Sunday, April 3, 2016

Retro Review: CRAZY JOE (1974)

(Italy/US - 1974)

Made during the post-GODFATHER days when theaters were flooded with mob movies, the obscure Italian-U.S. co-production CRAZY JOE is a sufficiently entertaining but simplistic and superficial look at famed NYC gangster "Crazy Joe" Gallo, who was gunned down outside an Italian restaurant in 1972. The film opens in 1960, as Joe (Peter Boyle) and his older brother Richie (Rip Torn) are fed up with their status as low-level errand boys after years of busting their asses for powerful New York mobster Falco (Luther Adler). Branching out on their own incurs the wrath of Falco and the other bosses, not to mention the Boss of Bosses, Don Vittorio (Eli Wallach), a character based on Carlo Gambino. When Vittorio tells Falco to reach a compromise with the Gallo brothers, Falco instead orders a botched hit on them, which sets Joe off on a revenge spree that gets him ten years in prison. During this time, former Gallo associate Vince Coletti (Charles Cioffi) gets vocal in his political ambitions, which worries Vittorio, who unsuccessfully tries to talk Coletti into backing off and not bringing so much attention to the families.

Joe is eventually paroled in 1970 and is pulled back into "This Thing of Ours" as Don Vittorio talks him into a hit on Coletti, but Joe is already partnered up with a Harlem crime outfit led by Willy (Fred Williamson), a gangster he befriended in the joint, with the intention of removing Don Vittorio from his throne. Producer Dino De Laurentiis hired Italian journeyman Carlo Lizzani (THE LAST DAYS OF MUSSOLINI) to direct a mostly American cast (Italian actors like Fausto Tozzi, Guido Leontini, and others are dubbed by the usual crew of Eurocult voice actors) in a film shot entirely in NYC, and it's a weird mix of actors and genres that makes the film consistently interesting if not altogether successful. The script by Lewis John Carlino (THE MECHANIC) changes many of the key figures' names and glosses over the details in almost bullet-pointed, Cliffs Notes fashion. Second-billed Paula Prentiss plays Joe's moll and in her few scenes, she has nothing to do but cry and sob and scrrech some variation on "You're in danger, Joe!"  and "They'll come after you, Joe!" and "Are you crazy, Joe?" Her big scene near the end with Boyle is just a soapy, florid embarrassment for both actors and the film an uneven fusion of old-school gangster movie and then-in-vogue blaxploitation.

CRAZY JOE is obviously no GODFATHER (hell, it's not even THE VALACHI PAPERS), but it's a decent time killer, with enough action and an unusual enough cast that it shouldn't have fallen off the face of the planet like it has. It aired in prime-time on ABC just a year later in 1975, it never got a US release on home video in any format, not even on VHS, and even syndicated, late-night TV appearances were rare (it most recently surfaced for one airing a few months ago on ThisTV, a network that constantly looks like it's streaming using dial-up). You also get Michael V. Gazzo (the same year as his Oscar-nominated turn as Frankie Five Angels in THE GODFATHER PART II), Carmine Caridi (THE GODFATHER PART II, PRINCE OF THE CITY), future FANTASY ISLAND star Herve Villechaize as an unlikely member of the Gallo crew, RAGING BULL producer Peter Savage, Cornelia Sharpe (SERPICO), Louis Guss (THE GODFATHER, MOONSTRUCK), Sam J. Coppola (SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER), Dan Resin (CADDYSHACK's Dr. Beeper) as an FBI agent, and, just on the verge of blowing up as The Fonz on HAPPY DAYS, which premiered on ABC a month before CRAZY JOE's release, Henry Winkler in a prominent supporting role as a loyal Gallo capo who becomes Joe's right-hand man once he's out of prison. (R, 100 mins)

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