Mafia [2002/II]

This collection of documentaries produced by A&E presents a broad overview of organized crime in America, beginning with immigrants who formed gangs soon after arriving in the late 19th century. The focus is on Italian-American gangsters, though there are mentions of Irish and Jewish gangs, which at various times cooperated with or competed against the Mafia, and one program in the collection presents interesting skeins of conjecture while seeking to document links between the Mob and the Kennedy political dynasty. The documentaries use vintage newsreel footage as well as clips of Hollywood versions of gang life to illustrate the narration provided by Bill Kurtis. Assorted mob experts appear on camera, and though much of the material they present is entertaining, it's hard to say how credible much of it is. A flamboyant "Mob historian," William Balsamo, speaks Brooklynese from behind sunglasses, and at times his scholarly insights could almost pass for the wisecracking Senate testimony of Willi Cicci in Godfather: Part II. Despite some sensationalistic excess, these programs do tell the generally accepted story of how organized crime boomed during Prohibition, infiltrated labor unions, and eventually found a gold mine in Las Vegas following World War II. --Robert J. McNamara

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