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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Dead Men's Secrets: America and the Mob - Wartime Friends
Dead Men's Secrets: America and the Mob - Wartime Friends
A&E Video // Unrated // June 24, 2008
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Phil Bacharach | posted August 12, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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The Show:

If politics makes strange bedfellows, as the saying goes, then the bedfellows that result from war are downright fetishistic. As outlined in America and the Mob -- Wartime Friends, another solid documentary from The History Channel's "Dead Men's Secrets" series, World War II spurred a bizarre, fascinating partnership between the U.S. government and organized crime.

America and the Mob unfolds from the night of Feb. 9, 1942, when fire swept through the anchored USS Normandie in New York harbor. A French luxury ocean liner, the ship had recently been converted into a troop carrier for U.S. troops. Its destruction fueled Americans' suspicions that the homeland was vulnerable to sabotage.

Those fears were not allayed when federal investigators concluded that the conflagration resulted from human incompetence. Many remained certain that the ship had fallen victim to German saboteurs. Evidently, J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI weren't so convinced, either. Concerns about security at New York harbor led the FBI to enlist the help of the organization that controlled every aspect of the waterfront: the Mafia.

Incorporating a wealth of vintage newsreel footage, America and the Mob chronicles the uneasy alliance that developed between Uncle Sam and such underworld bosses as Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Frank Costello. Decades later, Luciano would tell his biographer that the Mob set the blaze to force the feds to the bargaining table. If the crime boss was telling the truth, the ploy paid off beautifully. Luciano, who was in prison at the start of WW2, wound up with a shortened sentence and a one-way ticket to Italy. The documentary outlines more remarkable developments, too. When Allied forces invaded Sicily, U.S. troops executed orders that helped Mafia dons regain control of the Italian island.

America and the Mob is standard History Channel fare. It is distinguished by a brisk pace, punchy writing and a slightly breathless voiceover narrator. But there are some unexpected gems tucked away in the 60-minute running time. A notable highlight is 1940s-era FBI surveillance footage of a band of German saboteurs; J. Edgar Hoover himself narrates the scheming captured on secret camera. Elsewhere, the doc includes some surprisingly well-preserved color footage of the capsized Normandie.

Best of all is the information itself, much of which was unfamiliar to this reviewer. America and the Mob isn't revelatory, but it is an eye opener regarding one of the lesser-known aspects of World War II.

The DVD

The Video:

The full-frame picture is generally clean and clear. The bulk of visuals features newsreel footage and vintage photographs, so picture quality varies according to the condition of source material. Most of it is well-preserved for its age, but the newsreels invariably have scratches, dirt and grain.

The Audio:

The Dolby Digital 2.0 gets the job done with no fuss. After all, the documentary essentially comes down to the voiceover narration.

Extras:

None.

Final Thoughts:

World War II and organized crime buffs, unite! Dead Men's Secrets: America and the Mob -- Wartime Friends is a compact and fascinating documentary about how the Mafia aided the U.S. war effort -- and how the U.S. reciprocated by aiding the Mafia.

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