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Francesco Rosi's 1973 film Lucky Luciano (made, not coincidently, in the wake of the success of The Godfather) stars Gian Maria Volontè as infamous mobster Charles ‘Lucky' Luciano. The earliest parts of the story take place in 1946 when he's been pardoned by the American government and sent back to his native Sicily (where he was born Salvatore Lucania), the latest parts take place in 1962, when he passed away from a fatal heart attack. In between these segments, Rosi skillfully uses flashback sequences to fill us in on what happened between these two notable bookends in Luciano's life.
We learn how Luciano was responsible for orchestrating the death of forty different mafia bosses, how he really brought the mafia to power in New York City, how he really took advantage of the criminal opportunities offered him after the first World War ended and how he wound up on the wrong end of a Senate investigation. After he's extradited to Sicily, he tries to keep a grip on the power he once had, albeit from the other side of the Atlantic, but by this point rival mobsters are gunning for him and the authorities are well aware of who he is and what he's been up to. Along the way, Federal Bureau of Narcotics agent Charles Siragusa (played by Siragusa himself) tries to bring him down by turning Luciano's right hand man, Gene Giannini (Rod Steiger), into an informant.
Rosi's film doesn't always spends as much time on some of the more interesting elements in Luciano's story as it should and at times it feels a bit disjointed, but more of than not it does work very well. There was clearly a decent budget behind this film as the production values are quite strong across the board. The cinematography from Pasqualino De Santis is excellent and the score, courtesy of composer Piero Piccioni is also very good, quite moving and dramatic at times. The use of flashbacks means you have to pay close attention to figure out the timeline as it weaves around a fair bit, but despite some questionable editing choices, the pacing remains pretty solid throughout the duration of the picture (which runs just short of the two hour mark).
A big part of the draw here, however, is going to be the cast that Rosi was able to assemble for the film. Gian Maria Volontè, always a tempestuous presence in any film, is very well-suited to play the titular gangster. Here he can be suave, charming and amiable but so too can he be a violent and angry man. Volontè takes the part and runs with it, really doing a great job of crafting an interesting character and commanding our attention pretty much any time he's on the screen. Rod Steiger is also very good here as Gene Giannini and it's interesting to watch the two storied actors play off of one another in the scenes that they share together. The supporting work from Siragusa is just okay but Vincent Gardenia, Edmond O'Brien and the beautiful Magda Konopka are all very good in their respective supporting roles. It is, however, Volontè's show and he makes the most of it.
Lucky Luciano arrives on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer provided by Studio Canal framed at 1.85.1 widescreen taking up just over 36.6GBs of space on the 50GB disc. This transfer was taken from a 4k restoration of the original negative and it looks very good. The image is consistently film-like, showing plenty of natural grain but not much at all in the way of noticeable print damage. Detail is very good here and while this isn't the most colorful film ever made (it's heavy on greys and browns and blacks) the transfer reproduces the colors accurately. There aren't any issues with any obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement to note and the strong bit rate ensures that compression artifacts aren't ever a problem. All in all, it looks very good.
The only audio option on the disc is a 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track in English with optional subtitles provided in English only. This is a fairly dialogue driven film but the track handles everything well, giving things some punch when the movie calls for it and doing a very nice job with the score. No problems with any hiss or distortion and the levels are balanced nicely. The subtitles are clean, clear, easy to read and free of any noticeable typos.
An audio commentary by author and critic Simon Abrams is the main extra on the disc. He offers up some information on the real life character that inspired the film, details on Francisco Rosi's storied career and a lot of the themes that his films explore, the politics behind the film, the advertising and marketing of the film, the use of violence in the movie, what sets this film apart from other gangster movies of the same era, notes on the cast and crew that were involved in the picture and thoughts on their performances and quite a bit more. It's heavy on biographical details but pretty interesting stuff and well delivered at that.
The disc also includes bonus trailers for Illustrious Corpses, The Don Is Dead, Prime Cut, Newman's Law, Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia and Street People as well as menus and chapter selection options.
Lucky Luciano isn't a perfect film but it's a very good one and it's worth seeing just for the lea performance alone. Kino's Blu-ray release isn't stacked with extras but the commentary track is quite interesting and the presentation is very strong. 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.