W. Joseph Campbell

Posts Tagged ‘‘Kill the Irishman’’

That was quick: Crummy Cleveland mob pic now out on DVD

In Cinematic treatments, Cronkite Moment, Debunking, Furnish the war, Media myths, Spanish-American War on June 16, 2011 at 1:08 pm

It was just three months ago when a low-budget yet widely reviewed movie about Cleveland’s 1970s mob scene came out in limited release.

The film, Kill the Irishman, never much caught on and was released this week in DVD.

I’m hardly surprised that its time in theaters was so brief.

Update: I’ve now seen Kill the Irishman and it’s not as dreadful as anticipated. Still, the movie meanders without making much of a point, other than to glamorize the Cleveland mob scene of the 1970s and romanticize a violence-prone hood named Danny Greene.

I’ve not seen the movie but have enjoyed reading the reviews, such as the one in the New York Times that called Kill the Irishman “an extravagantly corny ode to the collapse of the Cleveland mafia in the 1970s” that “never misses an opportunity to mythologize the meatheads who populate [the] script.”

The Los Angeles Times review likened Kill the Irishman to “clichéd shards of mob movies that add up to the usual ‘Goodfellas’ knockoff.”

Plain Dealer, October 7, 1977

Kill the Irishman is based on the violent life of a Cleveland mob figure, Daniel J. (Danny) Greene, best known for having survived several attempts on his life before falling victim to a deadly car bombing in 1977.

I was in Cleveland then, a young reporter for the city’s morning newspaper, the Plain Dealer. I remember the city’s mob scene as murky, chaotic, and not at all glamorous; its figures — including Greene — were scarcely heroic.

Greene rather struck me as an arrogant, somewhat off-kilter punk.

He was hardly a legendary character possessing the stuff that would attract serious attention beyond Cleveland.

What most rankled me about Kill the Irishman was its exaggerated premise, that there were 36 bombing in the heart of Cleveland in the summer of 1976 as Greene waged a turf war with the local Italian mafia.

Sure, Hollywood exaggerates. A lot. But a documentary-esque film ought not to cock a snook at the truth. And there was no such bombing rampage in downtown Cleveland that summer.

The claim is preposterous.

As I’ve noted previously at Media Myth Alert, the figure of 36 bombings appears to have been mistakenly taken from an article published in May 1977 in the Plain Dealer, as a sidebar to the account of the bombing death of John A. Nardi, a mob figure allied with Greene.

The sidebar article said that in all of 1976, there had been 21 bombings in Cleveland and 37 in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland and most of its many suburbs. That’s a lot, but nothing as stunning or sustained as 36 bombings in the heart of the city in a single summer. Such a spree would correspond to 12 bombings a month.

That never happened.

Also off-putting is the movie’s clear objective of glamorizing the unglamorous Danny Greene. One reviewer of the Blu-Ray version called Kill the Irishman “a clichéd offering of criminal worship ….” Well said.

So maybe I’ll rent the DVD. Some day.


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Exaggerating Cleveland as ’70s Belfast on the lake

In Cinematic treatments, Debunking, Media myths, Newspapers on March 7, 2011 at 7:36 am

Advance publicity about Kill the Irishman, Hollywood’s portrayal of a long-dead Cleveland hood mostly unknown outside Northeast Ohio, erroneously casts the city in the mid-1970s as rivaling the shattering violence of Belfast or Beirut.

Cleveland’s daily newspaper, the Plain Dealer, for which I reported in the mid- and late-1970s, offered that allusion — or illusion — in an otherwise thoughtful article yesterday about Kill the Irishman, which opens Friday in limited release.

The movie dramatizes — and no doubt seeks to mythologize — the life and death of Danny Greene, a brazen Cleveland rackets figure and FBI informant killed by his foes in a car bombing in October 1977.

The Plain Dealer article asserted that “Cleveland in the mid-’70s echoed Belfast or Beirut.”

That characterization is glib, unfortunate, and  fails to distinguish between the bloodletting and terror of politically inspired violence in Belfast or Beirut and the bombings of far smaller scale, perpetrated by mobsters against mobsters, in Cleveland and vicinity in the mid-1970s.

Demonstrating anew that Hollywood often has little aversion to hyperbole, publicity material for Kill the Irishman carries the mischaracterization of bombing-prone Cleveland to an absurd extreme.

That material says in summer of 1976, “thirty-six bombs detonate[d] in the heart of Cleveland while a turf war raged between Irish mobster Danny Greene (Ray Stevenson) and the Italian mafia.”

The claim has been reiterated in descriptions of the film posted by online movie guides, including those of the Washington Post and  CBS Detroit. It appeared in a recent online review of Kill the Irishman.

Thirty-six bombings “in the heart of Cleveland” in any summer would have so dramatic as to have attracted national media attention. But a search of an archive of leading U.S. newspapers — including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Post — turned up no reports about such a bombing spree in Cleveland that year.

I lived and worked in downtown Cleveland then, and recall no such rampage. That’s not to say that Cleveland was a particularly hospitable place. But the heart of the city on Lake Erie quite simply did not shudder that summer with anything akin to a succession of three dozen bombings.

Such a claim is preposterous.

The figure of 36 bombings appears to have been misappropriated from an article published in May 1977 in the Plain Dealer, as a sidebar to the account of the bombing death of John A. Nardi, a mob figure allied with Greene.

The sidebar article said “there were 21 bombings in the city last year [1976], a total of 37 in Cuyahoga County,” a political district of 458 square miles that embraces Cleveland and many of its suburbs.

Sure, 21 bombings in a year is a lot, in any city. But it is less than two per month, a frequency considerably less dramatic and sustained than 36 “in the heart of Cleveland” in a single summer (which corresponds to 13 a month or more than one a week).

Gritty Cleveland gets beaten up routinely. It was Forbes magazine’s choice as America’s “most miserable city” in 2010. Cleveland’s population is about half of what it was 50 years ago; it may be America’s most leave-able city. Abandoned buildings blight the cityscape.

Cleveland is in a long, grinding, unending decline. It’s a magnet for sneer and insult. But it was no Belfast, and it sure doesn’t merit the exaggeration and imprecision that’s come its way in the run-up to the release of Kill the Irishman.


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‘Kill the Irishman’: Glamorizing ’70s Cleveland underworld?

In Cinematic treatments, Media myths, Newspapers on March 2, 2011 at 7:14 am

A lawyer friend in Cleveland told me yesterday that a movie called Kill the Irishman is soon to be released. It’s about a dapper Cleveland mobster named Danny Greene who was  slain in a car-bombing in 1977.

I was quite surprised that the life and death Greene, a swaggering smalltime crime figure in a gritty rustbelt city, would win Hollywood’s attention after all these years. And with such comparative star power, no less: Kill the Irishman features roles by Christopher Walken, Val Kilmer, Paul Sorvino, and Vincent D’Onofrio.

Ray Stevenson plays Greene.

As cinema is wont to do, Kill the Irishman may end up glamorizing and mythologizing Greene and the violent Cleveland underworld of the second half of the 1970s. Publicity material for the movie suggests as much, referring as it does to “Greene’s heroic rise from a tough Cleveland neighborhood to become an enforcer in the local mob.”

I was in Cleveland then, a young reporter for the city’s morning newspaper, the Plain Dealer. The mob scene was murky, chaotic, and hardly glamorous; its figures were scarcely “heroic.”

It did churn up some flamboyant characters, though, including Greene and another rackets figure, Alex (Shondor) Birns, who was killed in a car bombing the night before Easter in March 1975.

I wrote the story about Birns’ bombing death — and Jim Flanagan, the newspaper’s inestimable night city editor, rewrote the lead to say:

“Alex (Shondor) Birns, Cleveland numbers racketeer, was blown to bits at 8 last night seconds after he entered his car parked behind a West Side bar.

“Police, who made the identification, said Birns was hurled through the roof of a 1975 light blue Lincoln Continental Mark IV. The upper torso was found beside the opened front passenger door.”

Blown to bits. Do newspapers still write crime stories that way?

Everyone believed Greene to have been behind Shondor Birns’ death, but no one could finger him.

And a lot of people suspected that it was a matter of time before Greene was killed, too. He flirted with both sides of the law after all. For a time at least, Greene was an informant for the FBI.

Part of Greene’s appeal rested on a catlike ability to dodge attempts on his life.

About six weeks after Birns was blown to bits, Greene survived the bombing of his house on Waterloo Road in Cleveland.

I wrote that story, too, along with a police beat reporter named Mairy Jayn Woge, who commuted to work in Cleveland from somewhere near Pittsburgh.

The article opened this way:

“Cleveland gangland figure Daniel J. (Danny) Greene yesterday survived the second bombing attempt on his life in seven years.

‘Greene, 45, was at his home … when a bomb was thrown through a downstairs window at 3:50 a.m. The explosion destroyed the building that Greene also used as an office to run an industrial consulting firm.”

I remember relishing that line, “Cleveland gangland figure.”

His luck and elusiveness notwithstanding, Greene began to seem more eccentric than significant. He was, as I came to understand it, less important than his reputation. He may have been elbowing his way into the gambling rackets, but Greene really wasn’t such a leading figure in the Cleveland underworld.

He was colorful, though.

Plain Dealer articles described Greene as revealing no fear after escaping the attempt on his life in 1975.

“After that bombing,” one article recalled, “Greene used to sit on a bench in front of his office in a trailer, conducting business and unafraid of being shot down.”

He was killed in October 1977, the victim of what the Plain Dealer called a “trojan horse” bombing. An explosive device packed into a car parked next to Greene’s Lincoln Continental was detonated remotely, killing Greene immediately.

Greene had just completed a visit to the dentist.

I was one of nine Plain Dealer staffers who worked on that story, which carried the headline, “Car bomb kills Danny Greene.” Flanagan, the night city editor, also was credited as having contributed to the report.

Flanagan, a hefty man of Irish descent who wore suspenders and had a heart of gold, was a veteran of Cleveland’s once-lusty newspaper scene. He worked for the afternoon Cleveland News before it folded, and afterward joined the Plain Dealer.

He was steeped in a detail-rich, tabloidesque writing style. And he took time to mentor young reporters, if they were willing. I still have copies of some of my stories that Flanagan rewrote, to which he usually attached detailed notes of explanation.

“Don’t waste space on the obvious,” one note began.

“Remember the old English lesson, avoid adjectives; move the sentence by verbs,” said another.

“Simplify, simplify, simplify,” Flanagan wrote in another note, adding, “Again, I stress using simple, declarative sentences and make your attribution down in the story.”

I suspect Flanagan wrote the sidebar to the story about Greene’s violent death. Either he or Bob Daniels, a gifted rewriteman who called just about everyone “coach.”

The sidebar began this way:

“Daniel John Patrick Greene had the quiet courtesy of an Irish butler but his shillelagh-bold eyes were those of a muscleman. …

“His manner was reserved and polite and he showed compassion for friends.

“But bombs burst around him so frequently and bullets were fired at him so often that his mere appearance in a saloon caused an uneasy atmosphere and a gradual emptying of the bar.”

Vivid writing, delightfully over the top. And it’s just the kind of stuff that Hollywood seems to love.


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