Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Blu-ray Review: THE IRON PREFECT

 by Anthony King

Director Pasquale Squitieri's biopic of Italian prefect Cesare Mori, The Iron Prefect (1977), is a plodding albeit semi-interesting (in the academic sense) crime movie about the takedown of the Sicilian Mafia in 1925.

At first glance one may assume this to be an action-packed poliziotteschi filled to the brim with bright red blood and smoke-filled atmosphere. One would be wrong. Think of the more contemplative parts of Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather Part II (1974), where Al Pacino's Michael Corleone is weighing his options in any number of circumstances. While these quiet moments aren't filled with excitement in the truest sense of the word, they're still interesting, hypnotic, even. The Iron Prefect isn't The Godfather Part II. Most movies aren't. But it's in these moments in The Iron Prefect, where our protagonist is sitting with his thoughts – and there is an abundance of these moments – where the silence is ear-piercing and the brakes come to a horrifically grinding halt.
“Slow,” generally, is not a bad word when it comes to movies. Terrence Malick converts “slowness” into vibes. His camera deliberately sweeps across a breathtaking landscape. We linger, sometimes uncomfortably too long, on a closeup of someone's face; the heartbreak palpable. Monty Hellman's masterpiece road movie, Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), is “slow” in the fact that our two main characters don't speak much. We spend over 90 minutes watching two loners drive across the country, most of the time spent behind the wheel. Not once is Two-Lane Blacktop ever uninteresting. Yet a movie about a top cop coming into a town and forcibly wiping out the mafia somehow seems tedious. The most beautiful woman to ever exist, Claudia Cardinale, the director's wife, who shares top billing but who is barely in the film, couldn't even save me from nodding off at times.

Giuliano Gemma stars as the titular character, Cesare Mori. At the opening of the film he arrives in town, newly appointed, vowing to do what even Mussolini couldn't. Mori is an outspoken member of the National Fascist Party and, with every fiber of his being, wants to rid his beloved homeland of every anti-fascist that occupies the same soil as him. This man is terribly unlikable. From the onset I found myself bristling at even the look of him. Whether it's because the character is based on a real person, or Gemma, who I normally love, is delivering a phenomenal performance, I couldn't really tell. I'm reminded of two similar characters from much better films based on real life events: Eliot Ness in The Untouchables (1987) as portrayed by Kevin Costner, and Buford Pusser in Walking Tall (1973) as portrayed by Joe Don Baker. Both Costner and Baker are exceedingly more charismatic than Gemma. The men Ness and Pusser are going up against are truly despicable. This isn't me defending members of the mafia, but the members of the mafia portrayed in The Iron Prefect are far more likable than Mori, whereas De Niro as Al Capone is obviously a monster, and the good ol' boy hillbillies of Walking Tall are just plain gross.
The Iron Prefect comes off as pro-fascist, pro-Mussolini, pro-cop. The movie is obviously NOT promoting fascism or any sort of terrible behavior or belief. It knows what it's doing, as made clear by the end. As Mori hands over the reins, his successor comes to shake his hand. “No handshakes,” says Mori. “Let's stick with the Roman salute.” Which, of course, was later adopted by Hitler. The final shots leave us wondering if Mori still falls in line with the beliefs of the Fascist Party, hopefully garnering an iota of sympathy for him from the viewer. By then, though, it's too late. We've spent nearly two very long hours with a cop who doesn't care about the collateral damage caused in the wake of his determination to stamp out who he resolves as criminals.

Maybe The Iron Prefect is more interesting than I give it credit for. The thoughts it conjures in one's head, and the conversations it could possibly spark could put the film in the good graces of someone such as myself. And while I didn't care for the film, that isn't to say others won't feel differently. Radiance has once again done a fabulous job of the restoration of a movie unheard of by many people. Luckily, the bonus content doesn't disappoint. First up is an archival documentary from 2009 detailing the making of The Iron Prefect with interviews from director Pasquale Squitieri and star Giuliano Gemma (35 min.). Squitieri spends much of the interview talking about the history of Mori and the Mafia, giving much needed context to a character who I found impossible to like. This dual interview is also candid in the fact Squitieri and Gemma didn't really care for each other. Next is a brand new interview with Domenico Monetti (40 min.), the biographer of Pasquale Squitieri. Monetti details the production of The Iron Prefect, including talking about how Burt Lancaster was originally cast in the role of Mori but later backed out due to a decline in his health. Monetti is an incredible storyteller, a charismatic fount of information. Finally, there is an appreciation of the film and actor Giuliano Gemma by filmmaker Alex Cox (11 min.). Not only has Cox directed some of the greatest cult films of all time, he's also a cinematic encyclopedia, especially when it comes to Italian westerns. Cox's enthusiasm for Gemma and his films is infectious, and I'm only disappointed this feature is only 11 minutes long.
The Iron Prefect didn't hit me like every other release from Radiance, but that isn't to say it won't land with anyone else. It tells a chapter in the story of a man I had never heard of, and for that I'm grateful.

Bonus features
2K restoration of the film from the original negative presented with Italian and English audio options
Uncompressed mono PCM audio
Archival interview with director Pasquale Squitieri and star Giuliano Gemma (2009)
New interview with Squitieri biographer Domenico Monetti (2023)
New appreciation of Giuliano Gemma and the film by filmmaker Alex Cox (2023)
Original trailer
New and improved English subtitles for Italian audio and English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for English audio
Reversible sleeve featuring designs based on original posters
Limited edition booklet featuring new writing by Italian cinema expert Guido Bonsaver and an original article on the real-life Cesare Mori and his Mafia raid as depicted within the film
Limited edition of 2000 copies, presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings

Blu-ray release date: July 18, 2023
110 minutes / 1977
1.78:1 (1080p)
Mono PCM Audio (Italian and English)
Subtitles: English (SDH)
Region: A and B

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