This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.
Radiance Films are bringing forth three little known Italian crime dramas with their new box-set release of Cosa Nostra. The three films – The Day of the Owl (1968), The Case is Closed: Forget It (1971) and How to Kill a Judge (1975) – are connected by their star and director, Franco Nero and Damiano Damiani respectively. However, the thematic connections between these films are the far more interesting part.
The three films focus on the Cosa Nostra (the Sicilian Mafia) and the corruption that came from their power. The work of the Sicilian Mafia lingers in the background of all three films, with corruption found in most characters and authorities. Each film focuses on these issues from a different perspective, making them distinct and interesting in their own ways. The stand-out film is certainly The Case is Closed: Forget It. That film is particularly gritty, using its prison setting as a microcosm for wider Italian issues at the time. It also features one of Franco Nero's finest performances (in a career full of fantastic roles). However, all three films are important political works which are certainly worth viewing.
The talent involved in the three films is astounding, too. Of course, Franco Nero stars in all three, but Lee J. Cobb (of 12 Angry Men, for example) appears in The Day of the Owl alongside Claudia Cardinale's secretive, femme-fatale-ish figure. Ennio Morricone also composed the score for The Case is Closed.
The 2K restorations by Radiance Films mean that the cinematography across all three films looks fantastic. The colours and the bold uses of darkness are beautiful. The consistent use of tracking shots and zooms, common in Italian cinema from the 1960s to the 1990s, lend additional visual style. The slow pace of these films can be testing at times, but each film rewards the patient viewer with great scenes of tension and intense power struggles between characters.
That focus on oppression and how corruption infects even the most moralistic people is spread across all three films, too. Immediately, The Day of the Owl sets its bleak, oppressive tone with a great opening sequence. The viewer is guided through the seedy political underbellies of each story by plot enigmas, making reveals powerful and memorable. Each film has a moment of revelation which puts Nero's character in great trouble. The most effective of those moments certainly belongs to How to Kill a Judge in which Nero's character is a film director who makes a political film about a real judge being killed… only for the judge the film was about to then be killed in the same way his film predicted. It's in moments like these that the scripts show their intelligence.
All of the films in the set are gritty and surprisingly raw. There is a clear moodiness to all three films, coming from the helplessness of life beneath a powerful fascistic force. The remnants of Mussolini's fascist reign are clear almost constantly, with characters refusing to give information to police officers or help each other due to fear. This is best highlighted by The Case is Closed, as Nero's proud middle-class architect refuses to work with his cellmates in prison towards a more positive outcome for the group. His character is initially troubling because of his pride, but seeing him gradually worn down by the prison's tyranny is shocking and disturbing.
All three films in Radiance's Cosa Nostra set are effective political crime dramas. They have great performances from Franco Nero, beautiful cinematography (highlighted by Radiance's restorative work) and intelligent scripts. The mysteries established in each film and the quality filmmaking will entice you. Their moodiness and patience, however, will stick with you long after viewing.
The Cosa Nostra boxset will be released by Radiance Films on 24th July. It is available for purchase here.