The Untouchables (film)
|Directed by||Brian De Palma|
|Screenplay by||David Mamet|
|Based on||The Untouchables|
by Eliot Ness and Oscar Fraley
|Produced by||Art Linson|
|Cinematography||Stephen H. Burum|
|Edited by||Gerald B. Greenberg|
|Music by||Ennio Morricone|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$106.2 million|
The Untouchables is a 1987 American crime film directed by Brian De Palma, produced by Art Linson, written by David Mamet, and based on the book of the same name (1957). The film stars Kevin Costner, Charles Martin Smith, Andy García, Robert De Niro, and Sean Connery, and follows Eliot Ness (Costner) as he forms the Untouchables team to bring Al Capone (De Niro) to justice during Prohibition. The Grammy Award–nominated score was composed by Ennio Morricone and features period music by Duke Ellington.
The Untouchables premiered on June 2, 1987 in New York City, and went into general release on June 3, 1987 in the United States. The film grossed $106.2 million worldwide and received generally positive reviews from critics. It was nominated for four Academy Awards; Connery won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
In 1930, during Prohibition, the notorious gangland kingpin Al Capone supplies illegal liquor and has nearly full control of Chicago. Bureau of Prohibition agent Eliot Ness has been tasked with halting Capone's activities, but his first attempt at a liquor raid fails due to corrupt policemen tipping Capone off. He then has a chance meeting with a veteran Irish-American officer, Jimmy Malone, who opposes the rampant corruption and offers to help Ness, suggesting they find a man from the police academy who has not yet come under Capone's influence and still believes in the idealistic aspects of law enforcement. They recruit Italian-American trainee George Stone (birth name Giuseppe Petri) for his superior marksmanship and integrity. Joined by accountant Oscar Wallace, assigned to Ness from Washington, D.C., they successfully raid a Capone liquor cache and start to gain positive publicity, with the press dubbing them "The Untouchables." Capone later kills the gangster in charge of the cache as a warning to his other subordinates.
Wallace discovers that Capone has not filed an income tax return for four years and suggests that the team try to build a tax evasion case against him (as Capone's network keeps him well-insulated from his other crimes). An alderman offers Ness a bribe to drop his investigation, but Ness angrily declines. After Capone's enforcer Frank Nitti threatens Ness's family, Ness immediately moves his wife and daughter to a safe house. In a subsequent raid on the Canadian border, Ness and his team intercept an incoming liquor shipment. They kill several gangsters and capture a Capone bookkeeper named George, whom they eventually persuade to collaborate. Back in Chicago, as Wallace escorts George from the police station to a safe house, a disguised Nitti shoots both of them dead. Ness confronts Capone at the Lexington Hotel after the murders, but Malone intervenes, urging Ness to focus on persuading the district attorney not to dismiss the charges against Capone.
Realizing that police chief Mike Dorsett sold out Wallace and George, Malone forces Dorsett to reveal where Capone's head bookkeeper, Walter Payne, is located. That evening, one of Capone's men breaks into Malone's apartment; Malone chases him out with a shotgun, but falls victim to a Tommy gun ambush by Nitti. Shortly afterwards, Ness and Stone arrive to find Malone mortally wounded; before he dies, Malone shows them which train Payne will take out of town. As the duo await Payne's arrival at Union Station, they see a young mother with two suitcases and a child in a carriage laboriously climbing the lobby steps. Ness ultimately decides to assist her, but the gangsters guarding Payne appear as Ness and the woman reach the top of the stairs, and a bloody shootout takes place. Though outnumbered, Ness and Stone manage to capture Payne alive and kill all his escorts without harm to the mother or the child.
Later, when Payne testifies at Capone's trial, Ness observes that Capone appears strangely calm and that Nitti is wearing a gun in the courtroom. The bailiff removes Nitti and searches him, finding a note from Chicago Mayor William Hale Thompson which effectively permits him to carry the weapon. However, noticing Malone's address written on a matchbook in Nitti's possession, Ness realizes that Nitti killed Malone. Panicked, Nitti shoots the bailiff before fleeing to the courthouse roof, where Ness captures him. After Nitti expresses his contempt for Malone and gloats that he will never be convicted for the murder, Ness pushes Nitti off the roof to his death.
Stone gives Ness a list, taken from Nitti's coat, which shows that the jurors in the trial have been bribed. Behind closed doors, Ness persuades the judge to switch Capone's jury with one hearing an unrelated divorce case. This prompts Capone's lawyer to enter a guilty plea, although Capone is outraged and violently objects. Capone is later convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to eleven years in prison. On the day Capone begins serving his sentence, Ness closes up his office, giving Malone's St. Jude medallion and callbox key to Stone as a farewell present. As Ness leaves the police station, a reporter mentions the probable repeal of Prohibition, asking Ness what he will do in that case. Ness replies, "I think I'll have a drink."
De Niro's research for the role of Al Capone included reading about him and watching historical footage. He also wanted one extra scene written for his character, and time to finish his commitment to the Broadway production of Cuba and His Teddy Bear. Lastly, he wanted to gain about 30 pounds (14 kg) to play Capone; according to De Palma, De Niro was "very concerned about the shape of his face for the part."
A month after the film was released, De Palma downplayed his own role on the script:
Being a writer myself, I don't like to take credit for things I didn't do. I didn't develop this script. David [Mamet] used some of my ideas and he didn't use some of them. I looked upon it more clinically, as a piece of material that has to be shaped, with certain scenes here or there. But as for the moral dimension, that's more or less the conception of the script, and I just implemented it with my skills – which are well developed. It's good to walk in somebody else's shoes for a while. You get out of your own obsessions; you are in the service of somebody else's vision, and that's a great discipline for a director.
De Palma met with Bob Hoskins to discuss the role in case De Niro, the director's first choice for the part, turned it down. When De Niro took the part, De Palma mailed Hoskins a check for his contracted fee of £20,000 with a "Thank You" note, which prompted Hoskins to call up De Palma and ask him if there were any more movies he didn't want him to be in.
The character of the IRS agent Oscar Wallace was partially based on Frank J. Wilson, the IRS criminal investigator who spent years keeping tabs on Capone's financial dealings before laying charges. Unlike Wallace, Wilson was not killed during the investigation, and was later involved in the Lindbergh kidnapping case.
In preparing for his role as Eliot Ness, Kevin Costner met with former FBI agent and Untouchable Al "Wallpaper" Wolff at his home in Lincolnwood for historical context and to learn about Ness's mannerisms.
While the film is based on historic events, most of the film is inaccurate or fictional; the raid at the Canadian border never happened, and neither did the courthouse or railway station shootouts, Ness didn't kill Nitti, (Nitti committed suicide in 1943, twelve years after the trial) and Ness's unit had very little to do with Capone's final tax evasion conviction.
Principal photography began in the summer of 1986 in Chicago, Illinois, where Eliot Ness's story begins with him recruiting his Untouchables team with the intent of taking down Al Capone. In August 1986, Paramount Pictures contacted Garry Wunderwald of the Montana Film Commissioner's Office to find a 1930-period bridge to imply a border crossing between the United States & Canada. Wunderwald suggested the Hardy Bridge, which crosses the Missouri River near the small town of Cascade, southwest of Great Falls.
From October 6–20, the bridge was closed to traffic to film the iconic shootout sequence. Twenty five local residents were cast to ride horseback as Royal Canadian Mounted Police during the scene. The crew then built cabins and summer homes along the river, and 600 trees were brought in from Lincoln and Kalispell areas, and planted in a day and a half. Several 1920s & 1930s-era vehicles were rented from ranchers from Conrad and Great Falls. Actual filming took approximately ten days, but the production staff reserved the bridge for enough time to allow for production delays. Hundreds were allowed to watch filming from a nearby field. Actor Sean Connery (Jim Malone) treated well-wishers and fans openly and cordially, and production was completed shortly after.
The railway station shoot-out is a homage to the "Odessa Steps" montage in Sergei Eisenstein's famous 1925 silent movie Battleship Potemkin, and was parodied in the 1994 movie Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult as a dream sequence.
The Untouchables opened on June 3, 1987 in 1,012 theatres where it grossed $10,023,094 on its opening weekend and ranked the sixth-highest opening weekend of 1987. It went on to make $76.2 million in North America. According to producer Art Linson, the polls conducted for the film showed that approximately 50% of the audience were women. "Ordinarily, a violent film attracts predominantly men, but this is also touching, about redemption and relationships and because of that the audience tends to forgive the excesses when it comes to violence".
The Untouchables received positive reviews from film critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 83% based on reviews from 63 critics, with an average rating of 7.60/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Slick on the surface but loaded with artful touches, Brian DePalma's classical gangster thriller is a sharp look at period Chicago crime, featuring excellent performances from a top-notch cast." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 79 out of 100, based on 16 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A-" on an A+ to F scale.
Vincent Canby of The New York Times gave the film a positive review, calling it "a smashing work" and saying it was "vulgar, violent, funny and sometimes breathtakingly beautiful". Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times praised the film for its action sequences and locations but disapproved of David Mamet's script and Brian De Palma's direction. Hal Hinson, in his review for The Washington Post, also criticized De Palma's direction: "And somehow we're put off here by the spectacular stuff he throws up onto the screen. De Palma's storytelling instincts have given way completely to his interest in film as a visual medium. His only real concern is his own style". Richard Schickel of Time wrote, "Mamet's elegantly efficient script does not waste a word, and De Palma does not waste a shot. The result is a densely layered work moving with confident, compulsive energy".
Ebert singled out the film's portrayal of Al Capone, who is depicted as arrogant and childish to the point of misbehaving in public and in court, as the biggest disappointment of the film, while giving praise to Sean Connery's work. Although Connery was voted first place in an Empire magazine historical poll for worst film accent (since despite playing an Irish-American, Connery's Scottish accent was still very noticeable), he was awarded the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance. Pauline Kael called it "a great audience movie – a wonderful potboiler." Time magazine ranked it as one of the best films of 1987.
American Film Institute
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains:
- AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores – Nominated
- AFI's 10 Top 10 – Nominated (Gangster Film)
A side-scrolling video game, The Untouchables was released by Ocean Software in 1989 on multiple platforms. The game plays out some of the more significant parts of the film. Set in Chicago, the primary goal of the game is to take down Al Capone's henchmen and eventually detain Capone.
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