Subject and screenplay:
Sidney Lumet, T.J. Mancini and Robert J. McCrea
Roberto Del Giudice
Technicolor Sound Services
This film deals with a trial which took place in the United States against a group of Italians accused of criminal connections after the enactment of the anti-mafia law in the state of New Jersey created by the then governor Rudolph Giuliani. It’s therefore a true story, and in fact, apart from a news excerpt, we’re informed of this by a notice/poster at the beginning of the film.
The leading man, Jack Di Norscio, already sentenced to thirty years for drug dealing, decides to defend himself without an attorney, and the film tells how he alone, despite the fact that the other 19 accused had an attorney, manages to get the jury on his side, completely overturning the situation: a persecution against a group of Italians to demonstrate that their friendships and relations hide illegal activities.
The trial, which lasted nearly two years due to the quantities of evidence and presented witnesses, is indicated by notices/posters showing the days that pass.
Little by little, as Di Norscio gains confidence with the jury and in his new role as a lawyer, he behaves as though in a sort of theatre, as though he’s the presenter of a show (which in fact is offered to him together with the sentence negotiation); all to the credit of the accused with its witnesses. And he succeeds: the jury declares all the accused not guilty.
Thus an old saying speaks the truth “giuria che ride, giuria che non punisce” (A laughing jury is never a hanging jury). Two defense lawyers, regarding the saying, use the word “detto” (cliché), but perhaps for the public prosecutor the term “adagio” is more appropriate, because, it’s nearer to juridical literature, giving the idea that he is, or appears to be, a man of culture.
In general, right from the start, it seems that an attempt has been made (successfully) to make the whole film more comical with expressions which make one smile and an evident Sicilian accent which for us Italians is definitely more familiar than for Americans (Vin Diesel, not through his own fault, doesn’t speak Sicilian). He’s a man, as he himself says, who has made it on his own, who has reached only sixth grade education (translated to elementary school in Italian) – well transformed in Italian because we have a different schooling system and had it been a literal translation we wouldn’t have understood the education level.
Hereunder are some lines from the Italian adaptation which I retain to be very effective
In hospital, with his daughter:
Jackie: «Anche se mi prendessero a cannonate, o se trovassi la mia testa nel frigo, tu non chiamare la polizia» (If you see me shot twenty times, if you come in the room, I got my head cut off, you don’t call the cops).
The prison guard:
Sylvester: «Se resto qua un altro secondo vomito la colazione» (I’m sure as hell am not standing here smelling your shit, while I argue with you).
Meeting with the procurator:
Jackie: «Ce l’ha ancora i nonni?» (You got a brother?)
Kierney: «Sì» (Yeah)
Jackie: «Vaffanculo anche a loro» (Well, fuck him, too)
In the original version he asked him if he had a brother. Substituting brother with grandparents, the pun manages to better show Jack as an Italo-American with a more comical effect.
Jack with his lawyer Tom Rizzo who asks him for payment of his fees:
«D’accordo. Mandami la fattura, ho giusto finito la carta igienica» (Oh, Rizzo. Send me a bill. I’ll wipe my ass with it. Would that be okay?). The Italian adaptation is less vulgar and funnier.
In the tribunal with Klandis:
Klandis: «Signor Di Norscio, sono Ben Klandis, l’avvocato di Carlo Mascarpone» (Jackie? I’m Ben Klandis. I’m handling Carlo Mascarpone’s defense)
Jackie: «Condoglianze» (How you doing?)
In the original it’s worth noting that the lawyer immediately familiarizes with Jack, calling him by his first name, whilst in Italian the two greet each other formally with the “lei” form, Klandis calls him “signore” (Mister), and even the tone of voice is less friendly. The “lei” form in English doesn’t exist, and as always, one is presented with the problem of when, if its the case, to pass to the “tu” form. Here the dialogist chooses to do it after several days of trial, just in time to justify the fact that the evening before Jack pleads his case, Klandis telephones him in prison to say hello and to show solidarity which shows a certain level of familiarity.
In the original, after Kierney has presented his intentions to the jury, Jackie says: «This guy thinks he’s Elliot Ness» (Elliot Ness is the guy who managed to trap Al Capone) but in the Italian version not everyone might have understood that so the translation was changed to «Che si crede, Joe Petrosino?» (Who does he think he is? Joe Petrosino?) Petrosino was an Italo American policeman, very close to American and Italian institutions, who tried to defeat the mafia and who ended up being killed by the mafia in Sicily at the beginning of the Twentieth century).
Same thing for the references to RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, an anti mafia law) and for Shecky Green: «Siamo in mezzo a un processo per mafia e ci ritroviamo pure un cretino a orologeria tra le chiappe» (We got a major RICO trial going on here, and all of a sudden we got to contend with fucking Shecky Green). The Italian translation is certainly easier to understand also on behalf of those who aren’t acquainted with American law and American comedians. Comical and effective.
The translation of the Latin inscription (unfortunately on judge Finstein’s podium we read Justica and not Iustitia) says, in English: «Let justice be done though the heavens may fall», and which is translated to: «Che sia fatta giustizia, costi quello che costi».
But the best part is when Jack speaks with a policeman, after Nappy Napoli has had a heat attack:
Jack: «Nappy Napoli, è toccata a lui: Eh, la vita, tempu sfugit» (Boy, oh boy, time is fleeting)
Guardia: «“Tempu, che? » (Time is what?)
J: «Sfugit. Tempu sfugit» (Fleeting. Time is fleeting)
G: «Ma che cazzo di lingua parli? Chi è sfugit? » (What the hell does that mean, time is fleeting? Who’s fleeting?)
J: «È latino. Il tempo sfugge. Sarebbe fuggire. Ma è al passato, così si dice sfugge» (Fleeting. It’s like fleeing. But it’s in the past tense, so they say fleeting)
G: «Ma che sei, un prete?» (You’re full of sheet) (shit???)
J: «Sei proprio un ignorante» (You’re an ignorant snob)
The comicality reaches us immediately, because, we presume, in Italy, most know some Latin, and the ungrammatical expression made to an American policeman who, surely wouldn’t understand Latin, makes it very funny.
Again, in the tribunal:
Lawyer Novardis: «Sta ignorando il mio cliente. Non è corretto. Sono solo calunnie, calunnie, calunnie, calunnie!» (My client is being pilloried. No, crucified! By nothing but hearsay. Hearsay, hearsay, hearsay, hearsay!)
Kierney: «Se l’avvocato Novardis smette di fare il pappagallo, vedrà che possiamo provarle!» (If Mr Novardis will stop repeating himself, we’ll get beyond hearsay!)
I liked the use of an expression which in a way seems more offensive but is certainly more akin to Kierney’s character which I will discuss later.
Another interesting expression, because no longer used, (we can find it in the libretto of Falstaff by Boito-Verdi, and the mafia, as you know, is familiar with opera) is that of Nick Calabrese, head of the mafia organization:
Nick: «Vai a fare del bene agli stronzi, questa testa di cazzo continua a mandare tutto in burletta» (You get him good, and this fuckhead is turning it into a fucking vaudeville story).
We find an almost literal translation in Jack’s final pleading, but only because it was possible to render the same game with words:
Jack: «Volevo solo dimostrarvi che non faccio il malavitoso, ma solo lo spiritoso» (But I just wanted to show you that I’m not a gangster, I’m just a gagster). Instead of a similar word the dialogist has adopted a rhyming scheme.
Last but not least the expression which unites Kierney and Klandis when the news reaches them that the jury has reached a verdict after only 14 hours of counsel chamber deliberation.
Both questioned by their colleagues as to what this could mean, answer: «God only knows», which becomes: «Che sono cazzi».
The “clean” expression goes down well in an American context but in view of the adaptation analyzed up to now some considerations must be made.
Kierney immediately shows himself to be rather vulgar. In his first interview with Jack, probably to frighten him, he assaults him, and also during the trial he tries to provoke him every time he can in order to get a reaction which will cause him to fall and mess up his trial, to regain credibility in the eyes of the jury.
Furthermore, he’s very tense and nervous throughout the whole trial (I remind you of the saying, or rather the adage: “Giuria che ride, giuria che non punisce”); despite being the “goodie”, he manages the judicial debate so badly – the presentation of evidence, the witnesses – (because of his presumption and aggressive attitude) that he ends up losing the jury’s trust and also losing the trial: to the advantage of the true delinquents, who from the bad guys pass for poor people persecuted by an anti-mafia law fanatic. Kierney, therefore, and this is surely the intent of the film, isn’t a good procurator, whilst the part of the “good” guy is entrusted to Jack, who, in the final pleading, implores the jury to condemn him, if they really must condemn someone and not his friends: he’s sacrificing himself for them! And in fact, we pity him when we see him with the prison shackles as he gets up into the van which will take him back to prison, whilst his “associates” go home to their families, celebrating the victory which he obtained for them through his own merit.
The Italian poster of the film helps this interpretation of the film because it shows us Jack on his armchair, with a funny expression on his face whilst in the original poster of the film we find him busy in his role as defence lawyer for himself and his people.
Finally, the voices: having chosen to do a comical film on the mafia (as agent Kerry says, - «It was like out of the movies. There was no other conclusion»), to use a strong Sicilian accent for the accused, and their defence home-town lawyers was a correct choice. It renders the idea to us very well. Of course, if this wasn’t the original intent then it is a bit over the top.
I think Pannofino has, however, done an excellent job, even though at times he distances himself from the interpretation of Vin Diesel; as I’ve already mentioned before, it appears that the utmost has been done to put the film in a more comical light: perhaps in some parts (for example, the dialogue in hospital between Jackie and his daughter), comparing it with the original version, is a bit exaggerated.
Another example of caricature exaggeration seems to me the role of Tony Compagna: in the original version, at the beginning of the film, he appears very agitated: however much one wanted to show he’s a mad drug addict, he is still a killer who has every intention of killing another man, a relative at that: so I would have kept the whispered tone, without falling into the easy hysteria trap: «Senti, se lo devo ammazzare che ci faccio di una pidocchiosa 22?» (Look, I got to clip a guy. All I’m carrying is a 22).
My judgement on the adaptation of this film is very high, because Paolinelli has managed with great professionalism (and therefore style and creativity) to render all those expressions which otherwise we would’ve found hard to grasp, familiar to us. The whole thing dressed with great culture, indispensable for this profession and which unfortunately is often missing or strongly languishing. I refer to the Petrosino quotes, to the archaic expression “mandare tutto in burletta”, etc.
I feel it a duty, at this point, to express my appreciation for this type of adaptation, faithful to the “sense” of the film and not to the literal significance of the words. I’ll postpone a more exhaustive treatment of this subject regarding other films in the pipeline, but in the meantime I invite our kind readers to reflect on what they would consider a good adaptation, on what could be considered of value and what not when faced with a dubbing translation.
[original review in Italian by Arturo Pennazzi]