For every general genre in storytelling, there’s a subgenre within it that enables a storyteller to narrow their focus, thereby utilizing specific tools to explore their themes. It’s the difference between a chiller or thriller in horror, slapstick or screwball in comedy, and narrative or cinéma vérité in documentaries. There are, of course, stories which mix-and-match their genre/subgenres, tapping a little bit of several in order to feel fresh and exciting. For Italian director Damiano Damiani, this meant telling stories which explored socio-political issues of his time through the framework of a mafia story that might utilize elements of mystery, drama, and comedy. Gathered together and given a 2K HD restoration by Radiance Films, three Damiani films — The Day of the Owl (1968), The Case Is Closed, Forget It (1971), and How to Kill a Judge (1975) — featuring famed actor Franco Nero (Django/John Wick: Chapter 2), each with their own unique special features and packaging, elevating a singular release into a Cosa Nostra Trilogy.
To give you a sense of each film, here’s a brief synopsis:
Nero plays Captain Bellodi in murder mystery The Day of the Owl in which a man is murdered by the side of the road. The reasons for his death and the local mafia boss, Don Mariano Arena (Lee J. Cobb), seem to be connected. In The Case Is Closed, Forget It, Nero is architect Vanzi, an innocent man in prison awaiting trial for murder who is roped into a complicated plot that threatens his safety, his ethics, and his sanity. Finally, in How to Kill a Judge, Nero is director Giacomo Solaris, whose new film, which features the murder of a corrupt judge, seemingly inspires someone to commit the act for real, sending the filmmaker off on a quest to determine if his work has made him an accidental accomplice.
Individually, the films are interesting. Each one has a completely different style and approach, Nero doing some incredible work in each one, as they investigate (though I wouldn’t say interrogate) the relationship between crime and the mafia. Together, however, there’s a larger view related to the ways in which the mafia, for all of its capacity for terror, is so integrated into Italy (as depicted in the stories) that to remove one member or Don would be about as ineffectual as screaming into the abyss. In Owl, Nero is the good man going up against the mafia as he tries to untangle a murder mystery but is prevented at nearly every step of the way, resulting in a crisis of ethics. In Case Is Closed, Nero is the innocent man-turned-pawn whose entire way of looking at life and justice is destroyed when he’s not just thrown into prison, but when his entire autonomy is ripped away and is forced into one choiceless choice after another. In Judge, Nero is the idealistic director whose initial intent was to shine disinfectant on corruption, only to perhaps become the hammer in the gun for another’s murderous bullet. In each film, the obstacles that Nero’s characters face are some form of socio-political angst or specific person, yet the mafia are either directly involved or are hinted at as being so. The socio-political issues are more prevalent in Case Is Closed and Judge, with the rising descension amidst the general populace toward tyrannical politicians, government servants, and shadow leaders. This takes the form of prisoners in Case Is Closed actively shouting, even rioting at one point, about their treatment within the facility walls (entirely corrupt inside, though the workers within do most of their convincing with a smile) and the public outcry to corruption in the legal system and supportive response to Solaris’s film in Judge. The point is that none of these films are connected, aside from clever lines of dialogue in Judge that refer back to significant aspects of the other two (though this may very well be coincidental); each one depicts a single catalyst and then explores it through the lens of mafia influence, whether overt or covert. In each, a perspective becomes clear: no matter how we strive for agency or effectiveness, there’s always a larger machine out there trying to ensure we stay in our lane.
Without a doubt, Radiance Films is quickly becoming the boutique physical media company to rival Criterion and has well-eclipsed Arrow. The packaging of their individual films always feels special, the opening of one mimicking that of opening a brand-new book. Just absolute potential. Even when the restorations themselves aren’t mind-blowing (typically due to the condition of the source materials), the art, the booklets, and the on-disc special features make the investment into a film one might not otherwise experience worth it. Especially compared to recent Arrow releases like New Fist of Fury (1976) which possesses two commentary tracks and a visual essay or Criterion’s 4K UHD edition of Time Bandits (1981) which is just a new remaster with original bonus materials, Radiance frequently includes archived materials *and* new ones, crafted specifically for their release. It may only be one or two items per release, but each one offers something in-depth and new for purchasers to explore. Considering that each of the films in the Damiani collection are currently not available separately, one might expect that the features would be minimal, and they’d be wrong. All three films include both Italian and English audio tracks, each release includes their respective trailers, and each one includes more than one interview or essay about the respective release. In total, Radiance has included roughly 265 minutes (roughly 4.5 hours) of materials from Damiani (archived), Nero (new and archived), cast and crew, as well as essayists to give viewers the deepest understanding of these respective works as possible.
Not only that, but rather than place them in a digipak or some other reduced material packaging, each film is in a standard Radiance clear disc case with their own reversible cover, the only thing missing being an individual booklet denoting the difference from a regular release. Instead, there’s a single 120-page booklet for all three films that contains the usual essays, cast and crew listings, restoration information, and more. There’s a heft and weight to the booklet, each page either covered in stills, poster art, or text, conveying a sense of gravity to what one is holding. This isn’t some flimsy poster-turned-essay; this is mini-coffee-table book.
Protecting all of it is a cardboard hard shell with printed titles and an artistic representation of Nero. For those interested, the OBI strip usually placed inside the plastic of the case against the liner is attached via a small round piece of tape and, like the regular releases, can be removed to create a more sleek look. Unlike Criterion’s 2020 Bruce Lee greatest hits collection or Paramount’s 2021 4K UHD four-film Indiana Jones collection, this case not only looks good but may actually protect the individual cases, should one decide to store the films within it rather than separately. The closest case I can compare this to is the 2022 4K UHD BELLE release from Shout! Studios (then Shout! Factory) in terms of firmness and perceived strength.
To get a good look at the release, Radiance Films released the following unboxing on their official YouTube Channel:
All of the above means very little if the restorations themselves aren’t worth the watch. Gratefully, that is not the case here. Whether these are first-time watches (such as with myself) or rewatches, the look and sound of each one impresses. There is visible grain and artifacting in some of the distance shots or where the blue sky is visible, but they are otherwise barely noticeable and never distract. The sound, a remix of the original mono audio track, may not utilize the full 5.1 stereo home setup popular with home viewing, but the dialogue is clear, the sound tight, and only a few instances in all three films where one may question the language being heard versus what the actor may be speaking. In all three cases, according to the included booklet, the original camera negative was used to create the 2K restoration. Individually, however, Owl’s restoration and color grading were completed by Studio Cine in Rome, while the Italian and English tracks were restored by Radiance. The Case Is Closed’s was scanned, restored, and color graded by Augustus Color in Rome, with additional visual restoration work completed two other times by Radiance Films. Additionally, the Italian and English tracks were first restored by Cinema Communications in Rome before more work was done on the English track by Radiance Films. For Judge, Augustus Color in Rome handled the initial restoration and color grading, with Radiance doing additional work later. Both the Italian and English tracks were restored by Radiance. One need only look at the included trailers to see just how far the visual elements traveled between the original negative and the 2K restoration: it’s truly astonishing what a good restoration can do to invigorate an older film.
Each month, a new listing comes out, a new tease of what to expect a few months from that moment, from physical media boutiques like Criterion, Arrow, Radiance, and others. Of late, I’ve begun to get excited more for Radiance than any other because they don’t seem bound by genre, period, or nationality. It’s all international cinema and it’s not always films that are known by wider audiences, making them feel far more unique than they might otherwise. It could be the first-time physical release of Jean-Denis Bonan’s psychosexual thriller A Woman Kills (La Femme Bourreau) (1968) or first-time Blu-ray release of Kinji Fukasaku’s 1976 crime drama Yakuza Graveyard (Yakuza no Hakaba: Kuchinashi no Hana). One never knows what they’re going to announce and that, paired with the quality, makes the label one to keep an eye out for. In the case of the Cosa Nostra Trilogy, it’s a great thing for those of us without a region-free player that a few of the Radiance releases are made for region A viewers.
Cosa Nostra Trilogy Special Features:
- 2K restoration of The Day of the Owl from the original negative presented in the original Italian version (109 mins) and the shorter export cut with English audio (103 mins)
- 2K restoration of The Case is Closed: Forget It from the original negative presented with Italian and, for the first time, English audio options
- 2K restoration of How to Kill a Judge from the original negative presented in Italian and English audio options
- Original uncompressed mono PCM audio
- New interview with star Franco Nero, featuring archive footage of Damiano Damiani and Leonardo Sciascia discussing The Day of the Owl (2022, 17 mins)
- Archival interview with Franco Nero, writer Ugo Pirro and production manager Lucio Trentini discussing the making of The Day of the Owl (2006, 27 mins)
- Identity Crime-Sis: filmmaker and Italian crime cinema expert Mike Malloy discusses The Day of the Owl in the context of the formation of the Italian crime film genre (2022, 20 mins)
- Casting Cobb: A Tale of Two Continents: A video essay by filmmaker Howard S. Berger looking at actor Lee J. Cobb’s career transition from Hollywood to Italy and the archetypes he tended to play (2023, 33 mins)
- Archival interview with Claudia Cardinale from Belgian TV in which she discusses her long and storied career (2017, 22 mins)
- New interview with star Franco Nero discussing The Case is Closed: Forget It (2022, 14 mins)
- Archival documentary on the making of The Case is Closed: Forget It featuring actor Corrado Solari, assistant director Enrique Bergier and editor Antonio Siciliano (2015, 28 mins)
- Italy’s Cinematic Civil Conscience: An Examination of the Life and Works of Damiano Damiani: A visual essay on the career of Damiani Damiani by critic Rachael Nisbet (2023, 35 mins)
- New interview with star Franco Nero discussing How to Kill a Judge (2022, 13 mins)
- New interview with Alberto Pezzotta, author of Regia Damiano Damiani, who discusses Damiani’s contribution to the mafia and crime genres and the reception of his films in Italy (2022, 34 mins)
- Lessons in Violence: A new video essay on How to Kill a Judge by filmmaker David Cairns (2023, 22 mins)
- Original trailers for each film
- New and improved optional English subtitles for Italian audio and English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for English audio for each film
- Reversible sleeve featuring designs based on original posters for each film
- Limited edition 120-page book featuring new and archival writing on the films by experts on the genre including Andrew Nette on Leonardo Sciascia’s The Day of the Owl; Piero Garofalo on The Case is Closed: Forget It; Paul A. J. Lewis on depictions of the mafia in each of the films within this set; Shelley O’Brien on each of the scores; a newly translated archival interview with Damiani; Nathaniel Thompson on Franco Nero; Marco Natoli on Damiani’s place within the cinema politico movement in Italian cinema; a critical overview for each the films by Cullen Gallagher and credits for each film
- Limited edition of 3000 copies (each for the UK and US), presented in a rigid box with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings
Available on Blu-ray August 15th, 2023.
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.