BLACK HAND (director: Richard Thorpe; screenwriters: Luther Davis/story by Leo Townsend; cinematographer: Paul Vogel; editor: Irvine Warburton; music: Alberto Colombo; cast: Gene Kelly (Johnny Columbo), J. Carrol Naish (Louis Lorelli), Teresa Celli (Isabella Gomboli), Frank Puglia (Carlo Saballera), Marc Lawrence (Caesar Xavier Serpi), Peter Brocco (Roberto Columbo), Barry Kelley (Capt. Thompson), Mario Siletti (Benny Danetta), Carl Milletaire (George Allani), Eleonora Mendelssohn (Maria Columbo), Maurice Samuels (Moriani), Jimmy Lagano (Rudi); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William H. Wright; MGM; 1950)

"Somewhat engaging early Mafia film that's based on a true story."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

Somewhat engaging early Mafia film that's based on a true story, when that infamous organization was known as the Black Hand. The Black Hand is "based on the real-life story of Joseph Petrosino, a New York City police lieutenant who traveled to Palermo, Italy, to investigate the Mafia. He was shot and killed by snipers on the evening of March 12, 1909." In the movie, Irish-American J. Carrol Naish plays the  heroic Italian-American lieutenant's character. Director Richard Thorpe ("Night Must Fall"/"Malaya"/"Ivanhoe") sets a dark mood, while Irish-American hoofer Gene Kelly plays a brave Italian-American immigrant out to avenge his father's death by the Mafia, at the turn of the 20th century. It's a rare dramatic role for Kelly, who seems to be at home in this genre.

Leo Townsend turns in the story, while Luther Davis handles the screenplay.

When Italian immigrant lawyer Roberto Columbo (Peter Brocco) goes to the police to tell of extortion by the Black Hand, he's killed by them. His downcast widowed wife Maria (Eleonora Mendelssohn) takes her 11-year-old son Johnny back to Sicily, while the spunky kid vows to some day return to NYC's Little Italy to get the Mafia members who killed his father. When Johnny's (Gene Kelly) mom dies he returns as a grown-up. Johnny quickly hooks up with his childhood friend Isabella (Teresa Celli) and her young brother Rudi (Jimmy Lagano), and they begin a romance as he tries to get the terrorized immigrant locals preyed on by the Black Hand to form a league to give them a voice against the thugs. Johnny is helped by Louis Lorelli (J. Carrol Naish), a police officer friend of the family, who is dedicated to putting the unstoppable Black Hand out of business.

Things go bad, as the violence used by the Black Hand intimidates the locals. But Johnny brainstorms an idea to send Louis to Sicily and look through the police files to ID the Mafia members using aliases in this country. The idea is to get them deported. Unfortunately the Black Hand learns of this plan and kills the detective in Naples, but not before Louis mails Johnny a list of the mafiaso's true identities. There are more complications, as the Black Hand fight dirty to get Johnny to give up the list. But there's a happy ending, as Johnny while captured by the Black Hand as he tries to retrieve the kidnapped Rudi, manages to set off a bomb that kills all the syndicate thugs in their headquarters except for their leader Serpi (Marc Lawrence). The Mafia chief gets knifed to death by Johnny trying to flee the bomb explosion.

The crime drama never rises to more than routine, as there are too many limp periods, the characters are lifelessly drawn as stereotyped props, the melodramatics are too theatrical and the action scenes never are convincing. But Naish and Kelly are solid, breathing life into the moribund studio-set melodrama

REVIEWED ON 8/3/2010       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"