The Don is Dead (1973) Review

People who love gangster flicks, really really love gangster flicks so finding a hidden hood filled gem ripe for rediscovery is a rare thing. Thankfully the wonderful folks at Eureka Entertainment are here to help with the release of lesser known crime thriller The Don is Dead.

Featuring all the terrific tropes of the best mafia movies this 1973 classic contains shoot outs, drug deals, horrifying hits, dodgy broads, loving wives, power crazy kids, wise old crooks and more betrayals and backstabbing than a entire series of a soap opera.

Set in Las Vegas the story starts with the death of Frank Regalbuto’s (Robert Forster from Jackie Brown) father the Don of the Regalbuto family which leaves a power vacuum that the Commission is eager to fill. To sort things out a meeting is called gathering Frank and his best friends and business partners the Fargo brothers, Tony and Vince (Frederic Forrest from Apocalypse Now and Al Lettieri from The Getaway) along with the heads of the other two families in the area.

At the powerhouse powwow an agreement is come to allowing the Fargo brothers to form their own gang and linking Frank’s future to Don Angelo DiMorra (Lawrence of Arabia legend Anthony Quinn) the boss of the biggest family. However Luigi Orlando (Shaft’s Charles Cioffi) the consiliare in charge of the final outfit has machinations of his own and starts making moves to bring down everyone around him and seize control for himself.

Adapted from Marvin H. Albert’s novel of the same name by Albert, Christopher Trumbo and Michael Butler, The Don is Dead is directed by Richard Fleischer a jack of all trades when it came to film making. Coming out the same year as his famous Sci-Fi horror Soylent Green, it seems Fleischer could turn his hand to any genre with a list of his eclectic hits including 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Fantastic Voyage, Doctor Dolittle,Tora! Tora! Tora! and The Boston Strangler.

At its heart this mafia movie shows not only the fall of one empire but the emergence of another charting the rise to the top of an unlikely and unwilling character who is transformed by the brutal events around him. Bullets fly, buildings explode and blood runs free as the body count rises in attack after attack until the final act where we get to see who is left standing.

The cast is packed with tough guys pulling off sensational turns especially Anthony Quinn as the ageing godfather who is drawn into an all out war because of his love for a young singer and Robert Forster whose raging anger and thirst for revenge seems to know no bounds. Alongside these powerhouses we see actors such as The Godfather’s Abe Vigoda, Taxi Driver’s Victor Argo and the great Sid Haig from House of 1000 Corpses who flesh out the families by providing plenty of muscle and menace.

A scintillating story that constantly twists and turns The Don is Dead plays out like a Shakespearian epic as the manipulative men plot and battle against each other pushing pawns around the city streets, planing assassinations and kidnaping their foes all the while trying to keep one step ahead of the competition. Drenched in machismo this sexist world sees the female characters totally sidelined with the toxic masculinity on show as much to blame for the body count as the gangster lifestyle they all idolise.

A chaotic crime classic The Don is Dead is perfect for mafia movie fans old and new easily drawing comparisons with The Godfather, Goodfellas and The Irishman while showcasing the 70’s style and violence also present in movies of the same period such as Mean Streets and The French Connection.

It’s as simple as spaghetti and meatballs if you love gangster flicks you will love The Don is Dead.

Movie Rating: ★

★ ★ ½ ☆ 

Alex Humphrey

Alex studied film at the University of Kent and went on to work for Universal Pictures in their Post Room gaining an inside look at the movie industry from the very bottom. Constantly writing reviews in everything from local magazines to Hip Hop sites Alex honed his critical skills even spending a brief period as a restaurant critic. Read more

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