Saturday, January 11, 2020

Movie Reviews: Mob Town

Mob Town
directed by David Abeckaser
The Mob underwent turmoil in the 50s. This was due in part to the return to NYC of the notoriously greedy, shady and dangerous Vito Genovese. Before WWII Genovese had murdered his way to the underboss position of the crime Family that would one day bear his name. 

The only person ahead of him was his boss, the equally notorious and imprisoned Charles "Lucky" Luciano.  Fleeing a murder rap, Genovese went to Italy where he befriended Benito Mussolini and profited accordingly. Genovese's friendship with Mussolini did not prevent him from switching sides when the Americans invaded. Genovese offered his services to the Americans as an interpreter, guide and liaison to the Italian partisans. The wily Genovese used the Americans to profit in the black market, selling anything he could steal.

However, an American officer recognized Genovese and returned him to America to face justice, despite the infuriated Genovese's pleas and threats. Genovese was either very lucky or very resourceful as the remaining witness against him died from poison.

After the war when Luciano was deported, Genovese thought that he would become boss. But Luciano had never liked Genovese. During Luciano's imprisonment and Genovese's overseas sojourn Frank Costello, the Family's urbane counselor and top fixer, had profitably and peacefully run the organization. After Luciano's permanent deportation Costello was formally recognized as the new boss. 

Costello kept a low profile. Costello was good friends not only with Luciano but also with fellow boss Albert Anastasia, the former head of "Murder Inc" and a man who was kill crazy even by Mafia standards. Anastasia made Genovese cautious. So Genovese stewed, seethed, and plotted.

By 1957, Genovese's power had grown significantly while Anastasia's murderous rages had made him less popular in his own Family and with other mobsters. Costello's respect had also declined with his tax and other legal problems. Costello was a white collar boss leading an organization of blue collar thugs.

Mob Town is a fictionalization of the abortive Appalachin New York meeting that Genovese called after he became boss. Genovese helped to arrange Anastasia's famous barbershop murder. Genovese also ordered an unsuccessful attempt on Costello's life which convinced Costello to retire.

Now murdering your boss or other bosses without the explicit approval of the Mafia Commission is frowned upon. It's actually a death penalty offense. Genovese intended to explain himself, work out new deals with other bosses, and possibly have himself declared boss of all bosses. Genovese never lacked for ego. Genovese invited everyone in the Mob and the larger syndicate to the meeting.

Mob Town focuses on Ed Croswell (David Arquette), the NY State trooper who is convinced that harried local businessman and gangster Joe Barbara (Abeckaser) and his curvy wife (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) are up to no good because of Barbara's purchase of massive amounts of food, drink and hotel rooms. When he's not watching the Barbaras, Ed is mostly ineptly trying to put the moves on attractive local widow Natalie (Jennifer Esposito). While I normally enjoy most movies with Esposito, in truth she's wasted here. 

Also wasted is Robert Davi as Vito Genovese. Testosterone levels rise when Davi enters the room but aside from some glowering and yelling I don't think the viewer would get just why so many people were scared sh**less of Genovese.

This would have been a better film if the meeting preparations and the abortive meeting itself had been a much smaller part of the movie. The importance of Appalachin was not that a meeting was raided but that the proven existence of a national crime syndicate was something that reformers used to light a fire under Hoover and the FBI, who had previously denied it. 

Too much of the movie is Barbara calmly promising his NYC counterparts that he can do something, before hanging up the phone and screaming at his wife that he has no idea how he can do what he just said he'd do. Funny once or twice but that's it. 
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