The Valachi Papers

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday June 27, 2017

The Valachi Papers

Some of gangland's most notorious figures populate the landscape through which driver and hit-man Joe Valachi moves in the film version of the book, written by Peter Maas, on Valachi's true story. (Publication of Valachi's own voluminous account -- which we learn in the liner notes that accompany the Twilight Time Blu-ray release of "The Valachi Papers" -- was derailed by the American Italian Anti-Defamation League; no wonder the film starts off with an epigram, by Robert Kennedy, to the effect that crime "is a matter of criminals," and not of any given ethnicity.)

Charles Bronson plays Valachi, and while one might quibble that he's far too old to have played the character as a youth, he fits the bill nicely when, decades later, at about sixty, he becomes an informant. It's not that he wants to rat out his compadres -- he's as culpable as any of them and evinces no particular remorse at the things he's done; rather, he's forced into a corner when Cosa Nostra boss Vito Genovese (Lino Ventura, eating up the role), wrongly believing that Valachi is already an informant, orders him killed. Protecting Valachi is such an exercise that he's taken to a military base and locked up there, under layers and layers of guards. Thus ensconced, Valachi tells his story, and we see his long life of criminal adventures unfurl in flashback -- from befriending a gangster named Gap (Walter Chiari) in prison, to working for Salvatore Maranzano (a charismatic Joseph Wiseman), to falling in love with mob daughter Maria (real-life wife Jill Ireland) and surviving various scrapes and upheavals, and finally ending up in Genovese's orbit.

Valachi's lengthy career gave him detailed knowledge of the mob -- who was who, who did what -- and his testimony before the U.S. Senate proved dramatic. (The film makes early use of a period-specific re-creation of a historic real-life broadcast; this sort of thing didn't begin with more recent Hollywood fare like "Jackie.")

One of the only extras included in this Twilight Time Blu-ray release is film historian Julie Kirgo's liner notes essay, in which she provides fascinating backstory on the real Valachi and the story of the film's production. (Producer Dino De Laurentiis evidently fled to Italy with production after being warned about making the movie.) Kirgo tackles the obvious issue head on, acknowledging that comparisons to "The Godfather" are inevitable, but also noting that "The Valachi Papers" didn't borrow from that other project since they two films were put into production at roughly the same time. Naturally, "The Godfather" has achieved legendary status, which "The Valachi Papers" is obscure by comparison. What might be more worth noting, however, is the palpable influence this movie from 1972 had on subsequent classics of the genre, such as Scorsese's not-dissimilar 1990 film "Goodfellas" (also based on a true story of a mob career gone wrong).

This movie might not warrant classic status in and of itself, but it doesn't fall far short -- and it shares so much DNA with so many other important mob movies that it shouldn't be overlooked. Now, with this great looking edition, it no longer has to be.

Aside from Kirgo's essay, the Blu-ray also offers a theatrical trailer and isolated music track.

"The Valachi Papers"



Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.