Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Brothers Rico



USA 1957 : Phil KARLSON : 92 mins

According to Dave Pirie of Time Out magazine, Karlsons previous crime-problem picture The Phenix City Story (1955) features a militaristic ending [which] may be the closest any American film ever got to advocating a domestic coup. The solution presented in The Brothers Rico may not be anything like so drastic or violent, but its almost as reactionary and just as unrealistic: the climax sees The Organisation (i.e. local Mafia) quickly destroyed thanks to the testimony of a mob-accountant-turned-informant, Eddie Rico (Richard Conte).

According to Karlson and his scriptwriters Lewis Meltzer and Ben Perry (working from the novelette Les freres rico by Georges Simenon, no less), however, Rico isn’t any kind of low-down stool-pigeon: his decision to turn against his former employers is an admirable stance, and the result of extreme circumstances of the most melodramatic kind.

The mob represented by the deceptively genial Kubik (Larry Gates) takes fright when Eddies youngest brother Johnny (James Darren) seems likely to spill the beans on their whole operation, apparently spurred to decency by his marriage to respectable Norah (Kathryn Grant). When Johnny goes into hiding, Eddie is given the task of tracking him down to the horror of his wife Alice (Dianne Foster), who thought her husband had settled into the straight life as a respectable businessman.

Eddie takes deep offence when Kubik suggests Johnny may be turning stoolie but when both Johnny and middle-brother Gino (a barely-seen Paul Picerni) end up dead at the mobs hands, its Eddie who ends up contacting the District Attorney. His success in this manoeuvre is represented via the classic spinning newspaper image, which flashes up with absurd speed following a clunky climactic shoot-out involving Eddie, Kubik and Eddies aged mother (Mimi Aguglia) the latter a walking caricature of the Italian mamma, who, were repeatedly reminded, took a bullet for Kubik years before.

Blood is much, much thicker than water in this world, where mob ties prove worthless against the rock-solid bonds of proper family. And Eddie Rico is the quintessential Eisenhower-era hero: the informant a hard-working businessman, a family-man. Tracking down Johnny explicitly gets in the way of Eddies domestic life, as he gets the job on the same day that he and Alice are supposed to visit the local orphanage to arrange the adoption of a child. Its all manipulative, comic-book, goodies-vs-baddies stuff, offering an unfeasibly sunny depiction of what happens when an ex-mobster switches sides.

The Brothers Rico doesnt even cut it as a crime drama Eddie jets from Florida to California and New York, but his continent-hopping seems designed to persuade us that were watching a fast-paced, exciting thriller, rather than the torpid, relatively uneventful affair which it really is. The black-and-white film has a flat, TV-play type look, and the main interest lies in pondering whether Simenons basic plot gangster, offended by death of brother(s), exacts revenge, brings down local mob could possibly have inspired Ted Lewis when he wrote Jacks Return Home, later filmed as Get Carter.

23rd December, 2003
(seen 17th December : Cinemateket, Danish Film Institutute, Copenhagen, Denmark)

by Neil Young