Cast & Crew
David J. Stewart
Abe Reles and his accomplice, Bug Workman, two cold-blooded killers from Brooklyn's Brownsville district, go to the Garment District to meet with Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, the smooth kingpin of an organized crime syndicate, who offers them a job as the syndicate's hit men. After hiring them to kill Walter Sage, a Catskill resort owner who has been withholding slot machine profits from the syndicate, Lepke designates Mendy Weiss, his right hand man, as Reles' contact. To get close to Sage, Reles enlists the help of down-and-out singer Joey Collins, an old crony of Sage, who owes Reles money. Coerced by Reles' veiled threats, Joey agrees to accompany Reles to the Catskills, where he draws an unsuspecting Sage out into the street and into Reles' murderous hands. Upon returning to the city, Reles visits Joey at the apartment he shares with his dancer wife Eadie and coldly announces that he will kill them both it they tell anyone about the murder. Aghast, Eadie denounces Reles and throws him out. Later, at a soda shop owned by the portly Rose Gorsi, Lt. William Tobin, a police officer determined to put an end to the reign of terror being waged by the syndicate, arrests Reles and takes him to the station house for questioning. When they arrive, however, Lazlo, Lepke's attorney, is already there with an order for Reles' release. Seething with resentment toward Eadie, Reles returns to the apartment when Joey is gone and brutally rapes her. When Joey returns home, the beaten and disheveled Eadie begs him to run away with her. When he refuses out of fear, Eadie becomes outraged and hysterically insists that he leave. Under Lepke's direction, Reles continues his murderous campaign. One day, he appears at the nightclub in which Eadie performs to ask her to reconcile with Joey. Inviting Eadie to meet with Joey, Reles takes her to a luxurious apartment filled with stolen goods and offers it to her and Joey for free. Soon after, when a grand jury impaneled by special prosecutor Thomas Dewey convenes, Lepke decides to hide out from the police at Joey and Eadie's apartment. Once there, Lepke takes control, treating Eadie like a maid and constantly issuing orders to her. Fearful that Joe Rosen, a shop owner he had beaten for failing to pay extortion money, will be called to testify against him, Lepke instructs Mendy to personally kill Rosen. As the New York police department scours the city for Lepke, Albert Anastasia, one of the crime lords, visits Lepke and informs him that the syndicate has voted that he must turn himself in on a reduced charge of interstate commerce crime. Lepke reluctantly consents, but rather than the two-year prison term promised by Albert, is sentenced to thirty years in Leavenworth. After District Attorney Burton Turkus takes over the crusade against Murder, Inc., he enlists Tobin's help in identifying the players. At first cynical about Turkus' ability to withstand political pressure, Tobin eventually agrees to join forces with the district attorney. Lepke, concerned that he can be linked to the Rosen murder, instructs Mendy to put out a contract on the entire Brownsville gang as well as Joey and Eadie. Shell-shocked from her time spent under Lepke's domination, Eadie visits Turkus to recount her life with the killers. Turkus listens in disbelief as she identifies Mendy as Lepke's right-hand man and discloses that the Brownsville Gang served as Lepke's personal killers. After Eadie informs Turkus that Reles is arriving that afternoon on the Baltimore train, Turkus puts her in protective custody and goes to the train station to arrest Reles. Later, as Mendy waits menacingly outside the soda shop to kill Joey, Turkus pulls up and hauls Joey into the police station, shows him photographs of Bugs's murder and warns that he will be next. Upon learning that Reles is in custody, Joey asks to see him. In Reles' cell, Joey announces that Bugs has been killed and then threatens to testify against Reles. Fearing that Joey will incriminate him for murder, Reles agrees to testify against Lepke in exchange for a reduced charge of second degree murder. Over the next six days, Reles furnishes a detailed account of the activities of Murder, Inc., including the fact that Joey overheard Lepke order Rosen's murder. Realizing that Joey's testimony could bring Lepke down, Turkus decides to put Joey and Reles in protective custody and hide them at the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island. Eadie comes there to beg Joey to cooperate, but Joey, afraid of gang land retaliation against his wife, refuses. In tears, Eadie slips out of the hotel, leaving her guards behind, to stroll along a darkened pier, unaware that she is being followed. Suddenly a man springs from the shadows and strangles her. Later that night, as Reles sleeps, an assassin sneaks into his room and tosses him out the window, then drapes a sheet from the window to make it look like Reles died while trying to escape. Just as Turkus' crusade seems lost, Joey decides to rectify his wife's death by testifying against Lepke, who then is finally made to pay for his crimes in the electric chair.
David J. Stewart
Leon B. Stevens
Howard I. Smith
Tony La Marga
William J. Magginetti
Jack Wright Jr.
Best Supporting Actor
Murder, Inc -
So begins Murder, Inc. (1960), the story of the notorious mob hit squad that was based in Brooklyn but served the organized crime syndicate across the entire United States in the 1930s. Based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Burton Turkus, the Brooklyn assistant district attorney who went after the gang, and Sid Feder, it was one of the more factually grounded gangster dramas of the late 1950s and early 1960s, which was a particularly fertile era for low-budget mob pictures. And Murder, Inc. is decidedly low budget, shot in black and white on location in New York and featuring a cast of second-tier studio players and Off-Broadway actors hired in the city. One of those local actors was Peter Falk.
Though fourth billed in the credits, Falk dominates the film as hitman Abe Reles, the real-life Brooklyn mobster whose knack for the business of murder makes him a key part of the new mob division. It was the big break for the young, unknown actor whose only previous big screen credit was a small role in Wind Across the Everglades (1958). Falk called the role "a miracle" in his autobiography. He threw himself into preparations, searching secondhand stores for the right hat and topcoat and rewriting the script to capture the voice and attitude of the wise guys he heard in the pool halls while growing up in Ossining, New York. Director Stuart Rosenberg, a TV veteran making his big screen debut, let him go with it. "He was a top-notch director who reacted to how the movie played," Falk wrote. "What he liked he would leave alone--and he liked the bulk of what I did." The performance launched his career, earning him an Oscar nomination for his performance and bringing him to the attention of Frank Capra, who cast him in Pocketful of Miracles (1961).
Stuart Whitman, a contract player and rising star at 20th Century Fox, takes the lead as Joey Collins, an unemployed singer whose unpaid debt to the mob forces him into becoming a reluctant member of the assassination enterprise. Whitman thought he was getting the role of Abe Reles and only learned that Falk was cast as Reles when he got to the set. "As soon as I got to see the guy in action, I knew he was right for the role," recalled Whitman in 2013. His long-suffering wife is played by Swedish actress May Britt, who had co-starred in The Young Lions (1958) and played Lola-Lola in the 1959 remake of The Blue Angel.
Turkus, who makes his entrance at the halfway mark, is played by Henry Morgan (not to be confused with the prolific character actor Harry Morgan, who was originally billed as Henry Morgan in his big screen appearances), and Simon Oakland--arguably the most well-known actor in the cast--is the New York police detective that Turkus drafts to help him roust the mobsters. Comedian Morey Amsterdam has a small role and the credits proclaim "introducing Sarah Vaughan" for her brief appearance as a nightclub singer. A number of supporting players in small roles went on to major careers, namely Vincent Gardenia (who plays the mob lawyer), Joseph Campanella (a gangster hiding out from the mob), and Sylvia Miles (who made her screen debut in the role of Sadie).
Midway through the production, the Actors Guild called a strike and Rosenberg was ordered to speed up shooting to finish before the strike deadline would shut down all production in a couple of weeks. "The next day he went 30 percent faster," recalled Falk in his memoir. "He was fired that night. I couldn't believe it." Burt Balaban, the film's producer and a director with a couple of B movies to his credit, took over behind the camera but largely stayed out of the way of the production team, according to Falk. They shot up until midnight on the final day, improvising the final scene to get it in the can before the strike. As time ran out, a murder scene slated to play out in the Catskills Mountains was relocated to a city street, grabbed on the fly, and completed just in time before the strike shut everything down. You'd never even know it was supposed to take place in the woods. Rosenberg and Balaban share directing credit on the finished film but it was Rosenberg whose career took off when he directed Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke (1967) just a few years later.
Crime Movies, Carlos Clemens. Da Capo Press, 1997.
Just One More Thing, Peter Falk. Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2006.
Talk with Falk, Arthur Marx. Cigar Aficionado, Nov/Dec, 1997.
The Mafia Encyclopedia, Carl Sifakis. Checkmark Books, second edition 1999.
Interview with Stuart Whitman, recorded at Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs, 2013.
By Sean Axmaker
Murder, Inc -
Murder, Inc. - 1960 Crime Drama Based on the true-life book of lawman Burton Turkus - MURDER, INC. on DVD
Synopsis: The psychotic mob hit man Abe Reles, known as Kid Twist (Peter Falk) uses a loan debt to force unemployed singer Joey Collins (Stuart Whitman) into criminal service. Joey's wife Eadie (May Britt) resists but is raped by Reles. When Reles' boss Lepke Buchalter (David J. Stewart) goes into hiding, Joey and Eadie are made to cook and tend for him in a swank Manhattan safe house. The ruthless Lepke is tricked into turning himself in to investigator Burton Turkus (Henry Morgan) and goes to prison for relatively minor offenses. Fearing that his associates will implicate him in capital crimes, Lepke has his main assassin Mendy Weiss (Joseph Bernard) start killing off the insider witnesses to his murders -- a long list of names that includes Reles, Joey and Eadie.
Noted for its grim violence and good acting, Burt Balaban and Stuart Rosenberg's account of the 30s racket known as Murder Inc. was simplified and sanitized for the screen. Lepke Buchalter at one time employed 200 hired killers and the power and reach of his organization was frightening. Lepke's associate Lucky Luciano had most of the New York rackets tied up and was expanding to the West by sending Bugsy Siegel to Los Angeles. Albert Anastasia was technically the head of the Brooklyn clan, but Lepke's appointment to the head of Murder Inc. gave him a special edge.
Murder, Inc. starts with Lepke's Brooklyn organization winning the 'overall contract' for the mob's dirty work, providing precise, clean and dependable assassinations. The top killer Abe Reles had seized his Brownsville turf by literally burying his competition alive. He was a tough short guy with an inflated ego and no conscience. He sneered at judges and once told a court, "I will take on any cop in the city with pistols, fists, or anything else." Peter Falk plays Reles with a frightening mix of nerve and malice that earned him an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. He performed the same character on a Television drama called The Witness the same year.
Mel Barr and Irve Tunick's script passes over most of the brutal detail in Burton Turkus' book, preferring to show a standard series of mob hits backed by a contrived melodramatic situation. While Stuart Whitman and May Britt play conventional gangster victims, Falk's Reles inhabits his role on a different plane entirely. When he flies into a rage and attacks Eadie, we realize that his entire involvement with Joey was a ruse to get at her. The film isn't about Murder Inc. as much as it covers this fictional husband and wife affected by the killers. The Joey Collins character seems to be loosely based on one Pretty Levine, a garbage truck driver who became a mob flunky after borrowing money to pay his wife's medical bills. Murder, Inc.'s Joey does the same for Eadie. He works for Reles by transporting dead bodies in cars, another detail attributed to Pretty Levine.
Assistant D.A. Burton Turkus is played by Henry Morgan, a television personality popular on talk and quiz shows of the time. He teams with Simon Oakland's detective to put pressure on the mob. Realizing that his boss Lepke has him on a kill list, Falk's Reles turns state's evidence but taunts Turkus with the knowledge that his testimony will be useless without corroboration from another stool pigeon. Joey refuses to cooperate, forcing Eadie to use extreme means to get him to change his mind.
Detractors point to Murder, Inc.'s implication that organized crime is easily toppled when courageous witnesses help dedicated lawmen. The unraveling of the mob only happened because Lepke Buchalter turned against his own organization to save himself; forcing key people like Reles to turn themselves in or be murdered. The film avoids mention of the widespread complicity of judges and the police with mob activities. Abe Reles, for instance was arrested dozens of times and served little time in jail. With the profits from drugs, labor racketeering and extortion, the mob had plenty of money to suborn officials of the law. Murder, Inc. repeats the myth that organized crime is somehow separate from "normal" society, when it obviously thrives on the passive cooperation of the population at large.
The medium-budget picture has many atmospheric night scenes but is short on period detail. Although the events depicted reach from about 1934 to 1941 the film story appears to cover only a few months. Excellent casting compensates, with Joseph Bernard and David J. Stewart especially loathsome as the mob bosses. Among the cast of victims and innocent bystanders is Morey Amsterdam (The Dick Van Dyke Show) as a luckless club owner and young Sylvia Miles and Seymour Cassel as young kids in a diner. Singer Sarah Vaughan sings in one nightclub scene, and a youthful Vincent Gardenia makes a brief appearance as well.
Fox's DVD of Murder, Inc. is a fine enhanced transfer of this good-looking B&W CinemaScope production. Cameraman Gayne Rescher (A Face in the Crowd) must not have had access to the newest 'Scope lenses, for faces tend to distort in close-up scenes. The only extra is a theatrical trailer.
Co-directors Burt Balaban and Stuart Rosenberg keep the pace fast and impart an efficient brutality to the various mob hits depicted. Balaban didn't have a long career, although his gangster film Mad Dog Coll introduced actor Gene Hackman and has become a cult favorite. Stuart Rosenberg was much more prolific in Television work before breaking back into feature directing with Cool Hand Luke seven years later.
For more information about Murder, Inc., visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order Murder, Inc., go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Murder, Inc. - 1960 Crime Drama Based on the true-life book of lawman Burton Turkus - MURDER, INC. on DVD
I'm gonna tell you something about women. I never met one that didn't need a rap in the head, and often.- Abe 'Kid Twist' Reles
The opening and closing onscreen cast credits differ slightly in order. Although the opening credits read "introducing" Peter Falk, Falk first appeared onscreen in the 1958 film Wind Across the Everglades . The picture opens with the following written prologue: "This happened in Brooklyn, the city of churches. The time was the mid-thirties. The story is factual. The people are real." Although the Daily Variety and Variety review note that film's running time at 103 minutes, the ^NYT review lists a 120 minute running time. According to a January 1960 article in Publishers Weekly, Burton Turkus, one of the authors of the book on which the film was based, was the prosecuting attorney in the Murder, Inc. crime syndicate case. The August-September issue of Films in Review notes that the subplot involving "Joey" and "Eadie" was totally fictional and was added for the film, but the rest of the events were true.
According to an August 1959 Daily Variety news item, seven different motion picture producers fought over the rights to the title Murder, Inc. until an arbitration committee of the MPAA finally awarded it to producer Burt Balaban's Princess Production Corp. Although a February 1960 Daily Variety news item stated that Lee Bowman was considered for the cast and Rocky Graziano was signed, neither appeared in the released film. A Hollywood Reporter production chart placed Toni Arden in the cast, but her appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. A July 1960 article in Cue stated that location filming was done in the streets, lots, alleys and tenements of Brownsville, NY. A March Daily Variety news item noted that because of an impending Screen Actors Guild strike, Stuart Rosenburg turned the direction over to Balaban, who then shot around the clock in an effort to finish before the strike began. At that time, Gayne Rescher took over the cinematography from Joe Brun in an effort to speed up filming. The strike lasted from 7 March-April 18, 1960. A March 1960 Daily Variety news item added that filming was completed in late March using non-SAG "doubles" because of the strike.
Murder, Inc. marked the screen debut of singer Sarah Vaughan. Peter Falk was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as "Reles." The 1975 AmenEuro Pictures Corp. film Lepke, directed by Menahem Golan and starring Tony Curtis and Anjanette Comer, also dealt with the activities of Murder, Inc.
Released in United States Summer June 1960
Released in United States Summer June 1960