Tomb of Forgotten Film: Mean Frank and Crazy Tony (1973)

Once more it’s Sunday, and time to dive down into the deaths of the Tomb to see that we come up with this week. This time it’s a forgotten gem from the Grindhouse Experience Vol. 1 Set, and it features a Lair favorite, Lee Van Cleef. It’s been a while since we heard from Lee. Last time we saw him I was talking about the spaghetti western Death Rides a Horse, but Van Cleef didn’t just make cowboy flicks during his time in Italy, he also made some crime flicks. Tonight’s movie is one of those, an Euro-Crime/Comedy that actually manages to strike a pretty good balance between the two. So Ladies and Gents, let me introduce you to a couple of fellows called….
Mean Frank and Crazy Tony [Italian: Dio, sei proprio un padreterno] (1973) starring Lee Van Cleef, Tony Lo Bianco. Edwide Fenech. Directed by Michele Lupo.

Tony Breda (Lo Bianco) is a two bit hood from Hoboken who ended up plying his trade on the streets of Genoa, Italy. While he lives with a beautiful girl. Orchidea (Fenech), Tony spends most of his time trying to be more like the “elegant” gangsters who he idolizes. The criminal Tony most worships is Frankie Dio (Van Cleef) and when he finde out the American mobster is coming to town, Tony will stop at nothing to meet him. 

Unfortunately, that means getting thrown in jail. Tony tries to save Dio from getting arrested in a gambling sting, but Tony gets nothing but a sock in the jaw for his troubles. Frankie is trying to get arrested so he can sneak out of jail and perform a hit while having the perfect alibi. After Frankie knocks the fellow off, he expects his lawyer can spring him out of jail quickly, but rival mobsters have other plans and want to make sure that Frankie Dio stays on ice. Tony and Frankie finally strike up a friendship, and when Tony gets released from jail, the two men hatch a scheme to bust Frankie out so he can get even with the men who put him there. 

The Bugg Speaks

From the astounding title sequence on, I was pretty sure I was in for a fun ride. In the first five minutes you see a group of gangsters blown up in a car and another one given a drill to the back of the skull, but what these killings have to do with the rest of the film, I could not tell you. Still it’s a hell of a way to open up the feature. Then we are introduced to Tony in all his pinstriped suit glory, and Ms Fenech shows up briefly as his girlfriend and shows off a rather fetchingly short nightie. 

We are thrown right into Tony’s world where he feels he is every bit as smooth, cool, and collected as the famous mobsters of Brooklyn that he worships. Lo Bianco does a fine job in Mean Frank and Crazy Tony with giving Tony a goony sweetness that makes him a lovable sap. The role could have easily been played too broadly so I commend him for reining his performance in a bit. 

Then we get Lee Van Cleef. Mr. Van Cleef, looking a bit more like the accountant that he really was than a powerful Mafia don, does never the less manage to impress this movie with some vicious killings. So while he doesn’t look as badass as in the westerns (a cowboy hat does wonders for toughness), he does manage to convey how ruthless Frankie Dio really is. I did also quite enjoy his disguise when they busted out of prison. It made Van Cleef look a bit like he was starring in a Vladimir Lenin bio-pic. 

But looking at these two characters separately is not really the point of the film, after all when you boil this one down, it's a buddy flick, and wow, do these guys ever become close buddies. I was thankful that I was watching this one with Fran Goria because I at first thought I was imagining the implied homosexual subtext, but thankfully Frannie let me know that I was not seeing things that weren’t there. There are several scenes that play out like a romance, and in fact, for a while, every time Tony would lay his eyes on Frank the soundtrack would get very soap opera-esque. I’m sure lots of that was intended to convey the hero worship, but instead it just makes you wonder why Tony doesn’t just stay at home with Edwide all day like a normal bloke.  

Michele Lupo, who also helmed the George Eastman western/comedy Charlie and Ben, did a good job with the pacing of this film. While the first 30 minutes or so do go a tad slow, the film is given time to build a full character around each of our leads. Then going into the second and third acts, the dialog and action get a bit peppier. This leads to the back half of the film being thoroughly entertaining, but many may not be able to make it though the lengthy set up. The cinematography for the film is handled by none other than our good friend Joe D’Amato of Anthropophagus fame, and the stirring score, which really adds a feeling of grandness to some mundane scenes, was written by Riz Ortolani who also scored 1983’s Zeder and 1980’s The House on the Edge of the Park.

The real quality that I enjoyed in Mean Frank and Crazy Tony was the humor. Ranging from black humor, to slapstick, to some pretty smart gags, this flick did a good job striking a balance between its wit and violence. The skillful qualities which both are presented give each more power. So if you are a Van Cleef fan or just enjoy a good Euro-crime picture then pick this one up. As with most things on the Grindhouse Experience set, the transfer is not the greatest, but definitely good enough to watch and enjoy.

The Bugg Rating 

No Trailer on this one either so I leave you with the song "Lee Van Cleef"


  1. Great review, Bugg. I guess I have to break down and finally buy Grindhouse Experience vol. 1.

  2. This film (billed as "Frank and Tony" on the Grindhouse box) definitely helps make the set worth getting, as long as you understand going in that most of the transfers are crap. But I always say that some films are just meant to be seen that way.

  3. Thanks for the comments fellows.

    The Grindhouse Box Set transfers are not the best in the world, but with some films you have to take what you can get. I also feel like it also gives the films a feeling of the time and place they come from. I mean I still love to watch things on VHS tape so quality is less of an issue to me. As the world strives for higher definition, I fins myself more and more fine with the definitions I have.

  4. I got a copy of this as "Escape From Death Row" and unless my version is very different from the one you have I cannot figure out how the hell Fenech deserves that billing - shes in the film for about 5 seconds!!!

    On this I thought the buddy thing was great- okay not as good as say Revolver but then again this is not A list poliziotteschi but I thought the whole thing felt a lot more sincere than in say heroin busters, this film would make such a great double bill with Speed Driver( the fabio testi led motor racing crime flick)

    I am watching hell of a lot of this crime stuff at the moment, and I think I may revisit this film during the week.

    Oh here is another interesting little factoid- despite having the alternative title of escape from death row Italy at the time had no such thing as a death row.


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