Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

LEPKE. AmeriEuro Pictures Corp., 1975. Tony Curtis (Louis ‘Lepke’ Buchalter), Anjanette Comer, Michael Callan, Warren Berlinger, Gianni Russo, Vic Tayback, Mary Charlotte Wilcox, Milton Berle. Director: Menachem Golan.

   Just like the heist film, the gangster film may even be considered a subgenre of the crime film, a wide enough category to safely also include mysteries, police procedurals, thrillers, and what is now referred to as film noir. And within the gangster film genre itself, there can be detected numerous sub-genres.

   Menachem Golan’s Lepke, a biopic of Murder Inc.’s Louis “Lepke” Buchalter can be categorized as an “American Jewish gangster film,” a sub-genre that also includes Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In America (1984) and Barry Levinson’s Bugsy (1991).

   Tony Curtis, at a pivotal point in his career, portrays the title character in a role in which he fit perfectly. His accent, mannerisms, and physicality all serve him well here. There are some moments, such as when Lepke blows his top in front of his men, which are simply thrilling to behold. Curtis had a wide range of acting ability and could convey a lot of meaning with very little expression.

   Unfortunately, the rather flat script overall doesn’t leave Curtis all that much to work with.

   The film, which traces Buchalter’s life from a delinquent Brooklyn childhood to his ultimate execution at Sing Sing just doesn’t have enough tension to make the film nearly as good as it could have been. But Golan, who would go on to produce numerous 1980s action films, nevertheless deserves credit for telling Lepke’s story without sentimentalism. Lepke is neither a complete villain, nor is he a hero. He’s portrayed as deeply flawed individual, a man both constrained and defined by his ethnic and religious background.