The Untouchables (1987)

the untouchables

“I want this guy dead! I want his family dead! I want his house burned to the ground! I want to go there in the middle of the night and piss on his ashes!”

The Scoop: 1987 R, Directed by Brian de Palma and starring Kevin Costner, Sean Connery and Robert De Niro

Tagline: What are you prepared to do?

Summary Capsule: Tax evasion! And shotguns! An exciting, lethal combination mixes in a tale of two egos: one, a mob kingpin with a baseball bat affection, the other, a wooden acting dummy.

Justin’s rating: I am completely prepared to… order delivery pizza!

Justin’s review: Gangster movies have enjoyed a long run and support over the years, ranging from the 1930’s Little Caesar to the 1970’s Godfather to the 1990’s Goodfellas. This probably has nothing to do with Hollywood being mob-controlled, of course. They’re also one of my least favorite type of films, mostly because they attempt to force the audience to admire and cheer for incredibly bad people. It’d be just like giving a standing ovation to Audit THIS, Sucka! The True Adventures of Our IRS Agents. T

here’s an interesting factor to gangster movies, yes, but I usually find it depressing to follow around corrupted individuals doing wrong things, asked all the while to care about their fates. I simply can’t. There’s no redemption there, no honor, no victory.

The Untouchables, on the other hand, settles comfortably into a 30’s gangster setting but finally gives us some people to root for: the people combating organized crime. As loosely based on the true story of Elliot Ness and Al Capone as PoolMan’s public perception of my cellar-dwelling, rat-taming antics, this film still dishes out admirable (if conflicted) heroes, and ruthless (if multi-faceted) villains.

Let’s just rudely shove Kevin Costner out of our analytical eye right now, shall we? No matter whether his movies are good or bad, the man simply has a paralyzed style of acting. A life-sized Muppet would be more expressive. A Muppet after a rather severe stroke. So while our lead character is more leaden than the content of my tap water, The Untouchables shuffles its deck full of excellent actors, including a cynical Sean Connery and a scene-chewing Robert DeNiro. If you’re going to quote this film, and you really should since it’ll improve your standing with the opposite sex, then chances are it’s going to be from one of these two characters. They’re just that groovy.

In an era of prohibition, where organized crime is on the rise and everyone’s in on the take, Eliot Ness (Costner) arrives in Chicago determined to uphold an unpopular law. Frustrated by corrupt police, Ness recruits street-wise Mallone (Connery), an Italian sharpshooter (Italians rule like a golden horseshoe!), and a nerdish accountant to become the titular Untouchables. Alone against the city and an above-the-law Capone (DeNiro), the Untouchables develop a harder edge to combat the odds.

Brian De Palma marries an overblown score with darker-than-average action (here’s a hint: not all of the good guys make it to the end credits, at least not with a majority of their blood in their body). The action is more exhilarating because of the believable danger to the good guys. We have no trouble accepting that this is a dangerous town — beneath the nightlife glamour are bloody baseball bats and Tommy guns — and it puts the audience to the same question Ness is asked: what would we be prepared to do, for good, in the face of such powerful evil?

As satisfying as the whole film is, the stellar performance of Sean Connery (with some of his most quotable lines ever) and the train station shoot-out (in mostly slow-motion) shine far above the expected effort. And while the historical accuracy of this story is extremely suspect, what The Untouchables does get right is that gangster era feel, with the settings, weapons and oh-so-sweet cars. Only, in this gangster film are we offered hope instead of greed, justice instead of lawlessness, and honking big shotguns instead of little toy cap guns.

“Where… are we… jogging to?” “I dunno… but we’re making… excellent time!”

Intermission!

  • The set for Capone’s personal barbershop at the Lexington Hotel included a number of small items (cologne bottles, shaving brushes) that belonged to the real Al Capone.
  • The gunfight sequence between Ness and Capone’s gang in the train station is an homage to the Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin, in which a naval crew causes a mutiny. This explains why there are many sailors in this scene and the baby carriage falling down the stairs, which also happens in the Russian film. This scene was parodied in Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult.
  • Everyone seen drinking on screen is killed.
  • In the scene on the bridge, the same car’s headlights are shot out twice.
  • The elevator that Wallace and his prisoner get into is the kind with only one set of doors, but it would have to have two openings for Ness to enter it from outside the building.
  • The maple leaf (as seen on the crates of Canadian “whiskey” during the raid) has been a recognized symbol of Canada since the middle of the 19th century, despite its not having been part of the national flag until the 1960s, but the maple leaf design seen on the liquor crates is the stylized 10-point one for the modern-day Canadian flag which did not come into being until 1965.
  • When Ness meets Malone in his apartment, Malone’s collar button is alternately buttoned/unbuttoned between shots.
  • Robert De Niro tracked down the real Al Capone’s original tailors and had them make him some identical clothing for the movie.
  • During scene set in 1930 where Elliot Ness is listening to Amos and Andy on the radio, a studio audience is heard. Amos and Andy did not perform before a studio audience until December 1936. The broadcast we hear is from 16 November 1952.
  • Born in Naples and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Capone was known as “Scarface” because of a knife cut on his cheek. In 1925 he took over a Chicago organization dealing in illegal liquor, gambling, and prostitution from the gangster Johnny Torrio (1882–1970). In the following years he eliminated his competitors in a series of gang wars, culminating in the St. Valentine’s Day massacre of 1929, which won him control of Chicago’s underworld. Convicted of income tax evasion in 1931 and sentenced to 11 years in prison, he was released in 1939 and spent the rest of his life an invalid, crippled by syphilis.

Groovy Quotes

    • Al Capone: I want this guy dead! I want his family dead! I want his house burned to the ground! I want to go there in the middle of the night and piss on his ashes! Malone: You just fulfilled the first rule of law enforcement: make sure when your shift is over you go home alive. Here endeth the lesson.

Malone: I said that you’re a lying member of a no good race.
Stone: Much better than you, you stinking Irish pig.
Malone: Oh, I like him.

Al Capone: Somebody messes with me, I’m gonna mess with him.

Malone: You said you wanted to get Capone. Do you really wanna get him? You see what I’m saying is, what are you prepared to do?
Eliot Ness: Anything and everything in my power.
Malone: And THEN what are you prepared to do? If you open the can on these worms you must be prepared to go all the way because they’re not gonna give up the fight until one of you is dead.
Eliot Ness: How do you do it then?
Malone: You wanna know how you do it? Here’s how, they pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send on of his to the morgue! That’s the Chicago way, and that’s how you get Capone! Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that?
Eliot Ness: I have sworn to capture this man with all legal powers at my disposal and I will do so.
Malone: Well the Lord hates a coward. Do you know what a blood oath is Mr. Ness?
Eliot Ness: Yes.
Malone: Good, cause you just took one.

Malone: You’re muckin’ with a G here, pal!

Mountie: I do not approve of your methods!
Eliot Ness: Yeah, well… You’re not from Chicago.

Malone: [after a plan goes wrong] Oh what the hell. You gotta die of something.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • The Godfather
  • Goodfellas
  • The Untouchables TV series

2 comments

  1. De Palma’s stylish crime-gangster tale is extremely enjoyable in large measure due to the set-pieces and homages to Sergio Leone and Eisenstein, but also to Sean Connery’s great performance for which he deservedly won the Supporting Actor Oscar. Good Review!

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