Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Don Is Dead (1973)

Even as Italian-American auteurs Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese reimagined the gangster genre in the early ’70s, other filmmakers cranked out perfectly serviceable mob thrillers of a more conventional nature. The Don Is Dead is a good example, since it’s a brisk potboiler that lacks much in the way of artistic ambition but still gets the down-and-dirty job done with a florid mixture of intrigue, sex, and violence. Anthony Quinn, overripe as always but effectively cast, stars as Don Angelo, leader of a powerful gang. When his mistress (Angel Tompkins) is murdered, Don Angelo orders his soldiers to go on a killing spree, sparking a war among various factions angling for power. Eventually, as the title suggests, Don Angelo gets caught in the crossfire, and the most effective stretch of the picture depicts the crime lord scheming from a secret hiding place while his enemies think he’s been taken out of commission. Based on a novel by Marvin H. Albert and directed by versatile workhorse Richard Fleischer, The Don Is Dead offers acres and acres of tasty ’70s texture. The clothes are all big lapels and synthetic fabrics, the locations are gritty, and the action is nasty. Fredrick Forrest stands out among the cast as an enforcer-for-hire who works alongside his brother; his energetic performance captures the melodramatic spirit of the piece. Robert Forster, working a nice blend of seething and suave, is good as well, playing an ambitious junior mobster trying to climb the organized-crime ladder no matter who gets hurt along the way. There’s even some crossover with The Godfather, which hit theaters about a year and a half before The Don Is Dead, because character actors including Al Lettieri and Abe Vigoda appear in both films. The Don Is Dead doesn’t break any new ground, but it works.

The Don Is Dead: FUNKY

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