The Valachi Papers (1972)

R | 116, 118 or 123-25 mins | Biography, Drama | November 1972

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HISTORY

The Italian release title of the film was Joe Valachi: I segreti di cosa nostra . The following quotation appears before the film’s title: “’Crime is a question of criminals. It is not a matter of race, color or religion.’ Robert Kennedy, when Attorney General of the United States.” The following written statement appears prior to the end credits: “After seven years in solitary confinement Joseph Valachi died of natural causes. So did Vito Genovese…but six months earlier.” Interspersed throughout the film are titles identifying the date and time of various events. The story is told as a series of flashbacks, jumping back and forth between scenes of “Joe” in the present talking with agent “Ryan” and scenes depicting Joe’s past.
       For the film, many details of Valachi’s life were altered. As depicted, the real Joseph Valachi (1904--1971) was born to an extremely poor New York family and dropped out of school at a young age, becoming the head of a gang of teenagers called the Minute Men. As noted in modern sources, while serving time in Sing Sing, Valachi met mobster Dominick “The Gap” Petrilli, who then introduced him to gangster Girolamo Santucci. Unlike what is depicted in the film, Valachi met crime boss Gaetano Reina through Santucci, not Salvatore Maranzano. Valachi became part of Reina’s gang at the height of its war with rival Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria’s gang. Maranzano invited Valachi into his operations following Valachi’s participation in the contract killing of Steven Ferrigno. As depicted in the film, for his gang initiation, Valachi was forced to hold a ... More Less

The Italian release title of the film was Joe Valachi: I segreti di cosa nostra . The following quotation appears before the film’s title: “’Crime is a question of criminals. It is not a matter of race, color or religion.’ Robert Kennedy, when Attorney General of the United States.” The following written statement appears prior to the end credits: “After seven years in solitary confinement Joseph Valachi died of natural causes. So did Vito Genovese…but six months earlier.” Interspersed throughout the film are titles identifying the date and time of various events. The story is told as a series of flashbacks, jumping back and forth between scenes of “Joe” in the present talking with agent “Ryan” and scenes depicting Joe’s past.
       For the film, many details of Valachi’s life were altered. As depicted, the real Joseph Valachi (1904--1971) was born to an extremely poor New York family and dropped out of school at a young age, becoming the head of a gang of teenagers called the Minute Men. As noted in modern sources, while serving time in Sing Sing, Valachi met mobster Dominick “The Gap” Petrilli, who then introduced him to gangster Girolamo Santucci. Unlike what is depicted in the film, Valachi met crime boss Gaetano Reina through Santucci, not Salvatore Maranzano. Valachi became part of Reina’s gang at the height of its war with rival Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria’s gang. Maranzano invited Valachi into his operations following Valachi’s participation in the contract killing of Steven Ferrigno. As depicted in the film, for his gang initiation, Valachi was forced to hold a piece of burning paper in his hands.
       Valachi’s first goombah , meaning a crime boss or mentor, was not Reina, as presented in the film, but Joseph Bonanno. After Masseria’s lieutenants Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Vito Genovese conspired with Maranzano to have Masseria killed, Maranzano declared himself capo di tutti capi (boss of all bosses). Impressed with Maranzano’s style, Valachi switched allegiances and asked to be Maranzano’s driver and bodyguard. As in the film, Maranzano immediately ordered that Luciano and Genovese be killed, but was outsmarted by the pair and slain. Valachi went into hiding and although he stayed in Reina’s attic only briefly, he did begin a romance with Reina’s daughter Mildred.
       At the urging of Gap, Valachi eventually joined Genovese’s gang, which was controlled by Luciano, the new capo di tutti capi . Valachi met Tony Bender at this time and later married Mildred. As depicted in the film, during the 1930s, Valachi expanded his gambling and loan sharking operations to include more legitimate businesses. He had a son and became an avid racehorse owner. During World War II, while his clothing factory filled orders for the military, Valachi also made money on the black market selling stolen gas ration stamps.
       Genovese, who had fled to Italy in the mid-1930s to avoid arrest on murder charges, returned to New York in 1945. Luciano had also been forced to flee, and Frank Costello took over as mob boss. Although the film suggests that Genovese’s position in the mob hierarchy remained unchanged while he was in Italy, he did in fact have to re-establish himself. With Bender’s help, he recruited Valachi, and during the early 1950s, Valachi, who had suffered some financial setbacks, became more heavily involved in drug dealing and mob killings. Gap was ultimately betrayed by Valachi and murdered, but was slain over a business matter, not an affair, as portrayed in the film. During Genovese’s exile, his wife Anna, whose first husband was reputedly murdered by Genovese, became financially entangled with a mobster named Franse. When Anna sued for divorce in 1953 and divulged details about her husband’s finances, Genovese ordered Franse killed (not castrated, as shown in the film).
       Before Genovese could eliminate him, Costello retired, and Genovese took over as boss, stepping up the gang’s narcotics trade. At the same time, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics began infiltrating the Mafia, pressuring members to turn informant. In the early 1960s, Valachi was imprisoned on two different drug charges, one of which Bender was suspected of setting up. According to an Oct 1963 Time article, Genovese, who was also convicted on drug charges, reportedly threatened Valachi in prison and gave him the “kiss of death,” as depicted in the film. Bender disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and following an incident in the prison showers, a fixated Valachi killed a convict he mistakenly believed had been sent by Genovese to murder him.
       In 1963, Valachi appeared as a witness during Congressional hearings on organized crime and narcotics traffic, led by Arkansas Senator John McClellan. Although Valachi’s televised testimony did not lead directly to any arrests, he did reveal the inner workings of the Mafia and helped convince FBI director Edgar J. Hoover that a vast network of organized criminals did, in fact, exist in America. Valachi claimed that he was exposing his former bosses not out of revenge, as depicted in the film, but because they had gotten too greedy. As portrayed in the film, Valachi attempted to hang himself in prison, but the event took place in 1966, long after his Congressional appearance. In 1971, Valachi died in prison following a gall bladder attack. Although the film states that Valachi died six months after Genovese, Valachi actually outlived his former boss by over two years.
       Plans to film a story based on Valachi’s testimony were announced as early as Oct 1963. According to a LAT article, producer Bryan Foy, who had produced a number of gangster films in the 1930s, had the “inside track” on acquiring story rights from Valachi, but it is not known whether Valachi ever discussed a deal with Foy. According to a Feb 1969 DV article, the U.S. Justice Department granted Valachi permission to write his memoirs in 1965. Modern sources note that the Justice Department actively encouraged Valachi to pen his life story, hoping he would reveal useful information about the mob. Valachi then decided to work with author Peter Maas, after Maas wrote an article about him in the May 1963 issue of The Saturday Evening Post , according to the DV item.
       As noted in various news items, the Justice Department, bowing to pressure from Italian-American groups, tried to stop publication of Maas’s book. The groups, including Americans of Italian Descent, argued that the book portayed Italian Americans in a defamatory manner. Maas countered that Valachi’s story was about criminals, not Italian Americans. According to modern sources, the FBI finally negotiated a compromise with the protesters by suggesting that Maas’s book be written in the third person and include the author’s interviews with Valachi. The book, untimately entitled        The Valachi Papers , was published in 1968.
       Onscreen credits note that the picture was “An Italo-French co-production.” In Feb 1969, Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis purchased Maas’s book for $200,000, and according to a Mar 1969 Var article, Valachi received fifty percent of both the film sale and the book’s royalties. News items at this time also reported that Maas also was to work on the film's screenplay. An Apr 1971 Var news item announced that Marcello Mastroianni had been selected for a “top spot” in the film, which De Laurentiis’ company was reportedly co-producing with Castoro Film. Castoro Film does not appear to have been involved in the final production, however. The Paris-based company Euro France Films is listed onscreen and in reviews as the film’s co-production company.
       According to modern sources, De Laurentiis convinced a reluctant Charles Bronson to star in the film by signing him to a three-picture contract, which guaranteed him a million-dollar per-film salary, plus a percentage of the gross and a generous expense account. The Valachi Papers marked Bronson’s third and final collaboration with English director Terence Young. Their previous two films were De la part des copains ( Cold Sweat ), released in France in 1970 and the U.S. in 1974; and Soleil rouge ( Red Sun ), released in Europe in 1971 and in the U.S. in 1972. Modern sources add Franco Ressel, Gianni Medici and Ron Gilbert to the cast.
       Filming took place in New York City and at De Laurentiis’ studios in Rome. In early Apr 1972, De Laurentiis announced that New York filming had been halted prematurely and moved to Rome because of protests from the Italian-American Civil Rights League. Although the group had earlier complained about the screenplay’s inclusion of the terms Cosa Nostra and Mafia, De Laurentiis’ claims of harassment were generally regarded as a publicity stunt. Modern sources contend that the production moved to Rome after it was threatened by members of the Mafia. Pre-production news items, however, indicate that De Laurentiis had planned to film in Rome after location shooting in New York. Modern sources also state that a critics’ pre-release screening in Manhattan was interrupted by a bomb threat placed by the Mafia.
       Paramount Pictures, the film’s original distributor, according to news items, had scheduled a Feb 1973 release. When De Laurentiis insisted that the picture’s opening be moved up so it would overlap with the still-in-release Paramount 1972 blockbuster The Godfather (see above entry) and thereby capitalize on the bigger film’s popularity, Paramount backed out as distributor. News items note that in Aug 1972, after De Laurentiis had failed to reach a distribution agreement with Warner Bros., Paramount briefly reconsidered releasing the picture. According to news items, Columbia Pictures took over as distributor in Sep 1972, and the picture was released nationally in Nov 1972. A Nov 1972 DV news item stated that Columbia offered De Laurentiis “$5,000,000 for 100% producer interest,” but the final details of the deal have not been determined.
       According to an Oct 1972 HR item, De Laurentiis took out a $1 million insurance policy as part of his contractual obligation to indemnify Columbia in the event of slander lawsuits resulting from the picture’s release. Some of the real-life people depicted in the picture were still living, and as noted in HR , De Laurentiis had not obtained releases granting his company permission to portray them on screen. In order to avoid litigation, De Laurentiis reportedly cut a few scenes for the film’s U.S. release.
       Many reviewers compared The Valachi Papers unfavorably to The Godfather , which had been released in Mar 1972. De Laurentiis defended the originality of his picture by noting that he had purchased Maas’s book long before Puzo’s novel was published. Modern sources state that, despite the mostly negative reviews, the picture earned $9,400,000 at the box office during its first eight months of domestic distribution. Shortly after the film’s release, Euro France Films sued De Laurentiis and Columbia for breach of contract, accounting and defamation. Euro France demanded over $13,000,000 in payment, asserting that De Laurentiis and, by extension, Columbia, had violated details of its equity participation in the distribution of the film. According to a Jan 1973 HR article, Euro France also contended that the De Laurentiis company and Sedifo, S.A., a Swiss company, had “defamed the plaintiff by various communications and an advertisement” in the Dec 1972 issue of Var , in which Euro France’s financial claims were questioned. While the case was being decided, some of De Laurentiis’ assets were attached, and the New York Supreme Court forbade Columbia from paying the producer any additional U.S. income. The disposition of the suit has not been determined. In 1974, the MPAA changed the film's rating from R to PG. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
6 Nov 1972
p. 4538.
Daily Variety
28 Feb 1969.
p. 6.
Daily Variety
17 Mar 1972
p. 6.
Daily Variety
21 Mar 1972.
---
Daily Variety
14 Jul 1972.
---
Daily Variety
26 Jul 1972.
---
Daily Variety
19 Sep 1972.
---
Daily Variety
3 Oct 1972.
---
Daily Variety
24 Oct 1972.
---
Daily Variety
11 Nov 1972.
---
Daily Variety
22 Nov 1972
p. 1, 11.
Daily Variety
22 Jan 1973.
---
Filmfacts
1972
pp. 528-30.
Films & Filming
Mar 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Aug 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 Oct 1972
p. 1, 9.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Oct 1972
p. 3, 14.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Jan 1973.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
26 Oct 1972.
---
Los Angeles Times
2 Oct 1963
Section V, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
6 Apr 1972
Section IV, p. 18.
Los Angeles Times
25 Sep 1972.
---
Los Angeles Times
26 Oct 1972
Section IV, p. 26.
New York
6 Nov 1972.
---
New York Times
6 Nov 1972
p. 21.
Time
4 Oct 1963.
---
Time
13 Nov 1972.
---
Variety
5 Mar 1969.
---
Variety
21 Apr 1971.
---
Variety
25 Oct 1972
p. 22.
Variety
22 Nov 1972.
---
Variety
27 Dec 1972.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Terence Young Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st asst dir
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Cam asst
Cam asst
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Set dresser
COSTUMES
Cost des
MUSIC
Mus comp and dir
SOUND
Sd mixer
Rec studios
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Wigs
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Prod mgr
Cont
Prod asst
Prod asst
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book The Valachi Papers by Peter Maas (New York, 1968).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"Love Is Just Around the Corner," music by Lewis E. Gensler, lyrics by Leo Robin.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Joe Valachi: I segreti di cosa nostra
Release Date:
November 1972
Premiere Information:
Chicago premiere: 20 October 1972
Los Angeles opening: 25 October 1972
New York opening: 5 November 1972
Production Date:
began 20 March 1972 in New York and the Dino De Laurentiis Studios, Rome
Copyright Claimant:
Produzione DeLaurentiis International Manufacturing Company, S.p.A.
Copyright Date:
20 October 1972
Copyright Number:
LP49229
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
116, 118 or 123-25
MPAA Rating:
R
Countries:
France, Italy, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
23419
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1962, soon after his arrvial at the Atlanta State Penetentiary, New York mobster Joseph Valachi is accosted by fellow inmates and accused of being a police informant. Furious over the charge, Joe asks to speak with his longtime Mafia boss, Don Vito Genovese, who is serving time for the same drug charges that landed Joe in prison. Joe’s request is refused, however, and after thwarting would-be assassin Salerto in the prison showers, Joe is sent to solitary confinement for protection. Later, Joe beats another convict to death, mistakenly believing the man was about to ambush him. Although prison authorities threaten to remove him from solitary confinement if he does not cooperate with federal investigators, Joe remains silent and again demands to see Genovese. The don, who is treated like royalty by the prison guards, is disbelieving when Joe insists that he did not set Genovese up and, after giving Joe the “kiss of death,” puts a $20,000 price on his head. Hurt and enraged by Genovese’s lack of trust, Joe finally agrees to talk with FBI agent Ryan and is transferred to another prison. There, Joe, now serving a life sentence, shares his past with Ryan: In 1929, Joe, who grew up poor in New York, lands in Sing Sing following a botched robbery. Sharing his cell are tough mobsters Tony Bender and Dominick “The Gap” Petrilli, who tell him about the sprawling criminal enterprise called Cosa Nostra and the warring Italian gangs that dominate the Eastern seaboard. Upon his release, ... +


In 1962, soon after his arrvial at the Atlanta State Penetentiary, New York mobster Joseph Valachi is accosted by fellow inmates and accused of being a police informant. Furious over the charge, Joe asks to speak with his longtime Mafia boss, Don Vito Genovese, who is serving time for the same drug charges that landed Joe in prison. Joe’s request is refused, however, and after thwarting would-be assassin Salerto in the prison showers, Joe is sent to solitary confinement for protection. Later, Joe beats another convict to death, mistakenly believing the man was about to ambush him. Although prison authorities threaten to remove him from solitary confinement if he does not cooperate with federal investigators, Joe remains silent and again demands to see Genovese. The don, who is treated like royalty by the prison guards, is disbelieving when Joe insists that he did not set Genovese up and, after giving Joe the “kiss of death,” puts a $20,000 price on his head. Hurt and enraged by Genovese’s lack of trust, Joe finally agrees to talk with FBI agent Ryan and is transferred to another prison. There, Joe, now serving a life sentence, shares his past with Ryan: In 1929, Joe, who grew up poor in New York, lands in Sing Sing following a botched robbery. Sharing his cell are tough mobsters Tony Bender and Dominick “The Gap” Petrilli, who tell him about the sprawling criminal enterprise called Cosa Nostra and the warring Italian gangs that dominate the Eastern seaboard. Upon his release, Joe returns to crime and leads a small gang of thieves in a silk shop break-in. When one of his men tries to rob some unsuspecting passersby, Joe berates him, delaying his own escape. During the ensuing chase with police, Joe drives his getaway car into the nearby river. He then shows up, dripping wet, at the Italian restaurant where Gap, Bender and Cosa Nostra boss Salvatore Maranzano are dining. Joe disguises himself as a waiter and, with Maranzano’s help, avoids arrest. Impressed by Joe’s quick thinking, Maranzano engages him in a plot to eliminate Steven Ferrigno, one of rival gangster Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria’s men. Joe rents an apartment near Ferrigno’s, and with Bender, Gap and a hired gunman, watches his comings and goings. One night, when several members of Masseria’s gang show up at Ferrigno’s apartment, Joe tries to convince Bender to have them all killed at once. Bender refuses, however, saying that Maranzano ordered only one murder. Ferrigno is slain, and Maranzano, while acknowledging Bender’s unquestioning obedience, commends Joe for his initiative. Soon after, during a meeting with his many underlings, Maranzano formally invites Joe to join his organization. Joe pledges his loyalty, burning a piece of paper in his hand to symbolize his commitment to omerta , the vow of silence. Maranzano announces that Gaetano Reina has been chosen as Joe’s personal goombah , or crime mentor, and assigns Joe to be Reina’s driver. Maranzano then declares that Masseria must be eliminated, as he has refused to make a deal that would end the gang war. Over the next few months, the war rages, until Reina is gunned down. During Reina’s funeral, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, one of Masseria’s lieutenants, shows up and offers to make peace with Maranzano. Maranzano refuses, and two months later, Masseria is slain by Luciano and Genovese, another one of his lieutenants. Soon after, Maranzano, now the undisputed boss of the New York underworld, brings all the mobsters together and spells out rules of conduct for his new “family.” After demanding that his men “forgive and forget,” Maranzano stipulates that no family member may attack another. The well-read Maranzano then picks Joe to be his driver. Ignoring his own rules, Maranzano orders Joe and Gap to kill Genovese, whom he suspects is plotting against him. Before Joe and Gap can carry out the deed, however, Genovese and Luciano arrange for Maranzano’s murder. Worried that he may now be suspected of betraying his boss, Joe asks Reina’s widow to hide him in her attic. While hiding out, Joe spends time with Reina’s daughter Maria, and the two fall in love. Joe is soon cleared of suspicion and, with the blessing of Genovese, his new boss, becomes engaged to Maria. Joe receives a mob promotion, running slot machines in East Harlem, but is also obligated to participate in more killings. One of his victims is the husband of singer Donna Petrillo, to whom Genovese is attracted. Genovese makes Donna his mistress and oversees Joe and Maria’s festive wedding. Years later, Genovese and Luciano are forced to flee New York to avoid arrest. During Genovese’s exile in Italy, Joe grows more “legitimate,” becoming both a restaurateur and a horse owner. At the same time, Gap becomes romantically involved with Donna. One day, Joe angers interim boss Albert Anastasia when he refuses to throw a race in which his horse is running, and the two fight. Although Joe ultimately wins the argument, he knows he has made an enemy of Anastasia. Genovese then returns to America and, aware of Donna’s affair, has Bender castrate Gap. When Joe finds his friend writhing in pain, he reluctantly ends Gap’s misery with a fatal bullet. Later, feeling that his cohorts are “closing in on him” but unable to break from the mob, Joe sends Maria and his young son away while continuing to work for Genovese. The FBI, meanwhile, decide to use Joe to get to Genovese and, posing as city officials, threaten to close his restaurant unless he gives them $30,000. Desperate, Joe asks Bender for a loan and agrees to meet him at the docks, where Genovese’s next shipment of heroin is due. Police raid the docks, and while Joe and Genovese escape, they are later arrested, having been betrayed by both Bender and Donna. Back in the present, Ryan persuades Joe to testify before a Congressional hearing on organized crime. Although Joe, who now has a $100,000 price on his head, appears before Congress without incident, his televised testimony proves more show than substance. Depressed, Joe tries to hang himself in his holding cell, but is saved by Ryan. The agent then convinces Joe that staying alive will be the best possible revenge against the don. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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