American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Eight years before "The Godfather," three years before FBI director J. Edgar Hoover ever acknowledged that there was such a thing as the Mafia in the U.S., Albergo Lattuada's "Mafioso" infiltrated our shores. Made in 1962, it had a brief New York run in the summer of 1964 and then disappeared for 40 years until it resurfaced at the 2006 New York Film Festival. What an odd and wonderful rediscovery it is, a broad commedia della famiglia told with authentic piquancy and brio. It has boisterous fun with crusty Sicilian stereotypes on that sun-baked island of strict moral codes and ancient family ties. Then -- as suddenly as a cloudburst appearing out of a clear blue sky -- it turns dark.
"Mafioso" begins at a swift mechanical clip, like Chaplin's "Modern Times" with a double shot of espresso. Antonio "Nino" Badalamenti (Alberto Sordi, one of Italy's most popular comic actors) is a factory-floor supervisor at a Fiat plant in Milan who keeps the cogs turning briskly. Nino's tempo, at work and at home, is strictly allegro. He claims he's "like a stopwatch," but he's eager to unwind.
His long-delayed vacation trip is all planned: Nino and his harried blond wife Marta (Brazilian actress Norma Bengell) have just enough time to get themselves and their two daughters aboard the 3:10 train, arriving in Bologna at 5:31, where they will be right on schedule for a lunch of hot tortellini. Coffee in Firenze, arrive in Rome at 11, sleep on the train and board the ferry for Sicily -- "island of sun and Cyclops, inspiration to all the poets" -- at 10:07 the next morning.
This will be the first time Nino's Sicilian family, in his home village of Camalo, have met Marta and the girls. He has been asked by the director of the plant (also from Camalo, by way of Trenton, N.J.) to hand-deliver a very important and valuable package "from our mutual friends" to Don Vincenzo (Ugo Attanasio), the town patriarch.