Like all good Italian crime films, 1972’s Long Arm of the Godfather opens with an absurdly over-the-top act of violence. In this case, a young gangster names Vincenzo (Peter Lee Lawrence) masterminds the hijacking of a delivery of Italian army weapons. It’s gangsters versus soldiers as a ludicrous amount of bullets are fired and even a few grenades are tossed through the air. The violence goes on for so long that actually starts to feel as if the film has become self-aware and is parodying the expectations of the audience. The film seems to be saying, “You want violence? Take this!”
That said, Vincenzo eventually does get away with a truck of weapons. He’s suppose to deliver the truck to Don Carmelo (Adolfo Celi, who is probably best-known for playing James Bond’s nemesis in Thunderball) but Vincenzo has other ideas. After running Carmelo off the road, Vincenzo drives off on his own. His plan is to sell the weapons and use the money to start a new life with prostitute girlfriend, Sabina (Erika Blanc). Unfortunately, because Vincenzo doesn’t have any money, he can’t pay anyone to help him unload the truck. Eventually, he deals with that problem by stealing and selling Sabina’s jewelry. Understandably, Sabina is not happy about this but Vincenzo has an even bigger problem to deal with.
It turns out that Don Carmelo is still alive. Even when Vincenzo and Sabina leave Italy for North Africa and attempt to make a deal to sell the weapons to a group of terrorists, Don Carmelo and his men are following close behind. It all leads to even more violence and an appropriately fatalistic ending. The film’s ultimate message is that there is no escape from a life of crime. There is no way to avoid the long of arm of the godfather.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the film is that all of the characters pretty much hate each other even before the inevitable betrayals begin. Don Carmelo appears to dislike all of his men and most of his men appear to dislike him to. Even the people who help Vincenzo make little secret of the fact that they can’t stand to be around him. The main exception to all of this mutual dislike is Vincenzo himself. Vincenzo appears to sincerely like (if not quite love) Sabina. Sabina, on the other hand, spends the majority of the film talking about how everything is Vincenzo’s fault. She knows that Vincenzo is in over his head but, at the same time, she also knows that there’s a chance Vincenzo could make a lot of money so she sticks with him. As for Vincenzo, he’s an eternal optimist, trying to find hope even when its clear that there’s none left. Vincenzo may be clever but he’s not particularly smart and that is destined to be his eventual downfall.
Long Arm of the Godfather is an unapologetically pulpy thriller, one in which both the violence and the melodrama are frequently over the top. It’s a film that will be appreciated by fans of hard-boiled crime fiction and Italian exploitation films. Celi is properly intimidating as Don Carmelo while Peter Lee Lawrence gives a charismatic performance as Vincenzo. Tragically, Lawrence would die two years after starring in Long Arm of the Godfather, a victim of a brain tumor that went undetected until it was too late. He was 30 years old and, had he lived, he undoubtedly would have been a big star in European cinema. Fortuntely, one can still watch him in a film like this and see hints of what could have been.
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