Bart the Murderer
"Bart the Murderer" is the fourth episode of The Simpsons' third season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on October 10, 1991. In the episode, Bart stumbles upon a Mafia bar after having a terrible day at school. The owner of the bar, mobster Fat Tony, hires Bart as a bartender. When Principal Skinner goes missing after punishing him at school, Bart is put on trial for his murder.
|"Bart the Murderer"|
|The Simpsons episode|
|Episode no.||Season 3|
|Directed by||Rich Moore|
|Written by||John Swartzwelder|
|Original air date||October 10, 1991|
|Chalkboard gag||"High explosives and school don't mix"|
|Couch gag||The family forms a pyramid, with Maggie on top.|
James L. Brooks
The episode was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Rich Moore. Fat Tony (voiced by Joe Mantegna) and his henchmen, Legs and Louie, made their first appearances on The Simpsons. The episode features cultural references to songs such as "Witchcraft" and "One Fine Day", and the American television series MacGyver.
Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from television critics. It acquired a Nielsen rating of 13.4 and was the highest-rated show on Fox the week it aired.
After a particularly bad day — Santa's Little Helper eats his homework and he forgets his permission slip for a school field trip to a chocolate factory — Bart loses control of his skateboard during a downpour. He crashes down the stairwell of the Legitimate Businessman's Social Club, a Mob bar owned by the Springfield Mafia.
At the club, Fat Tony and his henchmen, Legs and Louie, are inhospitable towards Bart at first. They are soon impressed by his ability to pick winning horses and make excellent Manhattans. After Fat Tony hires him as the club's bartender and errand boy, Bart starts wearing Rat Pack suits, tries to bribe Principal Skinner to avoid punishment, and allows the Mob to store a truckload of stolen cigarettes in his bedroom until they can be fenced.
The mobsters confront Principal Skinner when they find he is giving Bart detention after school. Skinner goes missing the next day and is assumed murdered. Bart rushes to confront Fat Tony at the bar after a nightmare about Skinner's ghost and his own execution. While Bart is there, the police raid the bar. Fat Tony blames Skinner's disappearance on Bart, who is put on trial for murder.
At the trial, Fat Tony, Legs and Louie lie to the court, saying Bart killed Skinner. Judge Snyder is about to convict Bart when Skinner, unshaven and disheveled, bursts in the courtroom. He explains that neither Bart nor the mobsters killed him. Instead, Fat Tony and his henchmen visited his office and left sheepishly after Skinner scolded them for interfering in student discipline. When he returned home that day, Skinner became trapped beneath stacks of old newspapers in his garage and lie stuck there until freeing himself and racing to the courtroom.
Bart is cleared of all charges, despite the prosecution's unsuccessful attempt to have Skinner's speech stricken from the record. Bart quits Fat Tony's gang after learning that the bromide is true: crime does not pay.
The episode was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Rich Moore. The writers conceived the idea of the episode before the 1990 film Goodfellas, which has a similar plot, was released. After it was, the writers incorporated references to the film into the episode. The character Fat Tony makes his first appearance on the show in this episode. He was modeled after the physical appearance of Paul Sorvino's character Paul Cicero in GoodFellas.
The writers originally wanted American actor Sheldon Leonard to voice Fat Tony, but they were unable to get him, so they went with Joe Mantegna instead. Mantegna was offered the role during the show's second season, and since he had seen the show before and thought it was "funny", he decided to give it a shot. He felt honored they had asked him. In an interview with The A.V. Club, Mantegna said he thinks the reason he got the role was partly due to his performance in the 1990 Mafia film The Godfather Part III, which had opened just prior to the offer. He thought the script was smart and clever, and he enjoyed recording it. Mantegna has since appeared many times on the show as Fat Tony, who became a recurring character; it is Mantegna's longest-running role in his acting career. Mantegna commented: "Who knew that Fat Tony was gonna resonate in the hearts and minds of the [Simpsons fans] out there? Apparently [the writers] got enough feedback as to how the character was liked that they wrote it in again and again, and I was kind of a recurring guy that they'd tap into at least a couple episodes a season."
Legs and Louie, Fat Tony's henchmen, also made their first appearances in this episode. The character of Louie was based on American actor Joe Pesci, who is known for playing violent Mafia mobsters. Neil Patrick Harris guest starred in the episode as himself, portraying Bart in Blood on the Blackboard: The Bart Simpson Story, a horribly inaccurate made-for-television film based on Bart's life with the Mafia, which the Simpson family watches at the end of the episode.
The sequence of Bart crashing down the stairwell to the Mafia bar is similar to a scene in the film Goodfellas and "A Bronx Tale" , in which a young boy is employed by a Mafia as their messenger. All the horses in the race that Bart bets on are named after a famous animated character's catchphrase: "Ain't I a Stinker?" (Bugs Bunny), "Yabba Dabba Doo" (Fred Flintstone), "Sufferin' Succotash" (Daffy Duck), "That's All Folks" (Porky Pig), "I Yam What I Yam" (Popeye), and Bart's own "Eat my shorts" and "Don't have a cow". The Chiffons's song "One Fine Day" is heard when Bart serves drinks to the mobsters during a game of poker. The writers originally wanted to use the song "Be My Baby" by The Ronettes for the scene, but they could not clear the copyrights for it. In his room, Bart stores the Springfield Mafia's loot—a truckload of cartons of Laramie cigarettes. While strutting around the kitchen, he sings Frank Sinatra's song "Witchcraft". The scene in which Bart wakes up screaming after having a nightmare about Skinner is a reference to a scene in the 1972 film The Godfather, in which Jack Woltz screams after waking up in bed and finding a decapitated horse head by his side. Skinner frees himself from being trapped under the newspapers in a way similar to the character Angus MacGyver's escapes in the American television series MacGyver.
In its original American broadcast, "Bart the Murderer" finished 31st in the ratings for the week of October 7–13, 1991, with a Nielsen rating of 13.4, equivalent to approximately 12.5 million viewing households. It was the highest-rated show on Fox that week.
Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from television critics. John Orvted of Vanity Fair named it the eighth best episode of The Simpsons because of the "inspired" Mafia satire and because it "goes deeper into Bart's ongoing conflict with authority figures". Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, the authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, praised the scene in which Skinner explains his disappearance to the courtroom, calling it Skinner's "finest hour" on the show. Nate Meyers of Digitally Obsessed named the episode the best in the third season, and commented that there are "many priceless moments" in it, such as Homer's meeting with the Springfield Mafia. Meyers also praised Swartzwelder's script.
Bill Gibron of DVD Verdict commented that how an episode that starts with Bart's having a bad day can lead to his being tried for murder as the head of the local Mafia "is just one of the amazing monuments to this show's superiority". DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson thought "Bart the Murderer" was season three's first "truly great" episode because it "starts off strong and gets even better as it moves". Even though he thinks Mafia parodies have been overused, Jacobson thought this one brought "a fresh approach and remains consistently amusing. A great guest spot from Mantegna helps. It also feels like the first episode of this season that really moves the series ahead; it seems like something a little more incisive than most of what came before it." Andy Patrizio of IGN called "Bart the Murderer" his favorite of the season, and praised the episode for its references to The Godfather and MacGyver. The episode's reference to GoodFellas was named the 28th greatest film reference in the history of the show by Total Film's Nathan Ditum.
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