THE BROTHERHOOD. Paramount Pictures, 1968. Kirk Douglas, Alex Cord, Irene Papas, Luther Adler, Susan Strasberg, Murray Hamilton, Eduardo Ciannelli. Music: Lalo Schifrin. Producer: Kirk Douglas. Director: Martin Ritt.

   I don’t know where this movie fits precisely into the chronology of Mafia-based crime films, but while there were certainly gangster movies before The Brotherhood was filmed, in terms of realism, none were quite like this one. It was also four years before The Godfather showed up and finally convinced everyone how they were supposed to be done.

   The story has it that when this one bombed so badly at the box office, it took quite a while to convince the people at Paramount to do another one, which of course was The Godfather.

   The reason I bring this up is that, well, first of all, the movie is actually quite good, but if you can’t place it properly in the evolution of Mafia movies, it can be viewed as a whole series of clich├ęs. Kirk Douglas plays Frank Ginetta, an old-fashioned Mafia don based in New York City; Alex Cord is his (much) younger Vince, who’s gone to college, is home from Viet Nam, has just gotten married, and wants to join the “firm.” Big brother Frank is elated.

   But Vince and the other members of the council want to abandon the old ways and start finding new ways to invest their money and talents. This causes all kinds of problems, as you can imagine. Frank also finds out who provided the tip-off that happened many years ago that resulted in the massacre of over 40 members of the Mafia at the time, including Frank’s father.

   Frank does not take this very well, and his actions leave Vince squarely in the middle. Kirk Douglas takes this role and makes it entirely his own. He is an ebullient lover of his family, good food and happy times, and yet he casually and reminiscently tells someone about the first hit he ever made — when he was eighteen years old.

   Alex Cord, in contrast, and perhaps deliberately so, downplays his role so low that you barely know he’s in the film. He’s grim and dour while his brother’s innate nature is cheerful and charming. The ending is perhaps inevitable, but the getting there is not only absorbing, but a lot of fun to watch.

   If the movie didn’t do well financially, perhaps the movie audiences of the day were simply not ready for it. Another possibility, of course, is that I’m the only one in the world who has ever enjoyed it, but I’m fairly sure that that’s not so.