Wow. That’s the first word that comes to mind when discussing quasi-legendary nightclub singer/comedian/all-around entertainer Duke Mitchell’s 1978 no-budget “Godfather” rip-off, “Massacre Mafia Style,” also released both theatrically and on VHS under the alternate titles “The Executioner” and “Like Father, Like Son.” And while it’s tempting to just leave the review at that and let you discover the perverse mayhem of this nearly-forgotten Z-grade masterpiece on your own, I’ve truthfully never been that good at shutting up, so at least a few words are in order—
Mitchell, who also wrote, directed, and produced this 79-minute homage to pure cinematic chaos on a frayed-shoestring budget, stars as Mimi (more often pronounced as M’mi, rather than Me-Me, but it depends on who’s doing the talking), the son of a highly-regarded mafia figure who left America for Sicily at the age of 16 when his father was deported.
Now (whenever that “now” may be) a widower (he lost his Sicilian wife to incurable cancer) with a 6-year-old son, Mimi asks and receives his elderly dad’s permission to return, alone, to the US in order to take over the LA-area prostitution and numbers-running operations and earn a better future for his son.
A basic enough premise, to be sure, but once Mimi hooks up with childhood friend Jolly (Vic Caeasr) in order to help him with his conquest of the underworld, it’s sheer, frenzied, balls-to-the-walls anarchy from start to finish. Even the slow, “talky” scenes take on an aura of unpredictable WTF-ness thanks to Mitchell’s frenetic, amazingly singular performance. He’s capable of anything at any time, and the viewer quite literally doesn’t know what the hell could happen from one second to the next, as director Mitchell bobs and weaves between straight-forward conventionality and completely-out-of-the-blue experimentalism (the scene where a black pimp is crucified has to be seen to be believed), and actor Mitchell goes from mild-mannered soliloquy-deliverer to insane mafia hitman without a conscience at less than the drop of a hat. You’ve never seen a performance like Mitchell delivers here, and his manic instability and complete incongruousness from one moment to the next is the glue that holds the film together even though, by all respects, he’s quite literally tearing things apart. I can’t explain it, the guy is just a force of (warped, admittedly) nature.
Mimi’s hardscrabble climb to the top is a long, slow slog in terms of time elapsed in the script, but it’s covered at a breakneck pace. Over a decade goes by in Mimi’s life, but as mentioned earlier, the total running time of the film is 79 minutes. In other words, things don’t let up much.
Like most grindhouse fans, my only exposure to “Massacre Mafia Style” came from the trailer included on most Grindhouse Releasing discs from the late 90s onward. Come to find out, in the best low-budget fashion, the trailer is essentially nothing more the film’s opening scene, cut off at a brilliantly tense point — Mimi and Jolly wipe out what appears to be more or less everyone in an entire office building in brutal fashion, and on their way out, a young boy gets into the elevator and we see Mimi patting his head. The entire scene has no dialogue and is overlaid with a faux-“authentic” Dean Martin-style Italian musical number. Now knowing what’s being said, we’re left to wonder — does Mimi kill the kid in order to ensure that there are no living witnesses who might finger he and his partner for the crime?
I won’t give it away, but suffice to say, “Massacre Mafia Style” is a movie that certainly FEELS, from the outset, like the kid could be shot, regardless of whether or not Mimi actually DOES it.
Now, though, I can proudly say I’ve seen the whole thing, and a whole lot more. That’s because Mitchell’s son, Jeffrey, has released a seriously limited edition (as in 500 copies) three-disc “Family Edition” of his old man’s masterpiece. I don’t know if Grindhouse Releasing will ever get around to putting out their own version (along with Mitchell’s other film they apparently have some sort of claim on, the truly bizarre looking “Gone With The Pope”), but at this point I have to say I don’t really care, because this package gives you so much more than you could ever ask for.
Disc One contains the feature film itself, and while the transfer is quite obviously direct-from-VHS (and presented in mono), it still looks and sounds decent enough. Added to that, though, we get no less than three feature-length commentary tracks from Jeffrey Mitchell and family friends Frankie Ray (frequent writing collaborator with Duke and, believe it or not, Lenny Bruce) and George Jacobs (long-time personal assistant to and valet for Frank Sinatra). While actual discussion of the film itself on these tracks is a bit spotty, they spin one entertaining yarn after another about the elder Mitchell’s life and career, and obviously know more than just a bit about the intersected worlds of Hollywood and the mob that the story takes its inspiration from.
Rounding out the disc, we have the aforementioned theatrical trailer, some rare radio spots narrated by Duke, and ax extended preview for another upcoming Jeffrey Mitchell private-issue DVD release, this of one of his father’s nightclub acts titled “An Impressionistic Tribute To Jimmy Durante.”
And folks, that’s just the first disc.
On Disc Two, we get a brand new documentary feature on the lives and careers of both Mitchells entitled “Like Father, Like Son,” extended interviews with both Frankie Ray and George Jacobs, audio recordings of one of Duke Mitchell’s final live performances, a seriously extensive gallery of stills covering not only “Massacre Mafia Style,” but Duke’s entire life and career, and various stages of the film’s script — early treatments, a rough draft, and the final shooting script — available in PDF format.
Finally, a third “bonus disc” is being offered to online customers that features 30 more minutes of archival footage, interview outtakes with (Jeffrey) Mitchell, Ray and Jacobs, and additional commentary from all three.
So — yeah. This is one comprehensive package, to say the least, and a true labor of love, all boxed up together with a nice inlay card that features “The Executioner” poster from the top of this review on front with a copy of Duke’s scrawled “Italian cheat sheet” on the back. And while it’s not my style to pimp this openly for a product, the only way you’re going to see this thing, unless you’re a friend who wants to come over to my place to watch it, is to order it directly from http://www. massacremafiastyle.com. Like I mentioned earlier, only 500 copies were made, so if you want it, get it while you can.
I’m not really sure what other movie I can compare this to. In a way, it reminds me of a mirror image of “The Black Connection” (which wouldn’t be a bad choice for my next review, actually) given that they’re both ultra-low-budget late-70s gangster flicks that depict an underworld war between Italians and African-Americans (albeit from opposite sides), and they’re both equally discombobulated, but “Massacre Mafia Style” is a whole lot bloodier, nastier, funnier (yes, you read that right), and has a LOT more music (again, yes, you read that right). And there has NEVER been a performance like the one Duke Mitchell delivers in this film, before or since.
I’d give it my highest possible recommendation, but even that seems praise to faint. In short, get off your ass and see it now.