“Filmmaking is also nation making.”
– Pasquale Squitieri, via Domenico Monetti
The Iron Prefect (1977) is a nearly perfect limited edition out from Radiance Films. Previously screened in the United States and released on DVD as I am the Law, this new edition of the ‘70s Italian masterpiece has a name closer to its Italian translation, and this is not the only place this translation gets points for accuracy. The transfer is crisp and beautiful, the audio is surprisingly luscious for a mono-mix film, and the box art is an excellent translation of the film’s traditional printed poster iconography.
Set in 1925 Sicily, The Iron Prefect tells the true story of Ceasare Mori, played by Giuliano Gemma (A Pistol for Ringo, Ben Hur), a lawman so dedicated to the letter of the law that even after arresting then-Minister-of-the-Interior Benito Mussolini’s own fellow fascists at a previous post, Mussolini sends Mori to eradicate the mafia presence in Sicily. Raised in an orphanage for the first few years of his childhood, Mori was a Prefect who believed in the idea of a benevolent state above all else. This belief is challenged when confronted with a populace that trusts a murderous mafia over a lazy and corrupt fascist government. Going to battle with guns, medical supplies, and ruthless tactics, Mori’s war on the mafia is a great western epic, turning this bureaucratic lawman into a lone sheriff of the mythic west. Giuliano Gemma gives a celebrated performance, and it’s easy to see why. Moving with restrained power, Gemma portrays Mori as a man for whom the world bends, and when it won’t bend any further, he breaks it in his own wake.
Widely considered director Pasquale Squitieri (The Climber)’s best film, The Iron Prefect is a great film and western, underseen in the U.S. due to politics in the Italian film industry upon its release. Italian film actress and sex symbol Claudia Cardinale (8 ½, Once Upon a Time in the West) plays a supporting role as Anna Torrini, a peasant woman whose relationship with the state and mafia stands in for that of all of Sicily. Two years before the release of the film, Cardinale had left her husband, producer and president of Franco Cristald, for Squiteri. Cristald used his position in the Italian film industry to prevent his ex and her lover’s film from being nominated by Italy for the Academy Award for Best Picture, despite the film’s Best Film award at the Italian Academy’s David di Donatello Awards, Gemma’s Best Actor Award at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, and its record-grossing run at the Italian box office. The film did however screen in New York City for Italian Film Week, which led to a star-studded screening in President Jimmy Carter’s White House.
Screening at your house, the film’s never look better with a 2k transfer that shines with its sharp image and fine film grain. The transfer is practically flawless, except for a strange radial artifact in the grainy night of the opening sequence, under three minutes long. This issue was recreated on this author’s Sony XBR-65X850D 4K TV on a Playstation 4 and LG-UBK90 4K Blu-ray Player (Region Free) and on a Samsung LN46C630K1F HD TV with a Playstation 4 Pro, though it was much less noticeable when played in HD. In the pantheon of digital artifacts or low-light banding, it’s not going to stand out too many, but it’s worth noting here for its consistency. Compared to the DVD-era transfer glimpsed in the archival extra feature, the film has never looked better for home viewing.
As mentioned earlier, the mono mix for the film is surprisingly great. For dialogue, you have two options, an English dub, and an Italian dub, along with matching subtitles for each language. The Italian dub is by far the definitive version. The performances are excellent, featuring Gemma’s award-winning voice. The English dub, on the other hand, populates the film with a tone akin to an ‘80s Saturday morning cartoon. What are normally serious discussions of the relationship between justice, fear, and responsibility become over-written monologues that might as well be coming from a Voltron pilot’s mouth. This author highly recommends the Italian dub with English subtitles, unless you’re just looking for something to listen to while you work, in which case it’s serviceable.
For packaging and extras, Radiance Films has done a great job delivering a boutique label experience. The box art is reversible with a removable OBI strip if you want to showcase the box art without text or other markings. The exterior sleeve is in English with colored artwork based on the posters, and the reverse sleeve is in Italian with a black and white color palette outside of some stills from the film on the back. No matter how you choose to display it, the layout is determined to give you a strong shelf look.
Inside is a booklet with a nine-page essay by Italian cinema expert Guio Bonsaver and a five-page archival article reporting on the events of the film. The essay itself is good and informative, if a little repetitive in its use of the word “somehow.” Combined with the archival reporting, the booklet would be an exhaustive look at the context of the film. Still, the included Extras bring more.
First, is a licensed extra, a 35-minute archival documentary produced in 2009 interviewing Pasquale Squitieri and Guiliana Gemma about the film. With English subtitles guiding the way, they talk about the production, release, and themes of the film, along with its legacy. It’s educational and enjoyable, particularly when Squitieri, whose work has always centered on Italy’s “Southern Issue” in some way or another, pontificates on the nature of the mafia as a social construct. It’s also particularly funny to watch both men talk around exactly why Squitieri had run afoul of Franco Cristald, with Squiteri painting it as related to the development of an adaption of the novel First Blood several years before Stalone acquired the material, and not say, marrying his ex-wife.
Second is a 40-minute interview, the first of two Radiance exclusives on the disc, with Pasquale Squitiere biographer Domenico Monettie, who assisted Squitiere in authoring his autobiography Pasquale Squitieri un Autore di Cinema. E Non Solo (2009). Diving deeper into Suitieri’s political life, Monettie relays personal aphorisms and sayings from Squitieri while discussing his career. Ranging from Italy’s love affair with tales of the American west and Indigenous Americans’ metaphorical transference to Southern Italians, to the role of a film director in his nation’s culture, this is the meatiest of all the extras.
Third, filmmaker Alex Cox (Repo Man, Walker) takes 11 minutes to relay his appreciation for Giuliano Gemma’s acting career and the themes behind The Iron Prefect. It’s the shortest peace of the three, but the best produced overall, and a great place to start learning more about the film.
Finally, the film includes the theatrical trailer, which is quite good actually, employing cross dissolves and dialogue as voice over to create something more akin to a tribute edit or visual essay than a modern trailer or more advertising-based classical trailer.
Overall, The Iron Prefect is a great western epic that never got its due in the U.S., and Radiance has done a great job bringing this new edition to market. If you’re a fan of westerns, epics, Italian cinema, or Brian Depalma’s The Untouchables, it comes highly recommended.
The Iron Prefect Special Features:
- 2K restoration of the film from the original negative presented with Italian and English audio options
- Uncompressed mono PCM audio
- Archival interview with director Pasquale Squitieri and star Giuliano Gemma (2009)
- New interview with Squitieri biographer Domenico Monetti (2023)
- New appreciation of Giuliano Gemma and the film by filmmaker Alex Cox (2023)
- Original trailer
- New and improved English subtitles for Italian audio and English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for English audio
- Reversible sleeve featuring designs based on original posters
- Limited edition booklet featuring new writing by Italian cinema expert Guido Bonsaver and an original article on the real-life Cesare Mori and his Mafia raid as depicted within the film
- Limited edition of 2000 copies, presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings
Available on Blu-ray July 18th, 2023.
For more information, head to the Radiance Films The Iron Prefect webpage.
To purchase, head to the MVD Entertainment Group The Iron Prefect webpage.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.