Saturday, January 11, 2014

Massacre Mafia Style (1978)

          We’ve come to expect vanity pieces from established Hollywood professionals, particularly stars; the annals of film history are littered with ill-conceived projects that people envisioned as their definitive cinematic statements. Vanity pieces from entertainers with whom the general population is unfamiliar are less numerous, because most entertainers on this level realize that their lack of widespread fame is an insurmountable obstacle to reaching audiences. Duke Mitchell was undaunted by these circumstances. A veteran nightclub performer with barely any screen credits, Mitchell hired himself as producer, director, star—and even composer—of this low-budget melodrama set in the world of organized crime. (The picture is known by several alternate titles, including The Executioner and Like Father, Like Son.)
          A small but forceful fellow with the gift of gab and an impressive haircut that looks like a cross between a mullet and a pompadour, Mitchell plays Mimi Miceli, a second-generation mobster whose father was driven from the United States to Sicily by gangland machinations. Determined to put the family name back in the forefront of organized crime, Mimi flies to Los Angeles and hooks up with his old pal Jolly Rizzo (Vic Caesar)—a tubby bon vivant whose elaborate facial hair recalls that of radio DJ Wolfman Jack—in order to begin a bloody rampage. Mimi and Jolly execute bookmakers and other crooks, taking over the victims’ territory and establishing a small criminal empire that includes drugs, gambling, pornography, and prostitution. He also gives impassioned speeches about the nobility of the Sicilian man, the sainthood of the Sicilian woman, and the troubling disappearance of honor from the underworld—notwithstanding the fact that Mimi is an avaricious scumbag who does things like impaling dudes on meat hooks. Eventually, Mimi makes the wrong enemies, and the story takes tragic turns that will surprise exactly zero of the film’s viewers.
          Viewed critically, Massacre Mafia Style is a dud, with grungy photography, spastic editing, trite storytelling, and vacuous supporting performances. Viewed as a unique testament to the willpower of one second-rate entertainer, Massacre Mafia Style is weirdly fascinating. Mitchell has a certain kind of presence, stemming mostly from his overpowering self-confidence, and he’s intense when delivering monologues. Mitchell’s also interesting while acting like a badass, whether he’s mouthing off to a black pimp whom he calls “Super Spook” or delivering the following voiceover: “I didn’t know who had the hit on us, but I wasn’t waiting to find out, so we killed every last son of a bitch.” The most fascinating aspect of Massacre Mafia Style is that Mitchell clearly believes he’s acting in a historically important masterpiece, rather than a sleazy exploitation picture punctuated with gory murders and topless women. While watching Massacre Mafia Style, it’s Mitchell’s world and the rest of us are just bystanders. Amazingly, Mitchell filmed a second indie feature around the same time as this one, but it didn’t reach audiences until years after Mitchell’s death in 1981; Gone With the Pope was issued via Grindhouse Releasing in 2010.

Massacre Mafia Style: FUNKY

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