THE VALACHI PAPERS, starring Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland and the casting files of Cinecitta, Rome. Directed by Terence Young. Certificate ‘X’. Released by Cinema International.
You can tell by the glint in the eyes of people in Wardour Street that the time will come when Britain’s ailing movie industry will catch up with the latest craze in tinsel town — mafiamania.
Now that The Godfather has made a killing (metaphorical) it seems everyone from Burbank to Palermo is making offers that movie-stars can’t refuse, all in the cause of pictures about killing (real).
I can see the day when our own Sid James is cast as Lucky Luciano, Hattie Jacques as Vito Genovese, Kenneth Williams as Al Capone and Barbara Windsor is miscast as Little Caesar.
The awful monotony of Carry On following in the same smutty jokesteps as the last Carry On has now found its parallel.
After the Godfather, The Valachi Papers. After The Valachi Papers, The Godfather Part Two. The way they’re going on the movie production line it’s just as well fruit parfaits are bullet-proof.
When will this reign of terror end? Not, I’m sad to predict, until the public has shown that it won’t go on paying to see old gangster movies warmed over.
Just in case I haven’t made myself clear yet, I didn’t enjoy The Valachi Papers. I’d seen it all before — in The Godfather, newsreel footage of Vietnam, Roger Corman’s St Valentine’s Day Massacre, road accidents, biology experiments, footage of Nazi war atrocities and the like.
To get away with hideous screen violence, a director has to be good. He has to justify the character’s actions in terms of their emotional surroundings. Terence Young — for all that he directed Dr No, From Russia With Love and Thunderball — is not a good director. His Bond movies were the most yawn-worthy of the series.
The Story: Charles Bronson, posing as Joe Valachi, is jailed in a big Mafia-bust. His old boss Vito Genovese decides to give him the kiss of death. Bronson realises that death’s just waiting round the corner for him, so he sings. You mightn’t think Charles has the voice to go into the musical business but this is no Sound Of Music. The singing (a bit of criminal terminology I picked up from the movie) is done in open session of the United States Investigating Committee into the workings of the Mafia – with coast-to-coast television coverage to add to the drama. Bronson is the first person to say ‘Cosa Nostra’ in front of the Committee.
The Valachi Papers claims to be scouts-honour fact as told by Joe Valachi to the FBI, who were investigating the mafia to put the facts and the canaries in front of the Committee.
Most of the movie happens in flash-backs — at the best of times, a trying and facile technique that is used to cover up for lack of a cohesive story — as Valachi/Bronson gives us the dirt on how Cosa Nostra killing contracts are carried out. He did enough.
In these troubled times it’s reassuring that Bronson chooses to marry Jill Ireland this time round (last time they met, in The Mechanic, she was a whore and he was using her.) This time she gets a gold band and still gets used something rotten. Sometimes you just can’t win.
We get a recounting of a large number of murders, seen through Bronson’s eyes as the necessaries of everyday life (and death).
In fact it’s the ponderously told story of the amoral, everyday life of a mafia-killer.
I’ve seen too much blood around for the slow-killings to have any charm for me. Terence Young would have been as usefully employed trying to glorify the Moors murders or a fatal car accident.
Meanwhile back at the Carry Ons. Maybe the Carry On team needn’t find new riches in the family of life, crime and death. Maybe Tinsel Town has reached the Carry On level. Rock bottom.