15 April 2003 | telegonus
This One Pays Off
This 1960 crime drama was directed by Richard Wilson, who had just made a highly successful film on the life of Al Capone the previous year, and does another fine job with this one, set in New York's Little Italy in the early twentieth century. Ernest Borgnine is the hero, a policeman who takes on the dreaded "Black Hand" that was terrorizing shopkeepers and various other innocent, law-abiding people by forcing them to pay "protection money" (or else). It's the usual cops and robbers story, but with more heart than most, and with an unusual setting, stunningly realized by set designer Darrell Silvera. That the story happens to be based on fact gives the movie gravitas. Although it's filmed as melodrama the film is in many respects a semi-documentary of tenement life, much of it sadly true. There's nothing romantic about the Mafia depicted in this movie. They're presented as the brutal thugs they really are, without a trace of sentimentality. The sympathy here is all for the poor people of the streets, and for the man who was their champion.