Why the hell has it taken so long for anyone to discover this Seventies crime film gem?
Reviewed by Jerry Renshaw, Fri., Jan. 12, 2001
D: Carlo Lizzani (1974); with Peter Boyle, Paula Prentiss, Eli Wallach, Fred Williamson, Henry Winkler, Hervé Villechaize.
Joey Gallo was a real-life New York mobster who began as a $100 hitman and aspired to knock over the entire NYC mafia hierarchy to become a capo di capo himself. The flamboyant Gallo nearly succeeded before wandering onto the wrong turf (and pissing off the wrong people) and getting murdered. Boyle plays Joey Gallo in this luridly violent mobster saga, which traces his ascent from 1960 through 1971 as he goes from being a knock-around guy to assembling his own audacious little crew to taking on the city's crime families. You know things are going to get interesting when the movie's opening scenes have Boyle in a near-empty theatre watching 1947's Kiss of Death and echoing all of Richard Widmark's lines with great relish. When a patron tells Boyle to be quiet, he vaults two rows of seats and threatens the guy with a razor while doing the Widmark giggle. As Gallo, Boyle slicks back his thinning hair and favors loud polyesters, throwing in a characterization that's simultaneously repulsive and fascinating. During a stay in prison, Gallo befriends a black prison gang (he is even called in to help mediate a settlement during a prison riot). The gang (led by Williamson) then becomes Gallo's muscle upon his release from the pen, which certainly provides an interesting twist. Wallach plays Don Vittorio, the head of the crime families, who becomes gradually more alarmed at Gallo's hit-and-run tactics and ruthless drive. Being an Italian production (shot entirely on location in NYC), director Lizzani gets the Cosa Nostra feel down pat with certain scenes written in Italian with no subtitles, as well as providing a thick cross-section of seedy Seventies New York. It all comes together like a Scorsese movie, a rawer Scorsese without the polish or panache, relying instead on pungent dialogue and gritty performances to propel things along. The movie plows ahead with an incredible amount of cheapjack energy and hardly any wasted effort to be found, with some incredibly brutal set-pieces and the slimy charisma of Boyle as the volatile Gallo. There are plenty of little gems of crime films to be found in the various dusty corners of the Seventies. The question is, why the hell has it taken so long for anyone to discover Crazy Joe?