Saturday, July 22, 2017

#2,389. Muscle Beach Party (1964)

Directed By: William Asher

Starring: Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, Luciana Paluzzi

Tagline: "10,000 Biceps Meet 5,000 Bikinis..."

Trivia: Marked the screen debut of music prodigy "Little" Stevie Wonder, who receives an "introducing" credit

Back in the day, my father used to watch the Frankie Avalon / Annette Funicello “Beach” movies on TV, but I myself never cared enough to join him (after a scene or two I usually got up and left the room). So this 1964 film marked the first time I’ve seen one from start to finish, and while I wouldn’t say I made a mistake skipping this sort of fare, Muscle Beach Party is an occasionally humorous slice of mindless fun, and features one hell of a supporting cast.

It is Easter vacation, and everyone’s favorite surfing couple, Frankie (Avalon) and DeeDee (Funicello), along with a few dozen of their closest friends, are spending it on the beach, where they’ll ride waves, carouse, and dance the night away. The house they rent is right next door to a bodybuilding center owned and operated by Jack Fanny (Don Rickles), who tells the kids, in no uncertain terms, to keep away from his muscle-bound goons.

Into this picture of near-tranquility comes the Countess Juliana (Luicana Paluzzi), whose yacht is anchored offshore. With the help of her business manager S.Z. (Buddy Hackett) and attorney Theodore (Peter Turgeon), the Countess hopes to land yet another husband: “Mr. Galaxy” himself, Flex Martian (Rock Stevens), who, coincidentally, happens to be Jack Fanny’s star attraction. While S.Z. and Theodore negotiate to buy Flex’s contract, the Countess spends the day getting to know her new boyfriend.

But moments after Jack Fanny signs the agreement, the Countess spots Frankie on the beach, singing a sad song (he and DeeDee just had an argument). All at once, the Countess has a change of heart, and decides she doesn’t want Flex anymore; she wants Frankie! She tells Frankie she’ll make him a recording star, and together they’ll sail around the world. But is Frankie ready to abandon his carefree life, not to mention his relationship with DeeDee, to become the plaything of a beautiful heiress?

Muscle Beach Party is actually the second in what would be a series of twelve movies produced by Samuel Arkoff’s AIP between 1963 and 1968. Seeing as it’s a sequel, Muscle Beach Party does, on occasion, reference the previous film, 1963’s Beach Party; Morey Amsterdam (of TV’s Dick Van Dyke Show) reprises his role as Cappy, owner of a beachside nightclub that the kids frequent, and every so often he talks about “what happened the last time” Frankie and company hung out at his place.

Still, the fact that I haven’t seen Beach Party didn’t ruin Muscle Beach Party for me in the least, and I couldn’t believe the supporting cast they assembled for this film. Along with its trio of comedy legends (Hackett, Rickles, and Amsterdam), this 1964 sequel featured the screen debut of “Little” Stevie Wonder (though only 13 at the time, Wonder brings the house down with the song “Happy Street”, which he performs on-stage at Cappy’s). Also along for the ride are Dick Dale (the “King of Surf Guitar”) and his Del Tones, who perform a few tunes (including the title number), and keep an eye out as well for a Hollywood horror icon, who makes a cameo appearance towards the end.

Muscle Beach Party does have its flaws, chief among them the movie’s female lead, Annette Funicello, who has zero charisma (along with her bad acting, Funicello clearly couldn’t sing. Her brief rendition of “A Girl Needs a Boy” is so heavily processed that it sounds like she was in a tunnel when she performed it). In addition, the early surf scenes are a distraction: footage of actual surfers in the water is spliced together with shots of Funicello, Avalon, and the rest standing in front of a terrible rear projection (to make it look as if they’re the ones actually riding the waves).

These issues aside, Muscle Beach Party was a passable comedy / musical, and while it hasn’t exactly inspired me to rush out and watch the other films in the series, I enjoyed it while it lasted.

Friday, July 21, 2017

#2,388. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Directed By: Frank Oz

Starring: Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Vincent Gardenia

Tagline: "Don't feed the plants"

Trivia: "Mean Green Mother From Outer Space" (written for this film) is the first Oscar-nominated song to contain profanity

It started, as many things in Hollywood do, with Roger Corman.

It was in 1960 that Corman, along with screenwriter Charles Griffith, devised a little movie about a man-eating plant and the nerdy young florist who took care of it. 

Did I say “little” movie? Make that miniscule; The Little Shop of Horrors was shot in two days, utilizing sets that had been built for another film. Corman is notorious for keeping a watchful eye on a production’s bottom line, but with The Little Shop of Horrors he managed to outdo even himself (the final cost was about $22,000). Not only has this “little” movie become a cult classic, it also featured one of the earliest big-screen appearances of an actor named Jack Nicholson, who, as I understand it, went on to have a decent career (not to mention 12 Academy Award nominations and three Oscars).

For most low-budget pictures, this is where the story usually ends. But, 22 years later, the songwriting duo of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken would transform this 72-minute black and white flick into an off-off-Broadway musical. After debuting in 1982, Little Shop of Horrors the stage show enjoyed a 5-year run at New York’s Orpheum Theater, and has played to packed houses across the world ever since.

David Geffen, one of the producers of the stage show, then decided to bring the entire project full-circle by making yet another movie titled Little Shop of Horrors, this time turning it into a big-budget musical extravaganza, with stunning special effects, a top-notch cast, direction by Frank Oz (long-time collaborator of Muppeteer Jim Henson and the voice of Yoda in the Star Wars series), and cameos by well-known comic stars such as Jim Belushi, John Candy, and Bill Murray, just to name a few.

And, like all the previous renderings of this “little” story, Geffen’s version was a smash hit, and is a movie I fell in love with the first time I saw it on cable in the late ‘80s.

Seymour (Rick Moranis) is an underpaid employee of Mushnik’s Flower Shop, a tiny store situated in the heart of Skid Row. In an effort to drum up some business, Seymour convinces his boss Mr. Mushnik (Vincent Gardenia) to put a new flower he’s been cultivating in the front window, a plant so exotic that it’s bound to draw customers. Seymour named this plant (which, according to him, appeared from out of nowhere during a recent, unexplained solar eclipse) “Audrey II”, in honor of his co-worker Audrey (Ellen Greene), who he’s loved since he first laid eyes on her. Unfortunately for Seymour, Audrey is already dating Orin Scrivello (Steve Martin), a sadistic dentist who treats her like dirt.

Sure enough, “Audrey II” is a big success, and people come from all around just to see it. With business better than ever, Mr. Mushnik orders Seymour to take extra special care of his new plant. But as the lovesick young man will discover, this is no ordinary flower. Instead of water and sunlight, “Audrey II” needs human blood to survive, and the more it gets, the bigger it grows. After a while, “Audrey II” even starts to talk (voiced by Levi Stubbs), and what it’s telling Seymour to do could kand him in some very hot water.

But even if it can help change his lfie for the better, as "Audrey II" promises, will Seymour actually listen to a talking plant?

One of the strongest attributes of this 1986 comedy / musical is its superior cast. Rick Moranis is flawless as the nebbish Seymour, as is Ellen Greene as Audrey, a role she herself originated on Broadway. Topping the list, though, is Steve Martin as the psychotic dentist, an over-the-top performance that fits the character to a “T”. In addition, director Frank Oz utilizes the “Greek Chorus” (Tichina Arnold, Michelle Weeks, and Tisha Campbell) to perfection; along with being backup singers on practically every musical number, this trio pops up occasionally in small roles (street toughs, etc). The star cameos, including Christopher Guest (as a customer), John Candy (a radio DJ) and Bill Murray (a masochistic dental patient), are equally fun, while Motown legend Levi Stubbs provides the voice of “Audrey II”, whose foul-mouthed manipulation of Seymour results in some of the movie’s most entertaining sequences.

And then there’s the music, composed by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken (who, in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, helped restore Disney’s animation department to its former glory with their work on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin). Every single song the duo created for Little Shop of Horrors, from the opening number to "Suddenly Seymour" to "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space", is a classic. Rounding out this list of superlatives are the film’s outstanding special effects, which, by bringing an oversized plant so convincingly to life, did their part to make Little Shop of Horrors an unforgettable motion picture experience.

But the story still isn't over.

Like many films that make their way through the Hollywood system, Little Shop of Horrors was initially screened for a test audience, and while they loved the characters, this group absolutely hated the original ending, which was lifted directly from the play. Based on their reaction, the producers felt a change was needed, and told director Oz and company to shoot a more upbeat finale.

It’s certainly not the first time such an alteration was forced on a filmmaker, but what made this particular change so heartbreaking was that Richard Conway, supervisor of the movie’s model unit, spent an entire year of his life working on that end scene, putting together a special effects-laden extravaganza that Frank Oz himself called “masterful”. Twelve months dedicated to a single sequence, and nobody would ever see it.

The Blu-Ray that I recently purchased of Little Shop of Horrors has rectified this injustice by restoring the original ending, giving audiences the choice of watching either the theatrical version or the movie that Oz, Ashman, etc. intended all along. But while praising the hard work and technology that helped re-assemble this lost footage, Frank Oz issued the following warning in a brief note he penned for the Blu-Ray release: “Be Prepared. (The ending is) not pretty”.

As someone who believes strongly in the French Auteur Theory, I have always made it a point to watch a director’s cut, regardless of how much or how little it differed from the theatrical release (Richard Donner’s cut of Superman II changed that movie completely, while George Miller’s preferred version of The Road Warrior contained only one additional minute of footage). But with this most recent viewing of Little Shop of Horrors, I made an exception, and watched the theatrical cut instead.

My reason for doing so is simple: I fell in love with this picture when I first saw it all those years ago, and I wanted to re-live that experience one more time. When next I watch Little Shop of Horrors, I’ll check out this director’s cut, and it will undoubtedly change the entire movie for me. So, as if saying goodbye to an old friend, I allowed myself one final encounter with the version I adore.

Is that so wrong?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

#2,387. Werewolves on Wheels (1971)

Directed By: Michel Levesque

Starring: Steve Oliver, Donna Anders, Gene Shane

Tag line: "If you're hairy you belong on a motorbike!"

Trivia: A quote from this movie can be heard in the beginning of Rob Zombie's song "Dragula"

Man, this is one trippy motion picture!

Directed by Michel Levesque (who co-wrote the script with David M, Kaufman), 1971’s Werewolves on Wheels tags along with a biker gang known as the “Devil’s Advocates” as they travel the highways of California, looking for a good time. Their leader is Adam (Stephen Oliver), a free spirit whose girlfriend Helen (D.J. Anderson) rides with him. One of Adam’s closest pals is fellow biker Tarot (Deuce Berry), who got his name because he believes his trusty deck of Tarot cards can help him see into the future. And what he’s seen recently has made him very, very nervous.

The trouble begins when the gang decides to rest on the grounds of a monastery, where the monks, under the watchful eye of their high priest “One” (Severn Darden), worship not God, but Satan. After knocking the bikers out with drugs (which they hid in bread and wine), the monks lure Helen into the bowels of their priory, where, in a trance-like state, she takes part in one of their rituals, dancing (naked) with a snake and eating bread that’s been dipped in cat’s blood. When Adam wakes up and discovers Helen is missing, he and a few others storm the monastery, rescuing her before the ceremony is finished.

But in the days that follow, Adam, Tarot, Helen, and a few others realize something very strange is going on, a feeling that only intensifies when a handful of their friends are murdered, in violent fashion, during the night. What the gang doesn’t know is that the monks put a curse on them, and now, whenever the moon is full, select members of the Devil’s Advocates become bloodthirsty werewolves!

At the outset, Werewolves on Wheels looks and feels like a typical biker movie; along with the standard shots of the gang flying down the road on their cycles, there’s a scene where the driver of a pickup truck runs one of the Devil’s Advocates off the road, only to be beaten to a pulp when the rest of the gang catches up to him. The moment the action shifts to the monastery, however, the film changes gears and transforms into a bizarre supernatural horror film (the satanic ceremony is shown in detail, and, to be honest, it’s pretty damn cool).

From that point on, Werewolves on Wheels is a combination of the two, blending elements of the biker genre with those of a werewolf movie (complete with jump scares and plenty of blood and gore). Yet what’s truly amazing is how effective this mix is, creating a unique hybrid of action and horror that’s far too entertaining to ignore.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

#2,386. Double Exposure (1983)

Directed By: William Byron Hillman

Starring: Michael Callan, Joanna Pettet, James Stacy

Tag line: "Smile and say die!"

Trivia: Michael Callan's younger sister appears as an extra in the mud wrestling scene

The pre-title sequence that opens 1983’s Double Exposure, in which an undercover cop, posing as a hooker, is stabbed to death by an unknown assailant, had me convinced I was in for yet another ‘80s slasher film. The very next scene, however (which plays during the credits), had a dream-like quality to it (slow-motion, stuttered movements, etc), and all at once I changed my mind; clearly, Double Exposure was going to be a psychological thriller.

Ultimately, the movie has elements of both subgenres scattered throughout, and there are moments when it is simultaneously chilling and brilliant.

But more than anything, Double Exposure is a Goddamn jumbled mess.

On the surface, things seem to be going well for Adrian Wilde (Michael Callan). His job as a freelance photographer affords him the opportunity to hang out with a bevy of gorgeous models, and he’s dating the beautiful Mindy (Joanna Pettet), a younger woman who might just be the love of his life. But appearances can be deceiving; in fact, Adrian is tormented nightly by violent dreams in which he murders the very models that work for him. To make matters worse, these nightmares are coming true; several girls have turned up dead, all finished off in the manner his dreams predicted.

Adrian opens up to his psychiatrist, Dr. Frank Curtis (Seymour Cassel), in the hopes he can somehow make sense of the situation. But the nightmares continue. Adrian next tries talking to his brother B.J. (James Stacy), a professional stunt driver, but B.J. is busy dealing with his own issues, including a failed marriage and the loss of an arm and a leg in a recent accident.

As AdrIan wrestles with his subconscious, the bodies continue to pile up, and it’s only a matter of time before the detectives investigating the murders, Sgts. Fontain (Pamela Hensley) and Buckhold (David Young), will come knocking on his door.

But is Adrian really a serial killer, or is he a victim of circumstance?

Simply put, the kill scenes in Double Exposure are inspired. Along with the pre-title sequence mentioned above, we’re treated to an impressive POV shot (from the killer’s perspective, of course) during which a hooker (played by future Oscar-nominee Sally Kirkland) is murdered. Yet as good as these moments (and several others) are, the film’s best kill takes place in the middle of the woods, and is so gruesome that you won’t soon forget it.

Along with the violence, Double Exposure also works as a psychological thriller, with Michael Callan turning in an extraordinary performance as a man on the edge, wondering if he’s actually capable of murder, or if it’s just his mind playing tricks on him. Also strong is James Stacy as Adrian’s troubled brother B.J., and while I didn’t think the film’s romantic subplot was particularly well-developed, Joanna Pettet shines as Adrian’s love interest.

Unfortunately, even when taking its better elements into account, Double Exposure is a hard film to recommend. There are times when we’re not sure if what we’re seeing is a dream or reality, and large chunks of the movie feel as if someone spliced scenes together in random order, hoping they’d make sense. In addition, the police investigation into the killings (established during the pre-title sequence) is practically ignored until the final 20 minutes, and Cleavon Little, who portrays Fontain’s and Buckhold’s foul-tempered superior, is totally wasted in what proves to be a very insignificant role (he’s on-screen exactly 3 times, and in his last appearance his character has a pointless argument with Sgt. Fontain).

Some of the issues that plagued Double Exposure can be easily explained: initially, the goal of its director, William Byron Hillman, was to shoot a new movie that would also feature sequences from a little-known film that he and star Michael Callan made 10 years earlier, called The Photographer (which had a plot similar to this film's). When the studio behind The Photographer threatened to sue, Hillman and company found themselves with several plot holes that needed filling, and fast. According to an interview he did for the DVD release of Double Exposure, Callan, who also produced the movie, did some uncredited writing as well, and the additional scenes he’d concoct at night were often shot the very next day.

Naturally, with a production as frenzied as this one seemed to be, it’s no wonder the movie has its problems. But knowing this doesn’t make Double Exposure any less disjointed or perplexing, and while I admire Hillman and Callan for cobbling together some truly remarkable scenes, the film, as a whole, still falls short of the mark.

Friday, July 14, 2017

#2,385. Club Paradise (1986)

Directed By: Harold Ramis

Starring: Robin Williams, Peter O'Toole, Rick Moranis

Tag line: "The vacation you'll never forget -- no matter how hard you try"

Trivia: Peter O'Toole replaced John Cleese in the role of Governor Anthony Cloyden Hayes

I hadn’t seen Club Paradise in what must be 25 years, yet my opinion of it has not changed one iota: the movie is sporadically funny, but with such a talented cast it should've been much better.

After being injured on the job, Chicago fireman Jack Moniker (Robin Williams) receives a large insurance settlement from the city, enough money for him to retire and move to the Caribbean island of St. Nicholas. Once there, Moniker befriends musician Ernest Reed (Jimmy Cliff), who owns (and performs at) a popular night club. 

Unfortunately, Ernest is a bit behind on the club’s taxes, and the Prime Minister of St. Nicholas, a man named Solomon Gundy (Adolph Caesar), is demanding that they be paid immediately. To help Ernest, Jack pays the back taxes, and together the two pals, along with Jack’s new British girlfriend Phillipa (Twiggy), turn Ernest’s hot spot into a tropical resort, which they call “Club Paradise”.

Before long, Club Paradise is welcoming it’s first-ever guests: Dr. Randy White (Steven Kampmann) and his wife Linda (Andrea Martin); business partners Barry Nye (Rick Moranis) and Barry Steinberg (Eugene Levy); co-workers Mary Lou (Robin Duke) and Jackie (Mary Gross); and Terry Hamlin (Joanna Cassidy), travel writer for the New York Times. As Jack works frantically to fix some of Club Paradise’s bigger problems (no running water, bug infestations, etc), the guests settle in, determined to have the vacation of a lifetime.

Unbeknownst to them all, Prime Minister Gundy is conspiring with Volt Zerbe (Brian Doyle-Murray), owner of the largest hotel on St. Nicholas, to sell the entire island to an Arab Prince. When Jack and Ernest refuse to turn Club Paradise over to him, Gundy uses every means at his disposal to drive them out of business, and not even Anthony Croyden Hayes (Peter O’Toole), the British Governor of St. Nicholas, can stop him.

Just look at that cast: Robin Williams, Peter O’Toole (who proved he could be funny in films like The Ruling Class and My Favorite Year), Brian Doyle-Murray (who also co-wrote the script), Robin Duke (Saturday Night Live), as well as four former cast members of SCTV (along with Martin, Moranis, and Levy, Joe Flaherty makes a brief appearance as the slightly odd pilot of a small plane). That’s an all-star comedy team right there. In addition, Jimmy Cliff provides a handful of cool Reggae tunes, and Adolph Caesar hams it up to perfection as the shifty politician looking to get rich.

Together, these actors and actresses do manage to generate some laughs; Moranis and Levy, as two very Jewish playboys on the prowl, have their moments, as does Robin Williams, whose rapid-fire delivery occasionally hits the mark (especially during the opening scene set in Chicago). There’s also a moment involving a helium tank that had me laughing out loud, and I got the distinct impression while watching Club Paradise that the cast had a great time making it (and why not? Most of the movie was shot on-location in beautiful Jamaica).

But it wasn’t enough. For every funny scene, Club Paradise had two that went absolutely nowhere (i.e. - an extended sequence in which the guests visit a nude beach), and some cast members were woefully underused (Peter O’Toole, Joe Flaherty, Joanna Cassidy).

I really wanted to love Club Paradise. In the end, though, it was, at best, a “middle-of-the-road” comedy; it made me laugh, but not as much as it should have.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

#2,384. Blue Water, White Death (1971)

Directed By: Peter Gimbel, James Lipscomb

Starring: Tom Chapin, Phil Clarkson, Stuart Cody

Tag line: "The Most Frightening and Fascinating Sea Adventure Ever"

Trivia: One of the few documentaries shot in the wide screen 2.35:1 format

Blue Water, White Death, a 1971 documentary co-directed by Peter Gimbel and James Lipscomb, chronicles the exploits of a team of underwater photographers (Stanton Waterman, Ron & Valerie Taylor, and Gimbel himself) who attempt to do something never done before: capture images of a great white shark in its natural habitat. Joined by researchers and technicians alike, as well as folk singer Tom Chapin (who provides the music for the film), the group will spend five and a half months at sea, beginning their journey with a whaling expedition in South Africa before sailing to Madagascar, Grand Comoro, Ceylon, and Western Australia, all in the hopes of finding the elusive, and very dangerous, great white.

Locating a great white shark may have been the ultimate goal of Blue Water, White Death, but it’s the crew’s additional adventures that make it so fascinating. During their time with the whaling fleet in South Africa (a sequence that includes graphic images of whale hunting that some viewers may find difficult to watch), the photographers spent several days filming sharks of various species, which fed on the carcasses that the whalers left behind. At times, hundreds of these predators were swarming around, and, to get a closer look at the feeding frenzy, the photographers left their protective cages to swim among the sharks, a decision that, though quite risky, resulted in a handful of amazing scenes.

But this wasn’t the only danger the group would face. While in Grand Comoro, the rough currents nearly pulled one diver out to sea; and in Ceylon, Peter Gimbel suffered a case of the bends, a condition that, if untreated, could lead to paralysis or even death. More than anything, though, Gimbel and company wonder what might happen when they do finally encounter a great white. At the start of Blue Water, White Death, the narrator, Wally King, reminds us just how deadly this creature can be by recounting some real-life cases (according to King, a great white once swallowed a man whole in the waters of La Jolla, California, while another victim was bitten in half off the coast of Western Australia). Most of the photographers had never seen a great white shark up-close, and had no idea what to expect. Yet, despite the potential threat, they couldn’t wait to find one. For some (especially Peter Gimbel), locating a great white even became an obsession.

The movie has its quiet moments as well; Ron & Valerie Taylor frolic with seals in Australia, and we’re treated to some beautiful underwater shots of sea turtles, eels, and barracudas. But for most of its runtime, Blue Water, White Death is as much a thrilling adventure as it is a documentary, and, like those who took part in the journey, you will be swept up in the excitement of it all.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

#2,383. The Don is Dead (1973)

Directed By: Richard Fleischer

Starring: Anthony Quinn, Frederic Forrest, Robert Forster

Tagline: "Power built an empire. Passion destroyed it."

Trivia: First Hollywood-based motion picture production in nine years for star Anthony Quinn

Released a year after The Godfather, The Don is Dead is yet another movie that throws the spotlight on organized crime. But unlike Coppola’s award-winning epic, this 1973 film takes a “down-and-dirty” approach to the material, telling the story of a bloody mob war fought not for money or power, but for love.

The trouble began when Don Paolo, the head of the Regalbuto crime family, died unexpectedly. As a result of his passing, the Regalbuto empire was split in half, with Don Angelo DiMorra (Anthony Quinn) assuming control of one part and Luigi Orlando (Charles Cioffi), the consigliere for the imprisoned Don Jimmy Bernardo (Barry Russo), taking over the other. With no heir of his own, Don DiMorra also agrees to take Don Regalbuto’s son Frank (Robert Forster), under his wing, promising Frank that he will one day inherit the DiMorra crime family and all of its assets.

But Luigi Orlando has plans of his own, and together with Jimmy Bernardo’s girlfriend Marie (Jo Anne Meredith) he attempts to drive a wedge between Don DiMorra and Frank by setting DiMorra up with Frank’s girlfriend, a singer named Ruby (Angel Tompkins). Not realizing that Frank has been seeing Ruby on a regular basis, Don DiMorra falls in love with her, causing a surprised Frank to lose his temper when he learns of the affair. Before long, the two former friends are engaged in an all-out war, with Don DiMorra and his family on one side, and Frank and his pals the Fargo brothers, Tony (Frederic Forrest) and Vince (Al Lettieri) on the other. Both Frank and DiMorra suffer major losses as the war rages on, while Luigi Orlando sits back, waiting patiently for the perfect moment to swoop in and take control of the city. 

But when the smoke finally clears, will it be Orlando who comes out on top or someone else entirely?

The cast that director Richard Fleischer and his team assembled for The Don is Dead is certainly impressive; Anthony Quinn, Frederic Forrest, and Robert Forster deliver top-notch performances, as do a pair of Godfather veterans, Al Lettieri (as one half the Fargo brothers) and Abe Vigoda (who appears briefly as Don Talusso). Yet what makes The Don is Dead such a treat is the manner in which screenwriter Marvin H. Albert (who also penned the novel the movie is based on) structures the story, hitting us time and again with shocking violence while also taking us behind-the-scenes, where we watch as the two sides use strategy and deception to try and gain the upper hand. And like most stories that involve a war, we’re never sure at any point who is going to be the next person to die.

While it doesn’t quite reach the same lofty heights as The Godfather, The Don is Dead is nonetheless an entertaining crime film, and it packs a fair number of surprises into its 115 minutes.