Sicilian author Leonardo Sciascia’s controversial crime novel of 1961, The Day of the Owl, is considered the first accurate depiction of the Mafia in fiction. Damiano Damiani’s 1968 film version is remarkably true to Sciascia’s cynical tale of a murder, a disappearance, and the institutionalized corruption of a small Sicilian town. But shot mostly in daylight, the movie is brighter than the noirish world conjured by the book.
The film has all the trappings of a sixties international co-production: a widescreen format, slightly garish Technicolor, a dub job of varying accents, and an international cast. Hollywood’s contribution was Lee J. Cobb, the great heavy who plays untouchable godfather Don Mariano Arena.
Claudia Cardinale plays the wife of a “disappeared” Mafia lackey. Fending for herself, she expresses fear, rage and dignity at once with a furrowing of her brow. Bleached blond Franco Nero is the embodiment of an adroit police captain whose wiles even Don Mariano respects. He must solve the murder by insinuating himself into a city of “friends” and “arrangements”—in the Sicilian way.