(director: Menahem Golan; screenwriters: Tamar Simon Hoffs/Wesley Lau; cinematographer: Andrew Davis; editors: Dov Hoenig/Aaron Stell; music: Kenneth Wannberg; cast: Tony Curtis (Louis ‘Lepke’ Buchalter), Anjanette Comer (Bernice Meyer), Michael Callan (Robert Kane), Warren Berlinger (Gurrah Shapiro), Gianni Russo (Albert Anastasia), Vic Tayback (Lucky Luciano), Mary Charlotte Wilcox (Marion), Milton Berle (Mr. Meyer), Jack Ackerman (Little Augie), Louis Guss (Max Rubin), Barry Miller (Lepke as a boy), Vaughn Meader (Walter Winchell), Zitto Kazann (Abe “Kid Twist” Reles), John Durren (Dutch Schultz), Richard C. Adams (Thomas E. Dewey); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Yoram Globus; Warner Home Movies; 1975)
“So-so Prohibition-era mobster tale that’s ripped from the tabloid headlines of the day.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
So-so Israeli filmmaker Menahem Golan (“Hit The Dutchman”/”Death Game”/”Days of Love”)directs thisso-so Prohibition-era mobster tale that’s ripped from the tabloid headlines of the day. It’s written by Tamar Simon Hoffs and Wesley Lau, with an attempt to keep it as accurate as possible (but is filled with misleading and false info, like telling us Lepke rubbed out Legs Diamond when there’s no proof). It tries to do for gangsters what Godfather I and II (1972, 1974) did, but instead of telling about Italians tells about the Jewish gangster. The uninspired biopic at least gets a decent performance from Tony Curtis and, of interest, there’s a cameo from TV’s Uncle Miltie, Milton Berle, who puts aside comedy to go serious on us and play an old man who wears a lot of makeup.
The Lower East Side born Lepke (“Little Louis” in Yiddish)Buchalter (Tony Curtis, 50 at the time) was raised by his sister after his father died and his mother retreated to Arizona for health reasons. The unruly kid started out as a delinquent and by the time he was 22, in 1919, he served two prison terms in Sing Sing. Lepke went from a small-time hood to a big time hood by working his way from extortion to labor racketeering to narcotics trafficking. He eventually, in the 1930s, after much bloodshed (like rubbing out Dutch Schultz), serves the mafia crime bosses by heading Murder, Inc. (named by the press in the 1940s). The Syndicate has such prominent gangsters on their team as Albert Anastasia (Gianni Russo), Lucky Luciano (Vic Tayback) and John Torrio of Chicago, Capone’s associate. Luciano’s associates Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Meyer Lansky formed Murder, Inc., a gang of Brooklyn killers who dealt in murder contracts. The mob allowed Lepke and Anastasia to take over from Siegel and Lansky, who had too much heat on them to continue.
In 1944, Lepke was executed in the electric chair at Sing Sing, after convicted on the testimony by his own gang members who ratted him out. He was the only mob boss to receive the death penalty at the hands of the justice system.
Lepke married Bernice Meyer (Anjanette Comer), who has a respectable Jewish father (Milton Berle). Vaughn Meader, whose known for his JFK impersonation in the early ’60s, turns up as gossip reporter Walter Winchell.
REVIEWED ON 9/20/2010 GRADE: C