Scooter manufacturing plant supervisor Nino Badalamenti (Alberto Sordi, "I, Vitelloni") is beside himself over his two week vacation in Sicily where his northern wife and their two blond daughters will meet his family for the first time. Before he goes, his boss gives him a package for Don Vincenzo (Ugo Attanasio), a man Nino remembers with great affection, but the message it delivers makes Nino the prime target for a favor for the Don and Badalamenti finds himself a cog in the wheel of the "Mafioso."
'You can take the man out of Sicily....' Rialto Pictures ("Army of Shadows") once again proves their genius at resurrecting films from the past, often little known, and shining a well deserved light on them with theatrical rerelease. This 1962 film is a marvel, a piece before its time that is incredibly funny while delivering a gut punch of a morality drama.
Nino is a hyper bundle of energy rushing his vaguely sarcastic beauty of a wife and two cherubic daughters to the train. When they board the ferry for their final destination, Marta (Norma Bengell, "Eros") voices a fear of Italy vanishing behind her, a strange comment that proves highly perceptive.
Nino's extended family proves comedic gold. There are the black clad crones whom Nino cannot tell apart and who view his wife with suspicion and a mustachioed sister, Rosalia (Gabriella Conti). They are greeted with a family banquet that overpowers the stylish Marta who struggles with her pound of grilled swordfish only to discover that the third course was a mere appetizer. The home provides little privacy and the special silver bed they are given houses a live chicken underneath.
The ebullient Nino revels in his friends and family and lies to both Marta and his parents to keep the peace between them, but Marta becomes the toast of the house after she introduces Rosalia to hot wax treatments and reveals the beauty beneath the beard. But as Marta finally learns to love her husband's homeland, he himself is plunged into its underbelly and Sicilian secrets he's been too sunny to recognize.
Director Alberto Lattuada does an adept tightrope walk, slowing twisting dazzling comedy into deeper and darker depths. He signals his audience as to what's coming, but never shows his real hand. Nino's fairground shooting gallery tryout still plays comically due to the character's complete naivety, but by the time Don Vincenzo insinuates his request ('You can say no'), Lattuada's smoothly switched gears.
"Mafioso" is a film that seems very ahead of its time with its stereotypical Italian peasant humor and moral and societal commentary. One can easily see it as precursor to Coppola's Godfather films, Nino's innocence corrupted akin to Mike's. Alberto Sordi is just brilliant as Nino, as unbridled as a puppy at film's beginning, a whipped dog by film's end. Technically the film is first rate as well, its bleached out black and whites suggesting the blazing sun. Cinematographer Armando Nannuzzi is great at suggesting extreme contrast - the leisurely happy journey against the stressful rushed one or the same workplace housing the same, but very changed man.
"Mafioso" makes one wonder just how many other great, undiscovered films are out there and once again "Rialto Pictures" has released one of the best old films I had never heard of. Bravo.
Sicilian-born Nino Badalamenti (Alberto Sordi) is a family man and an efficient middle manager at a Fiat factory in northern Italy. His boss orders him to take a vacation with his family and go back home and visit the place of his birth. Oh, yeah…and deliver a confidential package to the local Mafia chief, Don Vincenzo (Ugo Attansio). Nino eagerly complies with the request but doesn’t realize that he is about to put himself in debt to the “Mafioso.”
What we have here is a modern Mafia film that preceded movies like “The Godfather” by a decade. Instead of I’ll make an offer he can’t refuse,” the director of this 1962 masterpiece, Alberto Lattuada, uses the more succinct, “you can say no,” to convey the chilling, clinical control held by Don Vincenzo over those indebted to him by either force or favor.
Nino is a good-natured, likable guy who works hard at his job and loves his family. His wife Marta (Norma Bengell) is less than thrilled with the idea of trekking all the way to Sicily but complies with her husband’s wishes. They make the long, slow journey back to Nino’s roots and he thoroughly enjoys the reunion with his large family. Marta, a very modern Italian woman, doesn’t take to her new environment quite so easily and Nino has to balance the peace between his old and new families.
Meanwhile, Badalamenti pays his respects to Don Vincenzo and the older man treats Nino with great respect. When a land deal Nino was working on falls through because the owner tried to gouge him, the don makes things right, obligating the grateful man to him. This obligation becomes all too clear when Don V invites” Nino to go on a hunting trip. He packs his gear and blithely leaves wife and family for a few days in the woods. The hunting trip, he soon discovers, is not to shoot game, at least not the four legged kind. His target is unexpected and, in fact, thousands of miles away, in New York City. Badalamenti’s journey will have a profound impact on the man and his life.
I was wowed with “Mafioso” when the credits finally rolled. This is, simply, a brilliant film that was years ahead of its time. It is both an amusing character study about a man whose safe, comfortable life is turned on its ear and a frightening, subtle look into the power of life and death that the mafia dons wield. This is not your typical organized crime flick that we have grown used to over the past 40 years. The violence and bloodshed that we are accustomed to in such films as “The Godfather I & II” or “Goodfellas” is almost nonexistent in “Mafioso.” But, that’s just one the charms and drama of this true classic.
Alberto Lattuada deftly exploits an intelligent, complex script (written by Agenore Incrocci, Rafael Azcona, Marco Ferreri and Furio Scarpelli, from the short story by Bruno Caruso) that is rife with small town Sicilian social interaction, mobster power play, sinister intrigue, wry humor and a beautifully rendered performance by Alberto Sordi. The supporting cast, which must have utilized many of the Sicilian locals, has a rich verisimilitude, grounding “Mafioso” with a realistic feeling on all levels.
Techs are superb with a fabulous music score by Piero Piccioni and Nino Rota capturing both mood and atmosphere perfectly. Lenser Armando Nannuzi employs the sunny Sicilian landscape to give the film a warm feeling, even in black and white. Other techs, like production, costume and art direction are all first rate, especially with Nino’s unanticipated journey.
It doesn’t happen to me often but, with “Mafioso,” I got to see a masterpiece film that readily rivals the best modern American gangster film. I give it an A.
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