Narrator: Ron Silver.
The producers of “Loyalty and Betrayal” deliver a vigorous, two-part account of American mobsterism as far as it goes, but the revelations won’t stop presses , and names like Al Capone and Lucky Luciano are no surprise on the guest list. Jolts come with grim anecdotes — and with the observation that, as in any civilized society, it was narcotics that done the mobs in.
Docu jumps highest when witnesses unload directly to the camera, such as writer Sidney Zion or Bee Sedway, Moe Sedway’s straight-from-the-heart widow, or three errant mob heirs, disguised by makeup or shadows. They and other witnesses , armed with hair-curling tales, speak forcibly about life in the underworld.
Overcoated Italian and Jewish entrepreneurs, strutting by in black-and-white archival clips, are traced to an inevitable final scene, usually a grisly still of a corpse on the sidewalk.
Bee Sedway’s forthright account of life among the likes of Meyer Lansky, her husband’s pal Bugsy Siegel (she liked him, she liked most of them) and Luciano rings the bell. With the crisp and clear delivery of the late Thelma Ritter, Sedway unflinchingly stares at the past. “I remember everything,” she asserts; so it seems.
While the docu covers industrial racketeering in both business and unions, it brushes over mob intrusions into politics, government and entertainment. Despite generations of paternal warnings about sticking with sure bets like prostitution and gambling and keeping out of drugs, the latecomers succumbed to the lure.
Though it’s observed that mobs as they were known have vanished, vestiges hang on. A mobster’s granddaughter opines, “My grandfather wasn’t bad like some of these kids who just killed foreigners on vacation for no reason. He killed for a reason.”
Program interpolates familiar newsreel clips, headlines, stock footage and flashes from Warner Bros. features — James Cagney spotted in a brewery dock scene, Ginger Rogers chirping “We’re in the Money”– to define periods. Stark stills like a closeup of Siegel’s bullet-ridden face point up the seriousness of mob operations, if the point still has to be made.
Todd Boekelheide has penned a supportive score, and the editing establishes an intense pace. Nicholas Pileggi, Bill Couturie and Robert Malloy have written a well-organized pair of video essays that may skim over surfaces but unearth personal touches that hit home.