Blu-ray Review: The Valachi Papers - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Long before there was Henry Hill, there was mobster-turned-informant Joseph Valachi. The center of widely-publicized hearings on organized crime in 1963, Valachi's testimony revealed voluminous information about the Mafia and its members. Journalist Peter Maas turned the mobster's revelations into a bestseller, The Valachi Papers, which was in turn adapted by director Terence Young (Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Thunderball) as a movie of the same name.

The Valachi Papers recently debuted on Blu-ray courtesy of reissue specialists Twilight Time as a limited edition release (3,000 units issued). The 1972 film has long since been eclipsed in every way by Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather movies (the first was released just months before Valachi). The real-life hearings provided inspiration for Coppola, whose first two Mario Puzo adaptations are of course all-time classics. However, The Valachi Papers is no mere victim of poor timing. It's simply not comparable to Coppola's films in terms of style, quality of acting, writing, or influence. But as a pulpy, violent B-movie it has emerged as something of a guilty pleasure.
rsz_thevalachipapers_bdbookletcover.png Bolstered by an effectively stoic performance by Charles Bronson as Valachi, director Young utilizes extensive James Bond experience to stage visceral action that hits pretty hard for '72. Very superficially, Valachi's character arc brings to mind what Martin Scorsese would do years later in Goodfellas (superficially because, again, Valachi is pulp rather than a great film). The narrative is framed by scenes involving an older, imprisoned Valachi, we're yanked back in time to see his rise through the ranks as he earns the trust of older mob bosses. Bronson's real-life wife Jill Ireland plays Maria Reina, daughter of boss Gaetano Reina (Amedeo Nazzari), who marries Valachi. Also somewhat paralleling Henry Hill's downfall years later, Valachi's involvement involvement in narcotics ended up sending him to prison and sparking the chain of events that led his testimony.

Ultimately The Valachi Papers doesn't have the sophistication to rise above its programmer status. But the story of Joseph Valachi, often credited as the first Mafia member to publicly acknowledge the crime syndicate's very existence, is worth hearing (however fictionalized it may be here). Twilight Time's Blu-ray offers a fairly solid 1080p presentation that perhaps is lacking a bit in fine detail (a slightly too smoothed-over look suggests a touch of overbearing noise reduction). The DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono (seems to be actually encoded as 2.0 mono) is strong and free of distortion. A partial isolated score (by Riz Ortolani) track is available.

The Valachi Papers is a limited edition Blu-ray with a run of 3,000 copies issued. Ordering information can be found at Screen Archives (Twilight Time's official distributor) or at the official Twilight Time site.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is film and music. His new jazz album Good Merlin is now available.

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