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The Iron Prefect (Blu-ray Review)

3 min read

Radiance Films

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.

The Iron Prefect, directed by Pasquale Squitieri, is based on the life and times of The fascist commissioner Cesare Mori, played by Giuliano Gemma. Set in 1920s Sicily where crime and corruption are rife Cesare Mori is hell-bent on destroying the Mafia in Palermo and renewing the people's faith in Mussolini's state. But his hardline approach gains him almost as many enemies as it does supporters.

The Iron Prefect shares many strands of DNA with classic spaghetti westerns, especially talent, both on-screen and off. The legendary composer, Morricone, crafts the terrific score. Claudia Cardinale, who was a mainstay of spaghetti westerns, most notably Sergio Leone's classic Once Upon a Time in the West, stars as a headstrong peasant woman, Anna Torrisi. The visual and tone is also like a classic spaghetti western; there are muscular gun fights, stand-offs between the law and bandits, the typical beautiful shots of the Italian countryside and, of course, the epic and rousing score, which kind of makes this a western in all but name.

Radiance Films

At its core, The Iron Prefect explores the relationship between the ruling fascist party and its effects on the Mafia. It's an interesting watch, putting a fascist “hero” at its centre. On the one hand, we have Mori who is uprooting the banditry of the Mafia and its ruinous effects on the poor, but he is also doing it in the name of one of the most repressive regimes in Western history. Mori does have his doubts about the Fascist party. He expresses them first when a high-ranking official comes to Palermo, offering help from the ruling party. Mori declines and casts aspersions at where the party's pool of new members is coming from, citing an influx of criminals and ex-mafia – a theme that plays heavily in the film's conclusion.

That said, his insistence on the state having power over the people and his willingness to do anything, regardless of the consequences to innocent civilians make him a complicated character. His devotion to the law is steadfast and unwavering, but that does come at the cost of his humanity.

Radiance Films

Claudia Cardinale's Anna Torrisi is a counter foil to Mori. She is a woman of the hills who represents the normal people that Mori has come to “save”, but in an important scene, a young man highlights how the poor are pushed around by the bandits, by their corrupt overseers that run the fields they toil and the mafia too. So Mori's freedom just feels like the same type of brutality, albeit in a fancier suit.

The Iron Prefect won the David di Donatello (an Italian film award) in 1978 and it's easy to see why, this is a film that still holds up to this day. The cinematography is surprisingly modern. The way the camera pans during the confrontation between Mori and the bandit King, Antonio Capecelatro, is fabulous.

The Iron Prefect is undoubtedly a classic that holds up surprisingly well and is engaging throughout. Yes, there are some quirks from 1970s cinema that we don't see in films these days, the pace is just different to modern cinema, but none of these is enough to take away from the enjoyment of the Iron Prefect. Great direction throughout and an engaging story make this a must-watch.

LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES

  • 2K restoration of the film from the original negative presented with Italian and English audio options
  • Uncompressed mono PCM audio
  • Archival interview with director Pasquale Squitieri and star Giuliano Gemma (2009)
  • New interview with Squitieri biographer Domenico Monetti (2023)
  • New appreciation of Giuliano Gemma and the film by filmmaker Alex Cox (2023)
  • Original trailer
  • New and improved English subtitles for Italian audio and English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for English audio
  • Reversible sleeve featuring designs based on original posters
  • Limited edition booklet featuring new writing by expert Guido Bonsaver and an original article on the real-life Cesare Mori and his Mafia raid as depicted within the film
  • Limited edition of 2000 copies, presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings

The Iron Prefect Limited Edition Blu-Ray from Radiance Films is released on 17th July.