Joseph Valachi was an informant in the early 1960s who was the first to acknowledge that organized crime existed. Based on The Valachi Papers by Peter Maas — Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach stopped Maas from publishing his edition of Valachi’s original memoirs, but did allow him to publish a third-person account based upon interviews he had conducted with Valachi — this has Charles Bronson as the protagonist, a man who suddenly finds himself fingered as a snitch when he was keeping omerta. He finally decides that if he’s going to get killed for being a rat, he better just be one and hope to get out of this alive.
A prisoner in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, he’s given the kiss of death by his boss Vito Genovese (Lino Ventura) and becomes paranoid, killing anyone who comes near him after he’s nearly murdered in the shower. Then the film shows the life of crime that Valachi has lived, including his marriage — Jill Ireland plays his wife, of course — and all the people killed along the way.
Dino de Laurentiis had to convince Charles Bronson to take the role, as Bronson turned it down at least twice. He took it when he found out the character got to age from his late teens to early 60s. This movie was pushed up after The Godfather was such a big hit, a movie that Bronson referred to as “The Godfather? that was the shittiest movie I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”
Director Terrence Young may be best known for his Bond movies, but he also did this and Wait Until Dark, two films far removed from the spy genre. He keeps things moving and sometimes the violence is stylized as black and white photos that are discussed or tightly wound moments where blood and gunfire can erupt at any time.
The Kino Lorber blu ray release of. The Valachi Papers has commentary by Bronson expert Paul Talbot, trailers from Germany and the U.S., a TV ad and a radio commercial. You can get this from Kino Lorber.