Sunday, September 8, 2013

Murder, Inc.

I've been meaning to do a post on the movie Murder, Inc. since it's been running on what's left of the Fox Movie Channel quite a bit recently. It's got two more airings soon, tomorrow (September 9) at 11:00 AM, followed by another at 9:15 AM on Tuesday, September 10.

Burton Turkus (played by Henry Morgan, not the one who would go on to become Harry Morgan of MASH fame) was a prosecutor in the 1940s who helped prosecute the trials of several contract killers for the Mob; this contract syndicate was known as Murder, Inc.. Turkus eventually wrote a book about the subject, and the material in the book combined with press reports would be fictionalized -- in some cases quite heavily due to the fact that there were people involved in all of this who were still alive and, as this had proved a problem with the filming of Compulsion.

In this fictionalization, Abe Reles (a real person, played here by Peter Falk in one of his first roles) is a hitman hired by Louis "Lepke" Buchalter (David J. Stewart) to deal with a Catskills hotel owner who hasn't been paying the protection racket (Morey Amsterdam). To get at the hotelier, Abe leans on heavily indebted singer Joey (Stewart Whitman) to introduce Abe to the hotel owner. Joey thinks Abe is only going to rough they guy up, much the way Abe has been threatening to rough him up, but in fact, Abe kills the guy. Joey is unsurprisingly shocked, but also has a problem. There's no way he can tell anybody what happened, because Abe will come after him.

Meanwhile, the police, and more importantly the prosecutors, are trying to deal with the crime wave. They too face the problem of witnesses who refuse to testify against the Mob, because witnesses who do so have a distressing way of disappearing. Eventually, however, Joey's wife Eadie (May Britt), having been forced to keep Lepke in their apartment as a sort of safe house, decides to go to the prosecutors and tells about the time that Lepke had spent in their apartment, testimony that links several of the contract killers in Murder Inc. to various killings, and sets off a chain of dominoes.

It's all a bit more complicated than that, simply because you had multiple killers kiling a total of several hundred people in contract killings over the course of a decade, and the movie has to try to distill all of this down to something that can be understood more easily and be presented in under two hours. For the most part the film succeeds, in no small part due to Falk's performance, which earned him a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. There are quite a few twists, although some of them you can see coming: since you know the Mob killed people to keep them from testifying, you know they're going to try to bump off several of the characters here. I don't know quite how accurate this is, but it's certainly interesting.

Murder, Inc. has also received a DVD release.

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