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According to the film's publicity at the time of first release, Louis 'Lepke' Buchalter was the only ever American mob boss to be executed by the US Government. See more »
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I have the 1975 paperback version of Lepke in my possession, and there are some scenes and characters in the book that never appeared in the movie.
The book opens with Lepke's body being brought out of Sing Sing on a sheet-covered stretcher. After the prison guards put his body in a truck and take it away, the novel then goes to the beginning chapter of Lepke's life.
It is the summer of 1912 in Brooklyn. We meet Lepke and all his associates as teenagers. The book mentions that Lepke was born on February 12, 1897. Lepke's father died suddenly and his mother claims that Lepke "was the death of him".
After Lepke commits his first robbery at a shoestore, he's sentenced to his first prison term at Sing Sing. He gets raped by a convict named Al, and gets beaten up by a convict mob for informing on him.
In 1922, Lepke gets released from prison and goes back to live in his family's old apartment. His mother has moved away to Colorado, and we don't know where his sister is.
Lepke goes to work for a gangster named Augie Orgen. After some disagreemnts with Augie, Lepke guns him down in front of a nightclub. He's quick to also bump off the eyewitnesses to the killing. He has his henchmen run down the club's doorman with their car, and has Augie's girlfriend and a real-life gangster named Legs Diamond killed with ice-pick stabbings. In real life, Diamond was gunned down by members of a rival gang.
Lepke makes friends with Lucky Luciano and Albert Anastasia, but soon things go downhill between them. They try to take over the garment industry, which is Lepke's territory, by exploding a bomb in a clothing warehouse. For a short while they form a union, which is threatened by crusading prosecutor Thomas Dewey. Dutch Schultz says they should kill Dewey before he gets enough evidence on him. Lepke refuses Schultz permission to carry out the hit, and Schultz angrily storms out of the meeting, saying he will do it himself. Apparently this is what led to the murder of Schultz and several of his henchmen at a restaurant in 1935.
Soon Lepke moves up from garments and into the business of illegal gambling. He opens up a slot machine joint, but Anastasia wants control of it, so he has Gino, one of his hoods, plant a bomb in one of the slot machines. A drunken man pulls the lever and the whole place goes kaboom. This starts another war between the Jewish and Italian gangs.
Lepke retaliates by having his men gun Gino down. In the movie, Gino was killed (or injured) by a bomb planted in his dish of spaghetti. Then Lepke gets into the drugs business, which makes Dewey start a crusade to bring him to justice. After Lepke is briefly detained and released by the FBI, he discovers that a shopkeeper named Joe Rosen squealed on him. Lepke has him bumped off, which only intensifies Dewey's crusade.
Lepke goes on the run for several years, and he finally turns himself in after striking a deal between himself and J. Edgar Hoover.
He is eventually convicted on all counts, including murder, and is sentenced to the electric chair.
Lepke is a great movie with a great cast, especially Tony Curtis (in the title role) and Milton Berle (as Lepke's father-in-law). Curtis and Berle both give excellent dramatic performances.
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