As a well-raised Italian boy, I have watched plenty of mob-related movies, both domestic and foreign, from the expected films like The Godfather and Goodfellas to the poliziotteschi of the country of my origins, but I have to tell you, nobody who acts in those movies — with the exception of perhaps Lenny Montana — so seems like they came directly out of the real world of crime and violence as the man who wrote, produced, self-financed and directed this film, Duke Mitchell.
Supposedly written from all of his real-life run-ins, Mitchell had the kind of career that fascinates me. Born Dominic Salvatore Miceli in Farrell, PA — around twenty minutes from where I grew up — Duke started his career as the Dean Martin to Sammy Petrillo’s Jerry Lewis in a nightclub act that drove Lewis near insane.
One reason was movie producer Jack Broder, who hired the team to star opposite Ramona the Chimp — who was Cheetah for a time in the Tarzan films — and Bela Lugosi in the low-budget high concept Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla.
Man — that movie!
Gary Lewis, Jerry’s eldest son, told the New York Times — in Petrillo’s obituary no less — “When Sammy and the other guy played in that gorilla movie, I remember my dad and Dean saying, “We got to sue these guys — this is no good.”
Lewis knew Broder through the Friars Club and attempted to stop the movie from being released before a shouting match needed to be broken up. Paramount Pictures had Martin and Lewis under contract, so another Friars Club contact named Hal B. Wallis attempted to meet with Broder and purchase the negative to the film for no small amount of cash. They never agreed on a price, so instead of destroying the completed film, Broder released it and the two men never spoke again.
After they returned to nightclubs, Mitchell and Petrillo went back to the clubs but found themselves blackballed by Martin and Lewis; they were even blocked from an appearance on the Colgate Comedy Hour, which was hosted by Abbott and Costello. The team would break up briefly and then reteam until they decided to call it quits directly after Martin and Lewis did the same thing.
Petrillo would go on to become head of production for the Network Film Corporation owned by Dick Randall and made Shangri-La, as well as an unfinished superhero movie called Gas Is Best shot in Pittsburgh (!) as well as Keyholes Are for Peeping with Doris Wishman. In the 70s, Sammy also worked as a distributor for the Transcontinental Film Corporation, which allowed him to rekindle his friendship with Duke before settling down in Pittsburgh (!!) where he ran the comedy club The Nut House and also was a host that introduced nearly any adult star who came to the Steel City*.
Let’s get back to Duke (and eventually this movie).
Going solo, Duke played spots like New York, Las Vegas, Seattle, Palm Springs, Chicago and Los Angeles before dubbing himself the King of Palm Springs and popularized Sunday brunch shows in which talent in town would nosh and sing a few tunes or have a conversation with the man himself. People like Liza Minnelli, David Janssen, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra Sr. and Jr., Lucille Ball, Red Skelton and many more.
Somewhere in here, Duke was also the singing voice of Fred Flintstone.
Before dying of lung cancer in 1981, Mitchell started making his own films. This one and Gone with the Pope are the only two that have survived, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Bob Murawski and Sage Stallone of Grindhouse Releasing, who found that second film as a work print in Mitchell’s son’s garage.
To the words of a Duke song, the movie begins with he and his partner Jolly (Vic Caesar) killing an entire office full of victims (check out the commitment from the guy who gets blasted and dies face first in a scuzzy urinal people!) before a Duke voiceover explains the way of the mob world. This movie is pretty much owned by his long rambling narratives which I think I may record on my phone and Kenny Powers-style listen to for power and inspiration before I have to interact with normal people.
Duke is Mimi Miceli, the son of a high-powered mafia don who has been exiled back to Sicily for his crimes in America and who is raising our hero’s son while he lives his dreams in Hollywood, which mainly consist of killing people, hanging on porn shoots and crucifying pimps that get in his way. And oh yeah — getting to lie in bed next to Cara Peters, which is like the real American dream, as she’s absolutely fabulous in this.
I loved every frame of this movie, filled with shocking violence and made by a man who had the utter balls to send out real wedding invitations for the scene in this movie, then sell the gifts that people brought to raise more money for the making of the rest of the picture.
The world should have more people like Duke Mitchell. And more films like Massacre Mafia Style.
While not prosecuted for obscenity, the film was seized and confiscated in the UK under Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 during the video nasty panic. I beyond love the fact that Duke somehow has a movie in the same category as Fulci. But hey — hooks through faces, dead dogs, multiple bullet wounds and even a slow mo Pickinpah ending aren’t going to make this a G rated movie.
You can watch this on Tubi or buy it from Grindhouse Releasing.
*One last Jerry and Sammy story: On October 5, 1982, the Today Show was airing a series of Lewis’ career highlights and the very first one wasn’t Jerry. It was Petrillo. Jerry said, in his usual mock sincerity, “It was Sammy Petrillo, a kid that I found walked on 53rd Street here in New York, and I brought him out to Hollywood to work on a sketch with Dean and I [sic], and then he worked with Eddie Cantor two weeks later.” I bet he was fuming.