Brotherhood, Pre-Godfather Family

DATELINE: Mechanics Unionized 

Back in 1968, Lewis John Carlino wrote another in a bravura series of movie scripts. This time, after an intellectual horror thriller called Seconds,and a Lesbian love story called The Fox, he tackled an Organized crime story called The Brotherhood. 

It was years before Brando played Don Corleone, but many of the set-ups of the Godfather turned up before hand in a movie produced by Kirk Douglas—and he took the lead role as the Sicilian mobster.

He might seem to be miscast, but he was in charge: he also spoke perfect Italian in many scenes (and the film did not have subtitles to help audiences understand the dialogue).

Carlino’s mob features a theme he liked to explore: older gangster and younger acolyte. In this film, the older brother Frank (Douglas) has reluctantly taken his younger brother Vinnie, a war hero and college man, into the mob. If it sounds like Michael Corleone, it likely is.

Alex Cord (big things were expected) had the big role as the foil to Kirk Douglas. The film featured marriages and dancing to “Moon River” no less. There is a family compound too.

The faces of the old mob included Eduardo Cinannelli and Luther Adler, and new character stars like Murray Hamilton.

Douglas is a witty and violent man, and such men are dangerous. When they make him and offer he can’t refuse, he does—and violence follows.

With all location shots, there seem to be few studio scenes, if any. And, the streets of Palermo, Sicily, are exactly the atmosphere for your climax. One brother is sent after another. The infamous advertisement of the betrayal kiss is your pinnacle of drama.

We saw that too in the Godfather movies: mechanics sent to Sicily to dispatch people. And this movie features one of Carlino’s favorite devices: the abrupt violent end to the story and curtain black. They claimed this movie was a box-office failure—and almost caused the studios to decline Puzo’s Godfather. It certainly caused Kirk Douglas to decline an option on Carlino’s next gangster movie—The Mechanic, which eventually went to Charles Bronson.

Two Promising Stars of 1973

DATELINE:  Lost Causes

1973 stars Barry and Jan-Michael.

With some surprise, we noted that actor Jan-Michael Vincent was dead at 74. He had been a golden boy, playing the Disney star of World’s Greatest Athlete, always the derring-do hero.  He was at his pinnacle in 1973 when his adult role with Charles Bronson made people take notice in The Mechanic, wherein he played a bizarre homoerotic hitman.

He died weeks earlier, but no one bothered to release the information about his cremation—and his deterioration to amputee and drunkard. It was not a pretty picture at the end.

Almost a bookend in 1973 was another promising star who burst onto the scene. His name was Barry Brown. If Jan-Michael was golden, then Barry smoldered in swarthier looks. One director who worked with him, Peter Bogdonavich, claimed Barry was the only American actor who actually looked like he had read a book.

Brown had aspirations to edit and to write. His seminal performance was in Daisy Miller, opposite Cybill Shepard. He played Winterbourne, the oblivious intellectual. A year earlier he costarred with Jeff Bridges in Bad Company. He was in that league.

You don’t remember him because he died in 1978 of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head at his home. Who knows what demons drove him?

They were likely similar to the demons that caused Jan-Michael to indulge in a slow self-destruction, inebriated and useless, throwing his career into the garbage pail.

The promising stars of 1973 were polar opposites and similar in so many ways. They never appeared in one scene together, and they could have controlled a generation of buddy films.

We think of them at their acme often. Their great movies are watchable today and brilliant, likely owing to plot, direction, and costars, as well as their own contributions.

We might watch Daisy Miller and The Mechanic on a double-bill to toast these lost boys of the movies. Alas, it was our loss.