A Successfully Adapted Immigrant

The Adventures of Lieutenant Petrosino
R: Sidney M. Goldin. P: Feature Photoplay Company. USA 1912
Print: EYE (Desmet collection)
Dutch titles

“The story of Lt. Joseph Petrosino, an Italian-American New York City police detective, who was assigned to investigate the Sicilian Mafia, which was beginning to become a major problem in New York. He did such a good job that the city sent him to Sicily to gather information on the Sicily/New York Mafia connections. He was murdered in Palermo by Mafia gunmen. The 1960 film Pay or Die! (1960) starring Ernest Borgnine was also based on his life.”

“Mafia bosses weren’t romanticized until The Godfather (1972). You can go back to the early silent films The Black Hand (1906) and The Adventures of Lieutenant Petrosino (1912) and notice that Mafiosi were illiterate thugs, and in various forms this was the pattern for decades. In the 1930s they weren’t just thugs, but sexually immoral too. In Little Caesar (1931) the protagonist played by Edward G. Robinson was a brutal mobster with homosexual tendencies and Scarface (1932), the character played by Paul Muni had a foreign accent and appeared to have been in love with his sister. Muni’s role of Antonio “Tony” Camote was clearly based on Al Capone, who was born in Brooklyn without a hint of incestual attraction to his sister. Robinson again played a thuggish gangster in 1948’s Key Largo.”
Richard Warner

“Petrosino may easily dress up as a shady Sicilian Mafioso, but the masquerade will not corrupt his moral character. Visible evidence of the hero’s inner morality includes his professional achievements, his financial prosperity, and, last but not least, his domestic bliss. There are no scenes of jealousy or excess in his home. His theatrical gesticulations and unbridled passion for abundant food are all that remains of his Italienness, domesticated and landscaped by the middle-class décor of his American house. He is a model of the successfully adapted (yet never completely assimilated) Italian immigrant, whose violent death augments his inspiring biography in the way immigrants allegedly best understood – through the emotional cogency and moral clarity of the melodrama.”
Giorgio Bertellini: Italy in Early American Cinema: Race, Landscape, and the Picturesque. Indiana University Press 2010, p. 202

Life and Death of the New York police officer Joseph “Joe” Petrosino (1860-1909)