Cast & Crew
Antonio Badalamenti, supervisor in a factory in Milan, leaves with his wife and two daughters for a vacation in his native Sicily, taking along a package from his company manager to Don Vincenzo, an important man in Colanzano, Badalamenti's hometown. There is a joyous family reunion, but Badalamenti's wife is uneasy with the Sicilians. Badalamenti visits Don Vincenzo, for whom he was once an errand boy. He delivers the package and is invited on a hunting trip. When he arrives for the trip, Don Vincenzo reminds him of his indebtedness to him and asks Badalamenti to deliver a letter for him. He agrees and then is shut up in a crate and flown to the United States. Released from the crate, he finds himself among Italian-American gangsters. He delivers the letter, learns that he is selected to shoot a certain person, and is shown films to help him identify his victim. Horrified, he agrees to the murder, knowing that his wife and children will be unsafe if he refuses. Driven to a barbershop, he kills the man and then is immediately flown back to Sicily. He is repentent of his crime, but, knowing the Mafia law of "silence or death," he returns with his family to Milan and resumes his normal existence.
Francesco Lo Briglio
Age & Scarpelli
Antonio is a classic modern figure in the postwar world: Sicilian by birth that is, a hick he is now a white-collar Northerner, complete with workaholic techno job (an efficiency expert in a Milan Fiat plant), urban manners, a beautiful blond Northern wife (Norma Bengell), and two blond children. He's been away from home long enough to idealize it, and so when he takes his family south to Sicily for his first extended vacation, he's practically drunk on idealizations of how beautiful, rustic, and loving his hometown and old peasant family are or were. Mafioso's comedy emanates from the slippage between Antonio's dreams and the Sicilian reality: the village is a slope-headed mess of spite, ignorance, over-eating, and violence. Coming into town, Antonio observes an old-school funeral party, and he's revved up to share this pageant-of-life moment with his family when the cause of death is explained: "Two pistol shots!" Like Chevy Chase on holiday, Antonio doesn't bat an eye; "OK, let's go!" he instantly rejoinders, gunning the engine.
Lattuada's satirical razor is sharp and freely swung, mocking Sicily savagely, down to Antonio's sister's impossibly heavy mustache "So beautiful!" he cries obliviously to the matter-of-fact knife fight started between two withered octogenarians over a patch of land. Or is the film deriding Northern stereotypes of Sicilians or both? Certainly, because it was 1962 and no one had yet been thoroughly Godfather-ized, the portrayal of the village's local Don, and the worship he receives from everyone in sight, including Antonio, couldn't have been a broad cultural swipe, but rather a realistic gloss on what locals knew to be the truth about Sicilian life. Elsewhere, and even in northern Italy, the Mafia was only a matter of the occasional headline and the random criminal endeavor. The screenwriters (among them filmmaker-to-be Marco Ferreri) even named Antonio after a real gangster Gaetano Badalamenti who soon after the film's release would become a caporegime. Entrusted by his Fiat-factory boss in Milan with a package to deliver to the Don, Antonio unknowingly volunteers himself for "family business," but exactly how much he actually knows, or suspects, is always a tantalizing conundrum.
While the dusty, backwards village itself physically conjures memories of both Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964, where Italian poverty stood in, purposefully, for ancient-times Judea) and Abbas Kiarostami's The Wind Will Carry Us (1999, where the mountain hamlet held more mysteries than were ever resolved), Mafioso's focus rarely detours from Antonio, who is nothing if not a man caught between two extremes two cultures, two eras, two ideas of himself, two ethical measures. In the beginning the conflicted pressure of re-entering the Sicily he once knew and had escaped from practically makes him implode his Energizer-bunny gaiety stands in sharp relief against the stoicism of the locals. (His crone-like mother, whom Antonio cannot accurately pick from a crowd of identical old Sicilian hags, doesn't utter a word for several days of her son's visit.) Tellingly, we never learn anything about Antonio's life prior to heading north as a young man. (His family don't seem to care enough about him to talk about it.) We catch little signals his shrugging acceptance of violence, his revelatory expertise as a marksman that suggest Antonio is a man with secrets, just as Sicily itself is seen as a sociopathic sub-civilization posing as a charmingly primitive Mediterranean enclave.
It's clear as Antonio is happily launched into preparations for the "favor" he'll do the Don which entails not only gunplay but a cross-Atlantic flight to New York, bundled into a shipping crate that he is not merely guileless, but somehow a natural-born "mafioso," that is, a member of the pack, without superego and ready to take orders. Which makes him, of course, the perfect industrial cog as well. But the nature of Lattuada's film as it gradually, absurdly, and then rather grimly, transitions from Sicily to a through-the-looking-glass journey to New York, is so offbeat that you begin to see it as a kind of symbolic passage, a reverse coming-of-age odyssey in which Antonio, whose acquiescent wonderland reactions suggest that he may think he's dreaming, undergoes the trial of the modern Western man, defining oneself as an alpha-provider in the New World but being hapless dragged, as a soldier or a slave, into the vicious demands of the old ways, the world of might-is-right and medieval brutality.
Sordi, with his Nicolas Cage eyes, feasts on every comic opportunity, and Mafioso is tirelessly funny (emerging from the crate in New York, Antonio doesn't ask any questions, just bolts for the men's room). But it has a strange and moral soul, and was certainly one of the first films to fully posit the Dostoyevskian thought that killing poisons the killer. The Godfather took that notion and ran with it, just as it took the bridge-crossing-to-the-hit imagery and the mundaneity of slaughter in the barber shops and restaurants of the city's outer boroughs, as well as the now-familiar vision of Sicily as a sun-drenched paradise pockmarked with corpses. Of course, Lattuada's is the mirror image of Michael Corleone's voyage, beginning in the old country and landing, as if in a hallucination, in America.
Producer: Antonio Cervi
Director: Alberto Lattuada
Screenplay: Rafael Azcona, Marco Ferreri, Age Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli
Cinematography: Armando Nannuzzi
Art Direction: Carlo Egidi
Music: Piero Piccioni
Film Editing: Nino Baragli
Cast: Alberto Sordi (Antonio Badalamenti), Norma Bengell (Marta), Gabriella Conti (Rosalia), Ugo Attanasio (Don Vincenzo), Cinzia Bruno (Donatella), Katiusca Piretti (Patrizia), Armando Tine (Dr. Zanchi), Lilly Bistrattin (Dr. Zanchi's secretary)
by Michael Atkinson
Mafioso - Alberto Sordi Stars in Alberto Lattuada's 1962 Black Comedy - MAFIOSO on DVD
The amusing but essentially serious gangster movie stars Alberto Sordi, an actor known for both comedy and drama. Its deceptively simple script helps us understand why the Mafia is so thoroughly entrenched in Sicilian life.
Synopsis: Production foreman Nino Badalamenti (Alberto Sordi) can't wait to take his family on a vacation visit to his native Sicily. Nino's boss at the Turin auto factory entrusts him to carry a small gift for Don Vincenzo (Ugo Attanasio), the respected Mafia chieftain in Nino's hometown. Wife Marta (Norma Bengell, Planet of the Vampires) isn't eager to trade Turin for the privations of the tiny Badalamenti house, especially after a hostile reception from her mother-in-law. When the paternal Don Vincenzo does Nino's father a big favor, Nino gratefully says that he's indebted to the wily old mobster. It's just a figure of speech to Nino, but a blood oath to his Sicilian kin. Vincenzo has big plans for Nino to repay the debt.
Mafioso uses a documentary approach from the very beginning, as Nino Badalamenti oversees metalworkers on a Fiat assembly line. He kowtows to his boss and rushes through the frustrating traffic like any other Italian city dweller. Separated from la famiglia for fifteen years, Nino can't wait to return to the homeland he idealizes. As their boat approaches Messina, wife Marta isn't as enthusiastic: for the average Northern Italian, Sicily is a backward and inhospitable place of misery and vendetta.
Marta is dismayed by her husband's euphoria. When his car pauses next to a funeral, Nino asks how the man died. "Two shots" says a relative. People whisper about friends who have gone missing after having betrayed the Mafia. The Badalamentis stare coldly at Marta, a blonde from the North who smokes cigarettes. Nobody's doing anything about Nino's little sister's very prominent moustache, and she's supposed to be married soon. Unemployed laggards stare at Marta from the bars and ogle her on the beach. Yet Nino still sings his love for his hometown.
The imperious Don Vincenzo receives Nino with caution. The Mafia had a different meaning in post-war Sicily -- as explained in Francesco Rosi's Salvatore Giuliano, the organization helped take the island back from its German occupiers. According to the Sicilians, after the liberation the Americans reneged on a promise of independence from Italy. Corrupt politicians colluded with Mafia traditionalists to wipe out the organization's revolutionary wing. Nino's hometown is now in terrible economic shape, and only those with ties to Don Vincenzo prosper. Even the local baroness does Vincenzo's bidding.
Every favor from the Mafia carries a hidden price. A cranky neighbor has refused to sell a desirable plot of land to the Badalamenti family. Don Vincenzo uses his influence and the problem vanishes. When Vincenzo's nephew Don Liborio (Carmelo Oliveiro) determines that Nino is a crack shot, we realize that Nino is being gently coerced into performing an undisclosed return favor. Liborio invites Nino on a two-day hunting trip that turns out to be something completely different.
That's when Mafioso becomes much, much darker. Don Vincenzo has only to mention Marta and the children, and Nino realizes that he has no choice -- he must do as he is asked. Marta would never understand. She's finally enjoying herself, having charmed Nino's family by using city-girl smarts to remove the sister's unwanted facial hair. Hooray, shouts the Badalamenti family -- let's marry her off quick before it grows back! Meanwhile, Nino has an appointment with destiny.
Alberto Sordi has a vaguely funny face and his emotional reactions are amusing, but he's no fool. We're concerned when his future and his family are put in jeopardy. Mafioso's tone shifts from light comedy to uneasy suspense, and continues to darker revelations. Nino learns that his life is essentially beyond his control. He's the pawn of men more powerful than he. A secret, feudalistic organization can whisk Nino to a far-off country and force him to become an assassin, without batting an eye.
One of the first Italians to make crime films after the war, the underappreciated Alberto Lattuada was never firmly associated with any particular genre or style. He's the co-director of the classic Variety Lights, although critics frequently write as if the film were all Federico Fellini's doing. Made in the same year, Rosi's Salvatore Giuliano offers an intellectual critique of Mafia history, while Lattuada's Mafioso presents the Mafia's power in terms that anyone can understand.
Criterion's DVD of Mafioso comes in a flawless enhanced B&W transfer. Piero Piccioni's animated score hits all of the film's moods. Sharp B&W cinematography by Armando Nannuzzi captures the blazing sun of Sicily and the grayer light of Turin. Ironically, when Nino finds himself in a foreign land, we see a movie marquee advertising the latest gangster hit: The Scarface Mob!
Curtis Tsui is Criterion's disc producer. An insert booklet contains essays by Phillip Lopate and Roberto Chiesi, and a text interview with director Lattuada from a 1982 book by Claudio Camerini. Filmmaker Daniele Luchetti interviews Lattuada in a 1996 filmed interview and new interviews are provided with Carla Del Poggio and Alessandro Lattuada, Alberto's wife and son. They all agree on one thing -- Lattuada's eclectic career is difficult to pin down.
For more information about Mafioso, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Mafioso, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Mafioso - Alberto Sordi Stars in Alberto Lattuada's 1962 Black Comedy - MAFIOSO on DVD
Filmed on location in Sicily and New York City. Opened in Rome in October 1962 as Il mafioso; running time: 105 min.