Though obviously inspired by The French Connection and The Godfather this 1972 crime film also strongly recalls Machine Gun McCain. The reason for this is the presence of one of McCain star John Cassavetes frequent collaborators, Ben Gazzara.
The film opens with a Sicilian funeral. A local policeman interrupts the proceedings, requesting to see the paperwork for the deceased, whose body has been brought home from Turkey. He then asks for the coffin to be opened, and discovers that the corpse’s stomach has been cut open and packed with drugs. This leads to the policeman suffering the horridying fate of being buried alive alongside the corpse by the mobsters. (One thing that isn’t explained is what happens to the drugs, since we don’t see them being removed before the burial.)
It’s a powerful scene and one which subsequent ones generally do not match up to. An exception is some fascinating documentary-style footage of heroin production in rural Turkey.
Before we get to this point, however, the filmmakers introduce Gazzara’s character and the narrative in which he is at the centre. Gazzara plays a would-be big shot from New York, Joseph Coppola (note the surname), who has come to Turkey with the intention of masterminding a heroin deal that will take the drugs to Sicily, then Marseilles, then New York.
With each new encounter, however, Joseph, finds himself being forced to take a smaller and smaller cut of the deal. Things get worse as the consignment nears New York, as an old enemy seeks to cut him out entirely.
Gazzara gives a good performance, albeit as a character who is not particularly likeable. While the same could be said of the Corleone family in The Godfather we also have a sense of why they do what they do, along with indications their enemies are worse. Likewise though Popeye Doyle is an unpleasant racist we understand this to be part of a more complex, rounded character.
It is true that the final reversal(s) re-contextualise what has gone before, but they come too little too late and still don’t give us much insight into Joseph’s motivations.
On the plus side the film also features plenty of familiar Eurocrime favourites, including Luciano Rossi, Teodoro Corra, John Bartha and, most notably, Luciano Catenacci as a colleague of Joseph’s. Interestingly Catenacci also has a production role, recalling Kill Baby Kill. In this regard, the film also benefits from good use of its locations.
Ferdinando Baldi's direction is decent, but not particularly memorable.
Not the best, nor the worst Italian crime film I've seen.