Tony Curtis stars as the feared leader of "Murder Incorporated" () in this underworld drama based on the life of Louis "Lepke" Buchalter. Lepke began his criminal career as a petty thief in his teens; a stretch in prison taught him the finer points of life on the wrong side of the law. After getting out of jail, Lepke and his pal Gurrah Shapiro (Warren Berlinger) join a gang who hire themselves out as strikebreakers, and the vicious but clever Lepke soon rises through the ranks.
.... although quite inaccurate! Tony Curtis gives a stellar performance. Overall Lepke is worth watching.
Probably the best of Menahem Golan.
I have seen very few movies of the early career of Golan, very few, if not none at all. I began with this action packed gangster film where Tony Curtis shines, and DIAMONDS, a very good heist feature which unfortunately gets nowhere in a comedy junk. Concerning the eighties era career of Golan, I prefer not to talk about it, as a director or producer. I highly prefer focusing on this one, I repeat, a very good gangster drama, with excellent gunfight scenes. Tony Curtis in an unusual role for him.
A compelling Lepke
The success of The Godfather films I and II certainly led to revival of the gangster film. Golan/Globus of Israel apparently decided that the Italians should not monopolize the epic gangster genre that The Godfather created so the film Lepke was born about the Jewish mob Murder Inc. from the 30s and 40s.
To say that Lepke is factual is to give it way too much credence. Though Thomas E. Dewey as special prosecutor and later New York County District Attorney certainly had Murder Inc under his sites the final conviction that sent Louis 'Lepke' Burkhalter to the electric chair was done in Murder Inc.'s own backyard of Kings County better known as Brooklyn. And Lepke was not the sole voice against a hit on Dewey, Charlie Luciano played here by Vic Tayback had more to do with it than Lepke. And Benjamin Siegel, AKA Bugsy who is a peripheral character in the film is addressed by one of his peers as Bugsy, as was told to us truthfully in Warren Beatty's film by one of his peers, that was one big no-no. It was name that Siegel did not appreciate.
Still Tony Curtis gives a compelling portrait of Lepke who when he wasn't dealing dope and extorting money from businesses for protection or muscling in on unions was by all accounts an exemplary family man. Anjanette Comer plays his wife and Milton Berle his father-in-law and Berle plays it totally straight, no Uncle Milty shtick.
Golan/Globus certainly got the ambiance right, but the fictional Corleones were given an epic quality that Lepke just doesn't have. Francis Ford Coppola certainly had a better vision than Golan/Globus had for Lepke.
But I would still recommend seeing Lepke and then reading about Murder Inc. to see just how factual the film was. And for what Tony Curtis did in the title role.