By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Gangster’s rise and fall.
Loosely based on the real-life exploits of a New York gangster named Joe Gallo (Peter Boyle) the story centers on Joe’s rise in the underground criminal world and his challenging of Mob Boss Falco (Luther Adler) as well as Don Vittorio (Eli Wallach) the head of all crime families. When Joe and his brother’s agree to carry out a hit for Falco, but are only paid $100 each for the crime they feel rebuffed and plot revenge by storming Falco’s mansion and taking member’s of his family hostage. Through Don, who acts as an intermediary, they’re able to settle the dispute, but later Joe finds that he’s been double-crossed, which sends him to jail during a sting operation. While in prison he makes friends with Willy (Fred Williamson) an African American. The two form an uneasy alliance where he agrees to help Joe settle his score once they both get out.
With all of the gangster movies that came out during the early and mid 70’s it gets harder and harder to tell them apart, or have much in the way to say about them since they all tend to be alike with very little variation. This film is a clear example to cash-in on the Francis Ford Coppola classic by quickly producing this cheapie, which was shot in the U.S. with American actors by an Italian production company, which in essence makes it a foreign film. While the plot and action lack anything original I did find the opening sequence where they carry-out the hit by shooting a man and his cronies while inside a restaurant to be captivating. The action itself isn’t what’s interesting, but seeing the men singing and joking around inside the car, both as they drive-up to the place and then again as they leave it, to be fascinating in a disturbing sort of way where no matter how viscous the act they feel no guilt and happily go back to being their playful selves almost instantaneously.
Boyle’s performance helps a lot. He was in another film just 4 years earlier with a similar title called Joe where he played a violent right-wing extremist and he got so turned off by the fan mail he received with people telling him how much they enjoyed watching the ugly acts that his character did and said in that movie that he vowed never to appear in another violent film again and yet just a few years later that’s exactly what he did, but I’m glad. He exudes a great amount of energy and liveliness into the role and helps keep the movie entertaining to the point that it’s only interesting when he’s in it and a complete bore when he’s not. Effort is made to humanize him as it see-saws between moments where he’s killing people and then other points when he’s saving them particularly when he goes into a burning building to help some children get out.
The supporting cast is strong especially the always reliable Wallach and Williamson whose angry gaze melts right through the screen. I also really enjoyed Adler as the arrogant crime boss who feels he’s ‘all-powerful’, but physically is quite old and frail and eventually into the helpless position of being put inside an iron lung while still callously giving out all the orders and demanding full compliance. Louis Guss is equally amusing as a tough guy killer who when kidnapped immediately folds by wetting his pants and begging for his heart medication.
Unfortunately Henry Winkler, in his film debut, is not as effective as his demeanor is too refined and gentile and does not reflect the savagery of the others almost like he walked in on the completely wrong film set. Rip Torn is badly miscast as well. While the other actors appear to be genuinely Italian and speak with authentic accents Torn doesn’t. Instead he keeps his Texas draw intact, which is totally out-of-place, and while a good supporting player in other movies sticks out as a completely sore thumb here.
Ultimately though the poor production values sink it. To some extent it helps on the violent end as the killings are done in a more graphic and raw way, much like an Italian horror film, which makes it more real than The Godfather where it was handled in a lyrical fashion, but the plot has nowhere much to go. You know where it’s headed right from the start with an ending that’s completely predictable and has no impact. Doesn’t particularly help either that the film’s promotional poster gives away the final scene.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: February 8, 1974
Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes
Director: Carlo Lizzani
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Available: Available through Non-Standard DVD (Public Domain).