Pay or Die (1960)

110-111 mins | Drama | May 1960

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HISTORY

According to a statement in the opening credits, the film is "based on the life of an authentic American hero, Lieut. Joseph Petrosino, New York Police Force. Events of 1906-1909." The Black Hand was a group of petty extortionists who victimized primarily lower-class Italians in a number of American cities during the early twentieth century. Although Petrosino, who emigrated to the United States from Salerno at age thirteen, never believed that the thugs who extorted money from poor immigrants in Little Italy, a practice common among many urban-based ethnic groups at that time, were tied to the Mafia, the film suggests that he gradually discovered the existence of a powerful crime syndicate that was largely controlled by Mafia dons in Palermo. Petrosino's murder in Palermo in 1909 deeply affected the Italian-American community.
       Although the SAB claims that the film is based on Burnett Hershey's short story "Pay-off in Sicily," which appeared in the Sep 1944 issue of Readers Digest , other information found at the AMPAS Library indicates that the screenplay was not based on "previously published material." According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Murvyn Vye was initially cast to play "Mayor George B. McClellan." A 4 Nov 1959 HR news item noted that actor Robert Evans abruptly left the cast of Pay or Die and was replaced by Alan Austin. Although HR production charts include Robert Shannon in the cast, his appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed. Set decorator Darrell Silvera's name is misspelled "Darrel Silvera" in the onscreen credits.
       The street festival depicted in the opening scenes honors Santa Rosalia, a ... More Less

According to a statement in the opening credits, the film is "based on the life of an authentic American hero, Lieut. Joseph Petrosino, New York Police Force. Events of 1906-1909." The Black Hand was a group of petty extortionists who victimized primarily lower-class Italians in a number of American cities during the early twentieth century. Although Petrosino, who emigrated to the United States from Salerno at age thirteen, never believed that the thugs who extorted money from poor immigrants in Little Italy, a practice common among many urban-based ethnic groups at that time, were tied to the Mafia, the film suggests that he gradually discovered the existence of a powerful crime syndicate that was largely controlled by Mafia dons in Palermo. Petrosino's murder in Palermo in 1909 deeply affected the Italian-American community.
       Although the SAB claims that the film is based on Burnett Hershey's short story "Pay-off in Sicily," which appeared in the Sep 1944 issue of Readers Digest , other information found at the AMPAS Library indicates that the screenplay was not based on "previously published material." According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Murvyn Vye was initially cast to play "Mayor George B. McClellan." A 4 Nov 1959 HR news item noted that actor Robert Evans abruptly left the cast of Pay or Die and was replaced by Alan Austin. Although HR production charts include Robert Shannon in the cast, his appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed. Set decorator Darrell Silvera's name is misspelled "Darrel Silvera" in the onscreen credits.
       The street festival depicted in the opening scenes honors Santa Rosalia, a Catholic saint who was believed to have saved Palermo from pestilence. The NYT review commented that "all the Italo-American faces and dialects in the cast...authentically flavor [the] production." In 1912, Feature Photoplay Co. also released a film about Petrosino and his investigation of The Black Hand, entitled The Adventures of Lieutenant Petrosino (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20 ). More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
2 May 1960.
---
Daily Variety
26 Apr 60
p. 3.
Film Daily
27 Apr 60
p. 6.
Filmfacts
1960
pp. 137-38.
Harrison's Reports
14 May 60
p. 79.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Nov 1959
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Nov 1959
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Nov 1959
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Nov 59
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Dec 59
p. 19.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Feb 1960
p. 16.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Apr 60
p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
30 Apr 60
p. 675.
New York Times
27 May 60
p. 22.
The Exhibitor
11 May 60
p. 4701.
Variety
27 Apr 60
p. 6.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Michael Tellegen
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Asst cam
Asst cam
Stills
ART DIRECTOR
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Props
Const supv
COSTUMES
Ward supv
Ward
Ward
MUSIC
Mus ed
SOUND
Sd eng
Sd ed
Sd eff ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Asst to prod
Prod mgr
Unit mgr
Scr supv
Sculptor of St. Rosalia statue
Prod secy
SOURCES
SONGS
Selections from the opera Lucia di Lammermoor , music by Gaetano Donizetti, libretto by Salvatore Cammarano.
DETAILS
Release Date:
May 1960
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 26 May 1960
Production Date:
4 November--mid December 1959
Copyright Claimant:
Allied Artists Pictures Corp.
Copyright Date:
3 May 1960
Copyright Number:
LP16060
Physical Properties:
Sound
Black and White
Widescreen/ratio
1.85:1
Duration(in mins):
110-111
Length(in feet):
10,089
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
19525
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In Manhattan's Little Italy in 1909, a criminal causes a small girl to be seriously injured during a crowded Sicilian-American religious festival. The child's distressed mother accuses her husband of foolishly placing their daughter in danger, but when Lt. Joseph Petrosino, an Italian-American police officer, questions the father about the perpetrator, the frightened man refuses to speak. Joe has been trying to persuade the local victims of a group of extortionists known as La Mano Nera, or the Black Hand, to testify against the thugs, but the business owners who receive written warnings to "pay or die" are too distrustful of the police to cooperate. One day a baker known as Papa Saulino receives one of the dreaded warnings, which are identified by a drawing of a black hand dripping in blood, but his daughter Adelina's urgings that he report the incident fall on deaf ears. The extortionists, angered by Saulino's refusal to pay, destroy the bakery and lock him in the oven, and after he emerges from the hospital, the baker finally tells Joe about the note. Because Adelina is brutally attacked by two Black Hand men, however, Saulino soon withdraws the charges. During a visit with Adelina, Joe reveals his desire to become the first Italian captain on the New York police force and engages the pretty young woman to tutor him in preparation for the required literacy test. Next, Joe asks the New York police commissioner to give him an "Italian squad" of five or six plainclothesmen to patrol the city's Little Italy neighborhood. The commissioner balks at first, remarking that Italians do not seem to "catch on to our ways," ... +


In Manhattan's Little Italy in 1909, a criminal causes a small girl to be seriously injured during a crowded Sicilian-American religious festival. The child's distressed mother accuses her husband of foolishly placing their daughter in danger, but when Lt. Joseph Petrosino, an Italian-American police officer, questions the father about the perpetrator, the frightened man refuses to speak. Joe has been trying to persuade the local victims of a group of extortionists known as La Mano Nera, or the Black Hand, to testify against the thugs, but the business owners who receive written warnings to "pay or die" are too distrustful of the police to cooperate. One day a baker known as Papa Saulino receives one of the dreaded warnings, which are identified by a drawing of a black hand dripping in blood, but his daughter Adelina's urgings that he report the incident fall on deaf ears. The extortionists, angered by Saulino's refusal to pay, destroy the bakery and lock him in the oven, and after he emerges from the hospital, the baker finally tells Joe about the note. Because Adelina is brutally attacked by two Black Hand men, however, Saulino soon withdraws the charges. During a visit with Adelina, Joe reveals his desire to become the first Italian captain on the New York police force and engages the pretty young woman to tutor him in preparation for the required literacy test. Next, Joe asks the New York police commissioner to give him an "Italian squad" of five or six plainclothesmen to patrol the city's Little Italy neighborhood. The commissioner balks at first, remarking that Italians do not seem to "catch on to our ways," but Joe assures him that if his people are freed from their fear of petty criminals, they will work hard to become Americans. Impressed, the commissioner quietly grants Joe's request. With Joe's detectives posing as members of the community, the squad is able to identify and convict a number of Black Hand criminals. One day, beloved Italian opera singer Enrico Caruso asks for protection, revealing that he, too, has received a Black Hand warning. Following Caruso's performance at the Metropolitan Opera that evening, Joe saves the singer from becoming the victim of a car bomb, but nonetheless the city's wealthier Italian-American citizens are convinced that Joe is too poorly educated to lead the squad, and demand his removal. The police commissioner defends Joe, who, despite Adelina's tutoring, fails his sixth academic test for the position of captain. Despondent, Joe ends his visits to Adelina, assuming she will marry her more successful student, the handsome young Johnny Viscardi. Following an attempt on Joe's life, however, Adelina proposes to Joe, and the two are wed. Later, after Joe persuades a jeweler to ignore a Black Hand demand for money, the jewelry shop is bombed, and the child of Black Hand lawyer Luigi Di Sarno is killed while gazing at trinkets through the window. Di Sarno hangs himself, but Joe and Johnny are able to locate the bomber, who reveals that the crime was commissioned by respected citizen Vito Zarillo. On hearing the word "Mafia" in connection with Zarillo, Joe begins to believe what he had earlier considered nonsense: that the Black Hand might be linked to the powerful Sicilian crime organization. He bids an emotional farewell to Adelina and Johnny and travels to Sicily to investigate. In Palermo, Joe learns by searching police records that many of New York's Black Handers, including Zarillo, are wanted for crimes in Italy. This information he sends home, but Joe decides to trust only himself with some shocking evidence that, as he writes to Johnny, confirms his worst fears about the Mafia's presence in the United States. On the night before he is to return home, Joe encounters Don Cesare, the leader of the Mafia, but before he can escape, one of Cesare's henchmen kills him. At Joe's funeral, Adelina sadly tells Johnny that although Joe thought he was ugly, "he was beautiful to me." Johnny hides when Zarillo enters and spits on Joe's body. He then arrests the criminal, whispering, "Joe, we got him." +

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

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.