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11 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

Turn-of-the-century ethnic crime drama shows points of interest but falls short of potential

7/10
Author: bmacv from Western New York
23 August 2002

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.

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9 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

Brisk thriller,with some strange casting

Author: lorenellroy from United Kingdom
18 December 2001

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

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4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Low rent Godfather sans the glamor

6/10
Author: st-shot from United States
31 July 2010

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 harshly.

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.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Vivid, slightly romanticized version of true efforts to fight NYC mafia

8/10
Author: secondtake from United States
2 May 2014

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 made—crisp 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 superlative—J. 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.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Extortionists in Little Italy

6/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
21 January 2011

*** 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.

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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Mainly for Gene Kelly fans

Author: Geofbob from London, England
15 August 2001

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 half 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.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

A real surprise.

Author: GUENOT PHILIPPE (philippe.guenot@dbmail.com) from France
6 November 2011

*** 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.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Grtty and well made...despite some odd casting.

8/10
Author: planktonrules from Bradenton, Florida
31 January 2011

*** 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?!

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Vendetta

6/10
Author: jotix100 from New York
18 January 2008

*** 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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Better than you might expect!

7/10
Author: JohnHowardReid
22 October 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Sandwiched between On the Town and Summer Stock, this film represented a radical change of vehicle for Gene Kelly. According to MGM's publicity, he requested the role himself. As it turned out, it did his career no harm. In tact, it boosted his macho image and was surprisingly successful at the box office, returning a handsome dividend for a modest investment.

Apart from the dialogue scenes, it is difficult to credit the film to director Richard Thorpe, as the action footage is brilliant in every way. The script is exciting too (we like the character of the bodyguard assigned to Naish), although it is not as well constructed as the later version, Pay Or Die (which starred Ernest Borgnine in the Naish role). For this one, MGM's art department have constructed some marvelous sets, which are superbly lit by cinematographer Paul C. Vogel. The performances are also better than we might expect. Kelly is capable enough in a fight and reasonably convincing as an Italian. J. Carroll Naish plays without his usual hammy mannerisms and Teresa Celli is also impressive in what transpired to be her first and only starring role. She made her film debut as the Mexican wife in Border Incident, and subsequently appeared in Nancy Goes to Rio, The Asphalt Jungle, Crisis, Right Cross and The Great Caruso after which she disappeared briefly into TV.

Black Hand also marks the only film appearance of stage actress Eleonora Mendelssohn, a former star for producer Max Reinhardt in Berlin and a great-great-granddaughter of composer Felix Mendelssohn.

All in all, suspenseful, well-produced entertainment. (Even Bosley Crowther agrees with us.) The whole idea doesn't sound all that appealing or even workable, but MGM have brought it off with honors.

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