In Donnie Brasco (1997), I didn't understand the scene where Lefty's gang has to stand outside in cold weather like this:

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Nicky: I'm freezing my balls off. What do we got to be standing outside all day in the cold for?

Sonny Black: Got to show the flag.

Nicky: The flag of fucking Antarctica.

Then Lefty introduces his new jewellery friend Donnie to Sonny Red.

  • Technically, it is Sonny Red's crew, yes?
    – CGCampbell
    Jun 8, 2020 at 18:43

2 Answers 2


Pecking order.

You see this reinforced several times in the movie [the Sopranos shows a similar system throughout, too].
Those with greater power get greater reward, which includes sitting in the warm.
Those with lesser power not only have to stand outside, they have to stand outside until told otherwise. They have no choice in the matter.
You might notice those of lower rank are often called on to pay for things, like dinner, for those of higher rank. You do this until you're 'made' & then you make others below you do the same for you.

It's a show of power.
The guys outside would still also be 'a friend of mine', not yet 'a friend of ours'.

  • 1
    Japanese snow monkeys have a very similar social structure. Jun 9, 2020 at 13:35
  • Well, it's an 'alpha male' thing, in many mammals. It's not exactly unique to humans… though they're the only ones who carry guns in case of a rival gang attack ;) [BTW, for anyone reading this because it hit HNQ, I'd assumed we already knew why they were at the club & the question was why they were outside rather than in the warm.]
    – Tetsujin
    Jun 9, 2020 at 13:41

It's a show of respect and force. They're waiting for Sonny Red to show up. If anyone is riding around hoping to take Sonny Red out, they're gonna be met with a dozen armed men. It's just like that scene in Godfather when Michael Corleone (again, Pacino) stands on the hospital steps and has the florist standing next to him with his hand in his coat. It makes someone think twice about making a move.

  • 10
    Which is what Sonny's "show the flag" means in this context -- letting people know this is your territory and you've got the manpower to defend it. Jun 8, 2020 at 19:05

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