In an effort to capitalize on the tremendous success of Francis Ford Coppola's GODFATHER films, wily producer-director Golan (with help from partner Yoram Globus, who serves as executive producer) set out to make the definitive screen biography of notorious Jewish gangster Louis "Lepke"
Buchalter, the only top mobster ever to be executed by the US government. The film follows the gangster from the time he was a youngster committing petty crimes in Manhattan's Lower East Side. Eventually caught, the boy is sent to prison where, during his adolescence, he learns more about crime.
Upon his release, Curtis and his friend, Berlinger, join a gang of strikebreakers. Curtis swiftly rises through the ranks and finds himself in full control of the vicious gang. He soon becomes a force to be reckoned with in the underworld and gains the respect of men like "Lucky" Luciano
(Tayback--a dubious piece of casting) and Albert Anastasia (Russo). When psychopathic gangster "Dutch" Schultz (Durren) ignores the mob's protests and vows to kill District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey (Adams), Curtis has the "Dutchman" killed with full approval from the other top mobsters. Eventually
Curtis moves the operation to Brooklyn and invents "Murder Inc.," an insidious, independent organization that mob rulers can hire to do their killing on approval of the outfit council. The new scheme is a bloody success. With murder turning a profit, Tayback and Curtis enter the drug trade and
earn additional millions. Ironically, the man whose life he helped to save, Adams, goes after the powerful Curtis and actually manages to indict him on a minor charge. Curtis loses his cool and orders the execution of a witness, but his commands drift back to the district attorney's office and he
is arrested. Determined to avoid jail, Curtis jumps bail and goes underground. Leaderless, Curtis' criminal empire begins to crumble. Tayback and the other mob chieftains find the government harassing their operations in an effort to extricate Curtis from the bowels of the underworld. The other
gangsters soon get fed up with the government's meddling and tell Curtis to give himself up or face their lethal wrath. Employing crusading columnist Walter Winchell (Meader) as a go-between, Curtis strikes a deal with J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, giving himself up. The Feds renege on the
agreement, however, and Curtis soon finds himself being taken to the electric chair. Despite several attempts to stay the execution, Curtis is electrocuted. Though certainly one of the more historically accurate real-life gangster screen biographies, LEPKE suffers from a cold, just-the-facts
presentation that fails to infuse the material with life. Curtis is a good choice to play Lepke, but the script never gives him a chance to display any range, intelligence, or insight into the complex man. In the film, Lepke is a one-dimensional gangster who rose through the ranks to a place of
unparalleled power and influence--just like any other low-budget movie gangster, factual or ficitonal. In life, Lepke was a fascinating, intelligent, vicious man whose influence on organized crime is still being felt today. LEPKE offers no new understanding of the gangster or his times and
ultimately fails as a gangster picture because it has nothing new to say.
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- Released: 1975
- Rating: R
- Review: In an effort to capitalize on the tremendous success of Francis Ford Coppola's GODFATHER films, wily producer-director Golan (with help from partner Yoram Globus, who serves as executive producer) set out to make the definitive screen biography of notoriou… (more)