The latest rediscovery from Rialto Pictures—the cinephile archeologists who brought you Army of Shadows last year—Mafioso is notable for being one of the first films to deal with the Mafia. As such, some claim it influenced Coppola and Scorsese, but it’s first and foremost a comedy, both manic and dry.
After years of living in Milan, Fiat efficiency expert Nino (Sordi) travels with his wife and daughters to his hometown in Sicily, where, naturally, he pays his respects to Don Vincenzo (Attanasio, director Lattuada’s father-in-law). The don in turn requests a favor of Nino—compelling the company man into service by a very different kind of fiat.
Virtually unknown in the U.S., director Lattuada was reportedly acclaimed for his oddball tonal shifts, which Mafioso offers in spades. The assembly-line opening recalls Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936); the conclusion couldn’t be more ominous with a walk-on from Michael Corleone. In between, tiresome ethnic yuks reign supreme, as Nino’s wife (Bengell) offends the locals with her lack of appetite and Sordi—one of the vitelloni in Fellini’s I Vitelloni (1953)—attempts to hold the movie together with his unique brand of physical comedy. In a period of Italian cinema concerned with the soul-crushing effects of work—from Ermanno Olmi’s heartbreaking Il Posto (1961) to Antonioni’s Eclipse (1962)—Mafioso seems more of a footnote than a classic.