The Day of the Owl (Italian: Il giorno della civetta, released in the United States as Mafia) is a 1968 crime drama film directed by Damiano Damiani, based on the 1961 novel of the same name by Leonardo Sciascia, adapted for the screen by Damiani and Ugo Pirro. It stars Franco Nero, Claudia Cardinale, and Lee J. Cobb. Set in a small Sicilian town, the story follows a Carabinieri chief investigating a murder, hampered by the deep-seated presence of the Mafia that perpetuates a culture of silence.
|The Day of the Owl|
|Italian||Il giorno della civetta|
|Directed by||Damiano Damiani|
|Based on||The Day of the Owl|
by Leonardo Sciascia
|Cinematography||Tonino Delli Colli|
|Edited by||Nino Baragli|
|Music by||Giovanni Fusco|
|Distributed by||Euro International Film|
|Box office||₤1.335 billion|
In Sicily, truck driver Salvatore Colasberna is murdered while delivering a load of cement to a highway construction project. The murder takes place within sight and earshot of the house of Rosa Nicolosi (Cardinale) and her husband. Police captain Bellodi (Nero) hears that there may be irregularities in the construction of the highway that amount to corruption. He is also told that Rosa has loose morals, though she denies it strenuously and claims that she has been faithful to her husband.
Bellodi is unable to determine whether Colasberna was murdered because he stumbled onto a corruption racket or because he was a lover of Rosa, and was shot by her husband, who disappeared after the murder. Another possibility is that Nicolosi saw the murderer and was also murdered, or went into hiding fearing for his life.
Bellodi is thwarted by an honour system, where witnesses lie and withhold information out of allegiance to the local Mafia don, Mariano Arena (Cobb). He resorts to unorthodox strategies of jailing witnesses, forging statements, and confronting witnesses with false accusations by others, even going so far as arresting Arena.
- Franco Nero as Captain Bellodi
- Claudia Cardinale as Rosa Nicolosi
- Lee J. Cobb as Don Mariano Arena
- Tano Cimarosa as Zecchinetta
- Nehemiah Persoff as Pizzuco
- Serge Reggiani as Parineddu
- Giovanni Pallavicino as Marshal Mancuso
- Vincenzo Falanga as Colosimo
- Giuseppe Lauricella as La Stella
- Fred Coplan as Brigadier De Santis
- Ugo D'Alessio as Turco
- Ennio Balbo as Martini
- Laura De Marchi as Laura Arena
- Lino Coletta as Scacchi
- Brizio Montinaro as Mancuso’s son
In 1967, director Elio Petri adapted Leonardo Sciascia's novel To Each His Own as We Still Kill the Old Way. The film was a box office hit in Italy, which led to producers Ermano Donati and Luigi Carpentieri to green-light the adaptation of another Sciascia novel they had purchased, The Day of the Owl. The script was developed by director Damiano Damiani and Ugo Pirro. Pirro had previously adapted To Each His Own for Petri's film. Damiani and Pirro created a radically different story from novel, with Pirro explaining that when writing "a script based on a novel, I usually don't respect the book's structure, To me, the book is a hint: I must try and preserve its message by using a different language." Pirro and Damiani retained the book's famous line where the character of Don Mariano splits humanity into five category: "men, half-men, pigmies, arse-crawlers, and quackers."
The Day of the Owl was filmed at Incir - De Paolis in Rome and on location in Partinico, Sicily where Damiani shot most of the film. Assistant director Mino Giarda would state that during filming, the production received anonymous threatening letters when filming in Sicily. Giarda specifically noted that one day someone had fired bullets at a truck carrying the dailies. Girada stated that dialogue in the script that made reference to the complicity between Italy's largest political party and the mafia was the reasoning behind the shooting.
The Day of the Owl was released in Italy on 17 February 1968 where it was distributed by Euro International Films. On the films initial release, it was labelled as forbidden to minors by the Board of Censors who declared it was banned due to frequent use of profanity, its "harsh and corrosive criticism of institutions" and a lack of a happy ending. This rating was removed later when a few lines were re-dubbed. The film grossed a total of 1,335,244,000 Italian lire on its initial theatrical run. The film was later released in France in 1969 with a runtime of 100 minutes.
In Italy, producers Luigi Carpentieri and Ermanno Donati won the Nastro d'Argento award for Best Producer for the film. In a contemporary review, "Werb." of Variety referred to the film as "a skillfully-made, well-acted picture-blending social satire dramatic intensity and comic localisms, that should draw and hold audiences in all markets." "Werb." went on to state that three factors enhanced the film: the original novel by Leonardo Sciascia, the adaptation by Ugo Pirro and "Lee J. Cobb's outstanding performance, unsuspected thesping by Claudia Cardinale and a credible attempt from Franco Nero in a part calling for a more mature actor."