Monday, April 11, 2011

Carnival Of Murder

The head of the Regalbuto crime family dies, and his empire is split evenly between two other dons: Angelo DiMorra (Anthony Quinn) and the imprisoned Jimmy Bernardo (Barry Russo), whose business is being run by his consigliere Luigi Orlando (Charlies Cioffi). Frank Regalbuto (Robert Forster), the late don’s only son, goes with Don Angelo with the proviso that he take over the business when the elder man dies. Orlando isn’t satisfied with half the Regalbuto territory. To get it all, he works behind the curtain to start a mob war that will leave him the last man standing. Step one of Orlando’s plan is to hook Angelo up with Frankie’s girl, Ruby (Angel Tompkins), an inadvertent betrayal that sets off the bloodbath.

This GODFATHER knockoff is based on a novel by Marvin H. Albert, a proficient writer of crime fiction who peaked in the 1960s and 1970s. Using the name Al Conroy, he created a men’s adventure paperback series called Soldato about an ex-Mafia enforcer who goes straight and dedicates his life to wiping out the Syndicate. As Anthony Rome, he wrote about a private eye named Tony Rome, who was played in two movies by Frank Sinatra. Albert used the name Nick Quarry to pen THE DON IS DEAD, but is credited under his real name for the film’s screenplay.

Director Richard Fleischer (MR. MAJESTYK) enlisted every rough-looking character actor with a name ending in a vowel—plus Sid Haig and Vic Tayback—for his supporting cast: Joe Santos, Frank DeKova, Val Bisoglio, Frank Christi, Abe Vigoda, Vic Argo, Anthony Charnota. Barrel-chested Al Lettieri (THE GETAWAY) is particularly strong as Vince Fargo, the protective older brother of Frank’s friend Tony (Frederic Forrest), who wants to put the life behind him.

Fleischer’s no-nonsense style is perfect for the gritty shootouts and tough melodrama present in Albert’s solid crime drama, though you may need a scorecard to keep track of who is loyal to whom. Efficiently shot on the Universal backlot, THE DON IS DEAD plays like one of those pulp paperbacks you just can’t put down. It’s like a B-picture cutdown of THE GODFATHER, stripped of the operatic overtones and boiled down to the meat and potatoes of a violent thriller well done.

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