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March 12, 2015

Massacre Mafia Style

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Like Father, like Son / The Executioner
Duke Mitchell - 1978
Grindhouse Releasing BD Regions ABC/Region 1 DVD Combo

As a filmmaker, Duke Mitchell was championed by Grindhouse Releasing co-founder, Sage Stallone, the late son of another writer-director-star, Sylvester Stallone. But the coincidences go further. As an actor, Mitchell was usually cast in smaller supporting roles. One of those last jobs was in the final film of another writer-director-star, Hugo Haas. The film, shot in 1958, but not released until 1962 was titled Paradise Alley, the title also of Sylvester Stallone's film of 1978. Much of the writing about Massacre Mafia Style discusses Mitchell's film in relationship to The Godfather. I would think that even if unstated, that Mitchell probably got a certain amount of inspiration from Hugo Haas. The bulk of the filmography for Haas is of low budget genre films that have only recently garnered more critical attention. Paradise Alley was done with very little money, and a cast that included silent stars Corinne Griffith, Billy Gilbert and Chester Conklin, as well as Marie Windsor, William Schallert, with Duke Mitchell lower in the list. One could argue that Mitchell learned first hand that a movie might be made with a small amount of money and a lot of willing and available friends.

I have to also assume that Mitchell picked up some pointers on the set of two Don Siegel films, Crime in the Streets, and especially Baby Face Nelson. Siegel was known for being quick and efficient, knowing how to make a film in spite of limited budgets, improvising when needed to get the needed footage in the can.

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Massacre Mafia Style shows some of the influence of Don Siegel with its images of untethered violence, but is closer in spirit to the work of Hugo Haas with its idiosyncratic world view. That this is a personal film is made clear with Mitchell playing a gangster with the last name of Micelli, Mitchell's own real family name. The son of a retired mobster, Micelli travels from Sicily to Los Angeles on a misguided attempt to regain is father's past glory, killing off other gangsters and a pimp called Superspook. The gangsters complain about Italians being stereotyped while at the same time reenforcing the worst cliches about Italian gangsters. At one point, Micelli and his loyal sidekick, Jolly, are on a yacht while a porn film is being shot below deck. Micelli talks about how porn films have earned huge profits against the small production costs, and I have to wonder if Mitchell may have had second thoughts about the kind of film he was trying to make.

There is one unforgettable image, with a rival gangster hung on a meat hook, the hook going through the back of the head and through an eye. There is also the shots of the pimp crucified on Easter Sunday. On the down side, when we see the porn film in production, it seems like the entire cast and crew had no idea about what to do with two naked women together in bed. The opening montage of what seems like a random killing spree is done with a cheerful song about the heart going "Teeka-teek". The soundtrack includes several songs performed by Mitchell that invoked Italian culture.

Which brings us to the proverbial elephant in the room, namely Bela Lugosi meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. That oft-maligned film can be seen as a blu ray bonus looking better than it ever did sixty years ago. And in another bit of coincidence, before joining with Jerry Lewis lookalike Sammy Petrillo, Mitchell even had a bit part in the Lewis-Martin comedy, Sailor Beware. Whatever one might think of the most famous, or infamous, film by William "One Shot" Beaudine, it is the one film that Duke Mitchell, singer and romantic lead, will be best remembered for, though not by choice of the musical star.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 12, 2015 12:04 PM