an older college professor who has just been unceremoniously dumped by his much younger girlfriend right in front of her, to join her for dinner. During the course of their meal as they share their life stories, Rose asks Perry why he thinks men cheat. “Nerves,” he laughingly replies.
At the end of the meal, Rose agrees to let Perry walk her home. Unfortunately, however, they bump into Grandpa Castorini walking his five dogs. As their eyes meet for a second, Grandpa quickly steers his dogs away in the other direction. Perry notices this strange interaction and asks Rose if she knows that man, Rose sighs and plainly answers, “yes.”
As they arrive at her door, Perry tries to sweet talk his way inside, but Rose, being a strong, wise woman, sees right through his act and proclaims she knows who she is and a cheater she is not. Perry begrudgingly accepts this and gives Rose a sweet peck on the cheek.
Meanwhile, long after the opera has ended, Loretta and Ronnie are walking the streets of Brooklyn, Loretta saying she can’t believe her father is really cheating on her mother. She also compares herself to Mona saying she feels just as cheap as Mona looked. Ronnie tells her not to judge herself; that only God can do that. He also tells her that she is a wolf just like him and that she’d be making a big mistake marrying Johnny who is so weak and clearly not the right man for her. Finally he tells her that he loves her–not like the fairy tale kind of love, but the real love that isn’t always pretty but that is solid and real. Loretta then looks around and realizes that Ronnie tricked her and rather than walking her home, he in fact walked her back to his apartment building. After putting up a fairly good fight against joining him upstairs, Ronnie holds out his hand to her (the prosthetic hand that Johnny caused him to lose), and then like a magnet attracts metal, Loretta has no other choice but to surrender and take his hand.
Meanwhile, Johnny, who has just arrived fresh off the plane from Sicily, knocks on the door of the Castorini household. As Rose lets him in, Johnny excitedly announces that his mother has just made a “miraculous” recovery and he must tell Loretta this. Rose however, tells him that Loretta is not home and she has no idea where she is.She then offers him a drink and asks him point blank why he thinks a man would cheat on a woman. Johnny thinks about it then softly says “because he fears death”. Excitedly, Rose proclaims, “that’s it!” She believes this is the answer she was looking for to explain why Cosmo would cheat on her.Confusedly, Johnny says, “you’re welcome” then promises he will return in the morning.
Fast forward to early the next morning and Loretta is dreamily walking home along the streets of Brooklyn Heights, almost floating on air . Her bubble is quickly burst however, when she arrives home and Rose tells her of Johnny’s return and the miraculous recovery of his mother. (Rose also notices the huge hickey on Loretta’s neck.) Just then, Cosmo appears and sits at the table. While Cosmo and Loretta try to avoid each other’s gaze, Rose demands in no uncertain terms that Cosmo stop seeing his mistress. Slamming his fist in anger on the table, it seems Cosmo will refuse, but just like the lamb that he really is, he agrees. “Ti amo”, says Rose. “Ti amo,” replies Cosmo as he then gently takes her hand.
Next to enter the mix is Ronnie, who over Loretta’s objections, accepts Rose’s invitation to stay for breakfast. (Rose also happens to notice his matching love bite). Things finally come to a clinch when the man of the hour, Johnny arrives. Though he is surprised to see Ronnie there, Johnny tells the group that he cannot marry Loretta as he believes that doing so would cause his mother’s certain death. He then asks for the engagement ring back. At first Loretta is deeply offended by this and angrily throws the ring in his face. Her mood changes however, when Ronnie takes the ring, turns to Loretta and asks for her hand in marriage. Loretta happily accepts and everyone (except for a confused Johnny), is deeply elated .When Rose then asks Loretta if she truly loves Ronnie, Loretta proclaims, “Ma, I love him awful”. Rose’s priceless response–“Oh God, that’s too bad.”
As Loretta and Ronnie kiss passionately, Cosmo pours champagne in several glasses adding a sugar cube into each one. As each member of this now extended family raise their glasses, they toast each other in the only way that a movie devoted to love and family can…”Ti amo…to family!”
What I Love About Moonstruck
The “Look” of the Movie
Every movie has a certain look and feel to it. For me, Moonstruck has a look, feel and yes, smell to it.
There are two memorable food related scenes that come to mind:
Every time I see the scene where Rose is preparing a breakfast of egg-in-the-hole toast, my mouth absolutely waters! Though I never had this dish, I swear I can smell the eggs as they’re slowly melting in the toasted bread!
Another wonderful food related scene is when Rose, Cosmo, Uncle Raymond and Rita are sitting down to a major Italian feast (which is just happens to be typical Sunday!). The table is piled high with steaming baked fish, pasta, loaves of bread, salad, salami and two bottles of wine. So over the top is this meal, that when Rose tells Cosmo that Loretta is eating out, Uncle Raymond chimes in “she don’t know what she’s missing!” Every time I watch this scene, I always wish I was there in Loretta’s place!
As the movie was filmed in an actual family home (see The New York City Locations section below), the authenticity jumps off the screen. The house has a comfortable, lived-in feeling to it.
Rose in the Castorini living room with the requisite piano piled high with family photos.
Rose and Johnny in the Castorini living room.
This authenticity is also evident in the kitchen scenes where, this being a movie about an extended Italian family, most of the action takes place.
Like any great classic movie, Moonstruck has some great poetic dialogue. I mentioned some of them in the Plot section above, but here are some other good ones:
When Perry explains to Rose what happens just before his young female conquests get tired of him:
“…she catches on that I’m just a burnt out old gasbag and that she’s as fresh and bright and full of promise as moonlight in a martini.”
When Johnny feverishly explains his intense love for Loretta:
“…love doesn’t make things nice, it ruins everything, it breaks your heart, it makes things a mess. We’re not here to make things perfect. Snowflakes are perfect. The stars sre perfect. Not us. We’re here to ruin ourselves and break our hearts and love the wrong people and die! The storybooks are bullshit!”
When Johnny explains to Rose how his mother miraculously came back to life:
“Her breath had almost totally left her body. She was as white as snow. And then she pulled back from death and stood up and put on her clothes and began to cook…for everyone in the house…the mourners, and me and herself! She ate a meal that could choke a pig!”
What would a movie about romance be without its music! Moonstruck has one of the best soundtracks that really add flavor and hit just the right notes in the just the right scenes. There’s everything from Dean Martin’s classic That’s Amore to the charming accordion styling of Dominc Cortese and his Old Man Mazurka to Vikki Carr’s It Must Be Him to of course, La Boheme.
The New York City Locations
New York City in the 1980s was a not pretty place. The city was on the verge of bankruptcy, violence was at an almost record level and with the introduction of crack cocaine, the Big Apple was a very dangerous place to be. In the world of Moonstruck however, none of this existed.
Filmed in and around the Brooklyn neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights, the movie made great use of the local scenery.
Paramount among these was the Castorini house. Located at 19 Cranberry Street, the house is quite imposing and majestic.So impressive is the place that when Perry walks Rose home and sees the size and grandeur of the building, he is amazed:
Perry: My God, it’s a mansion!
Rose: It’s a house
Perry: …What exactly does your husband do?
Rose: He’s a plumber.
Perry: Well, that explains it.
At the time of filming,the Federal style four story brownstone, which was built in 1829, was owned by Edwards Rullman and his wife Francesca. The Rullmans, who owned the house since 1959, sold the property in 2008 for $4 million. (An interesting side note about Mr. Rullman–he had a major hand in having the neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights being named a Historic District in 1965.)
Here’s how 19 Cranberry Street looked in the movie :
Here’s how it looks now:
Here’s another interesting fact about the Castorini/Brooklyn Heights neighborhood: the tree that Loretta passes while on her dreamy walk home was unfortunately cut down in 2014.
Here’s how the street looked with the tree in the movie:
Here’s the same street without the tree:
Of course, it’s also hard not to notice how much the view has changed just across the river in lower Manhattan.
Another important Brooklyn “character” is The Cammareri Bakery. Opened in 1921 , the bakery was founded by Sicilian native Nicholas Cammareri and was located on Sackett and Henry Street in downtown Brooklyn. Sadly ,the bakery closed its doors to the public in 1998 but was eventually remade into a wholesale bread and pastry business that services restaurants throughout New York City.
Here’s how the bakery looked in the film:
This was the actual brick oven which was shown in the film.
This is how the exterior looks today:
The Grand Tocino
Ahh, the Grand Tocino, the most romantic restaurant in all of Brooklyn (that really wasn’t located in Brooklyn).
The site of Loretta and Johnny’s engagement and Rose’s encounter with Perry, the Grand Tocino possessed a romantic, old world charm with its wood paneled walls, paintings of Italian scenery and cozy seating.
Though I couldn’t find any evidence whether the interior scenes were actually shot in the actual restaurant or on a sound stage, the exterior scenes however, were shot in the West Village in Manhattan.
According to the street signs in the film, the restaurant was located at Hicks and Cranberry Streets in Brooklyn Heights. The actual location of the building however, is 4th and 12th Streets in the West Village in Manhattan.
Just as the castle in Cinderella was a wondrous, magical place, so was Lincoln Center in Moonstruck.
And as the film takes place around the holiday season, Lincoln Center is all lit up like a Christmas wonderland.
At the 1987 Academy Awards, Moonstruck went on to win Oscars for Best Original Screenplay (John Patrick Shanley), Best Supporting Actress (Olympia Dukakis) and Best Actress (Cher).