Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Mob Town: Edgar Croswell Crashes the Mafia’s Party

In the time between Eliot Ness and Rudy Giuliani (before he lost his mind), Edgar D. Croswell was the great American gang-buster of his era. Although he later served on New York State Organized Crime Task Force, he worked the biggest case of his career as a New York State Trooper. In 1957, the mob threw a party in upstate Apalachin, NY (not Appalachia) and Croswell was determined to give them the reception they deserved. The dedicated lawman crashes the infamous Apalachin Mafia summit meeting in Danny A. Abeckaser’s Mob Town, which opens this Friday in New York.

Being a heads-up lawman, Croswell smelled a rat when he pulled over an associate of local bottling magnate and reputed mobster Joe Barbara, driving without a license. However, a judge in the mob’s pocket kicked him loose and Croswell’s boss was content to be rid of him. Of course, the whole sordid episode stirred Croswell righteous indignation and focused his suspicions on Barbara. A year later, Croswell’s on-and-off surveillance paid off when he observed Barbara buying suspiciously large quantities of meat, fish, and booze.

Having just solidified his position as boss of New York, New York (by whacking the interlopers), Vito Genovese wants to take a leadership position among his peers, so decided to call a summit someplace way off the beaten path. Barbara’s Apalachin home fit the bill perfectly. However, the mid-level mobster is about as subtle as a Joe Pesci character hopped up on Red Bull and amphetamines, so his manic preparations inevitable attract Croswell’s attention.

The real-life story of Croswell and the Apalachin meeting (which really did happen pretty much the way Jon Carlo & Joe Gilford’s screenplay depicts) is absolutely fascinating. However, as a work of cinema, Mob Town is a low-impact, overly safe endeavor. There is never much tension to speak of, but there is way too much slack, especially in the sluggish first act. Still, Abeckaser and his design team manage to give the film a strikingly stylish retro-period look and vibe. In terms of the cars, costumes, trappings, and settings, they over-achieve working within their indie budget constraints.

It is hard to say whether Abeckaser the supporting actor (who had a small part in The Irishman) is his own best ally or worst enemy, but you have to give him props for the energy and commitment of his over-the-top fuggedaboutit performance as Barbara. He also has some spirited chemistry with Jamie-Lynn Sigler, playing Barbara’s knowing and complicit wife, Josephine. Similarly, the great Robert Davi chews the scenery with relish as Genovese.

On the other hand, David Arquette falls back on his likable Deputy Dewey shtick from the Scream franchise, portraying Croswell as a bit of a stout-hearted lunkhead. His scenes shyly courting a local widow (played by Jennifer Esposito) are also bit too slow and too saccharine. Plus, the bumbling comedic relief provided by Croswell’s fellow trooper, Vincent Vasisko, is so problematic, it nearly undercuts the film’s inherent believability.

Abeckaser and company deserve credit for recognizing the significance of Croswell’s story and trying their best to popularize it. Nevertheless, Mob Town is still best described as a workmanlike effort. Not much of the film is likely to stick with viewers, aside from some of Abeckaser’s yelling and kvetching. Mob Town is not really recommended, but sure, there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes. It opens tomorrow (12/13) in New York, at the Cinema Village.