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Eddie Rico has been the book-keeper of an important Mafia boss but now he is an honest merchant and lives with his family in Florida. Everything changes when the police starts to search for his brothers. Now Eddie sees himself forced to get in touch with the Mafia again. Written by
Darling, I'm not blaming you. You had no choice.
Oh, but I did have a choice twenty years ago. When Kubik offered me that job, I should have thrown it in is face. He showed me a plush-lined rat hole, and I crawled in it and made it my home!
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Pre-Godfather mobster violence with less theater and more grit
The Brothers Rico (1957)
With Richard Conte's role of a lifetime, and a harrowing mobster scene that presages the Godfather in its casual viciousness, this is one heck of a movie. It sometimes lacks good old fashioned drama with the lighting and the camera-work, and some people might find Conte a bit reserved for the leading man under the gun, but the writing is really solid, the story well constructed, and the movie as a whole feels believable and tragic.
At the core is a situation is Conte as Eddie Rico, formerly an accountant in a ruthless mob, now running a legit business in Florida and about to adopt a kid with his charming and playful wife. But right in scene one he gets a call from an old mob crony. They need his help. Or they say they do, at least, and a thug shows up to "work" at the business. Eddie's two brothers are still in the mob, and have been part of a hit, and there is an investigation closing in on them all unless Eddie can help get his brothers out of harms way. He takes this to mean out of the country, but it becomes clear to everyone else, and eventually to Eddie, that they mean to kill at least one of the two brothers.
So with the clock ticking over an adoption ready that very day, and with Conte flying all over the country in a desperate bid to sort this out, we see a growing menace in thug after thug, place after place, from Florida to New York, where Mama and grandmother live, to a ranch in Southern California where one brother is hiding with his pregnant wife. What makes it hold to together especially is how sympathetic the brothers are as characters, and how evil the main mob man is even though he insists he loves the Ricos, and loves their mother like his own mother, and he wants only the best.
In fact, the one long speech from this thug, played by Lamont Johnson, is a precursor to Brando's role in "The Godfather," with a chilling mixture of honorable love and threatening obligation and accountability. Eddie is at first taken by the honorable part, the love part, and events have to show him the brutal truth.
And who is director Phil Karlson? An underrated master of these kinds of gritty, and not quite film noirish, crime and mob films in the 1950s ("Kansas City Confidential" and "The Phenix City Story"). I say not quite noir only in the sense that his films lack the over-the-top dialog and punchy lines of classic noir, and the filming is not as theatrical with angles, shadows, and dark night scenes. And if you like me prefer those noirish noirs, you have to step back and say wow, this is something really convincing and powerful, too. Some of Karlson's films are, in fact, film noirs at the core, but late noirs, no longer dealing with the loner finding his footing in an alien America, but still with a man against the world, as Eddie Rico is here. And the cinematographer here is Burnett Guffey, who would later shoot "Birdman from Alcatraz" and the legendary "Bonnie and Clyde."
This is a seriously interesting film. Flawed, yes, sometimes obvious and clichéd, yes, but at its best it's penetrating.
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