Valachi Papers, The (1972): Terence Young’s Crime Actioner, Starring Charles Bronson

Terence Young helmed The Valachi Papers, a fact-inspired crime picture, starring Charles Bronson and Lino Ventura.

Adapted from Peter Maas’ 1960 book The Valachi Papers, it fictionalizes the true story of Joseph Valachi, a Mafia informant.

Bronson plays aging prisoner Joseph Valachi, imprisoned for smuggling heroin. The boss of his crime family, Vito Genovese (Ventura), is also imprisoned there. Certain that Valachi is an informant, Genovese gives him the “kiss of death,” whereupon Valachi kisses him back.

Valachi mistakenly kills a fellow prisoner who he wrongly thinks is a mob assassin. Told of the mistake, Valachi becomes an informant.

The rest of the narrative unfolds in flashbacks, tracing Valachi from a young punk to a gangster associating with bosses like Salvatore Maranzano (Joseph Wiseman).  Valachi marries the boss’s daughter (played by Bronson’s real-life wife Jill Ireland).

Valachi’s rise in the Mafia is hampered by poor relations with his capo, Tony Bender (Guido Leontini). Bender is seen castrating a mobster for having relations with another mobster’s wife. Valachi then shoots the victim to put him out of his misery.

The mayhem and murder continues, with Valachi shown testifying before a Senate committee. He attempts suicide, but the end titles inform us that he had outlived Genovese, who dies in prison.

Initially, Bronson turned the role down–until he found out that his character was required to age from late teens to early 60s. As a bons, he was then given  three-film contract that guaranteed him $1 million per picture plus percentage of the gross.

Though using some real names and events, the film contained fictionalized elements, such as the castration scene; in reality, the mobster was ordered killed, not castrated.

Despite negative reviews, The Valachi Papers was a commercial hit, earning $17,106,087 at the box-office (about $9 million in rentals).


Charles Bronson as Joe Valachi
Lino Ventura as Vito Genovese
Jill Ireland as Maria Reina Valachi
Walter Chiari as Dominick Petrilli (“Gap”)
Joseph Wiseman as Salvatore Maranzano
Gerald S. O’Loughlin as Ryan
Guido Leontini as Tony Bender
Amedeo Nazzari as Gaetano Reina
Fausto Tozzi as Albert Anastasia
Pupella Maggio as Letizia Reina
Angelo Infanti as Lucky Luciano
Alessandro Sperli as Joe Masseria


Directed by Terence Young
Produced by Dino De Laurentiis
Screenplay by Stephen Geller, Massimo De Rita, Arduino Maiuri, based on The Valachi Papers by Peter Maas
Music by Riz Ortolani
Cinematography by Aldo Tonti
Edited by Johnny Dwyre, Monica Finzi

Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date: October 20, 1972

Running time: 125 minutes