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The Valachi Papers

The Valachi Papers
File:The Valachi Papers.jpg
Directed by Terence Young
Produced by Dino De Laurentiis
Screenplay by Stephen Geller
Massimo De Rita
Arduino Maiuri
Based on The Valachi Papers 
by Peter Maas
Starring Charles Bronson
Lino Ventura
Jill Ireland
Walter Chiari
Joseph Wiseman
Music by Riz Ortolani
Cinematography Aldo Tonti
Edited by Johnny Dwyre
Monica Finzi
Distributed by Columbia Pictures (USA) Cinema International Corporation (worldwide) Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (2006, DVD)
Release dates
November 3, 1972
Running time
125 minutes
Language Italian
Box office

$8,382,000 (rentals)

The Valachi Papers is a 1972 crime movie starring Charles Bronson and Lino Ventura and directed by Terence Young. Adapted from the book The Valachi Papers (1969) by Peter Maas, it tells the true story of Joseph Valachi, a Mafia informant in the early 1960s. The film was produced in Italy, with many scenes dubbed into English.[citation needed]


The movie begins in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, where an aging prisoner named Joseph Valachi (Charles Bronson) is imprisoned for smuggling heroin. The boss of his crime family, Vito Genovese (Lino Ventura), is imprisoned there as well. Genovese is certain that Valachi is an informant, and gives him the "kiss of death." Valachi kisses him back.

Valachi mistakenly kills a fellow prisoner who he wrongly thinks is a mob assassin. Told of the mistake by federal agents, Valachi becomes an informant, mistakenly recognized as the first in the history of the American mafia.[2] He tells his life story in flashbacks.

The movie traces Valachi from a young punk to a gangster associating with bosses like Salvatore Maranzano (Joseph Wiseman). Maranzano tells a mourner at a funeral, "I cannot bring back the dead. I can only kill the living." Valachi marries a boss's daughter, played by Bronson's real-life wife Jill Ireland.

Valachi's rise in the Mafia is hampered by his poor relations with his capo, Tony Bender (Guido Leontini). Bender is portrayed castrating a mobster for having relations with another mobster's wife. Valachi shoots the victim to put him out of his misery.

The mayhem and murder continue to the present, with Valachi shown testifying before a Senate committee. He is upset with having to testify and attempts suicide, but in the end (according to information superimposed on the screen) outlives Genovese, who dies in prison.


Production and editing

Poorly supervised production and editing of the released version shows a 1930s night street scene, 27 minutes into the film, in which numerous 1960s model cars are parked and drive by. In another scene depicted as occurring in the early 1930s, Valachi, eluding police pursuit, drives a car into the East River just north of the Brooklyn Bridge, where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center are clearly visible against the dawn sky; the Towers were only recently completed when the film was released in 1972.

Fact versus fiction

The film departed from the true story of Joseph Valachi, as recounted in the Peter Maas book, in a number of ways. Though using real names and depicting real events, the movie also contained numerous events that were fictionalized. Among them was the castration scene and the "I can only kill the living" Maranzano comment, which was widely ridiculed by critics.

Popular culture references

  • In Season 1, Episode 21 of the 1970s television sitcom Maude, titled "The Perfect Couple", Walter tells Maude that he loves her more today than he did yesterday. Maude's response is, "Oh, darling. Oh, Walter. You're so sweet and poetic. If Shakespeare had known you, he never would have written Romeo and Juliet. He would have written The Valachi Papers!"
  • In Season 5, Episode 11 of the HBO series The Sopranos, titled "The Test Dream", Tony Soprano holds a copy of the novel the movie is based upon during a complicated dream sequence. He is standing at a urinal next to a corrupt police officer, who questions Tony's resolve in taking action. Tony holds up a copy of the book and replies, "I've done my homework."


The Valachi Papers was released on DVD on January 3, 2006 by Sony Pictures Home Video.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "The Valachi Papers, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 21, 2012. 
  2. ^ Author/historian Mike Dash documents cases of earlier mafia informants in First Family (2009)

External links