The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Brotherhood

A classic since it hit theaters in 1972, Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather is and always will be remembered as one of the greatest movies ever made.  It set the groundwork for how to do a movie about gangsters, crooks, the Mafia, and somehow make these otherwise extremely nasty characters sympathetic in the eyes of the viewer.  It's been spoofed, honored, ripped off, and referenced in countless movies and TV shows since.  But it certainly wasn't the first Mafia movie, seemingly borrowing from 1968's long-forgotten The Brotherhood.

Mario Puzo's The Godfather first hit book shelves in 1969 a year after 'Brotherhood,' but I'm not going to go out on a limb and say he plagiarized this Martin Ritt-directed movie. With stories based on similar backgrounds (the Mafia) there are going to be similarities.  It just seems that a lot of similarities made the jump from one movie to another.  No worries though, 'Brotherhood' isn't about to overtake Godfather as a better movie, but it makes an interesting companion piece, maybe a good double feature.  Using some of the same character backgrounds, setting and story vehicles though, the 1968 flick is a more low-budget, studio oriented venture than the classic that would be released four years later.

Living in Sicily, Frank Ginetta (Kirk Douglas) lives in privacy with his wife (Irene Papas) away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. He receives a message one day that his brother Vince (Alex Cord) is coming to visit, making him wonder if his brother has been sent to kill him. Flashback to years before at Vince's wedding when he approaches his mafioso brother, asking him if he can join in the family business.  Frank is happy to have him as the Ginetta empire grows.  But as the times change, Frank digs his heels in for the old ways, how things used to be done, instead of going along with a business proposition that could possibly net millions of dollars.  The elder Ginetta is making unnecessary waves, only to find out that a traitor from years past is still close to him, forcing him to make a difficult decision.

Starting the movie, I thought the opening and finale were great.  Frank drives to a prearranged meeting point to meet someone who's come to see him, not knowing it is his brother.  The beginning and ending were filmed in Sicily, and as the story plays out the Sicilian countryside sure isn't bad to look at.  But total, the story is probably only in Sicily for 20 minutes -- ten on either side of the flashback.  The rest takes place back in New York at Vince's wedding after he's returned from Vietnam (cough Michael Corleone cough Corleone wedding cough).  The problem is most of the rest of the movie is talking, a lot of talking that doesn't always go anywhere.  The talent involved won't let it get boring, but it's not exactly exciting either way.

Douglas was an extremely gifted actor, but playing an Italian Mafia Don seemed like a stretch for me and was one of the big reasons I picked this one at Netflix.  It's a solid if unspectacular performance as Douglas does what he can with a script that needs some work.  Too often he does go for the over the top, theatrical portrayal of an Italian man with lots of rapid fire Sicilian and 'Mama Mia!' when he's upset.  Okay, he doesn't say 'Mama Mia' but you know what I mean.  Frank is a cool character though, seeing that the old ways don't necessarily work but refusing to go along with the new ways.  An old school don, a creature of habit, nothing is going to change his mind, especially any threats.

The rest of the cast is all right, no one really calling too much attention to themselves.  Cord as Frank's younger brother looks the part, but the performance is a little flat, a little lifeless.  Vince is supposed to be this math/bookkeeping whiz, but that doesn't translate well in terms of a visual or a story effect.  He's the one man who could convince his big brother to go along with the times, but we're never given a reason to see why he's so convincing.  The "board" of Mafia higher ups and important local officials include Luther Adler, Murray Hamilton, Val Avery and Alan Hewitt, one of them playing a key role in Frank's possible rise and fall. As Frank's wife, Papas has little to do with a part that needs her to worry about her husband before fading into the background.  Too bad because when given the chance she almost always hit a home run.

On to some other points, both good and bad.  Ritt films in New York for some of his outdoor shots, giving a picture of late 1960s New York which is always cool with some location shooting.  Any interiors look like studio sets though, canceling out any credit earned through the on-location shooting.  Lalo Schifrin's score is good is not particularly memorable.  Also, the constant use of Sicilian without any subtitles.  I feel like I missed a lot just because characters are always talking in Sicilian.  An average movie on the whole, but interesting in terms of comparing it with The Godfather's release some four years later.

The Brotherhood (1968): **/**** 

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