Thursday, December 1, 2011

Honor Thy Father (1973)

Like its infinitely superior big-screen counterpart The Godfather, the Mafia-themed potboiler Honor Thy Father was based on a bestselling book. Yet while Mario Puzo’s tale of the Corleone family was pure fiction, the Gay Talese tome that provided the basis for this TV movie was a true-life account of a real crime clan. Talese, a former magazine writer, spent seven years interviewing members of the Bonanno mob about their nasty turf war with other crime families. Thanks to his incredible access, Talese crafted an acclaimed narrative depicting how second-generation crook Salvator Bonnano was drawn into the family business when his father, crime lord Joseph Bonnano, was kidnapped by competitors. (In a play on the family name, the feud became known as “The War of the Bananas.”) Predictably, Talese’s reportage gets homogenized in this competent but unspectacular adaptation. However, one particular focus of Talese’s book—the monotony of downtime between outbursts of violence—comes through clearly, as does the emotional strain on the wives of made men. Beyond these nuances, there’s nothing in Honor Thy Father that crime-movie fans haven’t seen a hundred times before, and the acting is not strong enough to surmount the generic nature of the piece. As Salvatore, Joseph Bologna borders on self-parody with his twitchy version of volatility—his trope of screaming during big moments gets particularly tiresome. And as the godfather of this tale, suave Italian star Raf Vallone cuts a great figure but struggles with delivering dense dialogue in his thick accent. Playing Salvatore’s wife, Brenda Vaccarro gives the picture’s best performance, though her characterization as a long-suffering spouse is a cliché. Character actor Richard S. Castellano’s presence cements this picture’s Godfather association; the man who delivered the immortal Godfather line “Leave the gun, take the cannoli” plays Salvator’s stalwart right-hand man in Honor Thy Father.

Honor Thy Father: FUNKY

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