Sunday, June 16, 2013

Tonight's Movie: The Brothers Rico (1957)

THE BROTHERS RICO is an engrossing mob drama directed by Phil Karlson. It stars one of the great kings of film noir, Richard Conte.

THE BROTHERS RICO was based on a novel of the same name by Georges Simenon. It tells the story of Eddie Rico (Conte), a one-time mob accountant who has spent a decade living a clean life as a Florida businessman. Eddie and his adoring young wife, Alice (Dianne Foster), are making plans to adopt a baby.

Things go south for Eddie when his brother Gino (Paul Picerni) shows up in town with two pieces of bad news: Gino had carried out a mob hit and is now a murderer, and Gino also fears the mob is out to get him and their youngest brother, Johnny (James Darren).

Eddie has trouble believing the mob would want to kill his own brothers, and, to his ultimate regret, he trusts top mafioso Sid Kubik (Larry Gates) when Kubik tells Eddie he wants him to find Johnny and get him out of the country for his own safety.

This is a terrific drama, with Conte in virtually every scene. The movie initially sells the viewer that Eddie is truly a good man, with charming and steamy love scenes with his beautiful, trusting wife. Just as the movie starts, Eddie receives an unwelcome call from his past, and the movie follows Eddie along on the journey as he learns the painful lesson that the man he has always trusted -- a man whose life was saved by Eddie's own mother (Argentina Brunetti) -- has turned on the Rico family. Conte, as always, is outstanding.

Modern-day filmmakers could learn a lot from this film. There's no skin shown, yet some of the moments with Eddie and his wife are undeniably hot, as the actors and director manage to communicate quite a lot to the audience about the couple's romantic relationship.

Likewise, there's no blood, other than a beating, yet the film contains moments which are both terrifying and disturbing. (Spoiler alert.) Eddie's kid brother walking out to his doom in order to save his wife (Kathryn Grant) and child, while Eddie is forced to wait in a hotel room with a pair of hoods (Harry Bellaver and Rudy Bond), is a sequence that's not easily forgotten. Filmmakers who want to show everything too often mistake laziness for frankness, taking the easy way out instead of being creative. One more body lying in a pool of blood is easily forgotten, while Johnny's brave, agonizing walk to his death is not.

Some reviewers find the film's ending too upbeat, but honestly, there's enough tragedy in the film as it is. I don't think I would have felt as good about the movie if it had ended on a downer note, and the ending is believable and makes sense. Indeed, there's some wonderful poetic justice as Mama Rico plays a significant role in Eddie's final battle with Kubik.

The film was shot in a stark black and white by Burnett Guffey. The film lacks the gleaming black and white noir beauty of a film like Guffey's own NIGHTFALL (1957), released the same year. There's an interesting introduction by director Martin Scorsese on the DVD in which he discusses the rather dull, flat black and white look of some late '50s films and the possible reasons behind it, including the filmmakers anticipating future TV runs.

The supporting cast also includes Lamont Johnson, perhaps better known as a director, and child actress Mimi Gibson (THE OKLAHOMAN, HOUSEBOAT). The film runs 92 minutes.

This movie is available on DVD in the Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II collection.

THE BROTHERS RICO is an interesting, satisfying film. Recommended.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

One of the greats. When I have my own network we will open with a line-up of Richard Conte in film-noir.

Your assessment of the film is spot on and should create interest in a film I think is rather under-appreciated.

8:56 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I like your idea for a Conte noir fest! He's terrific.

Thanks for sharing your opinion of the movie, I definitely hope more people will check it out.

Best wishes,

9:15 PM  

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