CRIMEWATCH: FINGERS

A little bit The Godfather, a little bit Taxi Driver, 1978’s Fingers (perhaps it was the odd title?) came and went without much notice. Regardless, director James Toback’s unflinching look at dashed dreams, dysfunctional family dynamics and life’s many frustrations remains an intriguing, if ponderous, cinematic endeavor.

As Jimmy Angelelli a mob debt-collector/aspiring pianist (!) the always dependable Harvey (Mean Streets) Keitel pulls out all the stops. Be it streetwise vulgarity, semi-nudity, tears of frustration or sudden violence, Keitel is front and center; imbuing his “unseen,” sexually conflicted character with a rich, varied and palpably uncomfortable-in-his-own-skin inner life.

fi1 The supporting cast of Fingers is also memorable. Jim Brown (star of so many Blaxploitation films) plays Dreems, an ex boxer turned nightclub owner who has a stable of young white women at his beck and call. Quiet-voiced (a contrast to his big imposing frame), seductive, able to perceive people’s hidden neuroses (especially Jimmy’s) Brown gives an adroit, restrained performance that plays well against Jimmy’s jittery, stuttering, insecurity.

fi4 Backing up this all-encompassing portrait of discontent are Michael V. Gazzo as Ben, Jimmy’s past-his-prime loan shark father, Tisa Farrow as Carol, the object of Jimmy’s sexual obsession, Tanya (of TV’s “Charlies Angels”) Roberts as Julie a good-time, mobster’s girlfriend and Danny (Moonstruck) Aiello as Butch, a mob collector.

fi2 Bleak, populated with round-eyed, disillusioned characters who strive to get through life rather than live it, Fingers is a cerebral film filled with dialogue-less scenes that make the background (gritty 70s New York City) as much a part of the story as the people who live in it. Not at all the Grindhouse feature (check the bloody action-centered poster art) it was promoted as, Fingers is instead a decidedly downbeat exploration of several complicated and perpetually unfulfilled people. Kinky, modern and semi-existential.

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Josiah Howard

Josiah Howard is the author of four books including “Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide” (now in a fourth printing). His writing credits include articles for the American Library of Congress, The New York Times and Readers Digest. A veteran of more than one hundred radio broadcasts, Howard also lectures on cinema and is a frequent guest on entertainment news television.

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