The Italian writer/director Damiano Damiani started out as an artist, working on comic strips before entering the film industry as a production designer in the late 40s. He moved into screenwriting in the 50s and directed a couple of shorts before starting to direct feature films at the turn of the 60s.

That decade brought Damiani success both critically and commercially, with films like Arturo’s Island, A Bullet for the General and The Day of the Owl all going down well in Italy and beyond.

His films often had a political slant and took loose inspiration from headline news stories, particularly his crime movies, of which he made many during the 70s. In the 80s, he also made waves on TV by directing the first series of another crime drama, the hugely successful and influential La piovra.

Whilst enjoying a decent level of success in Italy, Damiani has never been a particularly well-known director overseas in the way contemporaries such as Enzo G. Castellari, Umberto Lenzi and Sergio Corbucci have become. This is likely because they revelled in the violence and gore of the genres they worked in, whereas Damiani’s films were more carefully drawn and intelligent, with investment in story, themes and character rather than action.

In a bid to cast light on this unjustly neglected figure in Italian cinema then, Radiance Films are releasing a trio of Damiani’s films together on Blu-ray, all connected by star Franco Nero and narratives concerning the mafia. Named Cosa Nostra: Franco Nero in three Mafia Tales by Damiano Damiani, the set contains The Day of the Owl (a.k.a. Mafia or Il giorno della civetta), The Case Is Closed: Forget It (a.k.a. L’istruttoria è chiusa: dimentichi) and How to Kill a Judge (a.k.a. Perché si uccide un magistrato).

I got hold of a copy and my thoughts follow.

The Day of the Owl (a.k.a. Mafia or Il giorno della civetta)

Director: Damiano Damiani
Screenplay: Damiano Damiani, Ugo Pirro
Based on a Novel by: Leonardo Sciascia
Starring: Franco Nero, Claudia Cardinale, Lee J. Cobb, Tano Cimarosa, Nehemiah Persoff
Country: Italy, France
Running Time: 109 min (Italian cut), 103 min (export cut)
Year: 1968

The Day of the Owl opens with the murder of truck driver Salvatore Colasberna a short distance from the home of Rosa Nicolosi (Claudia Cardinale) and her husband. Police Captain Bellodi (Franco Nero) is in charge of investigating the murder and when he speaks to Rosa to find out if she saw or heard anything, he discovers that her husband has been missing since that night.

Bellodi believes Nicolosi was murdered by the mafia after witnessing the crime, which he believes to have also been instigated by the organisation. So Nicolosi tries to get the tight-lipped Rosa to help him. She is torn, however, between assisting the police to find her husband and protecting her and her daughter’s lives from the threat of the local mafia, which is headed by Don Mariano Arena (Lee J. Cobb).

Struggling to get any support from Rosa or anyone else in town, Bellodi proceeds to try a range of questionable methods to bring down the Don whilst Mariano plots a scheme to besmirch Rosa.

Based on a popular and respected novel by Leonardo Sciascia, The Day of the Owl was very successful in Italy and has long been a mainstay on Italian TV. It was also hugely influential in being the first notable Sicilian mafia film and one that explored the stranglehold the mafia had over all aspects of Italian society.

It still holds up very well today. I was thoroughly impressed by this, kicking off the set in fine fashion. It’s expertly constructed, with a well-developed story and carefully controlled direction. Each frame has been cleverly thought through and blocked out, making for a handsome production that makes great use of its Sicilian locations.

The cast is very good too. Nero’s father was a carabinieri, like his character. As such, Nero felt he had a personal connection to his role and it turned out to be, according to an interview here, the first performance he got notable praise for in the press.

Claudia Cardinale is given a decent role too, allowing the great actress to display both her strength and vulnerability, rather than just banking on her sexuality, as a lesser director might have done.

Cobb’s inclusion here has an interesting slant too, given how the film has ‘snitching’ as an important plot element whilst the actor was known to have named names during the McCarthy witch trials. He’s as reliable as ever playing the film’s powerful central mafia figure.

I also liked the score a great deal. It had a distinctive flavour of the Godfather theme in some cues. At first, I took this as ripping off Nino Rota before I remembered that The Day of the Owl was made four years prior to Coppola’s masterpiece. So, perhaps Rota was the one doing the plagiarizing.

I won’t ramble on, as there are another two films to get to but, as mentioned, this was a first-class start to the set, being a finely crafted crime drama with a well-constructed narrative, masterful direction and strong performances.


The Case Is Closed: Forget It (a.k.a. L’istruttoria è chiusa: dimentichi)

Director: Damiano Damiani
Screenplay: Damiano Damiani, Massimo De Rita, Dino Maiuri
Based on a Novel by: Leros Pittoni
Starring: Franco Nero, Riccardo Cucciolla, Georges Wilson, John Steiner, Ferruccio De Ceresa, Antonio Casale, Daniele Dublino, Claudio Nicastro
Country: Italy, France
Running Time: 106 min
Year: 1971

The Case Is Closed: Forget It sees Nero play someone on the opposite side of the law this time around, as his character, Vanzi, is introduced as he’s being thrown in prison. He’s only in there on a traffic offence, so hopes to get out soon, but his case hits problems, causing him to be stuck behind bars for a while.

Being from a wealthy, bourgeois background, Vanzi struggles to adjust to life as a convict. He learns to use his money to make his time more comfortable but this only ends up landing him in trouble after a while.

You see, the mafia even calls the shots in jail, with high-profile Cosa Nostra prisoner Salvatore Rosa (Claudio Nicastro) pulling all the strings. He takes aim at Vanzi after the wet-behind-the-ears con witnesses one of Salvatore’s enemies, Pesenti (Riccardo Cucciolla), handling some secret information.

Whereas The Day of the Owl was a big success, The Case is Closed was received fairly coldly on release in Italy, possibly because it came out around the same time as another, higher-profile, easier-to-digest prison film starring Alberto Sordi. I can see why Damiani’s film might not have appealed to everyone though, as it’s deeply political, cynical and pretty grim in places. It totally hit the mark for me though.

As with The Day of the Owl, The Case is Closed was based on a book (‘Tante Sbarre’ by Leros Pittoni) but Damiani altered this a great deal to tackle the left-wing, anti-establishment themes he wanted to explore. The film treads waters of murky morality and this is what pushes the film above the level of most generic prison movies. The ending is particularly potent. I don’t want to spoil it, so I’ll try to be vague (skip to the next paragraph if you’d rather not risk it), but the supposedly honourable, law-abiding citizen at the core of the story ends up being a coward who lets injustice happen right in front of him due to fear of becoming a victim himself.

Damiani likes to use non-actors in smaller parts in his films and, supposedly, some of the extras and minor roles here were played by actual prisoners. One fairly major role was a former prisoner too, a man who had been given a life sentence before getting pardoned by the president a few years prior to filming. This all adds to the gritty realism of the film, helping sell its damning portrayal of the Italian judicial system.

Damiani continues to show his great skill as a director too, not only producing a classy-looking film but one with several expertly devised set-pieces. A couple that stick in the mind are a near-wordless, swift operation where the guards cover up for their planned beating of a prisoner and a harrowing murder sequence towards the end.

Morricone provides the score here and, as usual, provides a winning mixture of unusual but effective atmospherics and memorable themes.

Overall, The Case is Closed offers a clever, cynical and political spin on the prison movie. It’s another expertly crafted gem from Damiani that grips hard and never lets go.


How to Kill a Judge (a.k.a. Perché si uccide un magistrato)

Director: Damiano Damiani
Screenplay: Damiano Damiani, Fulvio Gicca Palli, Enrico Ribulsi
Starring: Franco Nero, Françoise Fabian, Pierluigi Aprà, Giancarlo Badessi, Luciano Catenacci, Tano Cimarosa
Country: Italy
Running Time: 110 min
Year: 1975

In How to Kill a Judge, Nero plays Giacomo Solaris, a film director who gets into hot water with his latest work, which is a thinly veiled attack on a high-profile magistrate. Solaris’ film shows the judge working hand in hand with the mafia before getting murdered by them.

The incendiary film is a big success, so the real-life judge, Traini (Marco Guglielmi), tries to talk Solaris into pulling the film. The director resists but, soon after, Traini is murdered in a shooting similar to his on-screen avatar.

Wracked with guilt, Solaris tries to work with Traini’s wife, Antonia (Françoise Fabian), to help catch the murderer. She is resistant to help though and, as Solaris looks into the mafia connections he’d uncovered during his film research, he digs himself ever deeper into his own hole.

Damiani doesn’t let his standards slip, delivering yet another classily-produced, engrossing crime drama. Making it particularly interesting is the fact that it’s a self-reflexive film. It was inspired by the actual murder of a magistrate by the mafia, an act that ended up boosting the popularity of Damiani’s film Confessions of a Police Captain. The shock and guilt felt by this spurred the director on to make How to Kill a Judge.

As such, the film thrives on exploring the complex morality of its story. This gives Nero yet another meaty role to chew on and he delivers one of his best performances in my opinion. There’s another strong female character too, this time in the form of Antonia, played by Françoise Fabian. As before, this strength is countered by an underlying fear and vulnerability to give depth to the character.

As with the other films in the set, corruption is everywhere, at each level, and the mafia is linked with both the law and the media. [*SPOILERS*] Surprisingly though, a final twist reveals something altogether different is behind the core mystery. This doesn’t negate the damning portrayal of Italian society explored earlier in the film though, instead offering up a powerful moral dilemma.

This ending proved controversial, with many feeling it was a cop-out. I can see that and, I must admit, it felt like an uncharacteristic stumble at first but, once the shock of the twist subsided, I grew to appreciate the extra layer of depth the finale added. [*END OF SPOILERS*]

How to Kill a Judge is, perhaps, slightly less stylish than the other films in the set (other than the enjoyably over-the-top film-within-a-film which is given a giallo-parodying treatment), but this helps you focus on the fascinating subject matter. The writing, performances and intellectual depth are all still present too, capping off a wonderfully consistent set of top-drawer mafia movies.


Cosa Nostra: Franco Nero in three Mafia Tales by Damiano Damiani is on 3rd July on region B Blu-Ray, released by Radiance Films. The picture quality on all three titles is first-rate, with clean, natural-looking transfers with pleasing colours and impressive levels of detail. I’ve used screengrabs throughout this review to give you an idea of how it looks, though these have been compressed. I watched the Italian versions of all the films and found the audio solid too.


– 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

Howard S. Berger’s piece on Lee J. Cobb explores the actor’s fascinating life and career, discussing why his background made him particularly suited to his role in The Day of the Owl. It’s an interesting piece.

Mike Malloy provides a discussion of the different types of Italian crime movies that appeared during the 60s and early 70s, as the genre was finding its voice in the country’s industry. He describes The Day of the Owl as being one of the first of what he calls the ‘high brow’ crime movie. I appreciated his thoughts here.

Nero provides interviews on each of the films. He always has fun anecdotes to tell and on The Case is Closed he even discusses a project with Damiani he tried to get off the ground in the director’s final years.

I really enjoyed the interview with Claudia Cardinale. It takes place in a taxi with the driver being the interviewer. This lends it a casual, fun style and leads to some relaxed banter about Cardinale’s long and illustrious career.

The archive making-of piece for The Day of the Owl is also quite enjoyable, with a few members of the cast and crew reminiscing about the shoot. It’s very Nero-heavy so there’s a little crossover with his other interview but not much. He and his colleagues have some fun anecdotes to tell.

Rachael Nisbet’s piece on Damiani is 35 minutes long and discusses the writer-director’s background as well as how this influenced his finely crafted, political films. She also talks about how he managed to keep these intelligent, moralistic films entertaining. It’s a valuable addition to the set.

The archival piece on How to Kill a Judge featuring actor Corrado Solari, assistant director Enrique Bergier and editor Antonio Siciliano is also worth watching. The trio talk fairly frankly about their experiences on the film and have a few enjoyable anecdotes to impart. Siciliano has some particularly nice stories to tell about Damiani and his skill as a painter.

David Cairns’ piece on How to Kill a Judge is typically intelligent and thought-provoking. He dissects the film in detail, spending a lot of time debating the controversial ending, in particular.

Alberto Pezzotta talks about Damiani’s influence on the crime and mafia genres in general. He claims the director kick-started no less than 3 Italian sub-genres and discusses why he believes he’s a sadly underappreciated filmmaker. His piece covers some of the same ground as Cairns and Nisbet’s essays but he adds numerous fascinating and eye-opening details, resulting in becoming what I believe to be the most valuable extra on the disc.

I didn’t receive a copy of the booklet to comment on that, unfortunately.

So, Cosa Nostra is a well-compiled package for a trio of excellent and surprisingly diverse mafia movies. Radiance have come up trumps again. Highly recommended. My only gripe would be the fact that it’s missing Confessions of a Police Captain which would have also fit the set’s theme. Presumably, Radiance couldn’t get the rights.


Cosa Nostra - Radiance
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Editor of films and videos as well as of this site. On top of his passion for film, he also has a great love for music and his family.

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