“Frank, I’m in! I’ve always been in, haven’t I?”
“You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to hear you say that.”
After the success of three films in the 1962-1964 period that were produced by his own company (Lonely Are the Brave, The List of Adrian Messenger, and Seven Days In May), Kirk Douglas stepped back from the production side of things to concentrate solely on acting for a while. Then in 1968, a tale of the inner conflicts of a mafia family piqued his interest sufficiently to reactivate his production involvement. The resulting film, produced by and starring Kirk Douglas, was The Brotherhood, released by Paramount in 1968. Paramount has now made the film available on DVD in a bare-bones version.
Frank Ginetta is a middle-aged Mafioso who has taken over the family business from his deceased father and remains loyal to the old ways. His brother, Vince, fresh from a university education and a stint in the army and newly married expresses his desire to join Frank in the business. At first, things seem to go well, but Frank is having problems with the other members of the Syndicate who want to branch into new areas that Frank feels are too risky. Vince sides with the Syndicate leading to violent arguments between the two. Meanwhile, Frank learns that one of the Syndicate members — Dom Bertolo — was responsible for the death of his father and many of his associates, and makes plans to seek revenge. The results of these actions will pit brother against brother in a deadly confrontation.
In light of the The Godfather and the sequels that would come later, The Brotherhood has a certain interest for the plot elements that are similar, not to mention one brief reference to the Corleone family. Some of these elements include: a younger brother who is educated with the intention of keeping him clear of the family business but gets involved of his own volition; a family head who resists new business lines; and a killing that forces a family member to retreat to Sicily — not to mention the usual intrigue, backstabbing, and intergenerational conflict. The difference is in the scope. The Brotherhood is a smaller-scale film that focuses on the internal workings of the Mafia as well as the home family relationships of its members. By focusing on the latter, the film also seems to be romanticizing what it implies to be the more admirable older, personal but more overtly violent ways as opposed to the newer, more insidious and impersonal methods. (I should mention that there are some brief scenes of violence in the film, but compared to current films, The Brotherhood is benign in that regard.) The story that frames these themes is a straightforward one with a nod to tragedy, but ultimately offers few surprises, so in the end, one’s enjoyment of the film chiefly hinges on the quality of the performances.
Kirk Douglas’s involvement in the production of a film usually resulted in him putting forth his better efforts on the acting side as well. Here, he plays Frank Ginetta and delivers one of his typically intense performances — perhaps a little too intense at times, but believable nonetheless. The contrast between his work and Alex Cord (as brother Vince) who is a much lower key performer works well in the film and makes the eventual ending very effective. (For some reason, seeing Cord made me think of the last film I saw him in — a clunker called Air Rage in which he was embarrassing. It’s good to see that he wasn’t always so bad.) The Brotherhood also benefits from a number of good supporting-player casting decisions. Irene Papas manages to avoid a mere window-dressing role as Frank’s wife with an affecting performance in which she allows her expressive face to convey emotion as opposed to using mere words. Luther Adler does well as Dom Bertolo and it’s a pleasure to see veteran character actor Eduardo Ciannelli as an elderly, deposed Mafia chief (one of his last roles). Other familiar faces are Murray Hamilton and Joe De Santis.
Direction is by Martin Ritt who, during a feature film directing career that spanned 34 years from 1957 to 1990, made a number of interesting films including Hud, Hombre, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, Sounder, Norma Rae, and Murphy’s Romance. The Brotherhood is an efficiently directed exercise that not only displays some nice location shooting in both New York and Sicily, but also does so with interesting camera placement and movement. One shot of Douglas approaching on foot along a long, deserted walkway by the water is effectively used to emphasize how isolated his character has become in the film, for example.
Paramount has delivered its usual fine transfer in this 1.85:1 anamorphic presentation. The DVD looks very good. Colours are rich and bright. Blacks are deep and glossy, and shadow detail is very good. This transfer doesn’t show its age; there is only the very occasional speckle to see. Some minor edge enhancement is noticeable, however. That aside, Paramount is to be commended for how well The Brotherhood looks.
Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound tracks are provided in both English and French. The results are actually quite dynamic, with the dialogue having some real presence to it. Lalo Schifrin’s score is not particularly memorable so we don’t miss much on that account by virtue of the mono track. English subtitles are included.
There is no supplementary content whatsoever.
The Brotherhood is an entertaining film that has extra interest by virtue of the inevitable comparisons with The Godfather. It scores with fine performances that don’t try to make more of the material than is warranted. Paramount’s DVD efforts with the film transfer are admirable, but even for that company, the supplementary material is poor (well, non-existent). A rental is certainly warranted, but a purchase is likely only for Kirk Douglas enthusiasts.