The Godfather really upped the ante in the gangster flick; great actors, a fresh emphasis on family and domestic life, and some blood-curdling violence that blew away the cobwebs of cliché. The Godfather Part II followed sharpish, but before then, The Don Is Dead was a fairly overt attempt to rework the formula in modern-day garb. While there are a few regrettable elements here, it’s worth a watch for a cross-generational cast of character actors and some GTA-style action scenes from veteran director Richard Fleischer.
Written by Dalton Trumbo’s son Christopher, this adaptation of a Marvin J Albert novel features a star turn from Anthony Quinn as Don Angelo DiMorra, who takes over as the head of a crime syndicate. Not everyone is happy with his ascent to the throne, and Frank (Robert Forster) is amongst the malcontents; his own father was the previous mob-boss, and Frank feels passed over. There’s also plenty of other dissent, namely from Frederick Forrest as a hood, Joe Santos from The Rockford Files, Sid Haig of course, and Al Lettieri, always a imposing presence. That’s quite an obstacle course, made even more formidable when the new Don’s health starts packing up. But the Don has a plan; by getting the fake news out that he himself has passed away, a deadly power struggle ensues….
So there’s a catch here, and that’s several scenes of domestic violence ie violence towards women which are handled without any great thought or sensitivity; while this may reflect attitudes of the time, this something of a problem for modern viewers. But if you choose to ignore such elements, and this is one of a number of 70’s movies which reflect retrograde male views about women to a worrying extent, The Don is Dead has a certain vigor when it comes to observing the gangster lifestyle, and Fleischer really knows how to handle the cops vs crims action.
In fact, if you dig The Godfather’s killer montages, you’ve come to the right place here since there’s plenty of urban bloodletting, delivered in gratuitous and detailed ways. The poster promises the ‘bloodiest carnival of murder that America had ever seen’ and that may not be far off the mark. The Don Is Dead is a stark, hard crime story that offers a crude but cutting critique of the criminalisation of America.