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"The Don Is Dead" is clearly an attempt to cash in on the success of
"The Godfather" which was made the previous year. Very few people
regard "The Don Is Dead" as a great movie, but many admire "The
Godfather" enormously. (There are also many who do not, particularly
fans of gangster films in general. Their attitude was brilliantly
summarised by Ian Cameron in his book "The Gangster Film" where he
described "The Godfather" as "built to be the "Gone With The Wind" of
the crime genre, which is to say a crime movie for people who despise
crime movies but are impressed by gigantic, best selling novels, a
movie for people who do not even much like movies.")
"The Don Is Dead" borrows from "The Godfather" the central theme of a younger, less forceful, less impressive brother maturing during a crisis and developing both leadership qualities and murderous ruthlessness. It also borrows the carefully explained structure of the crime family with its leader (the Don) and its adviser. Fortunately, "The Don Is Dead" takes nothing else from "The Godfather". It does not aspire to be a "Gone With The Wind" of gangster movies. It is content to be an enjoyable, fast-moving well-made crime film. "The Don Is Dead" was made by a team of top Hollywood professionals, and their expertise is evident throughout.
In a city dominated by three crime families, the adviser of one hatches a scheme to grab control of the city by setting the other crime families against each other. For a time his plan works well, and gang warfare breaks out. One of the family heads is dependant on two brothers who kill for him. The younger of these brothers is reluctant to participate but is more intelligent than both his brother and his friend, the crime Don. Gradually, as the violence accelerates, the younger brother assumes command.
The pacing of "The Don Is Dead" is excellent. Each scene is tightly cut but nothing is rushed. Whether an action scene or a whispered conversation, everything is given as much time as necessary but nothing more. The shootings and bombings - of which there are many - are done properly: in other words quickly but credibly. Neither John Woo-style ludicrously fast cutting nor Sam Packinpah-type slow motion diminish "The Don Is Dead".
With one exception, the acting is good throughout. It was enjoyable to see Anthony Quinn in a modern role and wearing smart city clothes. Quinn, of course, has enormous power on screen, but so too have some of the actors in supporting roles. The exception is Frederic Forrest who has neither the acting skill nor the screen charisma adequately to flesh out the main role of the younger brother. He is further hampered by his whining voice. Throughout he gives the impression of being weak and petulant. A key scene is when he returns to his base which has been bombed in his absence and learns that his brother has been killed. His men are about to quit. After a moment or two of private grief, he shouts at his men that they will strike back, and restores their self-confidence and determination. Actors like Charlton Heston and George C. Scott could have worked miracles with that material, but Frederic Forrest just stands there and whines. It is difficult to imagine any hardened criminal regarding him as a leader.
The cinematography is excellent, and Richard H. Kline deserves congratulation for creating in a colour movie the chiaroscuros traditionally found in black and white crime films of the 1940s. Jerry Goldsmith provides an atmospheric, low-key score which consistently increases the tension. During his career Richard Fleischer never received due credit for being a brilliant director, probably for the same reason that Michael Curtiz, John Huston and Robert Wise did not: he was versatile and made a wide variety of movies instead of working with the same subject matter again and again. In his staging and pacing of scenes, his handling of the actors - with that one exception - his placement of the camera and in the high quality work he elicited from his crew, Fleischer demonstrates in "The Don Is Dead" that he was a master film director.
"The Don Is Dead" is probably not a film for every-one, but any-one who likes a good gangster movie should make a point of seeing it.
Like quite a few other of the 70's crime dramas that were not classics, but still of more grit and consequence than many of those churned out in the last two decades, this interestingly plotted mob film is a frustrating mix of a really good scene or two followed by a painfully predictable and badly presented one. Anthony Quinn is top billed but largely wasted as the boss whose romantic liaison triggers a war of wills and weapons with some headstrong younger members (led by Robert Forster, Frederic Forrest and Al Lettieri.) Some good action scenes follow, but, like the rest of the film, some of them are quite impressive while others fall flat. A mixed bag, not often seen but worth watching, with limited expectations.
Charles Cioffi, the consigliere of a jailed Mafia chieftain decides to
get a war started among the three Las Vegas crime families. Knowing
that Angel Tompkins, singer girlfriend of the son of a recently
deceased Mafia Don, is looking for a break, he arranges a meeting with
Anthony Quinn, Godfather of the third Mafia family where nature takes
When former boyfriend Robert Forster returns to America and finds out it ain't long before the bullets start flying. When the film is over there are only a couple left standing and if you want to know who does pick up all the marbles than watch the film.
Of course this film came out to take advantage of the enormous publicity reaped by The Godfather in the previous year. It's an average sort of gangster flick, it could have been done at Warner Brothers during the Thirties with their stable of gangster players.
Al Lettieri and Abe Vigoda were both in The Godfather and their presence sort of lends an aura authenticity to the film. Lettieri was just coming into his own as a great portrayer of villains and assorted gangland types. His early death was a real loss to film.
Anthony Quinn of course is always good and fans of his which are legion will want to catch The Don is Dead.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I read the novel by Marvin Albert and though it was not Puzo material, it showed some grit and strength--A more realistic depiction of a real mob family. To be fair, Richard Fleischer did a very good job of directing, considering what he had to work with. Then, Trumbo and Butler--encouraged by Universal brass, no doubt-- just had to take it and monkey with it. The casting was inconsistent, with kudos to getting Anthony Quinn, Abe Vigoda and Al Lettieri as classic Mob paisani. Still good was the casting of Robert Forster but could have been better with James Farentino or Tony Lo Bianco as Frank Regalbuto. Then it gets worse, with Frederic Forrest as the quiet leader, the "answer to Al Pacino's Michael Corleone". Forster, in my honest opinion, should have been Tony Fargo instead. The book-to-film transition was highly sanitized, understandable given Universal's desire to stay mainstream and not rock the boat. It did lead to a bump in the road when Tony Fargo was unaccountably absent when Vince and Frank were going to a sit-down with the numbers boss Zutti. In the book, Tony was dallying with one of Marie Orlando's callgirls. All in all, an attempt by "The Factory" to throw the dice and see if they come up with an answer to The Godfather. Didn't happen.
"The Don is Dead" wins no points for originality. Obviously, it's
attempting to ride on the coat-tails of "The Godfather". And it's not a
classic that deserves to be remembered years from now. Its presentation
is pretty matter-of-fact and of no real distinction. But it's still
very engaging visceral entertainment, at least for fanatics of the mob
movie genre. It benefits from good characters, fine performances, and
the kind of in-your-face violence that has become standard for this
type of thing.
The prominent mafia don of Las Vegas has died, and a truce is currently existing between the three families in the city. But all of that is going to go to Hell pretty quickly, as one greedy and power-crazed individual gets the bright idea to have two of these families go to bloody war with each other - all with a simple letter addressed to Don Angelo DiMorra (Anthony Quinn). Among the leading players are ambitious young Frank (Robert Forster), the son of the deceased don, and the Fargo brothers, Tony (Frederic Forrest) and Vince (Al Lettieri).
The makers of "The Don is Dead" do cast their movie well, from top to bottom. Angel Tompkins, Charles Cioffi, Louis Zorich, Ina Balin, Joe Santos, Frank DeKova, Abe Vigoda, Victor Argo, Val Bisoglio, Sid Haig, and Vic Tayback all put in appearances. (Lettieri and Vigoda, of course, were also in "The Godfather".) Forrest is particularly effective as Tony, who would rather leave the "life" behind but gets drawn back in when things start getting ugly.
Scripted by Marvin H. Albert, from his novel, and directed by Richard Fleischer, this is compelling drama when taken on its own terms and not compared to anything else. Even if it's just on a visceral level, it *does* work.
Seven out of 10.
OK, so I took these user reviews seriously that said this is worth your
time. It is not. This flick's a mess. Anthony Quinn is an old don who
seduces the girl of another, much younger mafioso (played by Robert
Forster who's not half bad). War ensues.
The plot doesn't make much sense and it is trying hard to emulate The Godfather (especially the story line of the young mafioso, played by Frederick Forest, who is trying to leave the family business). It fails miserably. I had a hard time keeping my eyes open on this one. There are maybe two scenes that held my attention, and they were both execution scenes. They were staged pretty well, but they are two isolated scenes in a dull mess.
Usually, you can wake me up for seventies crime movies. But The Don is
Dead is just a couple steps away from being truly awful.
First of all, there is no visual coherence in this picture. There are a lot of backlot filmed scenes that don't mesh at all with the location shots. It gives the film a cheap and jumbled look, so if you are hoping for seventies semi-realism, better look elsewhere.
Second: the plot is really silly. It involves a power struggle between different mafia families, which is brought to a boiling point because of a young singer. She first dates Frank, the son of a recently deceased Don. Then she sleeps with the much older Don Angelo, because she hopes it will further her career as a singer. You see, Angelo not only heads a criminal empire, he also listens to demo tapes by aspiring singers because he has some connections in showbiz!
Third: who's the protagonist here? Frank beats his girlfriend to a pulp, so Angelo starts a war with him. Who are we supposed to root for? Turns out, it's one of Frank's 'button men' who's the actual protagonist, although you wouldn't think it by watching the first half of the movie.
The casting is the only reason I gave this a shot, despite its bad reputation. Any movie with rugged seventies bad ass Al Lettieri is worth a look. He's pretty good in this and he is one of the actors that give The Don is Dead some credibility as a mafia film, along with authentic looking actors like Joe Santos, Abe Vigoda and Victor Argo. But they get very little to work with. Robert Forster has the flashy part here as the arrogant and volatile Frank. Top billed Anthony Quinn is pretty much going through the motions. Texas born Frederic Forrest is cast as a goombah. I love this actor, but he's all wrong for the part.
The Don is Dead could have had some attraction as a bad seventies picture, but the joys are meager. I liked the shoot-out outside of the diner (obviously backlot). Notice how one important character really makes use of the stacked boxes and crates when he collapses, one of the few times the movie actually comes to life a bit. For the most part, it's pretty boring.
**SPOILERS** With the terrible news of his father Mafia Don Poleiro
Regalbuto sudden death young Frankie, Robert Foster, feels that the
weight of the world was put on his shoulders and doesn't know if he
could handle it. At a big Mafia conference in Las Vages the three mob
families decide that all of the late Don Poleiro's operations should be
put in the hands of his friend and fellow Mafia Kingpin Don Angelo
Dimorra, Anthony Quinn, with Frankie being thought the ropes by him
until he can do the job as a Mafia Don himself.
There's foul play and treachery afoot with the greedy and back-stabbing mob Cosiglieri, Luigi Orlando, Charles Cioff, planing to use his recruited out-of-state hit men to start a bloody mob war between the three Vages Mafia families. Then, after the dust settles,Luigi plans to take over the entire Mafia operations in the city that's worth well over a billion dollars.
Luigi get's his chance to get the war between the Mafia families started when he manipulated young Frankie into a feud with his new adopted father Don Angelo. Lugie starts a rumor that the fatherly Don was having an affair with Frankies girlfriend nightclub singer Ruby Dunne, Anglel Tompkins, this results in Ruby getting almost beaten to death by an outraged Frankie. Lugie's trickery also leads to Don Angelo sending out a hit team to knock off the love-crazed and unstable hood. The Don's brother and family Consiglieri Mitch, Louis Zorich, tries to talk his hot-headed brother out of it but not after the hit men gunned down Frankie's dad, the late Don Poleiro,Consigieri Vito Netherbourne, George Skaff.
With a full-scale mob war now about to explode Frankie get's help from the Fargo brothers hit men for hire Tony & Vince, Frederic Forrest & Al Letteri. This causes so much damage to Don Angelo's mob empire, including the murder of his brother Mitch, that it lands him in a wheel chair after suffering a heart-attack and near-fatal stroke.
The mob war really escalates when Don Angelo's boys trick Frankie and Vince into going to a meeting of the minds in a downtown Vages diner this results in a violent gun battle with Vince being gunned down. Tony then pulls out all stops and sends his men, the former Don Poleiro mob, out for blood that results in dozens of Don Angelo's men getting shot knifed slashed and, together with Don Angelo's legitimate business establishment, blown up.
Frankie escaping to Italy is later set up in a trap where he's blown away but his fellow mobsters for his insane actions. This resulted in almost the entire mobs lucrative operations in Las Vages being blown to hell. It's not until Don Bernardo, John Duke Russo, is prematurely released from prison that the truth about Liugi's perfidy came to light from non-other then his abused wife, and Bernardo's secret lover, Marie, Jo Anne Meredith. Luigi now exposed by both Tony Fargo and Don Bernardo as the rat-fink that he is finally, together with Marie, get's everything that coming to him. Tony Fargo who at first wanted out of the world of crime ends up together with Don Bernardo as the top two Mafia hoods who have complete control of the city of Las Vages with it's billions in it's annual take of legitimate gambling dollars.
Not that bad of a "Godfather" clone that was unfairly put down for trying to imitate "The Godfather" but is a pretty good film all by itself. Where some thirty years later it's almost forgotten and unknown to the movie-going public.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Don Is Dead" (1973) has its moments, good and bad. Anthony Quinn
is very good throughout, but really exceptional when he has a heart
attack and falls down steps. His attraction to Angel Tompkins is that
of a man who appears to have everything but doesn't. When he loses his
cool over her mistreatment by Robert Forster, who is a convincing
hothead, we understand his lapse in judgment. Al Lettieri, with "The
Godfather" behind him, looks and plays well the part of an enforcer,
but his brother, Frederic Forrest, does not. Forrest was much better
cast in his next film, "The Conversation". Lettieri's scene in which he
gets shot needed a few more takes. Abe Vigoda's role was small. Val
Bisoglio and Joe Santos had to be content as soldiers.
Based on my reading of "My Life in the Mafia", by Vincent Teresa and on the more realistic accounts such as in "Goodfellas", I doubt very, very much that this movie or "The Godfather" really get inside the wiseguy characters and portray them as they are or were. We have imaginative versions before us. However, this story does illuminate the ways in which both personal factors and accidents of life (or fate) can tear apart trust in a crime family and ignite a devastating gang war. That's where this movie is strongest.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The main selling point of this film is probably the odd-ball assemblage
of a cast ranging from B-movie stars (Robert Forster and Sid Haig) to
A-listers (Anthony Quinn) and recognizable character actors (Frederic
Forrest and Al Lettieri) all thrust together as Italian mob members
operating in a never-mentioned-by-name American city! Though Forster
and Forrest are completely miscast as Italians, they add a lot of fun
bringing their unusual personas to a genre which usually doesn't get
their sort of energy.
Forster plays against type as a young hothead suddenly in charge of a small portion of his father's empire (his father was the titular character). Another rising star on the mob scene wants to take over, so he stages a deliberately outlandish and unlikely scheme to get Forster and Quinn (the most powerful mob boss in town) to wage war. Honestly, the plot is beyond ridiculous but it's fairly original and adds to the fun. What isn't original is the execution, which is GODFATHER all the way.
Case in point: the shootout scene in which *SPOILER* Al Lettieri's character is fatally wounded. He runs through an alley tossing over boxes of oranges as though he's as desperate to die like Brando as he is to stay on his feet! The action scenes are otherwise fairly pedestrian with reliable if unremarkable cinematography, editing, and music. There are a few highlights though:
1) The stunt-man who plays the assassin who blocks Lettieri's escape in the aforementioned shootout. He does an excellent job taking a shotgun blast to the chest, then clamoring up to his feet only to get fatally shot by Lettieri and plummet to the ground. He really eats the pavement on that fall! One of the best stunt-deaths yet captured on screen.
2) A nice touch when Forster's character realizes his girlfriend has been running around on him. He breaks into her apartment while she's gone and starts punching the closet door. The next scene has her entering her apartment to find everything completely trashed and Forster's just sitting there staring at her! In a baffling bit of character decision-making, she continues in and actually eggs him on even further! What happens next I'm sure you can guess, but it's a surreal example of good directing making up for shoddy writing.
In summary, a typical 70's crime movie which isn't going to do much for people who aren't already fans of the genre. However, THE DON IS DEAD is not entirely dismissible either and fine entertainment for a rainy afternoon.
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