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! 

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