The Don Is Dead (1973)
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Christopher Trumbo, Marvin H. Albert, Michael Butler
Starring: Al Lettieri, Angel Tompkins, Anthony Quinn, Barry Russo, Charles Cioffi, Frederic Forrest, Jo Anne Meredith, Louis Zorich, Robert Forster
THE DON IS DEAD (1973)
Directed by Richard Fleischer
Available on Blu-Ray
When his father dies, Frank Regalbuto looks set to take over as Don of the Regalbuto family. However, due to his youth and inexperience, it is decided by the other mafia heads in Las Vegas that he join his father’s friend, Don Angelo DiMorra’s family instead as his surrogate son to learn the tricks of the trade before eventually taking over the DiMorra family when he passes. This seems like a fair deal for all to keep the neutrality of the families and to keep the peace throughout Vegas but Luigi Orlando, the consigliere for Don Aggimio Bernardo, is keen to take over the entire city himself whilst his boss is in prison. With his wife Marie, Orlando sets the wheels in motion to manipulate Don Angelo and Frank into a gang war in order to secure his takeover, and it all starts with the introduction of a beautiful woman…
Gritty gangster flick from the 70’s, THE DON IS DEAD, is a criminal quarrel of dramatic proportions, showcasing how fine the line is between truce and full-out war in the world of the Vegas mafia.
Robert Forster plays hot-head Frank who’s interest in the drug trade brings disapproval, not only from his own men, brothers Tony and Vince Fargo (Al Lettieri), but also his surrogate father, Don Angelo, played with charismatic charm and experience by Oscar-winner, Anthony Quinn. Frank promises to leave it behind after this one last deal, but his right-hand man, the clean-cut looking Tony Fargo (Frederic Forrest), is tired of the criminal lifestyle he’s living and decides to walk away from the mafia scene. As anyone knows though, one cannot simply leave and eventually Tony is sucked back into a life of crime when Frank finds himself with a target on his back.
In many ways, THE DON IS DEAD is as much about Tony’s rise through the ranks as it is the demise of the rest of the Dons, figuratively and literally, even if on first appearance it appears that it’s all about Frank and Don Angelo. Whilst it certainly is about Don Angelo, it becomes apparently quite quickly that Frank hasn’t the cunning to become the next Don and the real brains behind the operation is the man who wants out: Tony. It may be gradual but Tony easily slips into the boots of a leader and it’s exciting to watch the back and forth as Don Angelo’s men battle with Frank and the Fargo brothers’ guys. It really is a tit for tat affair between the two clans as wily old fox Don Angelo uses his experience to bluff and throw the opposition off the scent in order to set them up for a mighty fall. In many ways, it’s quite tragic to watch as men fall victim to what is an unnecessary war fuelled by manipulation by a third party and ultimately we want the culprit for the whole saga to get his just desserts. The momentum and drive for this conclusion is built up brilliantly with more outlandish attacks on each family before we finally witness the payback that is so sorely deserved – it’s just unfortunate that so much blood is spilt before they get there, but that’s a life of crime for ya!
Every film deserves a great cast and the one involved in this movie is absolutely eye-watering with the versatile filmmaker Richard Fleischer at the helm, responsible for films such as Soylent Green, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Fantastic Voyage, The Vikings, 10 Rillington Place and Compulsion. The performances in THE DON IS DEAD, even those of minor characters, are delivered beautiful authenticity, sucking the viewer into the war between two clans. Horror icon Sid Haig also makes an appearance in the opening scenes of the movie as part of a duo making a drugs deal with Frankie. Although his part is only a brief one, it’s always great to see Haig in action.
In a mafia film, violence is the name of the game and the mobsters in THE DON IS DEAD aren’t afraid of dishing it out. As quickly as a friend can turn foe, the animosity grows exponentially once things sour between Don Angelo and Frank. You can cut the tension with a knife as the ill-feeling between the two families snowballs leaving bodies in its wake. It’s a very familiar feel for anyone with an interest in mafia movies but it’s ever so delicious when we see a character unexpectedly set up or walk straight into a trap. Maybe that’s quite sadistic of me but any time we have a scene or interaction, which seems quite peaceful but suddenly turns into a living nightmare, it’s always something that grabs my attention. Surprise the characters, always keep the viewer on their toes, and be one step ahead of them to deliver the thrills – and boy, does this movie deliver! The downfall you could say is the big fall out begins over a woman, in this case a stunning, budding singer by the name of Ruby Dunne (Angel Tompkins), but like all good wars, all it needs is a spark to ignite the fire which makes the whole thing burn. What’s funnier still is that it’s Don Angelo himself who warns Frank about getting involved with women not in their line of work as they’re too risky and don’t understand the commitments they make. All it needs is an attractive woman with the voice of an angel to look at Don Angelo in the right way for him to forget to take his own advice, and low behold the bloody, bullet-ridden results.
Eureka Entertainment’s Blu-Ray release of THE DON IS DEAD features a slick 1080p transfer with uncompressed LPCM mono audio whilst the minor extras include a trailer and a brand new feature length commentary by author Scott Harrison. The release also comes with a collector’s booklet featuring an extensive essay on the crime films of director Richard Fleischer by film writer and journalist, Barry Forshaw.