Cosa Nostra (Box Set) – Review

Cosa Nostra - Review

By Sarah Morgan

Sergio Leone, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Dario Argento are more famous, but Damiano Damiani deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as his fellow Italian cinematic maestros.

Dubbed ‘the most American of Italian directors’ by celebrated critic Paolo Mereghetti, Damiani worked in a number of different genres, including the western (A Bullet for the General), horror (Amityville II: The Possession, a rare foray to Hollywood) and drama (Arturo’s Island), but a new boxset from Radiance Films features a trio of crime thrillers that explore his nation’s infamous underworld.

All three movies star Franco Nero, then at the peak of his powers. The Day of the Owl (1967) is based on Leonardo Sciascia’s novel, the first to openly depict organised crime in Sicily. Nero plays a dedicated police chief whose investigation into the death of a construction worker exposes corruption in high places and results in him crossing swords with a ruthless mafia boss.

Lee J Cobb is excellent as the villain, while Claudia Cardinale also appears as the dead man’s wife.

“A harsh lesson about conformity”Cosa Nostra - Review

It’s followed by The Case Is Closed, Forget It (1972), and despite its bizarre title, this is the strongest film in the set. This time Nero is an architect wrongly imprisoned for a minor offence. While behind bars, he realises how corrupt the authorities are, and that even inside, the mafia has complete control – which means that money can buy you anything.

What’s particularly intriguing is the journey Nero’s character goes on. He begins as an idealist fighting against the depravity he sees around him, but eventually, experience teaches him a harsh lesson about conformity and self-preservation.

Finally, in How to Kill a Judge (1974) Nero plays a film director whose latest work depicts the murder of a magistrate. When the real lawman who acted as an inspiration is then killed, he feels responsible and sets about investigating whodunit. It’s full of twists and turns that will keep viewers on their toes.

All three films are impressive, and sit well alongside crime movies being made in Hollywood at the time. I don’t think even Damiani himself would claim any of them to be as good as The Godfather, but few films would come out of such a comparison well. Nevertheless, they deserve a reappraisal – those of us whose cinematic fandom was formed while viewing Dirty Harry, The French Connection and their ilk will certainly find plenty to admire.

Making the set even more appealing are the special features on each disc, which include in-depth interviews with Nero as well as numerous video essays and archive chats with others involved in making each title.

‘Cosa Nostra: Franco Nero in three Mafia Tales by Damiano Damiani’ is released on Blu-ray by Radiance Films, £39.99


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