With “Massacre Mafia Style” it’s not a question of whether the gun we see in the first act will be fired in the third. The film lives up to its billing immediately. After exchanging words with a receptionist two thugs enter the office of a wheelchair-bound man. They’re plain with their intentions: gagging the man, rolling him to a restroom and using a running urinal and exposed electrical wire to finish the deed. The act concluded, the two men draw their pistols. They walk back past the receptionist and calmly shoot her through the head. They turn their attentions to the rest of the floor, methodically killing a dozen more unarmed people. That’s the first five minutes, a sequence that doubled as the film’s trailer.
The plot such as it is: Mimi is stewing in Sicily, his wife recently deceased after giving birth to their first son. His father once built himself into the Don of a major American syndicate, but was deported, permanently exiled rather than facing prosecution. Mimi himself looks on the wrong side of fifty but runneth over with a young man’s ambition. He’ll travel back to America, to Los Angeles. He’ll shake up the timid remains of organized crime.
On arrival he hooks up with childhood friend, Chucky. The two crash into the scene by kidnapping an aging mafioso, sending his pinky to the cartel with a ransom note demanding $250k. The cartel, nearly legitimate and removed from the “old days” wonders aloud whether being legitimate means that they could pay the ransom at all. They pay and Mimi reemerges soon afterwards, at the wedding for the son of his former hostage! So impressed are the mafiosos with Mimi’s bluntness that they allow him to operate with their blessing.
What Mimi really pines for is the days when to be an Italian male was to be feared. When a skinny kid would never get questioned by a Jew, or a Greek, or a Black (especially a Black). Such was the fear inspired by the mafia.
Massacre is a movie with multiple personality disorder, adopting a new tone in the service of a various facet of Mitchell’s ego. Sometimes Mitchell fancies himself a brutal enforcer, and he mows down helpless foes with a maniacal vengeance. Sometimes Mitchell sees himself as a ladies man, Dean Martin as a superhuman, and he can steal a beautiful woman from another man through the sheer will of his personality. Sometimes he’ll cry for the poor Italian wife, suffering through generations of violent strife, and he’ll spin off half coherent monologues as if smitten with Shakespeare. But whichever guise Mitchell assumes his core principle remains: it’s better to be feared above all else. This grounds Massacre in a way that almost redeems the sexism and the racism: these are all villains. In the end the film will be resolute enough to mete out the appropriate amount of justice for their transgressions.
You can hear the wailing of the wounded pride of director/producer/writer/star Duke Mitchell. You can imagine a boy in Nowhere, Pennsylvania growing up on the films of James Cagney and Edward G Robinson, fully expecting that shadow of the mafia would grant him a measure of respect once he reached any urban environment. The wounds of his disappointment run deep. Massacre Mafia Style is very much the work of the boy who felt owed a good deal more respect than the world grants anyone.
Duke Mitchell wasn’t the first short, skinny, boy to come to Hollywood with dreams of stardom. He made his early career as the Dean Martin half of a Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis knock-off act, getting just big enough to earn second billing in one of Bela Lugosi’s later pictures in the early fifties. He eventually crowned himself “King of Palm Springs”, a position both easily defended and one that provided connections to the local scene of performers. Many of them appear in the film, playing their music, singing and smiling for the cameras. It’s a wonder if any read the script before agreeing to be in the picture, or were so overjoyed to be in a real movie that they jumped at the chance.
Massacre makes no secrets of it’s disdain for the kindly mobsters portrayed in The Godfather, and at every turn aspires to outdo the Coppola classic. That means not just through violence but also through a depiction of authentic Italian-American culture. Despite running at a svelte 89 minutes, there are more meals, more weddings, more funerals, more singing and more dancing than the first Godfather film.