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23 out of 24 people found the following review useful:

One of the greatest pre-Godfather mafia movies

Author: gdnc from United States
17 November 2005

Great historical mafia movie. Terrific depiction of the early infiltration of the "Black Hand" in America. From its earliest beginning, to its deepest & darkest connections back to its Italian roots, the film delivers an in-depth incite into the powers and horrors of organized crime. The storyline and depiction could easily have been a inspiration for the "Godfather". This is a great film in which the cinematography, the acting, the art direction, and the script all coming together to create a seamless masterpiece. Ernest Borgnine as police Lt. Petrosino delivers an inspiring performance. This film is a lost classic that needs to be released in DVD.

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19 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

This One Pays Off

Author: telegonus from brighton, ma
15 April 2003

This 1960 crime drama was directed by Richard Wilson, who had just made a highly successful film on the life of Al Capone the previous year, and does another fine job with this one, set in New York's Little Italy in the early twentieth century. Ernest Borgnine is the hero, a policeman who takes on the dreaded "Black Hand" that was terrorizing shopkeepers and various other innocent, law-abiding people by forcing them to pay "protection money" (or else). It's the usual cops and robbers story, but with more heart than most, and with an unusual setting, stunningly realized by set designer Darrell Silvera. That the story happens to be based on fact gives the movie gravitas. Although it's filmed as melodrama the film is in many respects a semi-documentary of tenement life, much of it sadly true. There's nothing romantic about the Mafia depicted in this movie. They're presented as the brutal thugs they really are, without a trace of sentimentality. The sympathy here is all for the poor people of the streets, and for the man who was their champion.

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18 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

Before "The Godfather"...a chilling account of the Mafia

Author: ( from Deltona, Florida
31 July 2001

In the early 1900's police detective Lieut. Joseph Petrosino (Ernest Borgnine) forms a special squard to combat the menacing Black Hand in New York City in this tough and convincing drama based on actual events. Hardworking store keepers are threatened with torture, death and destruction if they don't come across with "protection" money. Other than Borgnine's fine performance there's good support from Zohra Lampert (an actress who should have risen to the top), Al Austin, John Duke, Renata Vanni and John Marley (Hollywood mogul Woltz in "The Godfather"). The essence of the period is captured with the stunning black and white photography.

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19 out of 20 people found the following review useful:

Great old movie taken from life

Author: barhand2002 ( from Virginia, U.S.A.
1 September 2004

This is a fine old film about the beginnings of the mafia in America. Their nemesis was the Italian squad of the NYPD of which my grandfather was a part and whose notes and case books were used in the making of the film. The mafia at the time was called the black hand and was made up in this country of cheap hoods who mostly ran protection rackets on the small business owners of little Italy. They were backed by the dons in Sicily and the Italian squad's task was to shut the rackets down. They tried hard but the squad was pretty much broken up after the death of Lt. Petrosino in Sicily. This film shows the good and bad guys of the time and what my grandfather called, very un-pc,"one guinea killing another".

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10 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Joseph Petrosino 1860-1909

Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
8 August 2012

Pay Or Die is the story of Police Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino and his struggle against the infamous Black Hand who has moved over from the old country in Sicily and is terrorizing the new Italian immigrants just trying to make it in a new country. The Black Hand is sad to say an unhappy reminder of what they left.

During the course of the film at one point Ernest Borgnine and Zohra Lampert as Mrs. Petrosino drink a toast to President Theodore Roosevelt. It's not just an idle toast. Not told in the film is the fact that as Police Commissioner, Roosevelt recognized the talent in Petrosino and made him a personal protégé and started his climb up the NYPD promotion ladder.

What attracted TR to Petrosino is the no nonsense way he dealt with criminals. Petrosino was not a guy who believed in civil liberties and rights for criminals. He'd be lost in a world of Miranda. But he was as he saw it representing the forces of law and order against a completely ruthless enemy. Just the guy you need to fight a war on terror.

His life and tragic death are dealt with in a way that makes Petrosino terribly human. Zohra Lampert's character who marries Petrosino survived him by decades, dying in 1957. She and Borgnine make a perfect couple on screen. In the supporting cast Robert Ellenstein stands out as an Italian shyster lawyer who gets a really tragic comeuppance.

Pay Or Die is a well constructed albeit B picture without any frills. It holds up well for today and should be in the ranks of great gangster films.

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10 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Movie purchase

Author: lindarae1948 from United States
4 September 2005

I am the great half niece of Lt. Petrosino. I have seen the movie many years ago and have been trying to purchase it on either video or DVD for many years now. Ernest Borgnine did a great job playing the part of Lt. Petrosino. If anyone knows how to purchase this movie, could you please email me? I have tried to contact the Petrosino Lodge (Sons of Italy) without success and have been searching many websites. It is something I would love my children and grandchildren to see and to have. I can remember my Uncle Joe Petrosino, who looks much like Lt. Guiseppe Petrosino, who now all go by Petrosine. Thank you for any input... Please email me at

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8 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

The Italian Squad

Author: joe01-1 from United States
17 November 2006

This movie stars Ernest Borgnine in a straight dramatic role, and he pulls it off quite well. Set in New York City in 1906, newly arrived Italian immigrants are preyed upon by the Black Hand (La Mana Nera), which eventually became the Mafia. Borgnine plays lieutenant Petrosino, an immigrant himself, who realizes that the new immigrants will not cooperate with the police because the police in Italy were corrupt, and they expect the same in their new country. Petrosino realizes that he needs a squad of men - immigrants themselves - who speak the language, and can convince the people that things are different here. The Police Comissioner - who happens to be Teddy Roosevelt - agrees with him, and he gets his Italian Squad. Some violence ensues, as the Squad goes about breaking the power of the Black Hand, including a plot to kill Enrico Caruso, the greatest tenor of his time. Zhora Lampert plays the role of Petrosino's girlfriend, and later wife with excellent restraint, and the final scenes (this is a true story) are wrenching.

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7 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

The "Italian-American" Sherlock Holmes

Author: theowinthrop from United States
27 January 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As I am writing this, it's star, Mr. Ernest Borgnine, has just received a lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild, and is still an active performer in his mid-nineties. With his Oscar for MARTY, and his performances in films like FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, THE CATERED AFFAIR, THE DIRTY DOZEN, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, THE WILD BUNCH, EMPEROR OF THE NORTH POLE, and numerous other titles (and a stint as Lt. Quinton McHale on television) it has been a long and varied and distinguished career - far worthier than the shocked dismissal he received when he got that Oscar. Congratulations Mr. Borgnine.

Definitely one of his high points was this 1960 crime film/biography on the career of the detective on the New York Police force, Lt. Joseph Petrosino. Joe Petrosino is the perfect answer to bigots who only see Italian Americans as linked to crime by being criminals. In fact he was determined to eradicate those very criminals who were preying on the hard working Italian Americans in the United States. And he came damn close to doing so Petrosino made the Black Hand a personal study to the point that he was THE expert on it. He kept up pressure on the mob and undid much of their damage on the Italian-American community. But not all of it - it was too well organized for only this one man to fight. In 1909 he had a bright idea of traveling to Sicily and tracing the leadership of the mob to it's root. Brilliant in concept it was fool-hearty in actual practice. Petrosino was shot to death in Palermo.

The killer was never tried and convicted, and it looks like Petrosino (in following his information) may have been set up.

This version with Mr. Borgnine is pretty close to the actual story of the extortion/murder gang of the BLACK HAND and the Lieutenant's fight against them. And it does go to the tragic conclusion...which is handled so well that repeated watchings make one feel that maybe this time Borgnine will escape. Of course it does not (and sadly could not) happen.

He is recalled for his bravery and struggle and his murder by New York's finest and the people he tried to protect. As for the mob boss in Sicily - he did not quite escape his deserved fate. A more evil man, Mussolini, did not like the mob because they were setting up a rival power group to his. The mob boss was arrested in the late 1920s and found guilty of some criminal charges requiring imprisonment. He was put into a dungeon like prison on an island near the mainland. During World War II Il Duce ordered the prison be abandoned and it's staff and prisoners taken to mainland prisons...except this boss. He was left abandoned and locked up, and either was killed in some Allied bombing or starved to death.

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7 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Pay Or Die Movie

Author: EarthAngel91973 from United States
14 June 2008

To me Pay or die was one of the greatest pictures of all time, I am very sorry it hasn't been shown much since 1969. Ernest Borgnine is one my favorite actors, and this picture really describes what really went on in the early 1900's on the Lower East Side of NYC.

It's a picture that should be shown more often and available on DVD everywhere, and also one you can rent from your video store.

I would like to see this picture shown more often on TV especially on the fox movie channel or Turner Classic movies or even if PBs shows it.

This movie was the best movie pre-Godfather, and Ernest Borgnine gave a great performance as Lt.Joseph Petrocino

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4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Gripping Drama ****

Author: edwagreen from United States
2 August 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Though tragic at the end, this film is a tribute to Lt. Petrosino of the New York City Police Department at the turn of the last century. It is also a fine vehicle for the underrated performance of Ernest Borgnine here. In my opinion, he was far better here than in his Oscar winning role as "Marty" 5 years before.

The film deals with a mobster protection ring in Little Italy. These guys mean business, even if it means that children are their victims. Either you pay up or you die. Terror fills the streets.

Zohra Lampert is very good as the woman who believed in Petrosino and asked him to marry her.

The film shows the impact of the mob and the inability of local citizens to cooperate. They feel that as in Italy, they can't trust the police.

Petrosino is the hero of this very good story. In fact, terror was never so good as depicted in this film. By the way, who sang for Howard Cain? I fondly remember him in television's Hogan Heroes and as Judy Garland's husband in "Judgment At Nuremberg."

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