Once upon a time there were three men who had divided a city which, along with their families, they ruled between them: Don Angelo DiMorra, Don Aggimio Bernardo and Don Paulo Regalbuto; Don Paulo’s son Frank on business in Italy, a nasty business of which the other families would not approve, he returns home to be greeted at the airport by the bad news: the Don is dead, but despite Frank being the sole living son there is concern expressed over whether he is sufficiently experienced to control his inheritance.
A meeting convened in the neutral territory of Las Vegas, Don Angelo offers to act as Frank’s sponsor: he will take the reins of the Regalbuto business and Frank as his heir, and when he dies Frank will inherit the entirety, by which time he will be older. It is a good offer, and Frank accepts, though his best friends who act as his enforcers, Vince Fargo and his kid brother Tony, wish to remove themselves from their obligations, and there is the matter of Frank’s girlfriend, singer Ruby Dunne, who mixes business and pleasure with Don Angelo while Frank is out of town.
Directed by Richard Fleischer from a script by Christopher Trumbo, Michael Butler and Marvin H Albert adapted from Albert’s novel of the same name, The Don is Dead was originally released in late 1973, one of many motion pictures capitalising on the enormous critical and commercial success of The Godfather early the previous year, now released on Blu-ray as part of the Eureka Classics range.
A sprawling ensemble weaving a tangled web of ambition, deceit and revenge, The Magus‘ Anthony Quinn is Don Angelo, patient but inflexible when faced with defiance, The Wolf of Snow Hollow‘s Robert Forster is Frank, possessed of a vicious temper, Apocalypse Now‘s Frederic Forrest is Tony, wise enough to remain anonymous and avoid the line of fire, and The X-Files‘ Charles Cioffi is Luigi Orlando, friend to all as he tries to prevent bloodshed in the transfer of power.
Fleischer’s resumé including the epic adventure of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Vikings and Fantastic Voyage, The Don is Dead lacks the flair of those favourites, the steady pacing punctuated by bouts of violence where the impact is dulled by the seeming resignation of the characters, brought up in “the family” where such things are expected, populated by men whose passions are enacted solely as rage and the few women defined only in relation to their men rather than with any agency of their own.
Ruby a delicate object of envy in need of protection, Nella is the devoted wife and mother to Vince’s children, while with Don Aggimio in prison his unfaithful wife Marie has set about manipulating circumstance to her advantage, but with jealousy the principal underlying motivator The Don is Dead veers more towards soap opera than mobster classic despite the high value cast.