Now On Blu-ray: Duke Mitchell's MASSACRE MAFIA STYLE And GONE WITH THE POPE From Grindhouse Releasing
Duke Mitchell's left no real film legacy to speak of until Grindhouse took control of these films and made them into cult experiences. It's just a shame that Mitchell isn't around to see his films become more than just 90 minutes of manic action and monologuing. These new editions are a feather in the cap of everyone involved, if you're interested in why, just keep reading.
I actually reviewed the "Family Edition" of Massacre Mafia Style back in February of 2011. That DVD was released by Jeffrey Mitchell, Duke's son, and was sourced from a 1" video tape master. It looks pretty dire. However, since the film is the same, I'm going to be quoting a lot of my review of the content and adding comments to reflect on this.
Most people who know of Massacre Mafia Style, the epic underground low-budget gangster film from all-around entertainer Duke Mitchell, from its frenetically paced trailer, shown below. Those of us who make it a practice to seek out these exploitation styled gems know that the film rarely lives up to the trailer. Is Massacre Mafia Style another such manipulation? How can a film possibly live up to a trailer this outstanding? Read on...
The film is the story of Dominic "Mimi" Miceli (Duke Mitchell's birth name), the son of an exiled mafia kingpin, who travels from Italy where he is in exile with his father, to Los Angeles to start up the family business again. Mimi is a take no prisoners kinda guy, he finds a childhood friend who was also a member of his father's family, and they get to work doing the town. The film is absolutely full of what seems like stereotypical Italian "goomba" behavior, but the whole thing has a very true ring to it. In his first attempt to get the attention of the local crime bosses from church on Sunday, he kidnaps the local capo, an old underling of his father's, and holds him for ransom. He announces his demands via a pinky in a box, in a scene that will bring to mind either the toe in The Big Lebowski or the turd in a box from Pink Flamingos, take your pick. It works, Mimi gets his ransom and big crime boss is released in time to attend his son's wedding. Who shows up to the wedding but Mimi and his best pal Jolly, apparently they rolled in on their balls of steel, and set up shop at the family table to talk business.
This is how Mimi operates, he sees what he wants, and he takes it, or at the very least, he makes sure no one else can have it. Eventually he treads a little bit too heavily on the toes of the other bosses in town and they attempt to call in a hit, at which point Mimi and Jolly go apeshit. They find out that a hit is in, and they don't bother finding out who placed it, they just go around killing anyone they think might be involved. Again, that is how Mimi rolls, shoot first, ask questions later.
The film was not so much influenced by The Godfather, as it was a challenge to that film. Duke Mitchell was an auteur, and even though he only made two films, he really made them count. Mitchell packs Massacre Mafia Style with characters, all sporting mafia nicknames, but none of them really amount to anything. Massacre Mafia Style is a one-man show, and we are lucky that the one man is Duke Mitchell. He gives himself all the best lines, he gives himself the prettiest girl, he gives himself a couple of really nicely profound monologues, and he directs it in such a way that he is in almost every single frame of the movie. For some films that wouldn't work, but with this one, it wouldn't work any other way. Massacre Mafia Style is Duke Mitchell.
Duke Mitchell had no idea that he was making an exploitation film. You can tell that this film, while violent and ugly, was made with his blood, sweat, and tears. Mitchell wanted this film to be epic, and while it may fall slightly short of that, it never, not for a second, fails to be entertaining and it overcomes its handicaps in spades. You can tell that many of the people in the film are not actors, it is perfectly obvious. I won't tell you that it lends any kind of realism to the film. Their performances are stilted and most line readings feel like first takes. However, like I mentioned above, it isn't a film about them. Duke Mitchell could have been acting opposite cardboard cutouts and this film would have worked. There is love here, it is in every frame. Duke made damned sure that HIS film was done HIS way, from the script, to the direction, to the soundtrack which is filled with his songs.
At the outset of this review I asked if this film would suffer the fate of so many exploitation films and fall short of the expectations built from the trailer. The answer is a resounding no. Massacre Mafia Style is the rare film that is better than its trailer, and at a lean 79 minutes, it never lets up. There is no filler, in this film, it is all killer.
Okay, that was a big quote, but I stand by all of it. The film is amazing, and for my money the better of the two films Mitchell made. If you're at all interested in a completely insane mafia movie that takes no shit from anyone, this is your movie.
Here's where I start to roll out the superlatives. Grindhouse Releasing's Blu-ray release of Massacre Mafia Style is a monumental improvement over the old tape sourced DVD. The image quality of the older disc, which I described as "ugly" is no more. It is replaced with an impossibly clean and polished looking restoration from Grindhouse that makes this grimy film look like it could have been shot yesterday. The quality is truly amazing, and for the fans of film grain out there, you're in for a treat. Gone is the rusty, drab looking VHS dub and now we get real, honest to goodness film grain to replace it. I can't shower enough praise on the team at Grindhouse for this restoration, it is amazing. As I suspected, the film does crop beautifully to 1.85:1 from the original open matte DVD, well done, guys. The audio, which was less terrible on the old DVD, gets a substantial upgrade with a new lossless audio mono track that, again, brings the film into the modern era without skipping a beat.
One thing that I was worried about when this release was finally announced, after years of back and forth regarding whether it was ever actually going to happen, was the amount of supplemental material we were going to get. While the transfer itself was no great shakes, the bonus material on the original disc was amazing, but that stuff doesn't always make teh jump to a new release. I'm happy to say, however, that nearly all of the previous extras are here, and rather than trying to come up with new words, I'll repost my thoughts on some of those from my previous review here:
The most impressive is an hour long documentary following the lives of Duke and his son Jeffrey. For the many of us who are young, or weren't aware of Duke Mitchell's fame and/or notoriety, this is a great way to find out. Jeffrey narrates much of the doc, adding in interviews from the above commentators and tons of great anecdotes from both his life and his father's. Duke was not a gentle man, and he didn't take shit from anyone, so you get the feeling that Massacre Mafia Style was a sort of fictionalized autobiography, which makes it even more entertaining, if that is possible. Also included on the second disc are extended interviews with Frankie Ray and George Jacobs. These interviews are hilarious, with Frankie and George going into numerous anecdotes about Duke, Sinatra, Lenny Bruce, and others that are really great stories. I definitely recommend checking them out. Rounding out the features are first a massive photo and audio gallery with photos from Duke's personal collection from Massacre Mafia Style and beyond and featuring a few of Jeffrey Mitchell's songs from the 70's when he was a working musician in the UK, also there is an audio recording from one of Duke's final live performances. Good stuff, but nowhere near as good as the film itself or the documentary included on the disc.
In addition to these great features, there is even more new material from Grindhouse, which definitely cements this as a must own disc. While we lose the three audio commentary tracks from the original DVD (no huge loss, really), we get enough new material to replace it that I don't miss it for a second. There's an addition 11 minutes of interview footage with Matt Cimber (director, The Witch That Came From the Sea), and Jim LoBianco (actor, Gone With the Pope), the infamous Jimmy Durante special in its entirety, nearly an hour of Duke Mitchell's home movies provided by the Mitchell estate and backed by recordings of Duke's (pretty entertaining stuff, far more so that I would've thought), an audio recording of Duke like in concert in 1960, all of the radio spots and still galleries we had before. Probably the most impressive feature on here is the inclusion of Duke Mitchell's big screen debut, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, long spoken of but pretty rarely seen.
That's not even everything. The list goes on and on. Bonus trailers, promotional materials, a great booklet from David Szulkin, and more. Thankfully, though, the real gem is the film. If you've never seen Massacre Mafia Style, rest assured that you don't need a doctorate in Duke-ology to enjoy the film, it'll assault you with gory goodness and delightfully antiquated machismo at every turn. Massacre Mafia Style is the real deal, and Grindhouse Releasing's DVD is an early contender for home video release of the year.