Review: Lucky Luciano

[Originally published in Movietone News 36, October 1974]

Francesco Rosi’s attempt to adapt the method of The Mattei Affair to the career of Charles “Lucky” Luciano fails almost completely. What made the earlier film such a morally disturbing and aesthetically challenging experience was its formal complexity as a real-life mystery story in which the levels and processes of the narrative act became implicated in the hypotheses and half-truths it hoped to sort out. No such structural complexity informs Lucky Luciano. Sections of the movie are compelling, partly because they are imaginatively filmed, partly—the greater part—because they provide us with fascinating historical dirt: e.g., the connivance between Vito Genovese (Charles Cioffi) and the United States Army after the liberation of Italy. But whereas the fractured chronology and mixture of narrative modes served in Mattei Affair to render the very abundance of its mountain of evidence meaningful, here the method merely produces a muddle.

Matters are not helped by the randomly bilingual soundtrack: Luciano (Gian Maria Volonté) was an American criminal and there is plenty of reason for some of the film to be spoken in English, but one suspects that the U.S. version contains a bit more of it than the Italian does, and some of the Italian-accented voices reading that English make one yearn for subtitles—a lot of it just can’t be understood. Rosi does not put himself into the film as he did in The Mattei Affair, but he does make use of nonprofessional actor Charles Sarigusa as Charles Sarigusa, the U.S. Narcotics Bureau investigator who made nailing Luciano his life’s mission. Lucky Luciano demonstrates some of the reasons why Sarigusa was foiled again and again (often because of Stateside political games). Still, when Luciano is finally felled at an airport by an irrelevant heart attack while waiting to discuss a screenplay based on his life, Rosi’s own movie lies unachieved beside him.

RTJ

LUCKY LUCIANO
Direction: Francesco Rosi. Screenplay: Rosi, Tonino Guerra, et al.; English dialogue: Jerome Chodorov. Cinematography: Pasqualino de Santis. Music: Piero Piccioni.
The Players: Gian Maria Volonté, Charles Sarigusa, Rod Steiger, Charles Cioffi, Vincent Gardenia, Edmond O’Brien, Larry Gates.

Copyright © 1974 Richard T. Jameson


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