The Don is Dead, 1973.
Directed by Richard Fleischer.
Starring Anthony Quinn, Frederic Forrest, Robert Forster, Al Lettieri, Abe Vigoda, Angel Tompkins, Jo Anne Meredith, and Sid Haig.
A mafia enforcer instigates an internal war when he beats his girlfriend to a pulp, not knowing she was having a romance with the Don of the family.
‘THE DON IS DEAD!’ screams the title of Richard Fleischer’s 1973 gangster bloodbath, and indeed he is, leaving his son Frank (Robert Forster – Apocalypse Now) as his successor. But a consortium of 1970s character actors whose faces you will recognise have decided Frank is too inexperienced to run his late father’s crime family and so business interests are divided up between Anthony Quinn, Frederic Forrest and some actors from The Godfather who were cast because of audience familiarity (and for being cheaper than Al Pacino and James Caan).
And before you know it they have channelled their characters from that movie and the double-crosses start taking over, nobody trusts anyone, women get in the way and people who were like brothers and fathers to each other are quick to pull guns on each other. Yes, originality is not at the top of the list of qualities that this movie has but coming off the back of Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece what gangster movie is?
No, the best way to go is to use what you have and what The Don is Dead has in spades is accessibility, foregoing the finer details of Coppola’s big budget character piece and offering up shotgun blast after shotgun blast of murderous mayhem that languishes somewhere in the void between mainstream crime thriller and ultraviolent B-movie, aiming to be the former and trying hard not to be pegged as the latter.
But whereas The Godfather had James Caan to provide the testosterone, switching between inherited leadership and unfocused rage at the swing of a fist, The Don is Dead has Robert Forster, an actor with a welcome presence in most movies that he is in but also a man with a limited number of facial expressions, and all of them involve a grimace to some capacity. As this movie is a contemporary piece Forster gets to wear a lot of absurd 1970s suits that may have added a little flair to proceedings at the time but given Frank Regalbuto’s character arc of starting out as an unhinged violent mobster through to his development into a slightly more unhinged and violent mobster it makes him very hard to take seriously as a threat when he’s dressed like he’s about to go on stage with Roxy Music. He ain’t Sonny, he’s certainly not Michael but Fredo… maybe.
Anthony Quinn stars as Don Vito… sorry, Don Angelo DiMorra and lends considerable weight as the substitute Brando, making Angelo a man with a heart as well as someone to fear. As if to hammer home the comparison he gets scenes with both Al Lettieri and Abe Vigoda, both members of the Corleone family, giving us a glimpse of something we’ve seen before only it was slightly better lit then. And as it is a 1970s crime movie with a tough guy cast you can bet that legendary B-movie mainstay Sid Haig (House of 1000 Corpses) is in there somewhere and he is, cast as a heavy credited as The Arab, and although he is in and out within the first few minutes the fact that he is there at all automatically boosts the movie’s B-movie credentials.
The Don is Dead is to The Godfather what Friday the 13th is to Halloween; a ‘we can do that’ exercise in affection tribute (or a knock-off, depending on how well it does) that echoes the key points that its inspiration has but in a lesser, occasionally more pleasing, way. Eureka Entertainment have provided an audio commentary by author Scott Harrison and a booklet featuring an essay on the movies of Richard Fleischer as extras, and although the filmmakers try it never quite looks as good as Coppola’s movie but when the guns start firing and the bodies start piling up The Don is Dead is as joyously violent and entertaining as watching the Sonny Corleone death scene on a loop for 113 minutes, give or take a few to weave in that convoluted but all-important double-crossing plot, and if you can follow who does what to whom and why then it makes it all the more enjoyable.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★