Il Boss vs. Mafioso

Written by Joe D on January 17th, 2008


I picked up a copy of Peter McCurtin’s 1970 pulp novel Mafioso. This is the book Fernando Di Leo adapted for his 1973 film Il Boss(USA Wipeout). The main reason I got it was to see if the story continued beyond the ending of Il Boss, because at the end of Il Boss, there’s a title that says CONTINUA (to be continued).

I figured the story in the book must go on for a while to a conclusion. But I found out, although it has a different ending, the film actually has a few more scenes than the novel. Let’s start at the beginning. Nick Lanzetta (Henry Silva in the movie) is a rising star, ultra cold blooded killer, his first hit, blowing up a rival gang in a movie theater with a grenade launcher fired from the projection booth, is lifted right out of the book, the main difference being in the movie the Don and his cohorts are watching a porno film, in the book a gangster film. By the way the book takes place in Brooklyn and the author uses a lot of real locations, I lived there for a while and could easily picture where things were happening, the movie takes place in Sicily. The other main differences are, the head of the rival gang is a black guy named Coakley, in the movie he’s an Italian named Cocchi. Don Corrassco (Richard Conte in the movie) does not want to make peace with the rival gang because they’re not Sicilian, in the book because they’re black. In the movie the corrupt cop (Gianni Garko) wants to maintain order in the mafia that’s why he helps them, sort of a proto-fascist. In the book the corrupt cop is an old Irish guy, he’s just looking for some extra money.

Pignataro Kills Don Corrassco. This is where the film really differs from the novel and for my money the film’s ending is vastly superior.

The main differences are at the end. In the book Lanzetta and his lieutenant, Pignataro recruit the other gang members and do a air/ sea assault on the Don’s Long Island compound. It’s the worst thing in the book. Di Leo’s denouement is far superior. Then Di Leo goes one step further, he has Pignataro try to kill Lanzetta, egged on by the lawyer who seems to represent the Pope! In the book Lanzetta and his men kill Don Corrassco and Lanzetta assumes control of Corrassco’s family. I think Di Leo found this unbelievable to an Italian audience. In America you can fight your way to the top of the heap, a guy starting out with nothing can become rich and powerful. In Italy with all the centuries of family history, it’s much more difficult to jump above your station. Case in point, when I was in Rome I met a lot of up and coming directors. A few complained to me that they couldn’t get their films produced while their contemporaries, whose families had been in the film business for generations got theirs produced right away. It’s just the way it is. Also I was surprised at how similar the scenes between Lanzetta and Daniello’s daughter Kate were. The arguments they have while shacked up in Lanzetta’s apartment are almost verbatim in the film and they’re great.

Silva and the Dead Don’s Daughter

Great Art often comes from transplanting an idea from one culture to another and back again. This is an interesting study in cross cultural fertilization. Comparing the film and the novel was fascinating and I recommend the book to any fan of the film.

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