• Valachi Papers, The

    Released by: Twilight Time Releasing
    Released on: June 13th, 2017.
    Director: Terence Young
    Cast: Charles Bronson, Joseph Wiseman, Jill Ireland, Lino Ventura
    Year: 1972
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    Based on a 'tell-all' novel that claims to be based on actual mob history by Peter Maas, The Valachi Papers, interestingly enough, had to be filmed in Italy for fear of mafia intervention on American soil. The real life Joseph Valachi, upon whom the stories in this film are centered around, was an actual mafia big-wig and no one involved in making the film wanted to wake up next to a horse’s head because of their commitment to the production.

    Told in flashback by Valachi (played with a wonderful sense of menace by Charles Bronson), and book-ended by his time in custody, the film details his story to a U.S. Federal Agent about his work in the underworld between the years of 1929 and 1961. Employed by a mob boss named Vito Genovese (prolific star of French cinema, Lino Ventura), Valachi is wronged and turns informer on his former employer. It's a dangerous move and because of it a price ends up on his head and violence ensues. There are a few twists and turns along the way but the story moves in a pretty straight forward fashion as we witness Valachi working his way up through the ranks until he's ultimately forced to turn against his fellow hoods and fight for his life. The structure isn't all that different from Scorsese's Goodfellas and it does a fine job of letting us get to know the lead characters as Valachi's story unfolds.

    Stylishly directed by Terence Young (who had worked with Bronson before on a few of his other 'shot in Europe' films, namely Red Sun and Cold Sweat), the film features supporting roles from Bronson's wife Jill Ireland as well as Walter Chiari and Joseph Wiseman (of Dr. No fame). While Young's direction is solid and eye-pleasing (thanks in no small part to the slick cinematography by Aldo Tonti who was also behind the camera for Sergio Sollima's 1970 classic Italian action film, Violent City, also starring Bronson), the supporting cast is comprised of some seriously clichéd Italian mobster types played by bit part actors who don't appear to be very authentically Italian. That being said, Young manages to make excellent use of the period costumes, cars and settings, which gives the very realistic story a strong and authentic feel. There's a lot of detail in the film, from the fashions to the decorations inside some of the restaurant settings and the production feels quite lavish despite a few anachronisms here and there (watch for the World Trade Center buildings in the background of one scene… I'm pretty sure that they weren't there in the 1920s!).

    At over two hours in length, there are a few slow spots and a couple of sub plots that make the film feel a little on the padded side but there's so much that's good about the film that it's very easy to overlook these minor complaints. When the action hits, it's ugly and gritty and violent and Bronson manages to accomplish his climb up the mafia ladder with style and that cold sense of menace that's so easily and rightfully associated with many of his performances. The film also benefits greatly from a classy and emotional soundtrack from Riz Ortolani. As he's proven in the past with his work on such popular Italian genre films as Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust and Tonino Valerii's Day Of Anger, the man knows what notes strike a specific chord with an audience and he uses that expertise quite wisely with his work on this film. While not quite as powerful as Ennio Morricone's compositions for Sergio Leone's take on the American gangster mythos, Once Upon A Time In America, it is damn close and nearly rivals the maestro's work in Leone's swan song.

    Meandering subplots and mediocre supporting actors aside, The Valachi Papers hits you with a great performance from Bronson in a tough as nails role he was born to play and some great camerawork to pull you into the story. It isn't Bronson's best role, but it is reasonably close and is certainly a better than the average entry into his filmography. It also has the dubious honor of being one of the only films in his large body of work to feature a nasty castration scene, so if testicular injury is your bag, and you love Bronson like you should, then this is the movie for you. It's played completely straight, it works on almost every level, and it's a very down to Earth look at the early days of organized crime in America. While Coppola and Scorcese are the first two names that come to mind when you think 'mob movie' it's criminal to sell Young's film short, as it truly is up there with the best of them.

    Worth noting is that the TV print of the film, which was the most common way to see the movie in North America until the DVD release that came out via Sony in 2006, was shorn of any nudity and the castration scene. This version, though it states a PG rating on the back of the packaging, does have the castration scene in it at the ninety minute mark (I'm not 100% positive that this scene is uncut, but if I had to guess I'd say that it was) and also includes some brief scenes of topless female nudity, indicating that this might be the original R rated version of the film. Furthering this is the fact that the murder and 'hit' scenes are all fairly bloody – definitely more so than your average PG film (particularly the hit that takes place in the barber shop).


    Twilight Time debuts The Valachi Papers on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed in the film’s original aspect ratio of 1.78.1 on a 50GB disc. This is a pretty nice looking image, quite clean and nicely detailed if never reference quality. Color reproduction is spot on, the red blood really pops during the shoot outs, while black levels stay nice and deep. There are no problems with any edge enhancement nor are there any problems with compression artifacts to note, but the movie is a bit on the soft side and there might be some minor noise reduction applied here. Fans should be quite pleased with the picture quality on this release, it’s a substantial upgrade over the previous DVD release.

    The only audio option on the disc is a DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track in English. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. No problems here - the dialogue stays clean and clear and easily discernable while the score has good depth and range. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note and the levels are properly balanced.

    Extras are limited to a partial isolated music track, static menus and chapter selection. Inside the clear Blu-ray keepcase, however, is an insert booklet that contains liner note from Julie Kirgo as well as a reproduction of the film’s original U.S. one sheet art.

    The Final Word:

    Bronson is tough as nails in this one and The Valachi Papers is a great crime thriller from start to finish in spite of its few small flaws. Terence Young does a nice job bringing it all together and even when the movie is heading off into strange directions that don't really do it any favors, Bronson is good enough to pull it all together and the great action scenes redeem it in the end. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray release is light on extras but it does look and sound fairly good.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!