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**SPOILERS** Not to be confused with the ultra-nationalistic and deadly
Serbian Black Hand of the same period, the early 1900's, the "Mano
Nera", or "Black Hand" in Italian. The hoods operated in the heavily
Italian immigrant neighborhoods in New York City were made up from of
gang of ruthless thugs from the old country who used intimidation
kidnapping and murder to extort the local population by paying them
Roberto Columbo,Peter Brocco, had just about had it from the shake-downs he was subjected to and goes, secretly, to see a local police official to give evidence against the Black Hand. Unknown to Roberto the police, or who he thought are the police, are in together with the Black Hand and instead of being protected by them he ends up dead with a stiletto in his back. Eight years later Roberto's son Johnny, Gene Kelly,now 22 is back from Italy, after he and his mother fled for their lives to escape the Black Hand,seeking revenge for his fathers murder.
Early organized crime Hollywood movie that actually uses the word "Mafia" in it long before it became commonplace in the American public's vocabulary. In fact the far more famous and highly acclaimed Academy Award winning movie "The Godfather", which was released some 22 years later in 1972, doesn't mention the word even once.
Falling in love with his childhood sweetheart Isbellla Gomboli, Teresa Celli, Johnny realizes that he'll put her and her young eight year old brother Rudi, Jimmy Ragano, lives in jeopardy by trying to use violence against the shake-down artists and kidnappers of the Black Hand. With the help of an old family friend police inspector Louis Lorelli, J. Carrol Naish, Johnny opts to use the criminal Justice system to put the thugs behind bars.
Getting nowhere with no one willing to testify against them and even getting worked over by the Black Hand for trying to put them out of business, and behind bars, Johnny comes up with a legal technicality that's air tight. An active criminal record, or rap sheet, of the gang members dating back to their native Italy. The Italian rap sheet would have the hoods deported back home as undesirable aliens by lying about their past convictions! It would b enough to put the Black Hand members, who all have Italian criminal records, on a boat back to Italy and a long stretch in an Italian prison.
Taking a long vacation from the New York Police Department Inspector Lorelli goes to Italy to amass information on the New York based Black Hand members and mail it back, to a secret post office box, to Johhny who's now a lawyer for the NYC Justice Department but he's murdered by local mobsters. Before he was killed Lorelli did put the important envelope in a mailbox.
It's now up to Johnny to get the information that the late Inspector Lorelli sent him to the courts but the Black Hand struck first by kidnapping Isbella's young brother Rudi and holding him hostage until Johnny reveals where the post office box is and gives them the key to open it. Johnny now has to choose between Rudi's life and the end of the dreaded Black Hand who murdered his father.
Slam bang final with Johnny Columbo blasting his way out of the Black Hand hideout, that he was held prisoner in, and then having it out with the Black Hand's Mr. Big himself Caesar Xavier Serpi, Marc Lawrence, as he tries to keep Serpi from destroying Inspt. Lorelli's Italian police criminal records on him and his fellow hoods. "Black Hand" is much better then most crime movies made at that time that has to do with criminal organizations like the Mafia by not having the usual formalized Hollywood plot-line. The film doesn't have everything and everyone in it being either all good or all bad but a little, or a lot, bit of both.
With its scenes of extortion and murder in the Italian-American community of
Manhattan's Lower East Side at the turn of the century, The Black Hand
inevitably calls to mind the flashbacks to young Vito Corleone's start in
The Godfather, Part II. And while it's far from that league, there's much
in The Black Hand to admire.
Eight years after the murder of his father, an Italian immigrant, for daring to oppose the criminal organization called The Black Hand (the script also calls it The Mafia and The Comorra), young Gene Kelly returns to New York to pursue his vendetta. With the help of police detective J. Carrol Naish, he tries to organize the tenement neighborhood to resist the reign of intimidation and terror. But the mob has moles who anticipate and thwart his every move. When Naish travels to Naples on the case, he's killed, but not before mailing an envelope of incriminating photos to Kelly. But the little brother of Kelly's girlfriend (Teresa Celli) is kidnapped, with the envelope serving as ransom....
Among the movie's admirable points are the thoughtful, rather restrained script and foreboding nightscapes, both in New York and Naples, which lend the film a noirish tinge (as do a couple of adroitly staged moments of suspense). But the story occasionally rambles off into rhetoric about the exploitation of the immigrant underclass by politicians and police valid points, but not presented dramatically. Another dramaturgical shortcoming is that the many characters haven't been sufficiently individuated, leaving a generic ethnic muddle. The romantic angle is oddly subdued, too. The Black Hand shows signs of an interesting and ambitious production that nonetheless falls somewhat short of what it might have been.
Gene Kelly was a perfectly good dramatic actor(e.g Inherit the Wind,Seagulls Over Sorrento)but it is not good casting asking him to play an earnest young Italian American intent on avenging the death of his father at the hands of New York gang the Black Hand He tries the legal route,aided by a veteran Italian-American cop,played in another bizarre piece of casting by J Carroll Naish,before resorting to a physical confrontation with the bad guys The movie moves briskly and will satisfy those looking for an afternoon's diversion in front of the TV but the acting does not quite pass muster and the bad guys never seem all thar much of a threat Good direction though with some well handled action scenes
After his father is murdered for standing up to the mob Johnny Columbo
swears to avenge his death. Well entrenched in Little Italy the Mafia
uses violence and intimidation to keep the community in its grip and
Columbo finds it difficult at first to get assistance in breaking the
code of silence that solidify's their grip. When he enlists the help of
detective Louis Lorelli things begin to happen and the mob responds
Gene Kelly in an off type role as Johnny is a slight stretch (it begs for Richard Conti) but convincing enough. It is J. Carroll Naish as intrepid detective Lorelli though that runs away with the film. It's nice to see J. center stage and noble given his career as a venal and craven weakling in many of his films hanging on the edge of scenes, ready to pounce on someone's misfortune.
Workman like director Richard Thorpe more than once allows his scenes to drag in spots but cinematographer Paul Vogels excellent camera work fills the suspense lapses with excellently lit exteriors and some nice subtle tracking work. There are Lang like moments as well with Thorpe eschewing suspense music in favor of silence and ambient noise to heighten scenes but his poor pacing and moments of incredulity prevent the film from reaching full potential.
There is certainly more ugly truth to be found in the film Black Hand that deals with the same topic of the Mafia as the more sophisticated violently romantic Godfather films. Pale in comparison to the production values, vaunted cast and and directing styles of the saga it still delivers moments that rival.
Black Hand (1950)
Sandwiched between his many superb musicals, this straight up drama has Gene Kelly playing an Italian returning home to find out who murdered his father years before. It's very well madecrisp writing and editing, excellent acting, and a kind of mise-en-scene that seems about right for bustling New York.
The pressure Italian mobsters press onto their own neighborhood Italian store owners and merchants is terrible and maddening, of course, and here we are made to feel it as directly as a movie can manage. Besides Kelly, two other actors are just superlativeJ. Carol Naish, playing the police detective who eventually goes to Italy to find evidence, and the store owner (whose name I can't find in a hurry). Oddly, both Naish and Kelly are Irish-Americans playing Italians in early 20th Century New York.
The plot is a bit forced, as this kind of large social-issue movie usually ends up doing. The mob (known as the Black Hand) is making life miserable for average folk, and whenever one resists, they end up dying or almost. But somebody has to do something about this, so between the cops (some Italian, some not) and the heroics of one individual (played by Kelly), the thugs are brought down one little notch.
But if you go along with inevitable victory of the little guy over the forces of evil, you'll see a really finely made drama with terrific acting (Kelly is no slouch and Naish is brilliant) and excellent filming (almost inevitable in lat 1940s American cinema). There are lots of other characters, a few chilling scenes, some dreamy idealism, and in all a look at the times with only a slight filter over the harsher reality that is, always, the truth.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Black Hand came about when Gene Kelly asked Louis B. Mayer for a change
of pace from his musical films. According to the Citadel film series
book The Films Of Gene Kelly, Mayer was inclined to give it to him
because Kelly was coming off big hits like On The Town and Take Me Out
To The Ballgame and Summer Stock, all of which more than returned their
money. Without Kelly's name Black Hand would have been a nice, but
routine gangster film set in Little Italy in the ragtime years of the
last century. It came from MGM's B picture unit so a whole lot of money
wasn't spent on it.
Kelly plays a young kid who saw his father stand up to the Black Hand in America and be killed for it. The father was a lawyer in the old country and Kelly had the same ambition. When he grows up he returns to America with the burning ambition to find out who is extorting the immigrants in America and take them down. Having that same ambition is police lieutenant J. Carrol Naish who Kelly joins forces with.
Although Kelly gets star billing, it's really Naish that carries the film although he's killed three quarters of the way into the story. His character is based on the real life Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino who had a biographical film of his own ten years later in Pay Or Die where Ernest Borgnine starred. Naish was Hollywood's all purpose ethnic, good at every kind of nationality with every dialect you can imagine.
Oddly enough Kelly really has no handle on how to deal with the Black Hand, they're beating him up and besting him at every turn until the very end when a stroke of luck that nearly kills him causes the tables to be turned. But you have to watch the film to see exactly what.
Black Hand was a decent routine costume noir for lack of a better term as it is not set in the present day. It certainly did Kelly's career no harm as he got good reviews for the part.
Remarkable only for the presence of Gene Kelly, this decidedly no-dancing
1949 drama purports to tell how a New York Mafia protection racket was
smashed in the early 1900s. Kelly appears to have made it in between On the
Town and Summer Stock, and possibly welcomed the chance to do some serious
acting, though this never was his forte, and there are moments when you
expect him to start hoofing and warbling!
Kelly plays the part of a young man whose Italian father has been killed by the Black Hand gang years before, and is seeking revenge, initially by direct action with a knife, but later by legal means, though at the end of the day he has to use the knife any way. The film as a whole is variable, with some plausible dramatic scenes, but with others straight out of a Keystone Kops comedy, including some set in Naples. J Carrol Naish has a major role as an Italian-American detective, and a little romantic interest for Kelly is provided by Teresa Celli.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I know this film since more than thirty years now. But I saw it again
last Sunday. And I must admit that this movie is very similar to
Richard Wilson's PAY OR DIE about mafia, the real one, the genuine
organisation at the turn of the century, shot with very realism. Far
better than other films, with gunshots every two minutes and lots of
clichés; i don't speak of the GODFATHER films, although. The story is
very close to PAY OR DIE, made ten years later, starring Ernest
Borgnine, a real masterpiece.
That's all I wanted to point out about this one. The other users have done it very well.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The 'Black Hand' was an extortion racket used by the mafia and other
forms of organized crime. Anonymous letters demanding money were sent
with the understanding that should the recipient not pay, horribly
violent things will result. Each letter was signed with a black hand
print--hence the name. Apparently, it was pretty much eliminated in the
US by the 1920s, as negative publicity and increased police action had
a serious effect on this practice.
This film begins with an Italian-American standing up to the Black Hand and assisting the police. However, there is a traitor amongst them and the man is killed by these creeps. The dead man's son grows up and makes it his life work to defeat these forces of darkness--it's vendetta time. This grown up man is played by Gene Kelly--a very, very peculiar choice by the studio. This pretty song and dance man is not exactly the mob-fighting sort--at least not in any of his other films. Now I am not saying it was a bad choice--just very odd.
After Kelly returns to America years later, things haven't changed that much. The Black Hand is still rampant and people are still afraid to talk or stand up to them. Much of the film consists of Kelly trying to organize the neighborhood against these thugs. Not surprisingly, they are met with kidnappings and murder and it looks as if they are just in over their heads--the criminals must win. Can the forces of niceness prevail? Can Kelly do a good job in a tough-guy role? Will the film be entertaining? Well, the answer to all of these is yes--the film was well done and quite convincing. And, shock of all shocks, Gene Kelly (yes, THAT Gene Kelly) was just fine. The film is a lot like a film noir movie--dark, very violent and with a few unusual twists and changes to the formula. Well worth your time and one of Kelly's best screen roles.
Wow...wonders never cease. Imagine seeing Gene Kelly throwing knives, killing people, slugging and vowing a vendetta in a film!! Was this movie made on Bizarro World?!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film is a curiosity because of the casting of the main role,
Johnny Columbo, played by Gene Kelly, an talented actor better known
for his contribution to musicals, and for direction. A seldom film
these days, "Black Hand", is at best a crime picture about the turn of
the century mafia groups that preyed on decent folks eking a life in
their adopted country.
Directed by Richard Thorpe, and with a screen play by Luther Davis, the picture presents an urban drama in which a powerful organized machinery wrecks havoc among Italians. Johnny Columbo had seen his own father killed a the hand of a criminal element that had a lot of power and seeks to avenge his father, as well as to expose the bandits that controlled the extortion and crime.
Gene Kelly does what he could in a role that asked a lot of him in a dramatic way. J. Carrol Naish, a wonderful character actor, is seen as Louis Lorelli, a police detective who wants to help the community, only to become a target for the mafiosi that wanted him out of the picture.
"Black Hand" offers a glimpse of the mafia in action during those early days.
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