Saturday, August 30, 2014

Cesare Mori: the Iron Prefect

To this day, there is a reservoir of good will for Mussolini’s Fascist Party in Sicily, thanks in large measure to the “Iron Prefect.” Although he had a checkered personal history with the Fascists, he pursued the Mafia like an Italian Elliott Ness, getting better results for his efforts. After all, they do not give you a nickname like the Iron Prefect for nothing. Gangs will be busted but not permanently eradicated in the historical crime mini-series Cesare Mori (trailer here), which is now available on DVD from MHz Networks.

Mori was a hard cop to kill. During his first posting in Sicily, he stepped on all the wrong toes pursuing the Carlino Gang and the murder of Count Chiaramonte. Mori succeeds in routing the Carlinos, perhaps too well, leaving a vacuum open for the Mafia factions responsible for the Chiaramonte homicide. Making a deal with the devil, the widow Elena Chiaramonte forges an alliance with the Mafia’s facilitators. She will regret this, but not before she supplies a bogus alibi to her husband’s murderer.

With his prosecution scuttled, Mori is promoted up and out of Dodge. In Bologna, he became the only Prefect to stand up to Black Shirt thuggery. Yet, Mussolini was still willing to return him to Sicily with greater authority when the Mafia’s power started to eclipse that of the state.

Without question, the most intriguing aspect of Cesare Mori the mini-series is Mori’s ambiguous relationship with Il Duce. Conveniently, the real life Mori died before the onset of WWII, so he cannot be implicated in any Fascist war crimes. Still, he was a Party member, who somehow made his peace with Mussolini. Clearly, Pietro Calderoni and his battery of co-screen-writers portray Mori’s fascism much like a reluctant Democrat assistant district attorney in Manhattan. He is keenly aware of the party’s corruption and incompetence, but it is the only game in town if he wants to pursue a career in justice.

On the other hand, the clunkiest storyline in Mori involves Saro, an orphaned mobster’s son temporarily adopted by the Moris until the ambitious future Don Tano Cuccia re-establishes the Mafia’s custody. Watching his high-strung wife pine for the ingrate Saro gets old fast. The production is also rarely helped by Pino Donaggio’s overwrought music, which makes several perfectly respectable dramatic scenes sound and feel unnecessarily melodramatic.

Still, Vincent Pérez (probably best known for the “red cloak” scene in Queen Margot and succeeding Brandon Lee in The Crow: City of Angels) is suitably commanding as Mori. He can also ride a horse, which is important. Evidently, Mori preferred to make his entrances on horseback rather than clambering out of an auto, to cut a more imposing figure with the criminal element. When he swaggers and seethes, Mori works quite well.

Comedic actor Adolfo Margiotta is also surprisingly effective as his deputy, Francesco Spanò, who turns out to be more serious and competent than his hound dog looks suggest. As the Countess, Gabriella Pession generates some flirtatious heat with Pérez, but she is saddled with a problematic character that spends most of the decades-spanning production kidding herself about the state of her affairs.

Mori is a fascinating historical and television figure, whereas Saro is just rather sorry. In fact, it is hard to watch Cesare Mori without analyzing what its respective depictions of Mori, Mussolini, and the Mafia say about current Italian attitudes. In fact, it might be controversial with some audiences because dead-ringer Maurizio Donadoni’s portrayal of Il Duce is unflattering on balance, but not so very different from your average politician on the make. Despite its flaws, director Gianni Lepre keeps the 200 minute mini moving along briskly, while Pérez’s performance provides a steely anchor of conviction. Recommended for fans of gangster dramas with minor aesthetic reservations, Cesare Mori is now available on DVD from MHz Networks.