Release Date(s)1979 (April 25, 2023)
Studio(s)Orsa Maggiore Cinematografica/Produzioni Atlas Consorziate (Raro Video)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C
A poliziottesco all’italiana directed by Alfonso Brescia, The New Godfathers (I contrabbandieri di Santa Lucia, or The Smugglers of Santa Lucia, 1979) is more ambitious than its budget allows, but has certain quirks that mildly set it apart from other films of this genre. Set primarily in Napoli, it has a strong regional flavor, and is as much about lower-level gangsters making a living smuggling shipments of Marlboro cigarettes for the region’s unemployed as it is cops vs. mafioso.
Reportedly shot in just 14 days, the cost-cutting is especially obvious during the climax, when both good and bad guys jump into c. late-1960s automobiles in order to match the extensive use of stock footage from The Sicilian Connection (1972), another P.A.C. production starring Ben Gazzara. Another action set-piece, involving a car jumping onto a moving train, is from Colt 38 Special Squad (1976). The cutting of old and new footage is rather clever but obvious, not only because of the anachronistic automobiles, but because all the stock scenes are on inferior film stock that’s much grainier and has poor contrast.
Concerned about heroin being trafficked to the U.S. from Turkey at cut-rate prices due to Middle Eastern chaos resulting from the Iranian Revolution (more stock scenes), and convinced a big shipment will stop at the Port of Naples, the International Commission on Narcotic Drugs dispatches Capt. Ivano Radevic (Gianni Garko) to work with local authorities there. Radevic comes up with a controversial proposal: get the local Camorra to help identify the shipment when it arrives, in exchange for relaxed enforcement of their mostly victimless smuggling rackets, particularly cigarettes.
Radevic wins the cautious support of the widely-liked Don Francesco Autiero (Neapolitan singer and occasional actor Mario Merola), a romanticized gangster dedicated to Napoli’s poor. He then agrees to introduce Radevic to the territory’s other prominent godfather, Don Michele Vizzini (Antonio Sabàto), rich from a sugared almond business. Of course, it’s Vizzini who’s behind the entire heroin shipment and most of the picture revolves around his efforts to set Autiero and his genial smugglers against the cops and vice versa, and to assassinate Radevic and Autiero, who just about deserve it given their incredible naïveté.
The best thing about The New Godfathers is the local atmosphere, of minor league smugglers, low-income family men, really, trying to support their families moving cartons of American smokes. Don Francesco’s mini-empire is contrasted with Vizzini’s, who lives like a Bond villain sipping cappuccinos around an Olympic-size swimming pool with topless babes sunbathing at every turn. Beefy Merola is certainly likeable and authentic and the low-income yet somehow cheery back alleys of the city make a nice contrast to the usual picture postcard images most non-Italians are used to.
The film’s tone is peculiarly inconsistent. Radevic becomes friendly with the two urchins of one gregarious smuggler, Salvatore (American Jeff Blynn), the kids begging Gianni Garko’s Radevic to take them see a great movie they’ve heard about—Alfonso Brescia’s Lo scugnizzo, starring Gianni Garko. This in-joke is so overdone—Brescia himself has a cameo here—it’s like a parody of such movie references. The business with the kids also figures into the main plot, with Salvatore’s little girl accidentally poisoned by one of Vizzini’s heroin-filled almonds.
Filmed in Techniscope, Raro Video’s Blu-ray of The New Godfathers, released through Kino Lorber, mostly looks good though the stock scenes, as mentioned above, are notably grainy and washed out. Curiously, what’s billed as the “U.S. Release Cut” is configured as a separate extra, even though it’s the same transfer with the same running time and the same Italian main and end titles—only the English audio is different. The DTS-HD Master Audio (2.0 mono) is acceptable, and the disc is Region Free.
Beyond the English audio option, the only other extra feature is a very entertaining and informative video essay by Mike Malloy that really helps put the film into context within the genre, while also offering personal portraits of the actors. Malloy particularly dishes dirt on actor Sabàto (who died in 2021), who sounds like the same kind of jerk he played in Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix.
The New Godfathers is not particularly good, though fans of such films will find enough there to make a watch worthwhile. Mildly recommended.
- Stuart Galbraith IV