Color, 1972, 125 mins. 28 secs.
Directed by Terence Young
Starring Charles Bronson, Lino Ventura, Jill Ireland, Walter Chiari, Joseph Wiseman, Gerald O'Loughlin, Amedeo Nazzari, Fausto Tozzi
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Twilight Time (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Kadokawa (Blu-ray & DVD) (Japan RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Koch Media (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL), Divisa (Blu-ray) (Spain RB HD), Mill Creek, Sony (DVD) (US RA NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

The The Valachi Paperssame year Paramount made a killing with The Valachi PapersThe Godfather, another Italian-American mob movie with a more factual basis also appeared in theaters: The Valachi Papers, the first of three Dino De Laurentiis adaptations of non-fiction books by Peter Maas (followed by Serpico and King of the Gypsies). This would be the third and final collaboration in quick succession between star Charles Bronson and director Terence Young on the heels of Cold Sweat and Red Sun, with a great deal of material pulled verbatim from transcripts and other firsthand sources for the story of mafia member and drug dealer Joe Valachi, the first man to break the Sicilian mob's cosa nostra vow of silence and reveal the full extent of its spread across the United States.

In an Atlanta penitentiary, Valachi (Bronson) becomes convinced by authorities and sinister activities inside that mafia boss Vito Genovese (Ventura) plans to have him killed for being an informer. After Genovese delivers the kiss of death during a late-night heart to heart, that self-fulfilling prophecy comes true as Valachi relates the story of his rise through the underworld starting in his teenage years, including his initial oath of silence, his tutelage under kingpin Salvatore Maranzano (Wiseman) in 1930s Brooklyn and his eventual marriage to the connected Maria (Ireland, Bronson's wife and almost constant co-star). Along the way he witnesses and becomes embroiled in extensive brutality, bootlegging, extortion, and intimidation within the mafia, setting the stage for a very public turn of The Valachi Papersevents.

An Italian-French production with interiors shot in Rome and extensive exteriors around New York City (including some great coverage of Brooklyn's historic district), The Valachi Papers is an essential The Valachi Papersmob film anchored by a committed Bronson performance that allows him to appear at several dramatically different ages. The film doesn't skimp on the violence either; though not as extravagantly squib-laden as the Coppola classic, it's often brutal with numerous shootings and an implied castration scene that ended up being censored from several prints on its initial release. As with the majority of European films around that time intended for major export value, the dialogue is all delivered in English with the major leads using their real voices while several supporting performers are looped by a roster of the era's more familiar dubbing voice artists, adding to the charm if you're familiar with the era. Also noteworthy is the dark and moody score by Riz Ortolani, which earned significant support as a vinyl and 45 single release at the time but has been strangely neglected ever since without a CD release in sight.

Following its U.S. theatrical release from Columbia Pictures and a variety of different distributors throughout Europe, The Valachi Papers has been steadily available on home video including multiple VHS and DVD editions around the world, all minus extras but presented in a solid widescreen transfer (including its inclusion in multiple bargain DVD combos from Mill The Valachi PapersCreek). The first Blu-ray appeared as a feature-only release in Japan, then from Twilight Time with only a partial isolated music track as an extra; it also turned up in skimpy editions in Germany and Spain, The Valachi Paperswith a subsequent bargain Blu-ray from Mill Creek as part of a Bronson-themed release with The Stone Killer, Breakout, and Hard Times. The first real special edition finally came along in early 2021 from Indicator on Region B Blu-ray, limited to 3,000 copies and replicating the same solid HD scan initially created by Studio Canal seen on prior releases, looking essentially identical here. The familiar English LPCM 1.0 mono track is here and sounds fine, with optional English SDH subtitles; however, in a nice touch the disc also features the Italian mono track with translated English subtitles, offering an interesting comparison of how it was shown in Italy with sometimes superior voice work for some of the minor actors and a few variations in the dialogue and sound mixing throughout.

One of the big selling points of the disc is a new audio commentary by the world's leading Bronson expert, Paul Talbot, whose stellar work continues here with another excellent and well-informed track that also makes use of his extensive knowledge of mob movie history. From the location spotting to the casting and trivia about Bronson's career at the time, it's thorough and engaging throughout with lots of bits peppered through about the cast, crew, and real-life history. "In the Make-Up Room" (16m45s) features the The Valachi Paperslegendary make-up artist Giannetto De Rossi (Zombie, Dune, The Beyond) recalling his time working for De Laurentiis, the process of working with Bronson on the film's aging process (and the actor's aversion to rubber), The Valachi Papersand a funny story about prank calling cinematographer Aldo Tonti. In "Reviewing the Evidence" (34m25s), screenwriter Stephen Geller covers his career including the origins of Pretty Poison, his big issue with the structure of the finished film, his take on the main character, the one character he fought to keep in the story, the drama that erupted over Ireland's accent, and a very memorable reaction he got to his handiwork from Dino. The 1972 promo short "Valachi: The Violent Era" (6m32s) is a quick but interesting piece featuring interview snippets with Young and Bronson along with excerpts from the real Valachi hearings, which are also presented in greatly expanded form in five segments or as one reel (15m56s) from the 1963 nightly TV broadcasts. A quick bit of rare on-set footage (2m1s) shows Young, Ventura, Wiseman, and Bronson prepping and shooting one interior sequence, followed by the U.S. and German theatrical trailers, a reel of TV spots (1m32s), a 1-minute radio spot, and a gallery of 86 images including promotional and production stills as well as international promotional material. The disc also comes with an insert booklet featuring new liner notes by Pasquale Iannone, press coverage of the real Valachi, critical responses, and excerpts from the Maas' book.

Indicator (Blu-ray)

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Twilight Time (Blu-ray)

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Reviewed on December 28, 2020.