One of the major events in organized crime history, the 1957 Apalachin summit, a gathering of Mafia leaders at a private estate about 200 miles northwest of New York City, has received very little play in the movies.
Director Danny A. Abeckaser’s feature film Mob Town, in which he also stars as Joseph “The Barber” Barbara, host of the summit near tiny Apalachin, New York, just north of the Pennsylvania border, is in theaters beginning December 13.
The film’s initial screening occurred November 30 in The Mob Museum’s historic courtroom. Abeckaser, known in the film industry as Danny A., attended the premiere in Las Vegas along with screenwriter Jon Carlo and several of the film’s stars, including David Arquette and P.J. Byrne. After the screening, the cast members answered audience questions and then gathered in the Mob Museum’s Underground speakeasy for an after-party.
The movie centers on Sergeant Edgar Croswell, a 44-year-old New York state trooper portrayed convincingly by Arquette as a likable crusader who won’t give up despite obstacles.
“He’s Rocky Balboa,” Carlo said of Croswell. “He’s the underdog.”
By being persistent and following tidbits he stumbles upon, the trooper discovers that dozens of mobsters are meeting at Barbara’s remote ranch house. The sit-down had been called by New York mobster Vito Genovese, played by Robert Davi, to sort out leadership roles and turf battles following the retirement of Mafia leader Frank Costello (sparked by an assassination attempt) and the October 1957 shooting death of Murder Inc.’s Albert Anastasia in a Manhattan barbershop.
Croswell and his trooper sidekick, Vincent Vasisko, played with disarming humor by Byrne, establish a stakeout that spooks the gathered Mafiosi, compelling many to scatter on foot into the surrounding woods.
Until this event, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had been focused mainly on Communists and “subversives,” with the New York office dedicating 400 agents to this effort and only four to organized crime, according to published accounts. The attention that this failed November summit in upstate New York attracted prompted the FBI to take notice and start cracking down on the Mob.
“This meeting changed the Mafia forever,” Carlo said at the Las Vegas premiere.
Mob Town differs from many other gangster movies in presenting a law enforcement official, not a wiseguy, as the central sympathetic character.
“He wanted to make a difference,” Arquette said at the after-party, speaking of Croswell.
Unlike some Mafia movies, Mob Town also uses humor to humanize characters on both sides of the law. In one scene, Davi’s hardened, bossy Genovese character struggles with the pronunciation of Apalachin (pronounced App-uh-lake-in). Also, Stevie Guttman, playing fish merchant Bartolo Guccia, delivers a pitch-perfect funny reply to a demanding Barbara, and, in the process, reminds viewers that comic relief can help in dealing with overbearing personalities.
“Look at any oppressed people,” Guttman said at the party in the Underground. “They use humor to get through life.”
The film also gives prominent play to female characters, presenting the women in this universe as more than the one-dimensional stereotypes sometimes only vaguely present in Mob movies. Jamie-Lynn Sigler, who portrayed daughter Meadow Soprano in the HBO crime series The Sopranos, is Barbara’s wife, a commanding presence balancing his frenetic nature, and Jennifer Esposito plays a strong, stabilizing romantic interest who helps keep the obsessive Sergeant Croswell grounded.
Carlo, the screenwriter, said the intent was to develop characters that viewers can identify with.
“We wanted something relatable,” he said.
The film’s underdog theme is summed up in a line that Esposito’s character reads in a bedtime story to her children from author Conor Dubin’s Journey Through Jellyfish Island.
“Believe in yourself,” she says, reading from the book.
Larry Henry is a veteran print and broadcast journalist. He served as press secretary for Nevada Governor Bob Miller, and was political editor at the Las Vegas Sun and managing editor at KFSM-TV, the CBS affiliate in Northwest Arkansas. Henry taught journalism at Haas Hall Academy in Bentonville, Arkansas, and now is the headmaster at the school’s campus in Rogers, Arkansas.