powered by AFI
DVDs from TCM Shop
According to a statement in the opening credits, the film is "based on the life of an authentic American hero, Lieut. Joseph Petrosino, New York Police Force. Events of 1906-1909." The Black Hand was a group of petty extortionists who victimized primarily lower-class Italians in a number of American cities during the early twentieth century. Although Petrosino, who emigrated to the United States from Salerno at age thirteen, never believed that the thugs who extorted money from poor immigrants in Little Italy, a practice common among many urban-based ethnic groups at that time, were tied to the Mafia, the film suggests that he gradually discovered the existence of a powerful crime syndicate that was largely controlled by Mafia dons in Palermo. Petrosino's murder in Palermo in 1909 deeply affected the Italian-American community.
Although the SAB claims that the film is based on Burnett Hershey's short story "Pay-off in Sicily," which appeared in the September 1944 issue of Readers Digest, other information found at the AMPAS Library indicates that the screenplay was not based on "previously published material." According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Murvyn Vye was initially cast to play "Mayor George B. McClellan." A November 4, 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that actor Robert Evans abruptly left the cast of Pay or Die and was replaced by Alan Austin. Although Hollywood Reporter production charts include Robert Shannon in the cast, his appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed. Set decorator Darrell Silvera's name is misspelled "Darrel Silvera" in the onscreen credits.
The street festival depicted in the opening scenes honors Santa Rosalia, a Catholic saint who was believed to have saved Palermo from pestilence. The New York Times review commented that "all the Italo-American faces and dialects in the cast...authentically flavor [the] production." In 1912, Feature Photoplay Co. also released a film about Petrosino and his investigation of The Black Hand, entitled The Adventures of Lieutenant Petrosino (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20).