Giuseppe Masseria was born in 1887, Sicily, and died in 1931 at New York. He immigrated to the United States at the beginning of the 20th century, establishing strong bond of friendship with gangs that controlled the Lower East Side of New York City. He started his career at the beginning of the 1920s in association with other Italian and American bandits, killers and burglars of New York, like Nick Morello. After Nick Morello’s death, he formed his own gang, gaining control over all criminal activities in the city in order to amass enormous profits.
Giuseppe Masseria was named friendly Joe, and nicknamed Joe the Boss or “The man who could dodge bullets” for the luck of the devil that assisted him in avoiding bullets. Joe the Boss was without any doubt one of the most important gangsters during the 1930s in New York City. Around the end of the 1920s, he collided with another powerful local Italian gangster, viz. Salvatore Maranzano, for the control of the major rackets of New York, causing a bloody and violent war between the opposite gang factions. Joe the Boss was killed in 1931 by the gang led by Lucky Luciano, which included other well-known gunmen such as Vito Genovese and Albert Anastasia. This time, “the man who could dodge bullets” was out of luck, and he was killed by multiple gunshots in a restaurant at Coney Island.
Michael Karbelnikoff’s “Mobsters” (1991)
Both Joe Masseria and Lucky Luciano’s stories were succinctly narrated in Michael Karbelnikoff’s “Mobsters” (1991). “Mobsters” tells the rise of the most famous Italian and American gangsters during the prohibitionist period in New York, and their rapid expansion from a small illegal business to the whole control of the mob dominated by Sicilian and Neapolitan gangs.
Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel decided that Joe Masseria must be killed. They first won his confidence and then killed him in a well-known restaurant at Coney Island. After eating and drinking their fill, they began to play cards. At one point Charles lucky Luciano stole away and went to the bathroom. At that moment, some gunmen (among them, there were probably Bugsy Siegel, Albert Anastasia, and Joe Adonis) came into the restaurant and shot at Joe Masseria, killing him instantly.
From that moment on Lucky Luciano took full control of the territory, becoming the city’s first chief. The film is notable for the spectacular scenes of violence that stir violent emotions in the audience. On the other hand, violence was the most distinguishing feature of the criminal organization led by Lucky Luciano. So “Mobsters” is one of the bloodiest gangster movies in the history of crime films, and it is an adult film because of its violence and bloodshed.
“Mobsters” was also reputed to be one of the most interesting features of the American mob during the 1930s in New York, giving atmosphere of violent actions that reflects accurately a mentality like that of “Lucky” Luciano, so nicknamed because he was a “lucky man,” because he had been able to survive despite the fact that someone had slit his throat. Then he decided to take his own vengeance, killing all those who attempted against his life. Antony Quinn’s performance was in every particular perfect, playing Joe the Boss with extreme realism.
About the history of Italian gangsters in the United States, see G. T. Harrel, “For Members Only. The Story of the Mob’s Secret Judge,” AuthorHouse, 2009. About “Lucky” Luciano, see Lawrence Block, “Gangsters, Swindlers, Killers, and Thieves: The Lives and Crimes of Fifty American Villains, Oxford University Press, 2004, pp. 137-141.
Film reviews: Caryn James, “Best Films”, The New York Times Film Reviews, July 26, 1991, p. 138: “The idea behind ‘Mobsters’ is so obvious, so commercial, so foolproof, such fun, that it’s a wonder this film, didn’t turn up sooner. It’s ‘Young: Guns,’ but about organized crime. It’s baby gangsters! Take Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel and Frank Costello, cast hot and hunky voting actors in the story of their rise to power and riches, and you’ve got sex, violence […] The film even reveals how Charlie Luciano came to be nicknamed Lucky.”