Adapted from the book by Peter Maas, it tells the true story of Joseph Valachi, who was the first Mafia informant in the early 1960s. The film was produced in Italy, with many scenes dubbed into English.
The movie begins in 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, the first in the history of the Mafia. He tells his life story in flashback.
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 a mobster's wife. Valachi shoots the man 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 outlives Genovese, who dies in prison.
Though using real names and depicting real events, the book 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.
- The Valachi Papers (book) made a brief appearance in an episode of The Sopranos (Season 5, Episode 11). During the extended dream sequence, which takes up much of the episode, Tony and "Finn's Father" (AKA Det. Vin Makazian) go into the bathroom. Finn's Father/Det. Makazian asks Tony "Are you gonna be able to come through on the thing?," meaning taking out Tony B. Tony replies "I've done my homework," reaches into his pocket, and takes out a copy of The Valachi Papers.
The rat who started it all ; For 40 years, Joe Valachi has been in a Lewiston cemetery, a quiet end for the mobster who blew the lid off 'Cosa Nostra' when he testified before Congress in 1963
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