Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Susan Lucci Stars In A Movie You Can't Refuse: "Lady Mobster"

"Do you feel lucky? Well...do ya, punk?": Soap opera queen Susan Lucci has an itchy trigger finger in "Lady Mobster".

Greetings, movie lovers.

Actress Susan Lucci made TV history when she was nominated for an Emmy as Best Actress in a "Daytime Drama" (aka soap opera) 18 times before she finally won. 

As Erica Kane on ABC's "All My Children", Lucci was a super model, a cosmetics queen, a magazine publisher and a disco owner. She was also a serial bride whose full name was Erica Kane Martin Brent Cudahy Chandler Ray Montgomery Montgomery Chandler Marrick Marrick.

Among the trials and tribulations Erica Kane was subject to included murder attempts, murder raps, gas lighting, kidnapping, custody battles, long-lost children reappearing from out of nowhere, addiction, toxemia, facing down a bear and (my fave) learning her long-lost father faked his death and was working as a circus clown.

Unlike the majority of soap opera actors, Lucci was able to find success outside her day time milieu: she was a spokes-model for "Scoundrel" perfume, hosted "Saturday Night Live", started her own QVC beauty/jewelry business and appeared in several TV movies, such as 1988's "Lady Mobster", our featured presentation for today.

"You'd cry, too, if it happened to you": Erica Kane was shocked to learn her dad faked his death and became a clown in a traveling circus.

Actually, "Lady Mobster" should've been titled "I was a Lady Lawyer for the Mob" because Susan tries to use her legal acumen to help the Castle crime family "go legit." We NEVER see her telling her goombahs, "I want Bobby 'Skinny Legs' de Marco dead! Did year hear me? Dead! And while you're at it, whack that snitch Jerry 'The Tuna' Rizzo, too. Whack him good!" 

What's more, the ads for this TV movie featured a slinky (though headless) gal in a tight leather mini dress with a gun strapped to her thigh. Ms. Lucci doesn't dress like that in this flick; she confines her wardrobe to very 1980's power suits. 

Adding to the confusion is the fact that Susan isn't even a member of the Castle crime family. See, many years ago, Don Victor Castle (Joseph Wiseman) announced at a mob meet'n'greet that he was taking his family out of the "old businesses" (racketeering, loan sharking, prostitution) and into a "new business" (high end hotels) that would be totally squeaky clean. The consigliere charged with making this possible was Walter March, the dad of Susan Lucci's character, Laurel, who happens to be a teenager at the time.

OK, so, how does Susan Lucci become a "Lady Mobster"?

It happens one night after the above mentioned mob meeting. The other mobsters are so mad that the Castles are leaving the mafia, they decide to take revenge. So they send a hit man over to the happy suburban home of Walter March. Why target the March family and not the Castle family? Is it because Walter March is handling the details to disentangle the Castles from the mob? That's not really practical; I mean, even if the other mobsters do take Walter out, Don Victor can just get another consigliere to finish the job. Shouldn't these criminal master-minds be thinking more long term?

"I promise you'll never be booked in a room near the ice machine": Don Victor Castle (Joseph Wiseman) announces to his fellow wiseguys he's quitting the Mafia to manage a chain of hotels.

Nevertheless, the scriptwriters needed a reason to marry Susan to the mob, so the mobsters send hollow-cheeked hit man Fowler (Anthony James) over to the March's. The unsuspecting Walter is attending to paper work, while his wife reads a book. Upstairs teen daughter Laurel is squealing into her telephone, "Bobby Grant asked Jane Galsworthy to the movies! Isn't that gross?!" Unmoved by this happy domestic scene, Fowler loads up a shot gun, pulls some pantyhose over his head, bursts right through the March's unlocked front door and sprays bullets everywhere. So we'll never forget what a meanie Fowler is, he stabs Mrs. March--even after she begged him not to! He then chases Laurel into the attic, preparing to stab her, except the police come and frighten him away.

Laurel is now an orphan, but not for long. To honor her slain parents, Don Victor decides, "Laurel will live with us now." The wiseguy duly brings Laurel to his huge, pale yellow, heavily guarded, yet tastefully decorated mansion. He informs his kids Robert, Paul and Anna, "(Laurel) will be a member of our family! One of us! And you will make her welcome!"  On cue, each kid kisses her on the cheek.Victor also introduces her to Nick Scalfone, a teenage hit-man intern who is told to "keep an eye on her."

Flash forward and Laurel has morphed into the pouffy-haired, shoulder-pad-wearing Susan Lucci, a hot-shot lawyer situated "on the west coast". Brother Paul (Thom Bray), meanwhile, has become a priest, sister Anna (Helaine Lembeck) has married and started popping out babies and Nick has turned into the gravelly-voiced Michael Nadar (one of Lucci's many "AMC" cuddlemates). Laurel h returns to casa Castle when she learns adoptive dad Victor has become very ill. Despite their entrenchment in organized crime, the Castle family is so happy and loving and cozy you could plotz. Witnessing her sister's domestic bliss, Laurel gushes, "Oh, Anna! Your whole life is a dream! Don't ever wake up!"

However, the Castle sibling most excited to see Laurel is Robert (Roscoe Born). As the two stroll around the family compound, Robert can't help remarking on how cute, well-dressed and "mature" Laurel looks. "I did myself over!" Laurel beams. "It was part of my PR campaign to make partner."

Later on, Robert and Laurel play a round of tennis and become so excited at the end of their match they race to the nearest bedroom and indulge in a little "afternoon delight."

 Robert Castle (Roscoe Born) makes Laurel a romantic offer she can't refuse.

As diverting as this romance may be, the main issue facing the Castle family continues to be the mob's attempts to keep them from "going legit". With Victor ailing, Robert a total boob at handling business and their regular lawyer "snowed under" with work, Laurel offers to step in and help. Victor won't have it; he has always insisted that she stay out of the mob stuff. However, when Laurel learns that shifty Alfred Mallory (Jon Cypher) is refusing to extend the deadline for the Castle's down payment on the Del Sol hotel chain, she insists Victor needs her.

"Corporate takeovers are what I do for a living!" she proclaims.

When that doesn't work, she reminds Victor, "My father gave his life to help your family get out of the old business! His death set you back five years (in their leave-the-mafia timeline)!"

Then she puts her arms around cuddlemate Robert and announces, "I know the law and Robert speaks for the family."

All out of arguments, Victor says yes.
Laurel gets totally frustrated when nobody will take her legal advice.

Off Laurel and Robert go to sunny L.A., where she wastes no time ripping Mallory a new one: "You're trying to weasel out of a sweetheart deal," she informs him.

Tossing Mallory a bunch of business reports, balance sheets, etc, Laurel states, "You have engaged in a pattern of criminal behavior designed to defraud the Castle family. Your accountants have falsified and inflated figures." Fixing him with a laser-like stare, Laurel proclaims, "You're a crook, Mr. Mallory."

Well, it takes one to know one!

The completely unnerved Mallory demands to know how Lucci found all this out.

"My computer talks to your computer," she replies coldly.

Laurel's computer talks to everybody.

The dead line extended and the Castle family back on track to "go legit", Laurel and Robert return home and announce their engagement. Everyone is delighted; Paul will even perform the ceremony. Our happy couple have a big, fat wedding and then embark on a sex-saturated honeymoon where Laurel gushes to hubby Robert, "You can never tell me (you love me) enough."

But in true soap opera style, "Lady Mobster"s cuddlemates will find their happiness short lived. While Laurel sits poolside waiting to order brunch, creepy hit man Fowler (remember him?) climbs on a nearby roof top and points his rifle at Robert, who is happily strolling over to join his wife.

"Robert! Look out!" shrieks Laurel, as shots ring out and Robert falls--splash!--into the hotel's pool. Diving in after him, Lucci screams frantically, "Robert! Robert!" as the cabana boys try to pull him out of the drink.

It's all for naught. When we next see her, Laurel's a widow, gazing at her late hubby's picture and tearfully resigned to returning all her wedding gifts.

Later, Laurel orders Nick to find Robert's killer. When wiretaps reveal Freddy D'Angelo and Malaesta were the ones who ordered the hit, she has Nick "handle" the matter, with one caveat: "I don't think Victor should be bothered by this."

Nick (Michael Nadar) models what the well-dressed hit man wore, circa 1988.

Soon enough, Freddy is pushing up daisies--and he's not the only one: Laurel returns to casa Castle and discovers poor Victor has died in his sleep while dozing in the garden. Although heart-broken over her adoptive father's passing, Laurel knows the other mobsters will attempt to take advantage of "the power vacuum" Don Castle's death has created. That's why it's up to her to take charge.

"I want business as usual", Laurel coolly informs Nick. "I want Mallory--the world--to know the Castles are still in charge."

And to prove it, at the next mob counsel, Laurel struts in with perfect hair and a tasteful power suit, ready to get right down to the business. The other mobsters, meanwhile, are totally horrified that a female person of the lady sex would dare take a seat at one of their precious counsel meetings.

"Victor's dead! His son Robert is also dead!" one goombah hollers. "You're not even in the business! Why don't you go home and bake a cake?!"

Failing to realize that as Erica Kane, Susan Lucci went one on one with a bear, slapped a police officer, tortured the man who scarred her face and nearly stabbed her daughter with a pair of scissors when she mistook her for an intruder, dealing with a few sexist jerks will be walk in the park.

Yogi Bear and Boo Boo run for their lives after they dared to steal Erica Kane's picnic basket on a classic episode of "All My Children".

"You dealt with Victor. Now you'll deal with me," she crisply informs the men. "Every time you go into business, you take a risk...We can handle $30 million a week, does anyone have a problem with that?"

Oh, and Laurel wants the mob war to stop, now. ( Oops, there was a mob war going on; sorry I forgot to tell you.)

When one of the goombahs wonders what Tony D'Angelo, the father of the late Freddy, feels about that, Nick magically appears with Tony in tow.

"Laurel and I have spoken and she's right," Tony says, before kissing her hand.

The war is over.

Tony D kisses Laurel Castle's ring, while a shocked extra looks on (note Rifftrax graphic).

 Of course, as soap opera (and bad movie) fans know, it ain't over yet. Although Laurel delivers the Castles $20 million down payment on the Del Sol hotel chain so they can "go legit" and she and Nick become cuddlemates, "Lady Mobster"still has a few tricks up its sleeve.

First, there being no honor among thieves, the gangsters send a cut-rate hit man to 86 Nick and Laurel in their hotel suite; however, our crafty cuddlemates hide in the bathroom. Nick, moreover, learns that the hack hit man was hired by (said it isn't so!) Fowler.

Next, Nick and Laurel arrange to met Fowler in a waterfront warehouse. After Nick shoots him, Fowler admits he's been "on retainer" for Tony D'Angelo "for years". What's more, the mobster Laurel and the Castles THOUGHT killed her parents was actually INNOCENT--it was Tony D who arranged everything. For all his help, Nick and Laurel drop the bleeding Fowler off at the nearest ER.

Later on, Laurel arranges to meet Tony for lunch. While enjoying a nice Italian ham dish (don't ask), Tony admits he was so mad that Victor was leaving the mafia to "go legit" that he ordered the hit on her parents. Then, when his son Freddy was offed by Nick (on Laurel's orders), Tony decided that all the Castles must die: Father Paul, Anna, her husband, the grandkids. Everybody!

Suddenly Laurel whips out a gun (neatly tucked into her power suit) and shots fill the air. But wait! It's Nick! He and Tony's "muscle" just shot each other in the kitchen (again, don't ask)! Then Nick staggers out and drops dead. Distracted by all the hub-bub, Laurel plugs Tony D full of lead and he dies on the spot.

Till death do them part...and it will: Lauren and Nick in happier times.

As the sounds of police sirens pierce the unnatural quiet, the camera focuses on Susan Lucci's frozen, yet perfectly made-up, face. Since nobody made "Lady Mobster 2", we'll never know if Laurel was arrested for whacking Tony D--or if she was, if she represented herself at the trial (she's a lawyer, remember).

The only difference between the tele-flick "Lady Mobster" and a plot arc on "All My Children" (besides the casting of Susan Lucci) is economy in story telling. While "Lady Mobster" clocks in at under 90 minutes (less commercials), soap operas are notorious for dragging things out for weeks, months, even years. Thus, "Lady Mobster" clipped along at a nice pace and allowed Lucci's legions of fans (who the network counted on to tune in) to witness their idol doing what she does best: fixing a haughty gaze on an opponent; tossing her head while flipping her at the same time; lowering her voice when she mean business; striding into and out of a room with purpose and wearing a variety of eye-catching suits and gowns (I don't know if Lucci wore anything from her own QVC collection or not).

While Lucci is in her element here, her co-stars are crushed under their attempts to play this sudsy stew of mob cliches for real. As Victor Castle, Joseph Wiseman declaims every line as if he's at the Old Vic; he also has an annoying tendency to draw out the "s" endings on his words, so he sounds like a talking snake ("This-s-s-s discussion is-s-s over boys-s-s!"). Furthermore, as the movie progresses, he develops a waxy yellow build-up on his face that's really creepy. Michael Nadar, as Nick, juts out his chin and husks out his lines just he did on "Dynasty" as Dex Dexter and as Count Dimitri (one of Erica Kane's cuddlemates) on "AMC". Mr. Nadar is a handsome presence, but he takes himself way too seriously. As for the character actors lined up to play "Lady Mobsters" mobsters, they all attempt Nuu Yawk accents, wear rumpled suits, hug each other and say stuff like, "Yous got no loyalty to the de family!", but they're basically inter-changeable. And what's a mob movie without a priest in the family, female relatives who blot out the crime carnage around them, a tacky wedding ceremony and lots of funerals?

So movie lovers, if you miss watching Erica Kane and all her assorted conniptions on "All My Children", check out "Lady Mobster". It's the next best thing to being in Pine Valley...and the Prime Time Emmy Awards snubbed Susan Lucci's performance here, too!

AND SAVE THE MOVIES, while you're at it.

The greatest "AMC" plot line EVER: Erica Kane reunites with her long lost father, once a hot-shot movie director, now working as a circus clown.

No comments:

Post a Comment