When Prohibition was the law
And Al Capone Chicago’s king,
The liquor and the violence raw
Pervaded nearly everything.
When Treasury agent Eliot Ness
Arrives to bring Al’s business down,
He fails to make the least progress,
For rackets fill this crooked town.
Considering his efforts vain,
He meets a cop out on the beat.
This James Malone converses plain,
And Ness refuses to retreat.
Soon after, Ness recruits Malone,
Accountant Oscar Wallace, and
Italian novice cop George Stone,
Who plan to make a daring stand.
The four complete a couple raids,
Impounding booze and shooting skulls.
Capone enlists his lethal aides
To slaughter these “Untouchables.”
Ness hopes to put Capone away
For hidden income tax evasion,
But leads and Ness’s men fall prey
To Al’s nefarious persuasion.
When Ness and Stone succeed at last
In capturing Capone’s bookkeeper,
He testifies of misdeeds past,
But Ness perceives that bribes run deeper.
Despite the deck he stacked so well,
Capone is sentenced, thanks to Ness.
Although some valiant lawmen fell,
The justice-minded found success.

The Untouchables isn’t the kind of movie I would expect to enjoy:  it has plenty of foul language and some shockingly violent scenes, which isn’t surprising considering director Brian De Palma’s prior films like Carrie and Scarface. I’m not exactly fond of the gangster genre either, as evidenced by my placement of The Godfather at #300 on my list, due to the acting and production quality rather than the story. Yet, The Untouchables matches its impeccable period sets and costumes and doesn’t just focus on the gangsters but on the coppers too. Whereas acclaimed films like The Godfather and Goodfellas are all about crime bosses’ violent actions leading to their downfall, The Untouchables features the justice-seeking lawmen in addition to the violent criminals. To me, the latter without the former tends to be depressing and excessive, regardless of the artistry with which it is done.

Kevin Costner found a great role in Eliot Ness, displaying both a kind, family sensitivity and a fierce dedication to justice. Sean Connery won his lone Oscar playing shrewd policeman Jimmy Malone, and his final scene with Costner is genuinely moving.  (The two would reunite briefly in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves four years later.) Charles Martin Smith as Wallace and Andy Garcia as Stone round out the quartet of Untouchables, and Robert De Niro owns the slimy arrogance of Al Capone, having already played a young Vito Corleone thirteen years prior.

On an artistic level, the drawn-out arrest scene overuses slow motion, but De Palma’s penchant for long shots is expertly enacted in the invasion of Malone’s home, creating palpable tension, intensified by Ennio Morricone’s Grammy-winning score. The infamous baseball bat scene may be heinous, but it attests to the kind of man running Chicago during Prohibition and why he had to be brought down by any means necessary. It’s based on a true event, though the film frequently departs from the actual accounts of Ness’s success, such as the fact that none of his men were actually killed. Ness’s revenge on Capone’s henchman is both unnecessarily brutal and sickly gratifying, but Capone’s comeuppance is the moment of triumph that The Godfather sorely lacks: good triumphing over evil. The Fugitive is often singled out as a surprisingly exceptional film based on a ‘60s TV series; let’s not forget that The Untouchables achieved that excellence first.

Best line: (Malone) “You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way! And that’s how you get Capone.”

Artistry: 10
Characters/Actors: 10
Entertainment: 9
Visual Effects: 7
Originality: 8
Watchability: 8
Other (violence, language): -2
TOTAL: 50 out of 60

Next: #112 – Ghostbusters II

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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