Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Buddha Man: Massacre Mafia Style!

Duke Mitchell - now there's an interesting guy. He started out in the 1950's as a crooner in the Dean Martin style. Duke then took that a step further when he teamed up with Sammy Petrillo - a dead ringer for Jerry Lewis. Duke maxed out his Dino style - and the duo - calling themselve Mitchell and Petrillo - started performing as a poor man's Martin and Lewis. They actually made it to the movies - giving the world the extraordinary cinematograph Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. And no, I'm not kidding.

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis

Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo

But that is not the movie we're here to talk about. Today, anyway - this blog absolutely needs to talk about Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla at some point. In any case, years later - after ending the partnership with Sammy, Duke was still keeping active touring around with his singing act. Then, somewhere around 1974, Duke decided to make another movie. No musical comedy this time though - Duke decided to draw inspiration from his own life - with a lifetime of friendships with people on the other side of the law - and make a violent mob drama. Duke asked his friends to help out with or appear in the movie. He even approached the Chairman of the Board himself - Frank Sinatra - to be in his low budget flick. Frank declined, legendarily replying "Duke, I love you, but I get paid real money to do real movies."

Duke 1970's style

The movie Duke ended up with was completed in 1974 but didn't get released until 1978. In it he plays Mimi (rhymes with gimme) Miceli - and as the film starts we see Mimi and his pal Jolly (Vic Caesar - Alice Goodbody) walking through an office building with guns laying waste to everyone in it - the only survivors some children hanging out in an office building for some reason. This sequence certainly gets the movie off to some kind of start - it's very violent and startling, but as it goes on for several minutes, the viewer starts to realize people only a couple dozen feet away from each other - sometimes in the same room - are not hearing or reacting to the ever increasing litany of gunfire as these guys shoot and shoot and shoot. Each time a new duo or trio or quartet is shown - they're just hanging out - then they react to seeing Mimi and Jolly, and are surprised to be shot. So, you have a kinetic action sequence - but it's sloppy in its construction - good intentions on the filmmakers' part - but theit skills are not up to the requirements of the scene.

The story then backs up to Mimi arriving back in town - he meets up with Jolly and plots to hit the mob for some fast cash by kidnapping a capo. They pull this off, then start a partnership with the same mob - the capo who lost a finger in the kidnapping being a VERY forgiving fellow. After that we watch Mimi wax philosophic about being the son of an immigrant and life, love, and "That Thing of Theirs." He also schmoozes romantically with the young woman he picks up while invading a mob wedding to lay out the partnership idea to the mob bosses. In between these scenes he and Jolly go on various criminal runs, killing nearly everyone they meet. Mimi's not a bad guy, see - he's just old school and knows the old ways are changing - and he's just trying to hold on to the life he's always known.

Jolly and Mimi doing what they do best.

I think my favorite story about the whole movie - in order to get unpaid extras for the wedding scene - Duke apparently sent out invitations, as though it was a real wedding. Not only did people show up thinking they were attending a real wedding party - they brought gifts - which Duke turned around and sold for more money to shoot the movie with! Ha! Watching Massacre Mafia Style - also known at various times as The Executioner; Like Father, Like Son; and Mafia Killer - is quite an experience. Across the running time it is by turns competently made and amateurish; interesting and boring; dominated by action and talky; and sincere and preachy. Duke is pretty good as Mimi - making acting the highlight of his four jobs here - the movie looks cheap (producer Duke), lets Mimi do a lot of speechifyin' monologues (writer Duke) and is put together raggedly (director Duke).

Duke doing the other thing he does best.

The rest of the cast ranges from okay to pretty bad - and it's too bad Duke couldn't have persuaded a more known actor to appear in the small but pivotal role of Mimi's father - as the guy we get is one of those pretty bad actors. The film is rough around the edges but certainly has its charms. Because of that I wish Duke had gone on to make many more movies but he only partially completed one more - Gone with the Pope - that was still unfinished when Duke passed in 1981. Much like H.B. Halicki (Gone in 60 Seconds '74) - another DIY filmmaker who died too young - Duke might have grown into a hell of a filmmaker down the road. Certainly he would have been a kick guest starring on The Sopranos as an old mob guy - one of Junior's pals, perhaps. Thankfully Gone with the Pope was eventually put into a completed form - in 2010 (!) - I hope to check it out one day.

And you can check this one out if you're so inclined - it's out on disc and TCM has it for TCM Underground showings.

Update: after posting this review around social media - it was pointed out by more than one person that Quentin Tarantino had definitely seen this movie, considering some shots in Pulp Fiction. Coincidentally, I took this crappy cellphone pic - and I think those people are right - check this out:

Until next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork Full Of Pasta, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. Craig, great to see a review of this one, as I absolutely love it. I reviewed it years ago on a now-defunct blog, and I really could do with sticking it on again. The opening sequence is great, and really sets the tone for the film. Some of the comedy moments are great, either intentional or not; the guy who gets shot in the montage of executions who is reading about the massacre at the time, and the coffin/bomb moment was excellent. The dialogue was a hoot, too, with near incessant lamenting for the 'good old days'. Would love to see this one on a remastered DVD, along with the sequel! I believe Grindhouse Releasing had screenings of Gone With the Pope, but I could be wrong...

    1. I'm pleased this hard to find movie has found its way out into the world - even over the Big Pond. Yes, when it is hitting on all cylinders it really is a bang up movie. Grindhouse does seem to have both movies - it surely will only be a matter of time before they issue both of them on disc...they will both find a place in the video vault, for sure.

  2. Grindhouse has both Massacre Mafia Style & Gone With The Pope on their (hopefully) upcoming release list. I too love this movie with it's "Hey, lets go make a movie !" low budget Godfather vibe.

    1. And there's some corroboration of the movies' impending release. Thanks, Dick!

  3. We spent some time talking about this movie and Duke Mitchell in the latest episode of our podcast. If you're interested you can check it out at http://filmageddon.com/episode-6-podcast-mafia-style-with-jacobqknight/