The Day of the Owl DVD Review

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

Mafia aka The Day of the Owl (Il giorno della civetta) is a 1970 Italian crime drama available on a Wild East double feature DVD together with I am the Law (Il Prefetto di Ferro). Click here to read my companion review at Furious Cinema. The movie stars Claudia Cardinale (Once Upon a Time in the West), Franco Nero (A Quiet Place In The Country) and Lee J. Cobb (They Came to Rob Las Vegas). The director is Damiano Damiani (Confessions of a Police Captain), who went on to direct a few more tough mafia films after this one.

Mafia

Captain Bellodi (Nero) is a policeman from the north, sent to Sicily in 1961 to cut down on the large number of unsolved murder cases that now demonstratively grace his office in form of a map with red flag pins in it. The trouble begins when the husband of Rosa Nicolosi (Cardinale) goes missing after witnessing the assassination of a construction worker that drove cement for one of the competing companies in the region. Bellodi sets out to uncover what he might have had to die for, and what the wife knows. Across the street from the police, local mafia big wig Don Mariano (Cobb) is observing from a distance, as Bellodi picks apart his lower echelons one by one. Sicilians are stubborn however, and so it turns out to be an almost impossible job for the ambitious crime-fighter to get testimony that would put bigger fish in jail.....

As User:AWSOM50 in his review already mentioned, even though this was an AIP release, it's not really an exploitation film. As with the other mafia movies, like Squitieri's I Guappi and I am the Law, these are period pieces with varying degrees of mainstream appeal. Mafia boasts are more contemporary look and taking place in the early 60s, it feels a lot more like a 70s Polizio, that's probably why it received the kind of publicity it had. It's definitely a lot more contemporary in that way.

Director Damiano Damiani made this one and co-wrote it together with Ugo Pirro, based on the novel by Leonardo Sciascia of the same name. Pirro was also the co-author of the script for I am the Law, by the way. Internationally it was received well, it got distributed by AIP, got entered into the 18th Berlin Film Festival, and because of its star appeal, was quite successful. Starring Claudia Cardinale, Franco Nero and Lee J. Cobb, it could be considered one of the most high profile mafia movies of the time, it's only by checking home video availability that it becomes clear that it is an overlooked and not so well known film today, unfortunately.

Responsible for its good looks was Tonino Delli Colli (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly), who gave this minimalist crime flick an economical but fine framing, pitting the policeman and the wise guy against each other, sometimes through binoculars. Nero excels here as the one-man crime-busting squad, but he has to deal with a script that leaves his character mostly fishing in the open. As a viewer, I wonder if at least in the movie, he ever really had any hard evidence for anything. Fittingly then, the movie has an open end, and a bleak one, typical for the genre. Most writing about the movie centers on the context of the time of it's release, when the mere existence or resurgence of the Mafia was still a contested topic.

In another way then, it's almost more of a stage play, the policeman playing his games with one goon after the next, trying to win the woman over for his cause, facing off the bad guy, fighting a Don Quixote style battle in a society that was both very conservative and also very suspicious of outsiders like him. The Mafia was the institution that had replaced the state. As in I am the Law, putting wise guys behind bars was as much about winning the hearts and minds of the people as it was about due process.

Mafia

Mafia is ultimately an entertaining, never boring, film with great actors and an interesting setting. The writing wouldn't withstand today's standards of scrutiny leveled against any kind of crime or court room drama, but it is still a compelling piece of filmmaking and an interesting early entry for the actors. This was the heyday for Cardinale and Cobb, and Nero had only broken through a few years earlier. Italian filmmaking was at its peak, fading out with some genres, threatened by television, but producing visceral and remarkable cinema still.

The DVD's transfer is a lot better than that of the other film, but this time it's the audio track that at times goes a bit out of whack and seems to have been from a bad source. The film seems to be uncut, some bits are left in Italian with English subtitles. It is a dubbed track, but Lee Cobb sounds like he supplied his own voice for it at least. In terms of extras there's only a trailer and a TV spot. I hope that both Mafia as well as I am the Law receive some sort of restoration job soon, both deserve better recognition and better home video presentations.

  • Widescreen NTSC presentation of both films on one disc
  • English audio (some parts in Italian with subtitles)
  • Uncut theatrical versions
  • From Wild East Entertainment (region free disc)

Buy DVD from Amazon.com

Click here to read my companion review of I am the Law

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Sebastian, co-founder and admin of the Grindhouse Cinema Database (GCDb). He also started The Spaghetti Western Database (SWDb), The Quentin Tarantino Archives, The Robert Rodriguez Archives, Nischenkino and Furious Cinema. Outside of movies, he works on the intersection of technology and policy. He lives in Berlin, Germany.
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