Il boss (1973)

One of Fernando De Leo's string of '70s gangster pictures. Though The Godfather had made the mafia saleable in Italian exploitation terms, this mini-cycle of imitative items at least had the benefit of allowing the filmmakers to draw from local headlines and dealing with current affairs in Sicily. Unlike, say, Elio Petri or Francesco Rosi, there's little sense of specific place (it's all anonymous city) and we're in the business of bluntly cartooning a situation rather than deftly picking out the threads of corruption which keep the mob in business. In plot terms, it's one big kill-off with only Henry Silva left standing.

We open with Silva launching rocket-propelled grenades from the projection booth into a bunch of slavering crooks who are about to look over the latest skinflicks from Denmark ('Jesus doesn't like porno movies'), then follows a war of escalation in which everyone gets taken out. Howard Ross and Pier Paolo Capponi are the nasties of a rival faction (Camorra rather than mafia) and they kidnap the student daughter (Antonia Santilli) of a quivering traditional don (Claudio Nicastro), whereupon the godfather (Richard Conte, who had been in The Godfather) orders orphan hit man Silva and a smoother mobster (Marino Masé) to bring her back if possible but shut down the situation anyway, even if it means killing the devoted Dad (which they do).

Typical Italian macho nonsense is the depiction of the daughter, a slut given a hard time by her kidnappers for taking part in student protests, who gets drunk on the inevitable product placement J&B and enthusiastically lets her captors gang-bang her (De Leo claimed 'only a conformist' would object to this depiction of womankind). Silva wipes out the kidnappers and also has an affair with the girl, who gets machine-gunned through a door in the finale. After Conte has also been shot down, a crooked lawyer urges Masé to get rid of Silva with a bomb delivered to a hide-out in a food parcel, but Silva survives and guns down his treacherous friend. The token cop (Gianno Garko) is corrupt too, but the film doesn't quite manage the trick of suggesting that Silva's rootless killer is somehow a better, more honest man than everyone else because he doesn't dissemble. All the men in the film are scum, to be sure, but there's still a sense that the director endorses their idea of what women are and how they should be treated - which leaves a nasty taste. There's a nice, ritzy Riz Ortolani score.
KIM NEWMAN

First published in this form here.


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