One of myriad mob flicks made after The Godfather (1971) restored the gangster genre to its place in the mainstream, Lucky Luciano is a discombobulated affair. Buried inside the movie’s confusing sprawl is a passable character study of Charles “Lucky” Luciano, the individual credited with establishing the Mafia’s foothold in New York City. Italian actor Gian Maria Volonté renders an adequate portrayal, illustrating Luciano’s descent from a position of remarkable power to life as a marked man. At his best, Volonté sketches a cocksure criminal who deftly employed the media while all but daring authorities and enemies to come at him. Had the makers of this multinational coproduction limited their efforts to describing Luciano’s eventful career in organized crime, the picture would have been more effective. As is, the movie lacks flow thanks to a disjointed timeline, excessive focus on supporting characters, and the failure to clearly define Luciano as an individual before the plot kicks into gear. Throughout the first half-hour, Luciano is so incidental to his own story that it’s difficult to track what the movie’s about. Then, just when it seems as if the filmmakers have found their way, they detour into a pointless informant subplot that features a typically grandiose turn by Rod Steiger. Oh, well.
After glossing over one of Luciano’s most important milestones, the mass murder of 40 bosses and the subsequent consolidation of power, the picture winds through perplexing scenes about profiteering in post-WWII Italy and vignettes of a Senate investigation. Actors including Charles Cioffi and Vincent Gardenia come and go in meaningless roles before the story proper gets underway. Thanks to a controversial deal with government officials, Luciano receives extradition to his native Italy instead of jail time for alleged crimes. While in Italy, Luciano tries operating his criminal enterprises from afar, but investigators and mobsters close in on him. Some want Luciano behind bars, while others want him dead. The quality of the filmmaking is never superlative. In one bit, a tired-looking Edmund O’Brien spews reams of dull exposition, and in another, a somewhat exciting chase scene gets smothered beneath overly explanatory voiceover. By the time the movie reaches its final stretch, depicting Luciano’s reaction to government pressure and threats from adversaries, it’s difficult to care about his plight or even to parse exactly why things are happening. So while Lucky Luciano has enough in the way of familiar faces and production values to qualify as passable mob-movie fare, it’s a dud from a narrative perspective.
Lucky Luciano: FUNKY