Political Film Review #608


Sicilian gangsters operated in various Northeastern cities after migrating to the United States in the 1890s, trying to copy the Sicilian Mafia. They smuggled liquor during Prohibition, but started legitimate businesses to cover what they were doing illegally. The Federal Bureau of Investigation mostly cooperated with the Treasury Department to pursue tax evasion cases. Competition between different gangs often erupted in violence, but they merged into a larger network called La Cosa Nostra (Our Thing). In 1951, Senator Kefauver held hearings, subpoenaing Mafia bosses but derived little because they refused to rat on the network. On May 2, 1957, Vito Genovese, ordered Vincent Gigante to kill a rival, Frank Costello. Although Gigante’s shot only wounded Costello, he “retired,” allowing Genovese to take over and rename Costello’s Luciano family after himself. But another mob boss, Alberto Anastasia, then sought to replace Costello as head of the Luciano family, so Genovese arranged his assassination on October 25, 1957. Genovese then asked Joseph “Joe the Barber” Barbara to host a meeting of about 100 members of the Mafia at his estate in Apalachin, New York, on November 14, 1957, to discuss gambling, loansharking, and narcotics trafficking, but more importantly how to divide the illegal operations controlled by Anastasia.

Mob Town, directed by Danny Abeckaser, explains how a local member of the New York State Police, Edgar Croswell (played by David Arquette) interpreted strange movements of Italian visitors to Apalachin as the beginning of something big involving organized crime despite skepticism from his boss. Carmine Galante (Gino Cafarelli), for example, is arrested for driving without a valid driver’s license, though he is soon freed from custody by a mafia attorney. Then someone appears, buying lots of meat and reserving many rooms in local hotels. He then surveils the estate of Joe Barbara (played by the director) just in time to see about one hundred Italians arrive, calls for backup forces and a roadblock, and 60 members of the entourage are arrested, proving for the first time to the FBI how the Mafia is indeed “organized crime.” Toward the end of the film President Dwight Eisenhower calls to praise him. Credits at the end indicate that they were charged with “conspiring to obstruct justice by lying about the nature of the underworld meeting,” found guilty but had their convictions overturned on appeal. Congress responded by passing the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) in 1970. The Political Film Society has nominated Mob Town for best film exposé of 2019.  MH


Iowa-born actress Jean Seberg (played by Kristen Stewart), icon of the French New Wave films, flies from Paris to Los Angeles in 1968. When Hakim Jamal (Anthony Makie) demands to sit in first class, she supports him. When she walks off the plane, members of the Black Panther Party who sat in the economy section are gathering for a photo op, so she joins them, giving their special salute. Meanwhile, the FBI has been keeping track of LA resident Jamal as a domestic terrorist. When Jean visits him, and learns of how they offer educational opportunities, the FBI decides to surveil her, too, since her support, personal as well as financial, appears to legitimize the movement. Ultimately the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover decides to discredit her in several ways, including rumors that she has his child, and her career falls precipitously. Although FBI agent Jack Solomon (Jack O’Connell) is upset over her mistreatment, he is overruled. Later, he tries to apologize, but much too late to be of real help. Much of the film, directed by Benedict Andrews, portrays her joy associating with the Panthers and agony as the FBI closes in on her. Her attempted suicide in the film is then a hint to account for a credit at the end—her later unexplained death. Another title at the end points out that Hoover’s CONTELPRO operation against the Panthers and other groups was later exposed. The Political Film Society has nominated Seberg as best film exposé and best film on human rights of 2019.  MH