Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Miller's Crossing (1990)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Miller's Crossing (1990)

In the Coen Brothers' twisty and complex gangster-crime drama (their third feature) that paid homage to hard-boiled 40s gangster films:

  • at the close of the title credits - the memorable image of Tom Reagan's character-defining fedora hat floating through a wooded forest - propelled by breezes and gusts of wind
  • the opening scene (similar to the opening sequence in The Godfather (1972)): Prohibition-era Irish gangster-boss Leo O'Bannon's (Albert Finney) office meeting with Italian rival Giovanni 'Johnny Caspar' Casparro (Jon Polito) and his second in command - the brutal and bisexual Eddie Dane (J.E. Freeman); the two were there to inform O'Bannon that they were planning to eliminate two-bit "son of a bitch" Jewish grifter-bookie Bernie Bernbaum (John Turturro) for double-crossing them - by revealing Caspar's fixed fights to other gamblers: ("Now if you can't trust a fix, what can you trust?...We question character to determine who's chiseling in on my fix. And that's how we know it's Bernie Bernbaum, the Shmatte Kid. Because ethically, he's kind of shaky")
  • O'Bannon responded negatively and affirmed that Bernie shouldn't be touched: "Sorry, Caspar. Bernie pays me for protection" - thereby threatening a turf war - [Note: Bernie was the brother of Verna Bernbaum (Marcia Gay Harden), who had begun a relationship with Leo - while also carrying on an affair with Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne), Leo’s de facto consigliere at the film's start; it was a deadly love triangle]
  • after the refusal, Caspar displayed his antagonism toward the Irish king-pin ("big-shot"): "I'm not some guinea fresh off the boat you can kick. I'm too big now. I'm sick of taking the strap from you. I'm sick of marching in here to kiss your Irish ass! And I'm sick of the high-hat! You's fancy-pants, all of youse"
Opening Office Meeting
Leo O'Bannon
(Albert Finney)
Giovanni 'Johnny Caspar' Casparro
  • after their departure, Tom's advice had failed to convince Leo to agree to Caspar's demands ("Think about what protecting Bernie gets us and what offending Caspar loses us"); when Leo responded: "You know I don't like to think," Tom replied: "Well, think about whether you should start"
  • the dialogue-less, 5-minute attempted (and failed) assassination shoot-out attempt (an iconic scene beautifully choreographed), when Leo O'Bannon was reclining in an upstairs bedroom while listening to a 78 rpm grammophone record playing 'Danny Boy' (sung by Irish tenor Frank Patterson), when he sensed trouble (smoke in the floorboards from a downstairs fire) as Tommy Gun-wielding assassins sent by Caspar approached; he single-handedly killed a couple of men by leaping under the bed and shooting at their legs; after grabbing a machine-gun and leaping onto the roof and then onto the ground, he fired mercilessly at length at one assassin in the upstairs window who violently and spastically vibrated from the barrage of bullets (a "dance of death"); finally, he killed the two remaining hit-men fleeing in a black car when it crashed into a tree and caught fire
  • the prelude to an execution scene, when mobster Tom Reagan was instructed by TicTac about how to proceed with the killing of the double-crossing bookie, to prove his loyalty to Caspar to whom he had switched allegiance (although he was still loyal to Leo): ("Okay, take him in the woods and whack him....That's right. The boss wants you to do it. Make sure you're with the good guys. Now, you know how to do this, right? You gotta remember to put one in his brain. Your first shot puts him down, then you put one in his brain, and he's dead, then we go home")
  • the faked execution scene, when Reagan marched bookie Bernie Bernbaum far into the woods at Miller's Crossing to shoot him, when Bernie began to beg and soon was pleading on his knees: ("Tommy, you can't do this! You don't bump guys! You're not like those animals back there. It's not right, Tom! They can't make us do this. It's a wrong situation. They can't make us different people than we are. We're not muscle, Tom. I- I-I never killed anybody. I used a little information for a chisel, that's all. It's my nature, Tom! I- I-I can't help it, somebody gives me an angle, I play it. I don't deserve to die for that. Do you think I do? I'm-I'm-I'm just a grifter, Tom. I'm-I'm-I'm-I'm-I'm an nobody! But I'll tell ya what, I never crossed a friend, Tom. I never killed anybody, I never crossed a friend, nor you, I'll bet. We're not like those animals! This is not us! Th-th-this is some hop dream! It's a dream, Tommy! I'm praying to you! I can't die! I can't die out here in the woods, like a dumb animal! In the woods, LIKE A DUMB ANIMAL! Like, like a dumb animal! I can't, I can't, I CAN'T DIE OUT HERE IN THE WOODS! like a dumb animal. I can't die! I'm praying to you! Look in your heart! I'm praying to you! Look in your heart! I'm praying to you! Look in your heart! I'm praying to you! Look in your heart. I'm praying to you! Look in your heart. I'm praying to you. Look in your heart, look in your heart! You can't kill me, look in your heart") - and then Reagan shot in a different direction and freed him, and told him to disappear forever: ("Shut up! You're dead, get me?...Shut up! You have to disappear for good. No one can see you. No one can know...Go somewhere no one knows you. Anyone sees you, you really are dead. You're not my problem anymore")
Miller's Crossing Execution: Bernie's Pathetic Pleading
"Look in your heart!"
  • and later in the film, a vengeful Reagan was again forced to deal with the blackmailing Bernie - and this time there were no second chances: ("Tommy! Look in your heart. Look in your heart"), although Tommy couldn't forgive him again: ("What heart?") and he put a bullet in his forehead

Tom's Blowing Fedora Hat

"Danny Boy" and Assassination Shoot-Out Sequence

Instructions to Tom Reagan for Execution: "Take him in the woods and whack him"

Ending: No Second Chances For Bernie


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