Franco Nero, what an actor. Those piercing blue eyes and his innate ability to make you believe he’s going through a multitude of emotions at the same time. He starred in several pictures in his home country of Italy, ranging from Westerns like Django to American films such as Camelot and even John Wick 2, but some of his best roles were in crime and political thrillers, especially those directed by Damiano Damiani.
Cosa Nostra is a new boxset from Radiance Films that collects three of the four films that Nero and Damiani collaborated on: The Day of the Owl (1968), The Case is Closed: Forget It (1971), and How to Kill a Judge (1975). Each film looks at the emerging mafia and how their corruption spreads through all walks of life, but especially authorities and politicians. The films also explore Italy’s differences in the class hierarchy and what elements can effect change in the political and police systems while coming up against many obstacles.
The Day of the Owl sees Nero as a member of the Carabinieri (a kind of military police) who is investigating the murder of a truck driver on a newly constructed highway, which is complicated further by the death of the man who witnessed it. His wife (Claudia Cardinale) is determined to find justice but all important figures seem to be in the employ of the local Don (Lee J. Cobb).
The Case is Closed: Forget It has Nero as a rich businessman who is put in prison for a traffic collision. He expects to be let out shortly, but as bureaucracy takes its time, he descends deeper and deeper into madness as he is mentally tortured by some of the prisoners, and used as a pawn by another who happens to be a mafia big man. He soon learns that money can’t buy everything and, unless you’re connected, you’ll be at the mercy of the system.
In How to Kill a Judge, Nero is a journalist and social film director who makes a movie in which a judge is shown to be corrupt before being killed. Soon after its release, the judge the film is based on is murdered, apparently by a radicalised man. Fingers are pointed at many, with politicians believed to have links with organised crime, and the director has to figure it all out before an innocent man is put to death and his film is blamed for it all.
Each film is a top-class example of how good Damiano’s pictures were. These are movies that use their genre trappings to have something to say about corruption, media, and authority, and much of it is strikingly relevant today. The Day of the Owl has a strong feminist edge with Cardinale’s character fighting against the image that others have of her as a whore, something that is seen in the other films as an example of classism. What’s interesting is none of the pictures have easy answers and end in either crushing defeat or a bitter victory.
Nero is fantastic in all three, but especially in The Case is Closed: Forget It as a man truly terrified of other men in an exploration of masculinity as well as affluence and its influences. How to Kill A Judge is the best of the three, bringing in relevant themes about media while making overtures towards becoming a giallo.
Radiance has done a fantastic job with the set, with each film having a new 2K restoration. All are available in Italian or English, with The Day of the Owl having a longer cut for the Italian version versus a shorter “export cut”. All three films look and sound great for the era, with uncompressed mono soundtracks for each film that sound wonderful, especially in regards to the three scores by Giovanni Fusco (The Day of the Owl), Ennio Morricone (The Case is Closed: Forget It), and Riz Ortolani (How to Kill a Judge).
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Each disc also includes thoughtful extra features, with three contemporary interviews with Franco Nero about each film, as well as an archival interview with Claudia Cardinale and further pieces on the Italian crime film genre and how these films reflect it. There are also three video essays – one for each film – by Howard S. Berger, Rachael Nisbet, and David Cairns that look at different aspects of the films that are absolutely fantastic.
It sounds like a broken record, but Radiance has done a fantastic job, bringing three excellent films in great quality with fine extras. How to Kill a Judge is particularly brilliant, but all three films are worth your time and will make you want to dive into the extras. Highly recommended.
Cosa Nostra: Franco Nero in Three Mafia Tales by Damiano Damiani is out now on Blu-ray from Radiance Films.