For longtime fans of Grindhouse cinema, the trailer for Duke Mitchell's Massacre Mafia Style is a real beloved treasure. Speaking personally, I can say that ever since I first saw it, it's been one of my all time favorites. One thing I always wanted to know after seeing it was whether the actual film lived up to the trailers iconic outrageousness. Well, after viewing the film now for the first time (thanks to a friend sending me a DVD-R copy of it), I am very happy to say that Massacre Mafia Style (aka The Executioner) is a really solid, entertaining, emotional low-budget mafia film.
The main man behind it all was Duke Mitchell, who film geeks may know from movies like Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla (1952), which he co-starred in with his then comedy partner Sammy Petrillo. Mitchell and Petrillo were actually an act that was a direct rip-off of Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis. Mitchell was the suave Dean Martin clone and Sammy Petrillo was the boy-monkey Lewis wannabe. They were later sued as a result. In the late 1970s, Mitchell produced, wrote and directed two mafia genre films, Massacre Mafia Style and Gone With The Pope which was never completed before Mitchell's death in 1981, but thanks to the folks at Grindhouse Releasing, the film hopefully will be seeing the light of day on DVD in the near future.
Massacre Mafia Style follows Mimi Miceli (Duke Mitchell), whose father, a first generation American mafia don, was deported back to Sicily by the US government years earlier. Now, Mimi is a middle aged man and he wants to try to start up the family business once again, but instead of heading to the old home base of New York, Mimi decides to move out to Los Angeles. This is a place that he and his friends always talked about. As kids, they loved the gangster movies starring Humphrey Bogart and the Hollywood mystique. With his new goal, Mimi leaves his father and his young son and heads to sunny California where he looks up his childhood friend, Jolly (Vic Caesar), who is employed as a bartender in LA. After a happy greeting from Jolly, Mimi tells him his plans to control Hollywood's modern crime underworld by using the old La Cosa Nostra methods of extortions and executions. What Mimi doesn't realize (or doesn't want to believe) is that the West Coast gangsters aren't going to bow down to his strong-arming so easy. Mimi's first plan of attack is to kidnap Chucky Tripoli, one of the heads of the West Coast mafia family, and hold him for ransom until the rest of the mafia dons deliver some cash to fund Mimi's new takeover. Mimi's plan goes well. In honor of Mimi's beloved father, Tripoli completely forgives the kidnapping (and the finger Mimi cut off) and invites him into the circle of mafiosi. This takes place at Chucky's son's wedding and it's a really fun sequence featuring some old time Italian songs. With the blessing from Chucky Tripoli, Mimi (along with his new consilgiere Jolly) begins shaking down the criminals in town including a big time black pimp named "Super Spook." Mimi also finds love in between his beatdowns and shooting sprees and lives the high life as a mafia chieftain. Things go well for awhile, but then Mimi's strength is tested and those who he once trusted begin to turn against him. It becomes apparent that Mimi may not be feared enough to control such a place that thrives on life with no rules and no real code of honor. Mimi's try at bringing back the old days and ways of La Cosa Nostra begins to crumble underneath him.
In Italy during the 1970s, the poliziotteschi (crime-action) genre was exploding and there were only a handful of American made mafia films that really stood out (besides The Godfather). The direction and action in Massacre Mafia Style certainly isn't as flashy as the Italian made films, but the heart and emotion is there in every scene. Watching the movie, you can definitely get a feeling that Mitchell was trying to recapture the same tone and atmosphere as Martin Scorsese's crime film Mean Streets (1973), which was a huge influence on most of the smaller mobster genre films that came after it. Mitchell also had an excellent ear for dialogue and humor in his work and this film can be regarded as partly a black comedy. What I liked most about the film was that it pulled me in from the start and I was engrossed in the story completely. It didn't have to contain big action sequences or anything flashy for me to like it. It was simply the characters and the pacing of the story which never had any dull moments. I also loved the way Mitchell showed the traditions of the Italian families in certain scenes. From the opening execution spree (which can be seen in the trailer) to the shocking ending, Massacre Mafia Style is a true mafia film classic from the late 70s.
Reviewed by PopeyePete - July 2008
- This review is dedicated to the memory of Duke Mitchell -
(Special Thanks to Chris for providing the DVD-R for my review)