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Don is Dead, The
Directed by filmmaker Richard Fleischer in 1973 for Universal Pictures and based on the novel of the same name by Marvin H. Albert, The Don Is Dead follows Frank Regalbuto (Robert Forster), a mobster in the employ of a crime family operating out of Las Vegas. When the elder Don of the family dies, Angelo DiMorra (Anthony Quinn) moves in to take his place and Frank is loyal to him, the way a good mafia soldier should be.
Things get tricky when the rival mob in the area puts the moves on the DiMorra family's turf, hoping to move in and wipe them out. They're clever enough to get Frank embroiled in all of this too, staging things in such a way that he starts to believe that his girlfriend, Ruby (Angel Tomkins), is sleeping with Angelo, the idea here being that Frank will not be happy with this and take Angelo out for them. Eventually Frank brings in two brothers, Tony (Frederic Forrest) and Vince (Al Lettierie) Faro, a pair of hitmen by trade. Frank needs them to back him up as he decides it's time to climb the ladder and set things right.
Of course, nothing can be as simple as that...
Expertly directed and benefitting immensely from an excellent cast, The Don Is Dead is an underrated gem of a film. Rife with gritty seventies atmosphere and very tightly paced, the film has all the of the backstabbings and betrayals that you'd want out of a good crime film, and plenty of style to match. Shot by cinematographer Richard H. Kline and featuring an excellent score from the legendary Jerry Goldsmith, Universal definitely put some muscle behind this one and the results are a very strong film. The script (from Christopher Trumbo, Michael Butler and Marvin H. Albert) gives audiences the right mix of drama, action, suspense and character development and it does a good job of fleshing out the characters of Frank and Angelo to the point where we have no problem investing just a few minutes short of two full hours with them.
While Fleischer and his writing team certainly deserve plenty of credit for making the people that populate The Don Is Dead as interesting as they are, and certainly for ensuring that we want to know how their stories play out, the cast also really delivers with this picture. Robert Forster's world-weary persona and penchant for playing things naturally cool is used very well here. His character is good under pressure, we know this, but he's also not one to be trifled with. The rivalry that starts to develop between he and Anthony Quinn as the plot starts to really move is the backbone of the film and both actors are great here. Quinn has got a very heavy screen presence and Fleischer isn't afraid to exploit that for all that it's worth, really bringing out some great work from the storied actor. On top of that, Angel Tomkins is pretty good as the girl in the middle of so much trouble, and both Frederic Forest and Al Lettierie do solid work as the two guns for hire. If that weren't enough, we also get supporting work from Barry Russo, Joe Santos, Abe Vigoda, Sig Haig and Vic Tayback, all of whom deliver in this film.
The Don Is Dead arrives on Region A Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studios in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.85.1 with the feature given 37GBS of space on the 50GB disc. The picture quality is very strong on this disc, there's a lot of appreciable detail noticeable throughout the movie and color reproduction looks excellent. We get nice, deep black levels while shadow detail is pretty nice in the film's darker scenes. Skin tones look nice and lifelike, and there are no problems with any compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction issues.
A 16-bit English language DTS-HD options is provided in 2.0 Mono format. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. No problems with the audio here, it sounds clean and properly balanced. There are no issues with any hiss or distortion the score sounds quite strong and the sound effects are punchy when they should be while dialogue stays easily discernable from start to finish.
Extras start off with a new audio commentary by Film Critic Sergio Mims that is both well-researched and enthusiastic. He does a good job of placing this movie into some interesting social context and is quite good at pointing out similarities but more importantly differences to other mob movies made around the same time as this feature. Along the way, he offers up plenty of information about the cast, the crew, the history of the production, the score, the locations and more, all while providing a fair bit of interesting critical analysis as well. It's a good track, worth listening to.
Aside from that, we get a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection options.
The Don Is Dead is an excellent mob story, a crime thriller filled with interesting characters brought to life by excellent performances and strong direction. Kino's Blu-ray release looks and sounds very good and while it isn't stacked with extra features, the commentary track is a strong one. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.