23 August 2002 | bmacv
Turn-of-the-century ethnic crime drama shows points of interest but falls short of potential
With its scenes of extortion and murder in the Italian-American community of Manhattan's Lower East Side at the turn of the century, The Black Hand inevitably calls to mind the flashbacks to young Vito Corleone's start in The Godfather, Part II. And while it's far from that league, there's much in The Black Hand to admire.
Eight years after the murder of his father, an Italian immigrant, for daring to oppose the criminal organization called The Black Hand (the script also calls it The Mafia and The Comorra), young Gene Kelly returns to New York to pursue his vendetta. With the help of police detective J. Carrol Naish, he tries to organize the tenement neighborhood to resist the reign of intimidation and terror. But the mob has moles who anticipate and thwart his every move. When Naish travels to Naples on the case, he's killed, but not before mailing an envelope of incriminating photos to Kelly. But the little brother of Kelly's girlfriend (Teresa Celli) is kidnapped, with the envelope serving as ransom....
Among the movie's admirable points are the thoughtful, rather restrained script and foreboding nightscapes, both in New York and Naples, which lend the film a noirish tinge (as do a couple of adroitly staged moments of suspense). But the story occasionally rambles off into rhetoric about the exploitation of the immigrant underclass by politicians and police valid points, but not presented dramatically. Another dramaturgical shortcoming is that the many characters haven't been sufficiently individuated, leaving a generic ethnic muddle. The romantic angle is oddly subdued, too. The Black Hand shows signs of an interesting and ambitious production that nonetheless falls somewhat short of what it might have been.