February 5th, 2014

MASSACRE MAFIA STYLE (1978) *** ½

Years after he starred in Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, Duke Mitchell produced, directed, and starred in this gory Godfather rip-off that will have your jaw dropping more often than not. It’s full of bloody shootouts and is filmed in a grimy, grindhouse style that makes the violence feel more realistic. The flick is kinda choppy in places and some of the dialogue is stilted, but what Massacre Mafia Style lacks in polish, it more than makes up for in sheer awesomeness.

Duke Mitchell stars as Mimi, the son of a Sicilian mobster living in exile. He comes back to America and reunites with his buddy Jolly (Vic Caesar) and together, they make their bones by kidnapping a big time mobster. They then set their sights on taking over the prostitution and numbers racket and gun down anyone who stands in their way. Of course, the bloodshed makes the big bosses nervous and they force Mimi and Jolly to go “legitimate”. (AKA: Becoming porno producers.) Naturally, Mimi’s lust for violence can’t be sated and pretty soon, he goes back to shooting people.

Massacre Mafia Style is Mitchell’s singular cinematic vision pristinely preserved on film for all time’s sake. Like I said, there are several rough passages throughout the flick, but Mitchell wears his heart on his sleeve, and his passion and love for what he is doing shines through in nearly every scene. Sometimes it seems like he’s reading from his script, but other times he gives such a passionate line reading that it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. He gets a great monologue about his mother that is rather touching and he also gives his father a long speech where sticks it to that Coppola movie and tells him, “They made a movie about you!”

And of course, the violence is primo. Guys are shot, electrocuted (in a urinal, no less), and hung up on meat hooks. Guns are hidden in loafs of bread. It’s glorious. It’s nuts. I loved it.

It’s a shame that Duke Mitchell only directed two films in his lifetime. (His second, uncompleted film, Gone with the Pope is getting released on Blu Ray sometime this year.) If Massacre Mafia Style is any indication, he could’ve been a legendary exploitation filmmaker.

AKA: The Executioner. AKA: Like Father, Like Son.

ONE TOUCH OF VENUS (1948) **

Our local theater, The Clayton celebrated their 65th anniversary this week. To commemorate the occasion, they played the very first movie they showed on opening night 65 years ago, One Touch of Venus. It’s not exactly a good movie, but it skates by thanks to the historical significance (not to mention a lovely performance by Ava Gardner).

Robert Walker stars as a meek window dresser at a big department store. The owner (Tom Conway, The Saint) gets a new statue of the goddess Venus to display in the store. When Walker kisses the statue, Venus (Ava Gardner) comes to life and falls instantly in love with Walker. Naturally, this causes a lot of predictable complications at work.

If the plot sounds at all familiar, it’s because One Touch of Venus was later remade as Mannequin. And it’s definitely not nearly as good as that flick. It suffers from some pretty lame musical numbers and a thoroughly irritating performance by Walker (who resembles a half-assed Jack Lemmon at times).

Then again, Ava Gardner is so hot in this movie that I guess Walker’s idiocy is to be expected. If she was coming on to me while wearing nothing more than a sheer toga I’d probably be doing double takes and pratfalls too. The film pretty much coasts on her charms alone (although Eve Arden gets some laughs as Conway’s put upon secretary). And since Gardner is so easy on the eyes, the movie likewise is easy on the brain.

I’m a fan of director William A. Seiter. I think his Room Service is the most underrated Marx Brothers film of all time. It’s just that the hackneyed script (full of sitcom type clichés) lets all involved down.

Next week’s Clayton’s Classic: Pat and Mike!

COBRA MISSION (1986) ** ½

Three restless Vietnam vets want to make a difference. They get hired to go back to Vietnam to rescue some soldiers who are missing in action. Naturally, they face sadistic Viet Cong soldiers, but also have to deal with evil American bureaucrats who want the mission to fail.

Cobra Mission is a better than average Italian Namsploitation picture. The early scenes of the disaffected Nam vets failing to cope with civilian life worked the best. I particularly liked the scene where Christopher Connelly spent his daughter’s wedding day playing Pole Position! There’s also a pretty good scene where he and his Vietnam vet buddies blow off the reception to beat up some WWII vets in a bar.

Once the action switches over to Nam, the film gets more and more routine. But just because it doesn’t feel as fresh as the early scenes, doesn’t make this section of the film a total loss. We have Donald Pleasence playing a gun-running priest who supplies the team with weapons and speaks in a funny French accent. There’s also an icky scene where a Vietnamese prostitute shows off her napalmed chest. And while some of the jungle scenes tend to drag in spots, Connelly and his men blow up lots of bamboo huts, so things never bog down too badly. It’s just a shame that the abrupt ending ends everything on a puzzlingly awkward note.

AKA: Operation Nam. AKA: Commando Cobra.