Pros: Charles Bronson, NYC locations
Cons: Not well enough known
Valachi Papers (1972)
The Valachi Papers, the inside story of organized crime by one who had lived it, had the fate to be released in the same year as the phenomenally successful film that has set the standards for crime movies ever since - The Godfather. Therefore, The Valachi Papers has not had a lot of visibility but has finally been released on DVD by Sony Pictures.
Unlike The Godfather, a fictional treatment, The Valachi Papers purports to be a true story of how the organized crime developed from the early 20th century Italian immigrants in New York and other large cities. Valachi was only a small potatoes street level Mafiosi but once he was wise to the fact he was under contract with his former boss Vito Genovese, he decided to rat out the operation. Valachi has the distinction of being the first made man who told the inner workings of the mob with who was who; who shot who; and who did what.
To Joe Valachi, we owe our understanding of the mob as we understand it today. Prior to his testimony there was no understanding of the five families, the structure of the family tree from the capo or boss, to the under boss, down to the hit men who cleaned up the rivals or rebels, and the various continuing criminal enterprises that make up their sources of livelihood. Even the words Cosa Nostra meaning "our thing," were divulged out of Joe Valachi's testimony.
Joe Valachi (Charles Bronson) is a prisoner in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary sometime in the early 1960s - he is ostracized by his fellow criminals and learns that he is suspected - wrongly it seems - of ratting out Vito Genovese and therefore under contract. This is confirmed later at a meet with the big boss who gives him the kiss of death, meaning it's good-bye for him. Valachi kills one prisoner who he mistakes for one of the hit men and the federal agents put him in protective custody, provided he will talk, else he gets released back in general population, which means death. Valachi decides to talk.
The testimony is shown in long flashbacks to the 20s and 30s when Valachi got his start with the Salvatore Maranzano mob and later under Lucky Luciano, and then Vito Genovese. The Castellammarese War and subsequent developments are all shown. Valachi was a low ranking foot soldier in all of the big developments in NYC organized crime for some thirty years until he was jailed in the early 1960s. Subsequently, he learned he was suspected of ratting out Don Vito Genovese for drug trafficking. The police agents found a bag full of heroin doses in Genovese's apartment although the movie seems to point the finger at number 2 man Anthony "Tony Bender" Strollo as the rat. This didn't matter much because both Valachi and Genovese were doing time.
Both Valachi and Genovese lived to die of natural causes in the penitentiary, the movie says six months apart, with Genovese going first.
The movie is well worth seeing for fans of crime films or Charles Bronson who gives a great performance.
The Sony Pictures DVD is presented in color, in 1.85:1 theatrical format in color with a 125 minute running time. Subtitles and the theatrical trailer are the only extra features.