The main theme might be derived from Kurosawa’s High and Low, two young brothers in the Mafia, soldiers of the Falco family, feel the shabby treatment they’re getting is cause to rebel. They’ve hit a table of diners in the Charcoal Grill full of customers and are paid peanuts, standing at the Don’s palatial gate because it’s Sunday, they can’t come in. They discuss history, how Luciano and Genovese did it. At night, they smash through the gate taking hostages, the Don is whisked away by helicopter in his nightshirt, evading their bullets.
Lizzani’s subtle rendering of Leonardo’s Last Supper is presided over by the Don at a mob council. A third party, Don Vittorio, states the rule, “we don’t come between a boss and his family.” The boys give up their hostages, negotiations are set for a piece of the Falco rackets.
Falco makes it a hit, they fortify a rundown apartment, Joe rescues two children from a nearby fire, one of their gunmen is hit on the street carrying paint for the war room. Falco moves decisively, sets up Joe for the cops, who send him to prison. Falco dies in an iron lung, Don Vittorio installs his own lieutenant, a traitor to the boys’ gang, as new head of the family. Joe’s brother Richie sees their power diminishing, he suffers from ulcers, returning from a prison visit he drives his car off a cliff. Joe starts to read the books his brother gave him, War and Peace, The Prince, Caligula (“The world has no importance. Once a man realizes that, he wins his freedom.”), and strikes up an acquaintance with a black inmate.
The new man in the Falco family has a plan, the Italo-American Federation, “we’re gonna take the word ‘Mafia’ outta the dictionary!” 50,000 people attend a rally at which he’s introduced by a congressman.
Joe resolves a prison riot caused when a barber refuses to cut his pal’s hair. A list of demands is signed by the warden.
Don Vittorio is displeased, publicity frightens the politicians and judges he’s bought, nobody’s fooled, the FBI and the police make trouble, he orders his man out of the action, and besides, where’s Don Vittorio’s cut of the dues from all those Italo-American Federation members? “It belongs to the people,” says their leader.
Joe’s time is served, Don Vittorio relates his problem. Joe has plans, an alliance with the Harlem gangs, “the world is changing.” He wants “a place of honor, what’s mine, not to die in the street.” Don Vittorio keeps his wisdom to himself, “the world doesn’t change.”
At a Columbus Day rally, Don Vittorio’s man is shot by a black assassin. The move is calculated to put Joe and his prison ally out of business. Joe turns it to advantage, claims the hit, moves against the Falco family and Don Vittorio as well.
Walking with the children in his neighborhood (he does impressions of Cagney and Widmark), Joe stumbles on a gangster picture being filmed (it looks like Bonnie and Clyde). The assistant director knows who he is, the relative merits of Sartre and Camus are discussed by Joe at a Hollywood party. “The criminal is really another existential expression.”
Don Vittorio warns him, lose the blacks. “They’re my people,” says Joe. “We’re your people,” the Don replies, offering leadership of the Falco family to Joe. Nothing doing, “I’m taking it.” The Don withdraws his protection, it’s open season on Joe.
Vincenzo’s Clam House, “the best in Little Italy”, is the scene of his demise. He and his partner with their wives are set upon over dinner, Joe fights his way outside and dies on the sidewalk next to a garbage can.
Dates on the screen rigorously identify the period 1960-1970. Vincent Canby’s review in the New York Times is a professional embarrassment.
Mussolini Ultimo Atto
The monster, a cunning politician to the last, is caught by the partisans and put to death with his bride (la Petacci) in scenes that recall the death of the Romanoffs in Schaffner’s Nicholas and Alexandra.
The Americans negotiate with the Fascists for a war crimes trial, he has written a letter to Churchill proposing combined measures against the Bolsheviks, his ignominious escape recalls the flight of kings, the Germans seize him and are bluffed into letting him go, he dies machine-gunned on a quiet street like a hoodlum.
Lizzani’s direction is sharp and swift, filmed on location, dramatically sound (it begins with sanity returned in Cardinal Schuster’s apartments where negotiations are underway with the partisans), politically amusing and cinematically brilliant.