Charles Bronson as Joe Valachi, Mafia soldier
Apalachin, New York, November 1957
Film: The Valachi Papers
Release Date: January 6, 1972
Director: Terence Young
Costume Design: Giorgio Desideri & Ann Roth
“It was a glorious time, before Apalachin,” recalls Ray Liotta’s voice-over as Henry Hill in Goodfellas. For readers not mired in the history of organized crime, Henry was referring to a now-legendary meeting of the American Mafia at the Apalachin, New York home of mobster Joseph Barbara. The summit was organized by powerful New York mob boss Vito Genovese and found more than 100 mobsters from across the country gathering at Barbara’s home on November 14, 1957… sixty years ago tomorrow.
Of course, dozens of silk-suited fat cats in shiny Cadillacs is bound to get attention anywhere, let alone a small census-designated town on the southern border of New York. Local police and New York State Troopers busted the meeting almost as soon as it began, sending scores of gangsters stumbling through the woods in their wingtips in a scene that would be humorously depicted in the opening credits of Analyze This (1998). The actual consequences for the sixty or so men who were detained were negligible, but the greatest impact of the failed Apalachin meeting was that the American public could no longer deny the existence of an organized crime network linked across the nation.
A more straightforward depiction of the Apalachin meeting is seen in The Valachi Papers, the 1972 cinematic adaptation of Peter Maas’ biography of Joe Valachi, the low-ranking soldier in the Genovese crime family who became the first major Mafia informant when he testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on organized crime in October 1963. Valachi would spend the rest of his life in federal prison where he died of a heart attack on April 3, 1971, less than a year before The Valachi Papers was released in theaters. The film was directed by Terence Young, the three-time James Bond director often credited with helping Sean Connery perfect his image as the iconic secret agent, and starred Charles Bronson as Valachi.
What’d He Wear?
After a series of boldly striped three-piece suits in the 1930s sequences, a more mature Joe Valachi tones down his dress for the 1950s sequences with tasteful and well-tailored solid-colored suits in shades of blue and gray. When accompanying his boss Vito Genovese (Lino Ventura) to the Apalachin meeting, Valachi wears a rich navy blue two-piece suit.
The single-breasted suit jacket has notch lapels and a two-button front. Both of the dark blue buttons are interestingly positioned more than an inch from the edge of the jacket.
Valachi’s suit jacket has a welted breast pocket and straight flapped hip pockets placed low on his jacket, in line with the lower of the two front buttons, in addition to a flapped ticket pocket on the right. Each sleeve has two non-functioning buttons spaced apart on each cuff.
The suit’s flat front trousers are appropriately proportioned to rise to Bronson’s waist, meeting the first button of his jacket. He wears them with a black leather belt that has a large silver-toned single-prong buckle.
Martin Scorsese’s gangster films have popularized the long spearpoint collar, and Scorsese has said that these shirts specifically remind him of the “neighborhood guys” from his youth. This collar has earned a plethora of descriptive monikers across the internet – Goodfella collar, Guido collar, Italian collar, Mafioso collar, and Soprano collar to name a few – all generally derived from its pop culture associations.
A year before Scorsese broke onto the scene with Mean Streets, The Valachi Papers dressed its gangsters in these long-collared shirts. Valachi himself wears white shirts with a long point collar that – while less pronounced than those seen in Goodfellas – would still be plenty fashionable for a New York gangster in the late ’50s. Valachi’s shirt also has a front placket, breast pocket, and button cuffs.
At the Apalachin meeting, Valachi wears a navy-on-blue paisley patterned silk tie.
Upon returning to New York City and his restaurant, Valachi wears the same dark blue suit and white shirt but with a different tie best described as a series of closely spaced maroon amorphous shapes, each with a green-gold border, on a dark navy ground.
Valachi wears a gray felt fedora with a wide black grosgrain band, and he carries his gray scale-patterned wool topcoat.
Valachi’s shoes in this sequence appear to be his usual black leather cap-toe derby shoes.
How to Get the Look
- Navy blue wool suit:
- Single-breasted 2-button jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets with right-side ticket pocket, spaced 2-button cuffs, and single vent
- Flat front trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- White dress shirt with long spearpoint collar, front placket, breast pocket, and button cuffs
- Navy patterned silk tie
- Black leather belt with silver-toned single-prong buckle
- Black leather cap-toe derby shoes
- Gray felt fedora with black grosgrain band
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie. Happy #MafiaMonday, folks.
Terence Young, who directed the film, defended the timing of its 1972 release, saying “The Godfather is the most expensive trailer ever made – a trailer for our film!… The Valachi Papers is no ‘spin-off’ trying to cash in on the phenomenal success of The Godfather… we are really much closer to The French Connection. We are the other side of that coin – you could call us ‘The Italian Connection’!”
In fact, one piece of The Valachi Papers‘ marketing collateral cited an NBC Chicago affiliate that asked “Is it as good as The Godfather? The answer is… no, it is better.”
That’s certainly a bold claim and not one that I agree with, but Peter Maas, author of the original The Valachi Papers who sold the rights of his book to make this film would vehemently disagree, actually calling it “one of the worst films ever made.”