Having already partnered with Neapolitan crooner Mario Merola on several Naples-based poliziesco / mafia actioners, director Alfonso Brescia was about to embark on I CONTRABBANDIERI DI SANTA LUCIA (trans: “The Smugglers of Santa Lucia”, 1979), which, according to early press announcements, promised a much bigger production with location work in New York, Marseilles and Istanbul. However, given Brescia’s usual paucity of anything resembling a decent budget, he and his producer Ciro Ippolito, along with brothers Piero and Mario Bregni of Produzioni Atlas Consorziati (PAC), instead relied on using ‘previously-enjoyed’ footage from earlier PAC productions to give the film its (seemingly) sprawling scope. While most of the Brescia / Merola collaborations were usually intended for strictly domestic consumption, PAC evidently had higher-than-usual expectations for this ‘globe-trotting’ effort, even going so far as to prepare an English-language version for overseas Anglo markets and temptingly retitling the film THE NEW GODFATHERS. Yet, despite its obvious low budget, this is probably one of Brescia’s most accessible forays into cinema napoletana; which, thanks to the folks at Cineploit, THE NEW GODFATHERS has recently made its English-friendly Blu-ray debut in fine style indeed.
While never straying far from its Italocrime roots, THE NEW GODFATHERS also adheres to the cinema napoletana template quite faithfully. Modelled after the post-WWI Neapolitan ethnic theatre, which was popular among the working class, this obscure subgenre (sometimes referred to as cinesceneggiata or sceneggiata napoletana) featured soap opera-styled scenarios, which usually combined such vital components as love, honour and—of course!—vendetta. In January of ’79, Variety reported on the sudden popularity of such movies: “Cigarette smugglers, the backbone of Naples’ sagging economy, are fast becoming the new antiheroes of Neapolitan cinema.” However, by May of ’79, Variety also reported: “The Neapolitan trend is now reaching its crest…”, even as Ippolito and the Bregni brothers had already committed to a neo-sceneggiata three-picture deal with Merola and Brescia, which for the record also included IL MAMMASANTISSIMA (1979) and IL TUA VITA PER MIO FIGLIO (1980).
The lucrative flow of narcotics from the Middle East is jeopardized due to political unrest in Iran. Customs officer Capt. Ivan Radovich (Gianni Garko) believes Naples will be used as a stopover for a large shipment of heroin bound for the U.S. market. Although “highly experienced in the tactics of smuggling”, Radovich enlists the help of Don Francesco Autiero (Mario Merola), a prominent cigarette-runner whose banditi di motoscafi blu (“bandits in blue motorboats”) keep the Guardia di Finanza busy on the choppy shores of Naples. In one of the film’s most impressively-realized sequences, Don Francesco schools Radovich on the strenuous life of the everyday working class (“Here in Naples, smuggling is a profession. A full-time job!”), who are driven to low-level trafficking because (quote) “the law condemns the homeless and jobless.” Earlier in the film, further verisimilitude is achieved via Brescia’s docu-style camerawork as it prowls the overcrowded city streets and ports, whilst an emotional canzone—a key ingredient in most cinema napoletana films—from Merola himself is heard on the soundtrack.
Don Michele Vizzini (Antonio Sabàto), a big-time underworld financier, is initially approached by Don Francesco and Radovich to help stop the flow of heroin through Naples (“It’s so rare to work with cops. I can’t help feeling a bit strange!”), but unknown to either of them, Vizzini is working in cahoots with the international drug cartel led by the New York faction of the mob. Using his local confectionary factory as a front for dope production and distribution, Vizzini’s candied nuts (no pun intended) are glazed with pure heroin, so when Merola innocently feeds a little neighbourhood girl (Letizia D’Adderio) one of these ‘sugared’ candies, she winds up in the ER from a smack overdose. Upon quickly realizing that Vizzini is behind the heroin-coated confections, Don Francesco sets off for NYC in pursuit of Vizzini…
Before settling in Naples, Brescia’s desperately ambitious film opens with a nearly 12-minute prologue detailing the expansive opium trade as it moves from Tehran to Istanbul. Utilizing grainy stock footage of the Iranian revolution (including shots of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini) and some striking location work taken from Ferdinando Baldi’s earlier—much-superior—gangster pic THE SICILIAN CONNECTION (1972), Brescia does, however, succeed in instilling some production values with several authentically-shot Istanbul locales. As with most of Brescia’s / Merola’s ethnically-slanted crime programmers, Merola is forced to contend with a new breed of professional criminals who are no longer interested in contraband Marlboros. As the film’s heavy, genre fave Sabàto once again reprises his role as one vicious carogna who arrogantly usurps Don Francesco’s territory by killing-off most of his trusted smugglers. But despite the rivalries, it’s the little girl’s accidental overdose that proves to be the final straw, and this leads into a drawn-out revenge scenario that culminates with a helicopter / automobile pursuit through the “outskirts” of New York. Set to a truly cheesy disco theme, this wannabe ‘large-scale’ chase sequence once again recycles significant footage from Baldi’s aforementioned film, which was ‘carefully’ reedited to include Merola, Garko and Sabàto.
Outside of Merola and Sabàto, the film contains a roster of familiar faces. Bushy-haired Jeff Blynn (erroneously credited here as “Blyn” and fresh from his role in Brescia’s NAPOLI… LA CAMORRA SFIDA, LA CITTÀ RISPONDE ) plays Salvatore, one of Don Francesco’s most reliable smugglers, who sets-up the initial meeting with Merola and Garko. Later, when Salvatore attempts to elude police, he launches his car onto a series of flatbed cars on an empty train in another elaborate bit of ‘borrowed’ stuntwork, this time lifted from Massimo Dallamano’s COLT .38 SPECIAL SQUAD (1976). As the series’ buffoon, Lucio Montanaro also returns as Don Francesco’s pudgy sidekick, who provides all of the film’s tacky one-liners (“These Turkish bazaars are so bizarre!”) and lowbrow comedy, including a brief scene of him getting overly-excited over a bunch of half-naked starlets (including Lorraine De Selle) hanging around Sabàto’s luxurious swimming pool. In a strained if amusing in-joke, Radovich and Gennarino (Marco Girondino), the film’s token scugnizzo (“street kid”), comment on a movie poster seen hanging outside a coffee shop advertising Brescia’s previous Neapolitan soap opera, LO SCUGNIZZO (1978 – which also co-starred Garko and Girondino!). “Oh, Gianni Garko—must be a good film!” remarks Garko as Radovich but, minutes later, a random passerby (director Brescia himself!), drolly questions the competence of the director! Other bit parts include brief walk-on roles for Edmund Purdom and John Karlsen as a pair of high-ranking narcotics officers; Rick Battaglia and Andrea Aureli appear as NYC mob bosses (their scenes clearly shot in Italy), and Sabriana Siani also appears as the daughter of a New York boss whose ritzy Italian-American wedding sets the stage for Don Francesco’s revenge.
Although released a number of times on foreign VHS videocassettes, including two English releases from the U.K. and Japan on Intermovie and Columbia, respectively, THE NEW GODFATHERS was never released in either the U.S. or Canada in an English-friendly version. A fine-looking anamorphic DVD was eventually released in Italy by Cecchi Gori in 2006, but not surprisingly, it too had no English-language audio options. Cineploit’s new all region “Blu-ray premiere” features a brand new 2K scan, which appears to be taken from the original camera negative and looks terrific. Retaining the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, detail is sharp and colours are rich, but obviously, the film’s grainy stock footage still looks ugly and drab. Thankfully, the DTS-HD 2.0 audio options are provided in German, Italian AND English and is quite robust giving precedence to all the explosions, raucous gunfire and Eduardo Alfieri’s piecemeal score, even if the dialogue sync is, for the most part, imperfect. English and German subtitles are also provided, so the best bet is to watch the film in Italian with English subtitles for the most faithful rendition, but for those that care about such things, the English audio does include several familiar English voice actors such as Richard McNamara, Gregory Snegoff and Larry Dolgin, the latter of which dubs signor Garko.
Extras include an on-camera interview with writer / producer Ciro Ippolito (11m21s) conducted by Vincenzo Rossini, where he discusses the genesis of the film at PAC and how he had the idea to (quote) “pick up a lot of scenes from the action part shot in the United States” from THE SICILIAN CONNECTION and then “shoot another story and mount this on that.” Other extras include a nicely-detailed photo gallery (1m30s) of posters, locandinas, fotobustas and international video art and the film’s alternate German credit sequence, which is exactly the same save for the title card, DIE GROßE KAMPF DES SYNDIKATS (trans: “The Great Battle of the Syndicate”). Housed in a fine-looking Mediabook (available is four different variations, which also comes with a 28-page booklet with liner notes from Udo Rotenberg in German and English and a nice double-sided poster), Cineploit’s new Blu-ray of this mindlessly-enjoyable Italocrime film is yet another impressive release in their “Italian Genre Cinema” line, which fans should strongly consider adding to their library. Cineploit currently offers Cover B, Cover C or Cover D (Cover A has sold out) or order it from DiabolikDVD.