In the Cleveland of the '60s and '70s, “green” meant Danny Greene, the Collinwood gangster who rose through the unions and effectively destroyed the city’s La Cosa Nostra. The environment was anything but ecologically forward: Cleveland became known as “Bomb City U.S.A.” because of the gang wars Greene inspired and the ethnic rivalries they embodied.
Finally bombed to smithereens in a Lyndhurst parking lot in late 1977, Greene is the folk hero of Rise and Fall, a tabloid-style documentary directed by Tommy Reid, who also is the executive producer of Kill the Irishman, a more fictionalized, commercial account of Greene’s rise and fall. Reid has assembled period TV footage, news clippings, and long and fruitful interviews with former Cleveland police chief Ed Kovacic, former Cuyahoga County prosecutor Carmen Marino, Lyndhurst police chief Rick Porrello, members of Greene’s family, and James Willis, a salty and cynical lawyer who represented many members of Cleveland’s Mafia.
The material is sensational, the film dynamic. After Greene, Kovacic is by far the most interesting character, “sort of” a friend of Greene’s, a man who could have been his conscience. The movie depicts Greene as fearless, charismatic and brutal; at the same time, he was protector of Collinwood and a loner adept at self-mythologizing. Reid plays up his invulnerability (until that bomb caught up with him outside his dentist’s office), effectively contrasting it with the ineptness of the Mafiosi who tried to kill him – and failed repeatedly. How the FBI and Cleveland cops pieced together the bomber’s car (the tipoff is delicious) is great fun.
Strange that Greene, a lonely autodidact with a taste for violence, is being lionized now. Perhaps that’s because his saga conjures a more vibrant city, a Cleveland that mattered on a national scale. With Greene’s death, the Mafiosi “turned,” tumbling like dominoes, and by 1982, the Mafia had lost its power. Maybe Greene was a folk hero after all.
Reviews are scored on a four-star scale
Danny Greene: The Rise and Fall of the Irishman shows again at 7:05 pm tonight, March 26; and 9:45 pm March 27 as part of the Cleveland International Film Festival.