THE VALACHI PAPERS: Charles Bronson Gangster Epic Minus The Epic

The underseen VALACHI PAPERS hits Twilight Time Blu-ray

The most entertaining thing about The Valachi Papers is the real-world unfortunate timing of its release as described in film historian Julie Kirgo’s liner notes for this Twilight Time Blu-ray release. Look, I love Charles Bronson. He’s one of my all time favorite movie stars. And the fact that Twilight Time is releasing so many of his films in high definition Blu-ray is the Lord’s work. I adore digging into his back catalogue. I personally dug From Noon ‘Till Three, which I’d never heard of until it hit Blu-ray, and several of Bronson’s all time greats have also been released via this platform (Chato’s Land, The Mechanic, Hard Times, I could go on…). But last month’s release of The Stone Killer left me a little cold due to our current reality. Bronson’s “take charge” cop in that film bending all the rules and treating detainees with abuse just sat uneasy with me. Whereas similar behavior in the over the top Death Wish 3 felt cartoonish, The Stone Killer just felt a little “true blue” for me in the current climate of these United States.

Then along comes The Valachi Papers, a sprawling gangster epic produced by Dino De Laurentis, based on a true story, with prestige written all over it. Too bad, as Kirgo points out, it was released in the shadow of a little film called The Godfather. Also too bad for The Valachi Papers: It just plays boring. Valachi wasn’t biting off of The Godfather. To the contrary, they were developed almost in tandem. One just happened to become one of the greatest motion pictures ever created, and a global phenomenon. The other happened to be The Valachi Papers.

Sadly, I must admit I’m coming at The Valachi Papers from a negative mindset. I’ve seen everything it has to offer before. Maybe Valachi did it first. Hell, maybe it even did it better. But I’ve just seen this story a thousand times from filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, or even the aforementioned Coppola. The Valachi Papers felt like over trodden ground, even with my beloved Bronson in the lead.

This isn’t to say the film is outright bad. It’s a perfectly serviceable gangster story, apparently based on the memoirs of the real life Valachi in the book of the same title by Peter Maas. Valachi is a loyal soldier and lifelong driver for the Cosa Nostra who buys into the honor and code of the family. He just happens to live long enough to see others violate those codes, rise to the top, and then see him as a threat. So he turns state’s evidence and we, as an audience, get to skip around in time and hear Valachi’s whole tale. Bronson is required to play both young and old in the role, and it doesn’t always work. Nor does the device of skipping back and forth in time. It left me feeling distant, and not wrapped up in the immediacy of the story.

Perhaps, as Kirgo suggests, the real meat of this story was in the intimate details of life in the Cosa Nostra. Valachi’s account pulled back a veil that was heretofore unknown to the public. But while certain glimpses into this life were unique to this film (I’ve never seen the ceremony of burning a paper in ones hands as a symbol of entrance into the family, for instance), it otherwise felt like exactly the kind of thing you’ve seen before in dozens of films. There’s a good chance that if I had seen Terence Young’s (Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Thunderball) film in 1972 it would have been a different story. More fresh, shocking, or salacious. It just didn’t offer much here in 2017 beyond another notch towards the completion of Charles Bronson’s entire oeuvre.

The Package

About as barebones as it gets for a Twilight Time release, The Valachi Papers features the signature (and always insightful) liner note essay from Julie Kirgo, and a partial isolated music track. Bronson fans like myself, or gangster film aficionados will want to check this out. Others will likely want to stick to Coppola and Scorsese.

And I’m Out.

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