By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Testifying against the mob.
Based on the bestselling novel by Peter Maas this film chronicles the life of Joseph Valachi (Charles Bronson) who became the very first informant for the Mafia in their history. The story chronicles his life from a young man getting involved in the mafia culture to his eventual imprisonment and testifying in front of congress.
At the time of release this was compared closely to The Godfather with some critics outrageously saying it was better, but clearly it doesn’t come close. This film lacks the in-depth characterizations, lyrical quality, and an overall slick design. This film is also rather sloppily produced including one scene involving an exciting car chase taking place in the 1930’s. When the two cars go crashing through the wall of a warehouse and into the East river one can clearly see the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, which weren’t built until 1970. There is also the Lucky Luciano character played by actor Angelo Infanti who wears a type of glasses that did not come into style until well into the 1970’s. However, as a whole the film is still amazingly compelling flick that ends up being both entertaining and somewhat informative. The music score has a terrific ominous tone to it and the prison scenes have a nice starkness.
The film was known at the time for its violence, which by today’s standards may not seem quite as startling or as excessive although the blood and bullets do come at regular intervals. My favorite was the shooting of an old crime boss inside a barbershop although the castration of a victim on top of a table inside a restaurant is pretty wild. However, for all of its violence the film does manage to have a sense of humor as well including a very amusing scene where one of Joe’s mob bosses sits in the living room of the mother of Joe’s girlfriend and asks the mother for her permission to allow Joe to marry her daughter while Joe sits nervously behind and tries to look proper.
Lino Ventura has the perfect face of a mob boss and was ideally cast. The scene of him inside the prison where he has stays in a well-furnished cell and even seems to have his own barber is funny. Joseph Wiseman displays great zest as the opposing crime boss Salvatore Maranzano and his agonizing yells of pain as he lies dying are effective.
Bronson seems perfectly cast as an uneducated simple man who is a follower and has his own quiky code of morality, which makes him strangely endearing. His wife Jill Ireland does not fare as well. She ports a brunette wig and her Italian accent borders on being horrendous to non-existent. Fortunately she is not given very many speaking lines as her British accent is constantly seeping through.
In many ways this film could best be described as an ugly cousin to Goodfellas. While this film lacks that film’s fluid directorial flair it still manages to be an engrossing true-life gangster soap opera like that one.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Runtime: 2Hours 5Minutes
Released: November 3, 1972
Director: Terence Young
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Available: VHS, DVD