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THE VALACHI PAPERS (1972) BLU-RAY REVIEW

Saturday, July 15th, 2017

cover

Stars – Charles Bronson, Joseph Wiseman,
Director – Terence Young * Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com and Twilighttimemovies.com

The Valachi Papers starts off inside a dank prison. Colors are drab and muted. Everything seems to be a crappy shade of gray. A few of the prisoners are after Charles Bronson and he is not happy. Fearing for his life and certain he will be hit sooner than later he decides to turn over evidence on his criminal past in return for riding out his sentence under protection in a cozy solitary set up. This is not the slam bang shoot ‘em up and leave ‘em bloody on the streets or hanging off of a fire escape Charles Bronson that we are used to seeing. Based on the Peter Maas book about the real life mobster Joe Valachi who became the first man from the mafia to give state’s evidence. The film has a New York setting and is populated with plenty of recognizable mob names from The Genovese family. Peter Mass also wrote Serpico and King of The Gypsies which became films with Al Pacino and Eric Roberts respectively.

Now make no mistake about it there are plenty of shootings, beatings, and violence … even a castration that will leave you squirming in your seat. This is a pretty intense scene for a PG rating ! The film was originally rated R. I am not sure if anything was cut or someone was persuaded to change their mind. But Terence Young plays this one both for action and a serious telling of the story. Much of the film unfolds in period flashback as we follow Valachi as he moves up from being a driver to a hit man to a bonafide top level gangster. There are plenty of meetings where the mafia style is laid out. At one point Joseph Wiseman (Dr. No) explains the entire system of leadership and authority. He says who runs which terrify and who reports to whom. He is in fact the Capo de Capo the chief of all chiefs. Later on in the film when Genevese feels the true nature of the family is being short changed we see the famous meeting of the gangland bosses in upstate New York at Appalachia. There are plenty of incidents here that resonate from headlines in The New York Daily News or The Post. Director Terence Young who did three early James Bond films ( Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Thunderball) handles the longer running time of 125 minutes and gives the bosses their proper stance but he gets let down a bit by the script and the performances. Some of the Italian accents are not quite on the money. Another thing that takes a lot away from the actor’s work is the excessive use of dubbing.

It’s refreshing to see Bronson play a man who is trapped. We are so used to his being able to muscle out of a situation but here he gets let down by the very people he always depended on. He gets the rug pulled out from under him and can hardly believe it. He plays it well. The scenes with Jill Ireland feel a bit shoe-horned into the film. She’s not very compelling in her scenes with him particularly as they age with some shoddy gray hair and aging lines on their face. The Valachi Papers delivers on the action but takes a deserved place amongst the films that brought a bit more true life insight into the Mob -films like Pay Or Die (1960 ) with Ernest Borgnine and The Brotherhood (1969) with Kirk Douglas. While not at all in the same league as The Godfather which would open eight months later it remains a nice chance to see Bronson take on a different persona.

Video – 1.85:1
The presentation looks fine. Detail is on the soft side but that appears entirely intentional. Many films of this era have a similar style. The film’s look is a curios mix of drab dank muted colors that we see in a lot of the settings and an almost bold feel to the various gangster costumes. A few times the colors on the suits pop as if we were watching a character in the Batman TV series. Bloodshed always gets that bright paint-like red appearance. The look takes away from some of the realism that the film courts. On the other hand the action and violence comes in so often it is like clockwork. Those scenes stand somewhat apart from the rest of the film.

Audio – 1.0 DTS-HD with subtitles offered in English SDH
What hurts this film the most, to my taste is the excessive dubbing. It serves to take you right out of the scenes, especially when we are learning some inside information on what makes the families work.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated music track,
A look back on this one would have been interesting to hear.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Blu-Ray – Good / Excellent

Movie – Good / Excellent