I truly think if this film had come out earlier it would today be thought of as a better film. After all, it's FAR better than its current rating of 6.8. That's because 1972 was the same year that "The Godfather" debuted and the utter greatness of "The Godfather" probably overwhelmed "The Valachi Papers"---as both touch on very similar subject matter. The main difference is that "The Godfather" was based fictionalized characters and had a true elegance about the film. "The Valachi Papers" in contrast was a much more straight forward story based on real mob figures--and it's a dandy film.
The film begins in the early 1960s. Mobster Joseph Valachi is in prison and multiple attempts are made on his life. It seems that someone in the organization has talked--and the mob of bosses, Genovese (Lino Ventura) believes it was Valachi. And, not surprisingly, a contract has been placed on Valachi's head. This has the unintended consequence of forcing Valachi to to authorities. Almost all the rest of the film consists Valachi giving his story to the government agent. What follows is a very long story about Valachi's earliest days in the mob (about 1930) up to the arrest that brought him to prison--and a bit beyond.
The story is helped a lot by the films's length--a little over two hours. You'd need at least this much to tell such a long and complicated story. It also helps that Charles Bronson is given some excellent support. Among the many wonderful actors, one really surprised me--Lino Ventura. I've seen him in many French films (mostly Pierre Melville productions) and have LOVED his acting--he plays a great mobster--cold and tough. I never realized that he spoke English so well--everything I've seen him in up until now has been in French. Here, he very credibly plays an Italian-American! The script also was quite good. While not quite as human and interesting as "The Godfather", it sure was good...very, very good.
There's almost nothing negative I could say about the film other than very minor things. Bronson was too old for this role. When the film began he was supposed to be 27--but looked about twice that. Also, a few times anachronistic elements somehow made their way in--such as cars that were from the wrong time period. But, as I said, this is all very minor.Aside from this, a top quality production that deserves more recognition. Gritty, exciting and fascinating as well.
By the way, although IMDb lists the movie as being rated PG, the version I saw was way too bloody and filled with nudity to have been rated PG. The lesbian scene along would have merited a rating of R. Perhaps this was a director's cut or perhaps it was not rated PG or perhaps there were just multiple versions.
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