Wednesday, April 9, 2014


For this installment, Steve Fenton screens an elusive Japanese videotape of Vittorio Schraldi’s I KISS THE HAND (1973), a criminally underrated and little seen Italian mafia pic.

John Saxon, as ardently assholish Ardizzone: “Who the FUCK is Don Angelino Ferrante? The little pissant thought he could spit in my face?!

Daniele Vargas, as Don Santino: “Sometimes they kill, and sometimes they get killed. That’s life…

Stark monochromatic titles followed by a long, slow fade from black onto heroine Agostina Belli’s heavenly pensive features.  As mob bride Mariuccia Ferrante she learns early that it’s a man’s world in the Sicilian Mafia; “Boys will be boys!” remarks her father-in-law the Don, played by star Arthur Kennedy.

Mariuccia’s husband Stefano – one of the many sons of Don Angelino Ferrante (Kennedy) – is murdered by uomini d’azione (“gunmen”) led by an impertinent young agitator named Gaspare Ardizzone (Saxon).  The Bileggi real estate company has been voraciously gobbling-up local land to transform it into construction lots.  Thus, the Bileggi, Grisanti and Ferrante clans are on the verge of waging open war to decide ownership of the late Stefano Ferrante’s prime acreage.  Eager to foment hostilities is rising pezzo di novanta (“top gun”) Ardizzone, and therein lies I KISS THE HAND’s primary thrust: the ancient Mafia patriarchy pitted against younger upstarts who flout tradizione e onore in the interests of pure power and financial gain.  Functioning much as he did in Fernando Di Leo’s raucous The BOSS (1973), GODFATHER alumnus Corrado Gaipa here plays mob bureaucrat Emilio Grisanti, who believes it’s in the family’s best interests to welcome this irreverent outspoken outsider as new chief of the Bileggi clan; Piero Nicolosi (Giovanni Pallavicini), consigliore to the late Don Santino Bileggi (Daniele Vargas), also recommends Ardizzone (“…a watchdog who bites instead of just barking”).  Following an impassioned speech for the opposition (“Allow him to be a capo, and you let every stealing, lying, thieving pimp to stab you in the back for a seat in the council”), Don Angelino leaves the meeting in disgust.

As the repellently magnetic Ardizzone, John Saxon here gives his greatest genre performance ever, bar none!  Never one to miss an opportunity for a cutting one-liner, Ardizzone’s profoundly cynical induction speech to the consigliori – emphasized with appropriately histrionic gesticulations – is a scene-stealing gem.  Being an orphan, Ardizzone knows no father except Greed, thumbs his nose at the long-established patriarchal order, would much rather bite than “kiss the hand” and would like nothing better than for the whole world to kiss his ass.  During one bout of testosterone-driven egomania he forces his wife (Anna Orso) to give him head.  Don Angelino cannot abide this blowhard, swaggering Judas in their midst (“We Ferrantes don’t have to wage war on this worthless crap!”).  But even the Don’s hotshot eldest son Luciano (Marino Masé) divides his loyalties and dares go against the grain of accepted custom by dealing in dope; this due to ‘progressive’ attitudes he has learned as an American immigrant (“America is like a sickness… it’s catching”).  Thanks to the Generation Gap, at the tender age of only 20, youngest Ferrante sibling Massimo (Paolo Turco) far from shares papa’s philosophy (“Don’t talk to me about ‘good Mafiosi’ and ‘bad Mafiosi’ – you’re ALL rotten!” [slap]).  Massimo is an idealistic pacifist who dreams of moving to America like big brother Luciano; but if he hopes to (quote) “live very happily without ever seeing a gun,” the U.S. of A. might seem a rather unlikely spot for a sabbatical!  Upon finally getting his wish and emigrating, no sooner has Massimo hit New York City’s mean streets than he is knifed by a mugger – another lowlife with no conception of honor – and left to die like a wounded rat beneath the looming skyscrapers… his idealistic illusions of the American Dream abruptly shattered.
Variety Ad (Nov 8/72) courtesy of Mike Ferguson.

The Ferrante family’s #1 gun, Luca (Spyros Focás) is no picciotto (rookie Mafioso) but a real tough cookie who combines the vitality of the younger generation with a deep rispetto for the old ways.  But even Luca turns his back on tradition when he forces three naked gangsters – including Grisanti’s son – to dig their own graves before he executes them (“Screw the Code!  It’s dead.  There isn’t any more rules.  Who respects the rules anymore? …The Code has us by the balls!”).  Elsewhere, he crushes a gangster’s gonads with his bare hand (“Luca Ferrante doesn’t want you breaking his balls anymore!”).

I KISS THE HAND’s most provocative themes are resistance or resignation to tradition.  For so staunchly upholding the old ways and not bending with the changing times, staunch traditionalist Don Angelino is ironically sent into exile as a “troublemaker”.  Belli’s mourning mob widow seeks solace in the arms of her dead husband’s best friend Mazino d’Amico (Pino Colizzi), a dalliance for which she justifiably fears Don Angelino’s wrath should he find out about it.  Having been seeking emancipation from the smothering patriarchy, Mariuccia – whom d’Amico has accidentally gotten pregnant – sells off her dead husband’s land and prepares to skip Sicily with her new lover.  Unfortunately, her plans amount to naught when she is drowned in her bathroom sink by hitmen (including an unbilled and barely visible Claudio Ruffini), whereafter d’Amico kills himself just to keep up appearances.  Elsewhere, fully cognizant of his enemies’ intentions, the wiser, world-weary Don Santino meets his prearranged date with death proudly and without protest.  His courageous dying words (“Do you know how chickenshit bastards kill people? …They shoot ‘em [gasp] in the back!”) resound louder than all the bullets emptied into him by Ardizzone’s machinegun combined.

But as is stressed by the film’s final revelation, the inexorable march of Progress proves unstoppable by mere words …even those backed-up by bullets.  Line after line of director Vittorio Schraldi’s script (based upon his own novel) are suitable for framing (e.g., “Nobody makes money… they TAKE it!” – “Fucking beats the Hell outta getting fucked!” [etc]).  Lyrical passages and compelling performances coupled with Enrico Simonetti’s sumptuous, sweeping score and an often epic Leone-esque quality elevate I KISS THE HAND to the topmost levels of the genre.

We’ll give the final word(s) to John Saxon as underworld shit-disturber Ardizzone, who delivers the following epic speech to the shocked consiglieri, who (unlike him!) are rendered speechless by his tirade: “Nobody ever taught me how to talk ‘nice.’  Nobody ever talked nice to me.  The priests and the lawyers, they know how to talk nice.  Not me.  But that’s because the priests and the lawyers are always tryin’ to screw women or ignorant people… Here, we’re not dealing in wine and wafers.  Here, we’re dealing in power!  And power means money.  Loot.  Bucks.  Cold, hard cash!  You know why?  Because money talks.  It’s the only thing that counts.  All the rest is bullshit!  You wanna sit around, drinking coffee, wasting your time talking about ‘respect’?  About ‘honour’ and ‘justice’?  About philosophy and science?  About friendship and life?  How much do things cost?  A thousand, ten-thousand, a hundred-thousand – a million?  I BUY ‘em!  That’s power!  If in this world you could live on air alone, there’d still be corpses all over the place.  You know why?  Because those with big lungs would screw those with the little lungs! …Gaspare Ardizzone doesn’t give a FUCK!!”

(‘Nuff said)

NOTE: As of this writing, a widescreen Italian language copy of this film was available for viewing as an upload at YouTube, albeit sans any subtitles.  The version reviewed here was the widescreen ‘80s Japanese VHS videotape put out by Columbia, which came literately dubbed into English, complete with Japanese subs (years ago, my partner-in-crime Denzo brought a copy of said tape back from Tokyo, and was kind enough to make me a dub of it, which I still possess).  This is a film which truly warrants a decent release on disc, preferably Blu-Ray, with all the fixings ASAP! 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Here's another "crimeslime" review from my old pal Steve Fenton.  Enjoy! 

The below review was written following a joint screening of Video Toemi’s widescreen (2.35:1), English-dubbed Japanese VHS tape (complete with native subs), and Top Video’s Canadian full-frame / pan-and-scan VHS; both of which were released as The SICILIAN CONNECTION circa the mid/late ‘80s.

Export ad-line: ‘From the Poppy Fields in Turkey to the Sidewalks of New York… through the crossroad arteries of Death and Drugs.

Corrado Gaipa, as drug lord, discusses the value of heroin: “What a fortune.  MILLIONS… However, it could all blow away in a puff of wind!

Luciano Catenacci, to Ben Gazzara: “You can’t ask fer drugs like they wuz ice cream!

Gangster: “Baciamo le mani!

Known in Italy as AFYON-OPPIO (1972), The SICILIAN CONNECTION was originally (1971) planned as a Duilio Film production (under screenwriter Duilio Coletti), and shooting was due to commence in Turkey as of October ’71; when this start date was missed, signed star Gazzara returned to Hollywood pending possible litigation for breach of contract.  At another point (7/72), the film was scheduled for shooting on location in Iran; with Gazzara, Telly Savalas, Lionel Stander, Renato Salvatori and Nathalie Delon than all hoped for the cast.  It was at one time also considered as a coproduction with West Germany, with location shooting scheduled for Hamburg.  Of all those mentioned actors’ names, only Gazzara’s made it into the final credits.

A dynamite opening scene kicks-off this worthy gangster effort.  A solemn funeral procession: mob-affiliated pallbearers carrying a casket containing the late Don Francesco Vascello.  When interrupted by the police, head ‘mourner’ Don Vincenzo permits an impromptu inspection of the coffin’s contents; whereupon the corpse’s crudely-stitched chest cavity is found to be stuffed with packets of morphine smuggled into Sicily from Istanbul.  The snoopy cop pays for his curiosity dearly when he is promptly sealed inside the coffin by mobsters and buried alive!

Via Istanbul, wannabe dope baron Giuseppe “Joe” Coppola (Gazzara, whose dubbed voice is not his own) arrives in the Afyonkarahisar region of Turkey to arrange a mega drug deal.  To the strains of the de Angelis brothers’ engaging funk rock score, Coppola hooks up with a smoky call-girl named Claude (Silvia Monti), and attempts to purchase 50 kilos of morphine-based opium from a Turkish-based American connection.

The SICILIAN CONNECTION’s early portion allows some documentary-style peeks into the opium trade of rural Turkey (“You coulda gone to Thailand.  Better prices!” someone belatedly suggests).  The poppy plantation owner demands a quarter-cut of any smack refined from the raw opium (“Here we have snow that is purer than any that has ever fallen on the mountains of the world.  Purer than a virgin’s tears!”).  Other branches of the international drug cartel also demand generous shares, leaving Coppola with a mere pittance for his troubles.

When Coppola leaves their jurisdiction homeward bound for Italy the old country, the Turkish cops are simply relieved: now he’s the polizia’s problem, not theirs!  Scene again shifts to Sicily.  An amusing subsequent scene shows Coppola’s sedan entering a car wash painted all black, then – DIABOLIK-style – emerging on the other side scrubbed a spotless white!  The Sicilian Connection receives Coppola with unveiled distrust, but he is soon accepted by the powerful Don Calogero (genre regular Corrado Gaipa, seen as Don Tommasino in the “other” Coppola’s The GODFATHER that same year).  Following some erotic close-ups of women’s mouths gobbling whipped cream – as in many Italo films, the eating ritual is a recurrent motif here – Coppola gets to boink (albeit off-screen) both of the don’s sexually precocious daughters (Rosalia is played by the smoky Malisa Longo).

Coppola gets in good with the Sicilian syndicate after he helps fend off a bandit attack on Gaipa’s drug refinery (raw opium arrives in Palermo packed inside frozen fish).  A breach in etiquette between the Marseilles mob and the Sicilians results in the French Connection being methodically eliminated at a posh Italian restaurant.  As the short-lived “Frenchy” – though oddly named Albertini, possibly a Corsican? – Carlo Gaddi plays a culinary snob who demands a gourmet French sauce along with his partridge.  Unamused, the Italians promptly turn him into lasagna oozing special sauce (i.e., tomato purée) of a more zesty italiano flavour.

The New York City wing of the syndicate anticipates arrival of the dope (transported inside a waterproof canister welded beneath the hull of a cargo ship named La Traviata [presumably after Verdi’s opera], of all things). Having ingratiated himself with the Mafia’s Palermo wing, Coppola – hungry for a bigger slice of the “pie” – offends the NYC connection when he intercepts the shipment first.  But the long arm of the godfather does not let go easily, and Coppola finds himself fighting for his severely devalued life (“You’re an empty six-pack o’ beer!”).

Authentic NYC locales are exploited to the max.  The cast is speckled with many familiar faces from Euro exploitation: Fausto Tozzi (“You’d kill your mother for a dime!”) co-stars as the New York connection, who fails to appreciate Gazzara’s innate ‘entrepreneurial’ nature.  Luciano Catenacci for once plays a good guy, namely Gazzara’s personal secretary, Tony Miccolo.  Gazzara’s DEA supervisor Sam is played by Italian-based Slav actor János “John” Bartha, while Bruno Corazzari appears as Larry, a redheaded lesser gangster.  Frequent crimeslime slimeball Luciano Rossi plays Gaipa’s in-house chemist Hans, who refines crude opium into 99%-pure heroin.  Hence, here we have one dynamite cast! 

The SICILIAN CONNECTION occasionally waxes on the philosophical side, accenting verbal drama over physical action, but the plot – which ends with a passable bang – is thoroughly engaging, and the dubbing more than coherent enough to sustain viewer interest throughout.  An unanticipated double-whammee ending takes you completely off-guard.  You’ll be getting no spoilers from me (not this time, anyway), so by all means give this a gander.

Here playing an American of Sicilian lineage, Gazzara later starred as a full-blooded Siciliano in Giuseppe Tornatore’s excellent epic gangster drama, IL CAMORRISTA (1985), which was released in Italy as both a miniseries on TV and as a shortened – if still lengthy – theatrical feature.

Notes: Approximately ten minutes of footage from The SICILIAN CONNECTION was ‘subtly recycled’ (note quotes!) in a subsequent PAC (Produzioni Atlas Consorziate) release, Alfonso Brescia’s cheapo-but-fun The NEW GODFATHERS (1979).  The present film was given a US theatrical release by Joseph Green Pictures, who also released Luciano Ercoli’s above-par crime drama La POLIZIA HA LE MANI LEGATE / “The Police have Their Hands Tied” (1975) Stateside under the rather generic – not to mention misleading – title of KILLER COP (1975). 

Variety page (Nov 8, 1972) courtesy of Mike Ferguson.