The Phil Karlson festival continues (see yesterday’s 5 Against the House, 1955) with another picture by the director, a mob “pulled me back in!” story starring Richard Conte. Eddie Rico (Conte) honestly thought he was moving away from crime when he accepted a job as “just” the company accountant for Sid Kubik (Larry Gates). Twenty years on, he’s worked his way up to managing his own legit business and is happily married to Alice (Dianne Foster). The couple looks forward to adopting a baby any day now, but then a phone call, letter and strange meeting drags Eddie into a messy underworld affair that, despite his best efforts, claims the lives of both his brothers, Gino (Paul Picerni) and Johnny (James Darren).
This is a great Godfather type of tale where everything is about loyalty to family, whether that family is the mob, blood relatives, or in-laws. The emphasis is on a slow march toward the inevitable, and then a shift to heroic action, all anchored by Conte’s touching performance. He convinces us that Eddie is decent, grateful and loyal to both his “families” and therefore easily fooled by Kubik into thinking he’s being sent on a mission to help protect his brothers. He doesn’t seem gullible since he also sees Kubik as a father figure, and clings to an older idea of mafia honour (he’s been in an office and out of direct mob action for years, after all) and so he fatally underestimates their intentions and methods.
He dutifully follows the trail from Florida to New York to California and back, finds the place Johnny’s hiding with his sweet new wife (Kathryn Grant) and baby, and is horrified when he ends up leading Kubik’s hitmen right to them. We know Gino’s been in Kubik’s custody since Eddie was handed his plane ticket, but it’s no less heartbreaking when Eddie learns his fate. What’s worse, Eddie does all this on the very day he and Alice get their long-awaited adoption agency meeting. After being briefly paralyzed by grief and guilt over the ways he’s wrecked his family, Eddie turns the tables, explains to Alice, and gets her and his new brother in-law (Lamont Johnson) to help him bring Kubik down.
The good cast also includes Harry Bellaver as an enforcer in California, and Argentina Brunetti as mamma Rico (but thankfully the movie doesn’t use Italian stereotypes). Gates is a disturbingly calm, smiling villain who claims to love mamma Rico and makes every statement sound like a question, his uptalk meant to assure Eddie of concern and warmth, but sounding more like deadly traps. There’s an excellent, graphic exchange of gunfire at the end, after Kubik comes to mamma’s home/candy shop looking to finish Eddie.
The source story was a book by prolific French mystery author Georges Simenon, which was also adapted in 1972 as The Family Rico, starring Ben Gazzara.