Blu-ray Review: Cosa Nostra – Franco Nero In Three Mafia Tales

Blu-ray Reviews, Reviews, Top Story

Franco Nero established himself as someone you didn’t mess around with on the big screen. His first starring role was the Spaghetti Western classic Django. Nero and a coffin full of weapons took out an entire town of outlaws. He became the brave Sir Lancelot in Camelot. He specialized in characters that didn’t back down. When he returned to Italy from Hollywood, he teamed up with director Damiano Damiani to face off against the ultimate Italian villains: The Mafia. This was a rather bold move since organized crime was depicted as folk heroes in movies. There were always rumors of mobsters being involved in filmmaking so you didn’t want to shutdown your production. Nero and Damiani weren’t going to idolize the criminals that influenced so much of Italian life. Nero was playing a character that weren’t going to put up with their underworld ways. Even more startling, Damiani shot his anti-Mafia movie in Sicily, the home of the mobsters. Even in such a perilous land, the duo not only lived and made two more films with Nero dealing with the Mafia. Cosa Nostra – Franco Nero In Three Mafia Tales collects all three films that has him play a cop, an architect and a film director who must stand up to the underworld.

The Day Of The Owl (1968 – 109 minutes) opens with a truck driver getting shot to death. Police Captain Bellodi (Nero) is on the case although none of the Sicilians in the area admit to hearing or seeing anything including Rosa Nicolosi (The Pink Panther‘s Claudia Cardinale) and her husband. Bellodi is unsure if the trucker died because his company wasn’t paying protection to the local Mafia boss Don Mariano Arena (The Exorcist‘s Lee J. Cobb) or was having an affair with Rosa. Before he can get too far on the infidelity angle, Rosa’s husband vanishes. Where did he go? Nobody is willing to say. There’s a code of silence in the area since there’s a serious fear about ratting out any mobsters. The Don will send his right-hand man Pizzuco (Some Like It Hot‘s Nehemiah Persoff) to break off limbs. What will Bellodi do to get Rosa to open up? The film is intense as Bellodi goes beyond the law to break the bonds between the Mafia and the villagers. The English version is the cut that American International Pictures distributed under the title Mafia that’s 103 minutes. You’re best off watching the Italian version of the film first.

The Case Is Closed: Forget It (1971 – 106 minutes) takes the action behind bars. Vanzi (Nero) is an architect who gets accused of being part of a fatal hit and run. While he claims he’s innocent. The judge sends him to be held in prison before the trial. Vanzi’s lawyer (director Damiano Damiani) is useless. He’s able to survive behind bars with gifts and money from home. But learns that the real person in charge of the prison life is not the warden, but a mobster who can fix everything except an escape. What’s remarkable about the film is how Nero doesn’t get toughened up behind bars. You get an idea that he might be dead before his trial date is set. He plays scared which is something he rarely gets to do in a movie. It’s a harsh look at prison life Italian style. The Case Is Closed: Forget It is nightmarish at the end.

How To Kill A Judge (1975 – 110 minutes) gets a bit self-reflective. Giacomo Solaris (Nero) is a film director whose latest movie has just been seized by a judge. Why? Because the movie is about a judge who is on the Mafia payroll and Solaris cast a man looks just like the judge. The judge is not happy that in the movie, the judge is shot dead. Before the judge can drag Solaris into court, the judge meets the same fate of his cinematic version. Solaris goes down to Sicily to investigate through his mob adjacent contacts. He wants to know why the judge really died. He gets tangled up with the judge’s widow (Belle de Jour‘s Francoise Fabian). But it seems like so many leads are cut short because of Mafia violence. While it’s easy to think Nero is playing a version of Damiani, I get a sense that Nero’s director character is based on Andrei Tarkovsky with the thick mustache and his movie Solaris had come out a few years before. Tarkovsky also had issues with government officials back in the USSR. How To Kill A Judge is a fine murder mystery with the Mafia angle.

You have the option to watch in English or Italian. Only the language is different. The credits are in Italian. There are points when the English track reverts to Italian and subtitles pop up. There must have been a shorter cut for the English language. But why see less Nero on the screen?

Cosa Nostra – Franco Nero In Three Mafia Tales is a perfect retrospective film festival in a box. More importantly it elevates the status of a director who often doesn’t get in the conversation of Italian filmmakers. Damiano Damiani is best known in America for directing Amityville II: The Possession starring Burt Young. Which is a fine horror film, but doesn’t get him mentioned with Argento, Fulci and Bava. He also gets skipped over when talking Italian art house directors. Watching these three films, you experience how Damiani made intense films. He doesn’t dial back the jeopardy in these dangerous locations. While each of these films star Franco Nero, Damiani gets the actor to give us three different characters and not one character with three different names. Even the Mafia villains change up in each film. We see how the underworld can survive in all sorts of environments. Cosa Nostra – Franco Nero In Three Mafia Tales will make you appreciate what Nero and Damiani could do together.

The boxset is a limited edition of 3,000 copies.

The video for all three films is 1.85:1 anamorphic. All three films have had 2K restorations off the original negatives. The images look great. The Day of the Owl shows off Sicily. The Audio features the Italian and English tracks in mono LPCM. The tracks have been cleaned up so you hear all the silence of the mobsters. The movies are subtitled in English.

Franco Nero interview (17:21) features archive footage of Damiano Damiani and Leonardo Sciascia discussing The Day of the Owl. He gets into how director Damiano Damiani was a painter and it came out in his films. Damiani was extra physical with his non-professional actors. The two went back a ways since Nero had a cameo in an early Damiani film. But the director doesn’t remember that brief encounter. Turns out that Nero had turned down the role in The Day of The Owl and his girlfriend Vanessa Redgrave told him to take the gig because novelist Leonardo Sciascia was such a great writer.

Franco Nero, writer Ugo Pirro and production manager Lucio Trentini (26:34) come together for the series On The Subject Of… The trio discuss the making of The Day of the Owl. The film had an enormous impact on their careers. They all were impressed to work with Lee J. Cobb. Pirro mentions shooting the mafia chieftain’s house across the square from the police station added a visual tension that wasn’t in the book. This episode aired in 2006.

Identity Crime-Sis (20:04) lets filmmaker and Italian crime cinema expert Mike Malloy discuss how the Italian crime films evolved from the Neo-Realism era. He places The Day of the Owl how the style changed. He also gets into Lee J. Cobb’s connection to elements in the film. Malloy made Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the ’70s (free to stream on Tubi). He knows his Italian crime films.

Casting Cobb: A Tale of Two Continents (32:36) is a video essay by filmmaker Howard S. Berger. We get the history of Lee J. Cobb’s moving from Hollywood to Italy. We get a sense of what roles he handled on both sides. You’ll want to track down so many of Cobb’s films. Cobb was the first Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman on Broadway. He gets into why Cobb didn’t hold against HUAC. He gets deep into Cobb’s role as the Mafia mobster in The Day Of the Owl.

Claudia Cardinale (22:20) from Hep! Taxi. This is a Belgian TV series where the cabbie interviews the stars as they drive around town. The actress gets into her career i film. She talks about growing up in Tunisa and how she ended up in Italy for the Venice Film Festival. Journalists thought she was in films and made such a big deal that producers came with offers. She didn’t want to be an actress. She wanted to be an explorer of the world. Luckily she saw the world travelling to locations for her movies. The episode aired in 2017.

Trailer (2:50) uses high contrast shots from the movie to show the various characters. Claudia Cardinale gets top billing.

Franco Nero interview (14:26) focuses on The Case is Closed: Forget It. Nero talks about his approach to a character who was stuck in prison wrongly and is expected to just shake off what he saw behind bars. He has fond memories of his cellmates. He points that all the actors who played bad guys were really great. It was the good guys you had to worry about. Many of the prison extras were actual prisoners that were brought to the studio.

Making of The Case is Closed: Forget It (28:09) features actor Corrado Solari, assistant director Enrique Bergier and editor Antonio Siciliano. There’s talk of how Damiani altered the book for his script. There was a bit of ad-libbing and improvisation during takes. Corrado Solari gets into how he expected Nero to be so imposing on the set. This was Django. But he played a less macho character and Solari was impressed at the transformation. There is a mention how Nero felt that Damiani allowed Nero to be an actor and the actor respected the director so much for it.

Italy’s Cinematic Civil Conscience: An Examination of the Life and Works of Damiano Damiani (35:29) is a visual essay on the career of Damiani Damiani by critic Rachael Nisbet. She shows how the director entertained the audience while making rather deep films. He brought together art and politics. He got his start making comics. There are plenty of photographs from his long career.

Trailer (3:13) takes us deep within the prison.

Franco Nero interview (12:59) about How to Kill a Judge. He had found a script by Lena Wertmueller and wanted to make it with Damiani. But the director was going to America to shoot a Western and see the Grand Canyon. Nero developed a new script from the original book and eventually the director joined up with him. Nero talks about his experiences filming in Sicily. He goes into detail about how Damiani rehearsed with actors. He also went to Sicily to tell his tales of the Mafia.

Alberto Pezzotta interview (34:23) gets the author of Regia Damiano Damiani, who to discuss the director’s impact on the mafia and crime genres. He points out that Damiani altered Italian cinema in these genres including a Spaghetti Western from the Mexican perspective.

Lessons in Violence (21:38) is a video essay on How to Kill a Judge by filmmaker David Cairns. He compares the film to other movies made by Damiani. There’s also discussion of how the film touches on real events in Italy at the time. The film shows how the Mafia had changed since he made The Day Of the Owl.

Trailers in English (3:42) and Italian (3:42) are the same except the titles are in the respective languages.

Limited edition 120-page book features essays by Andrew Nette, Piero Garofalo, Paul A. J. Lewis, Shelley O’Brien, Nathaniel Thompson, Marco Natoli, Cullen Gallagher and an archival interview with Damiano Damiani.

Radiance Films present Cosa Nostra: Franco Nero In Three Mafia Tales By Damiano Damiani. Directed by Damiano Damiani. Starring Franco Nero, Claudia Cardinale, Lee J. Cobb, Riccardo Cucciolla and Francoise Fabian. Boxset Contents: 3 movies on 3 Blu-rays. Rating: Unrated. Release Date: August 15, 2023.

Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.