Mean Frank and Crazy Tony (1973, Italy)

Mean Frank and Crazy Tony - Tony Lo Bianco as Tony Breda and Lee Van Cleef as Frankie Diomede

This is also known as Escape from Death Row, but why, I’m not sure. For starters, there is no Death Row, and secondly, why would you even bother to seek an alternative title to Mean Frank and Crazy Tony, for goodness’ sake?

As 70s B-grade action-noir-revenge dramas without Burt Reynolds go, this is right up there.

Lee Van Cleef plays pipe-smoking crime boss Frankie Diomede, or just ‘Frankie Dio’ in the press – ruthless, feared, monied, and just returned to Italy after a long time away in Chicago, amongst other places. The paparazzi are there at the airport to greet him, and so too is Tony Breda, a small-time ladies man and big time Frankie groupie who hopes to introduce himself to the Mr Big.

As soon as he’s back, Frankie goes to one of his illegal gaming houses, calls the police, and gets himself arrested. Tony, who has followed him to the house and sees an opportunity to save his idol from being busted, gets arrested with him. But as soon as Frankie is lodged in jail, a guard whose palm has been greased a little lets him out. Frankie just happens to drop in on Joe Sciti, his No.1 man in Europe, and throws him over his 6th floor balcony. He then gets himself let back into jail. From his adjoining cell Tony sees him sneak out and sneak back in. He is full of admiration for the gall of the ruse, and tells Frankie. Frankie is not so comfortable with the adoration thing. Nor is he keen on people not keeping their mouths shut. But his money is good; while Tony and other prisoners share cramped cells, he has a cell to himself with a big leather armchair and a bottle of vino.

While Frankie’s alibi of being in jail when Joe was killed fools some, a number of Frankie’s gangsterdom rivals remember that he pulled the same trick in Chicago 20 years earlier. They torture Frankie’s lawyer, Massara, kill him and leave him in a ditch, but not before extracting from him the name of the bribed guard. The crooked jailer is soon arrested, the Public Prosecutor gets involved, and Frankie is charged with murder. That was not part of the plan.

Frankie is suddenly on the nose with officialdom. He gets booted out of his cellular suite and has to mix it with the other prisoners, who taunt him as he gets to do ‘real jail’. Tony, however, stays thick. When Frankie’s brother, a squarehead doctor, gets hit, Frankie becomes even more desperate to get out and get even. And as Tony is within days of being released, he undertakes to mastermind Frankie’s escape.

And it’s a fair old escape at that; as Frankie is being transferred to another jail, the vehicle comes across an apparent car crash with injured women and children, and some of the escorting officers get out of the car to help. When they return, they find that Frankie has been sprung.

That’s where the prison stuff ends. The second half of the movie reverts to an action romp with Frankie on the loose and evening scores, first in Italy and then driving to France with Tony in a variety of vehicles (notably a truck they commandeer) and pursued by scores of police. Frankie has to make it to France so that he can take revenge on his nemesis, Louis Annunziata, who is running a heroin exporting business out of a fish processing factory in Marseilles. Classic action stuff, with lots of car crashes, a bit of humour and lots of shooting.

Much of the humour of course derives from the stark differences between the two new buddies: Frankie is hard-as-nails, ice-cool, closed off and wealthy, while Tony is eager, demonstrative, excitable and a novice in the world of which he craves to be a part. Odd couples are not new in films (although usually in prison flicks they are handcuffed together), and nor is the idea of using one’s being in jail as an alibi as one sneaks out for a bit of nefariousness. Some of those that played with this before Mean Frank include Blackwell’s Island (1939) and Two Way Stretch (1960), and two that have done it very well more recently have been O ?imdi Mahkum (2005) and Law Abiding Citizen (2009).

This is very 70s; Enjoyable Enough Frank and Not Very Taxing Tony.

Mean Frank and Crazy Tony #2 - Lee Van Cleef as Frankie Diomede Mean Frank and Crazy Tony - Lee Van Cleef as Frankie Diomede in his custom cell Mean Frank and Crazy Tony #3 - Tony Lo Bianco as Tony Breda and Lee Van Cleef as Frankie Diomede

You can watch it on YouTube:

Posted on May 17th, 2017 at 9:33 pm. Updated on July 30th, 2017 at 1:02 pm.

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