Sunday, April 17, 2022

#2,740. Family Enforcer (1976) - Quentin Tarantino Recommends


In the fall of 2019, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino – filmmakers extraordinaire and master cinephiles – got together at the Director’s Guild of America to shoot the breeze, and over the course of that conversation one of the many titles they discussed was the 1976 crime film Family Enforcer (originally released as The Death Collector). According to Scorsese, Robert De Niro caught this movie on television in the late 1970s, and was so impressed by one of its co-stars that he called Scorsese and recommended they consider him for a role in their upcoming film.

That movie was Raging Bull, and the actor was Joe Pesci.

Written and directed by Ralph De Vito (his only credit on both counts), Family Enforcer takes us inside the crime syndicate of Northern New Jersey. Fresh out of prison, Jerry Bolanti (Joseph Cortese) is looking for a job, and asks his old boss, wiseguy Tony Ladavia (Lou Criscuolo), to send a little work his way.

So, Tony asks Jerry to collect some outstanding debts, including over $26,000 that Bernie Feldshuh (Frank Vincent) owes Herb Greene (Jack Ramage), an associate of Tony’s. But the very night Jerry collects this debt, he’s shot and badly wounded by one of Feldshuh’s henchmen, kicking off a war between Jerry and Feldshuh that won’t end until one of them is dead.

While still recovering from his wounds, Jerry, at Tony’s urging, helps his two friends Joe (Joe Pesci) and Serge (Bobby Alto) steal $40,000 from a local supermarket. This, too, ends badly, causing Tony to wonder if Jerry is unlucky or playing him for a sap.

While discussing this film, Tarantino told Scorsese that, after seeing Family Enforcer, his first reaction was “Wow, this is like an exploitation version of Mean Streets”, and that is exactly the vibe it gives off. Focusing more on its characters than plot or story, Family Enforcer offers viewers a glimpse of mob life from the inside, and does so wonderfully. Joseph Cortese delivers a solid performance as Jerry, whose short fuse and no-fear approach to his job often lands him in hot water, but it’s getting to see Scorsese regulars Joe Pesci and Frank Vincent at the start of their careers that makes this one a winner (Vincent also landed a role in Raging Bull thanks to this movie, and you can see traces of Goodfellas Billy Batts in his portrayal of Bernie Feldshuh).

Much like Scorsese did with Mean Streets, Goodfellas, and Casino, writer / director De Vito mixes some humor in as well; one scene in particular, where a character passes gas in a car, had me laughing out loud.

I’m an unapologetic fan of mob movies, and Family Enforcer proved to be a pleasant surprise.
Rating: 8 out of 10

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