When his father dies, the hotheaded Frank (Robert Forster) expects to be the new don. Instead, his father's territory is divided between Don Angelo Dimorra (Anthony Quinn) and the jailed Don Bernardo, who is represented by his consigliore, Orlando (Charles Cioffi). Frank is taken under the wing of Don Angelo, but Orlando schemes against them both on his own behalf. As Orlando's plans take shape, Frank and Don Angelo are pitted against each other. In need of support, Frank asks for help from his friends Tony Largo (Frederick Forrest) and Vince Largo (Al Lettieri). Tony has the brains, Al has the brawn, and Frank the temper, so the young mafiosi struggle to control the city.
Based on a mafia novel by Marvin H. Albert, THE DON IS DEAD is full of dark-suited men who are polite when they meet each other but concoct deadly schemes behind each other's backs. With the camera sleekly gliding around gun metal gray streets at night, director Richard Fleischer and director of photography Richard H. Kline diagram the action and counteraction as the Largo brothers attempt to rectify the mischief being wrought by the Machiavellian Orlando. Fleischer obtains strong performances from the entire cast, particularly Forrest, Lettieri, and Cioffi.
Young gangsters Frank, Tony and Vince try to seize control of the mob from the elderly Don Angelo.