Along with a cast of actors, real-life former US Federal narcotics bureau agent investigator Charles Siragusa portrayed himself in the film. Siragusa did not play himself as the younger version of him reflecting the real life events in which he had partaken as a younger man but at the more seasoned age that he was in real life when the film was shot. The picture was Siragusa's only ever cinema movie role and he also acted as a technical consultant to the production.
The picture was shot with post-synch sound for the English language version but for the original language version the picture was filmed in multi-lingual languages so the Italian sequences are in Italian and most of the New York sequences are largely in English.
Some American movie posters for the film featured a long preamble that read: "The real story behind Lucky Luciano, the high priest of crime. The detailed account of the world's most powerful gangster who built an empire on a sea of blood. This motion picture dares to name the names . . . dares to show the places . . . dares to dig up the bodies and uncover the man no one could kill".
Norman Mailer once described this film as being "the finest movie yet made about the Mafia, the most careful, the most thoughtful, the truest and most sensitive to the paradoxes of a society of crime".
The film's opening prologue states: "In 1946, America made a gift to the Mafia ! It deported to Italy (from where he came) one Salvatore Lucania, alias Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, kingpin New York racketeer. Sentenced to from 30 to 50 years imprisonment in 1936 on charges brought against him by District Attorney, Thomas E. Dewey, he was paroled - after serving only 9 years - for - 'special services rendered to the United States Armed Forces during World War two', by the same Mr. Dewey, who had since become Governor of the State of New York".
Director Francesco Rosi said of Lucky Luciano in Senses of Cinema's translation of Aldo Tassone's 'Parla il cinema italiano' (1979): "This 'quiet man with the sad eyes' as the Head of the Narcotics Bureau used to call him, apparently lived the life of a pensioner: he was quiet, had his routine, went to the races, the theatre, to restaurants, his dog in his arms. What was in the head of a man like this? What is in the brain of a master criminal? This is what I asked myself as I studied the character of Luciano".
In Senses of Cinema's translation of an interview with film critic Michel Ciment for 'Le Dossier Rosi' (1976), director Francesco Rosi said of Charles Siragusa's war against Lucky Luciano: "He feels like the victim of a conspiracy he can't quite comprehend . . . that someone or something is stopping him from carrying out his work the way he wants to".