December 26, 2007
Hamptons Moviegoers Miss Davi & 'The Dukes'
His name is Robert Davi. He has one of the most instantly recognized faces in the world, having appeared in over 60 films. Now Davi is positioned to put a name to the face: he recently wrote, produced and directed his feature film debut, The Dukes, in which he stars.
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Davi is a familiar sight in the Hamptons. His mother Mary was born in Southampton. His grandfather Stefano ran an alcohol distribution company on the East End with Marshall Field and Joseph P. Kennedy. But while he lives here, Davi was stymied from screening his film at the Hamptons International Film Festival.
The Dukes has won seven awards in film festivals worldwide. Davi's directorial debut was a smash hit at the Rome Film Festival, where he competed in the Premiere Division with Coppola, Redford, Sidney Lumet, Sean Penn and others. He won two awards in Monte Carlo, where legendary Italian director Ettore Scola presided over the Jury and the great French director Claude Zidi was a member.
Davi also won two awards at the Houston Worldfest and received rave reviews in Palm Beach and Newport. So when the red carpet was laid out for him in his birthplace, Astoria, Queens – where he won another two awards at the Museum of the Moving Image – moviegoers wondered how the HIFF could have missed this jewel.
"I don't know why," he said in a recent interview. "They knew of my local roots; they knew everything. All I can say is not being able to show The Dukes in the Hamptons was extremely disappointing, especially since my mom and grandparents lived there."
But Davi is not dwelling on the snub. "If a charity wants to raise money, I'd love to have a screening of The Dukes in the Hamptons," he volunteered. "I'd stay for a Q&A and donate the proceeds to charity."
Davi is a gifted actor. He landed the part of lead villain Franz Sanchez in the James Bond film License to Kill (1989), one of his best roles. But he said his big break came when he was cast opposite Frank Sinatra in the TV movie "Contract on Cherry Street" (1977). Among his other notable film credits are Die Hard (1988), The Goonies (1985), Son of the Pink Panther (1993), Raw Deal (1986), and Showgirls (1995). He won critical acclaim for his provocative portrayal of Bailey Malone in the TV series "Profiler" (1996).
The Dukes is a compelling movie. According to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who hosted a special screening of The Dukes at The Director's Guild of America, "The Dukes is a jewel of a movie. It's funny, poignant, upbeat, and has a huge heart. My friend Robert Davi's many talents in front of a camera are well known, but it's exciting to see the level of his talent and passion behind the camera as well."
The Dukes is a light comedy about Doo Wop group members and their struggles to survive after a period of success. The film follows "The Dukes" and their friends as they try to make a comeback. In the '60s, Danny DePasquale and George Zucco (Robert Davi and Chazz Palminteri) were on top of the world – a couple of hit records and all the champagne they could drink. Life was a dream.
But by 2007, they are over-the-hill and anonymous again. The group's members are estranged from each other and can barely pay their bills. The Dukes' loyal manager, Lou (Peter Bogdanovich), repeatedly struggles to find them gigs, but the guys never seem to catch a break.
When George unexpectedly loses his front tooth he is rushed to a dentist, where the friends learn about a dental lab filled with gold. Inspired by a glorified thief wreaking havoc on local restaurants, the gang decides the only way to fulfill their dreams is to steal the gold. They are introduced to a master thief . . . and the heist is on.
A string of unexpected events ensues. When all seems lost the guys pull together and find a way to keep their dreams alive.
Davi said he found the premise for The Dukes in his childhood. During the late '70s headlines across America reported thousands of steel workers had been laid off. His own father lost his job after 25 years. To illustrate, he chose a Doo Wop group whose music was no longer relevant to parallel an industrial world changing to a technological one.
Davi also draws from similar life experiences. "I left college and moved to Manhattan to study acting with Stella Adler. I waited tables, worked at a fruit-and-vegetable stand and lived in a cheap railroad flat on East 171 Street. I saved enough money to study with Stella Adler and become a member of the Actor's Studio. This woman was like getting a flame burning inside you, she was so inspirational."
"Great storytellers of the past would go to an unknown place and return to tell the stories they had found. Those were also journeys into their psyches, and that's still true today," Davi noted. "An actor, a writer, does that as if saying, 'Here's what I've discovered about myself and about the world I'm in. I would like to share this with you.' It's an act of giving."
Regarding his experience at the film festival in Monte Carlo, Davi was exuberant. "To meet Ettore Scola and Claude Zidi was fantastic! Their cultural understanding is inspiring and their idea of film is profound. Their sense of taste is not warped by political or cultural agendas. Hanging out with these giants of the film industry was more thrilling than winning the two awards, but winning is nice, too."
Now having had the pedigree of film festivals and awards, The Dukes has moviegoers buzzing and asking when it will be in theaters. "That's the next logical step, but finding the right situation for distribution is a delicate business that takes time."
Underneath the laughter The Dukes is a film that explores the intricacies of re-defining one's self, dealing with lost fame and remaining true to one's soul in changing times. Its collective message of keeping one's dreams alive applies to all those who have ever been at the bottom of the mountain looking up at where they once were, and especially to those who are dreaming about getting there for the first time.
Bob Vacca can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org