It was 10 months ago I signed up for Amazon Prime Video. Their business model seems to be to put out a set of select offerings for a period and then replace them with new offerings. Items available on DVD from Amazon and on Amazon video (rent or purchase) sometimes show up for free viewing. I waited for this one to pop up, and with the new year it did. It’s The Untouchables, from 1987 and starring Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro, and Sean Connery. It’s from Paramount Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia.
It’s based on the real-life characters Al Capone (De Niro), Chicago mob boss of the Prohibition Era, and Eliot Ness (Costner), head of a Treasury Department unit with the goal of bringing Capone and others down. The opening scene has Capone getting a shave, surrounded by what appear to be adoring newspaper reporters, hanging on his every word.
Grim reality is quickly established. A store selling beer refuses to buy from Capone. A young girl is blown to bits by a bomb delivered by one of Capone’s enforcers.
Ness arrives at the headquarters of the Chicago police to work with them.
Working with the Chicago cops is like working in a fish bowl, as every move is telegraphed to the mobsters. Ness’ first raid on a supposed liquor warehouse is a bust, as the cargo turns out to be a load of parasols. Very embarrassing.
A despondent Ness encounters foot cop Jimmy Malone (Connery), and later enlists him. He needs honest cops he can count on.
Ness also picks up a recruit,Giuseppe Petri (Andy García), as yet untainted by department corruption. They stage a successful raid, putting them in Capone’s cross hairs. An addition to their team is Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith), a mild mannered accountant with a flair for gunfighting.
Malone has the inside to the Capone organization through a corrupt police contact, and the Untouchables stage a raid on a cross-border liquor shipment. It’s all action.
The raid nets them valuable documentation that can send Capone up for tax evasion. Capone retaliates by murdering their witness and also Malone and Wallace. Capone celebrates by bragging to reporters that the feds have no evidence that can convict him.
Now look at this picture. This is De Niro as Capone. What American politician does this remind you of? How about we do a movie about Donald Trump and have De Niro play the title role?
It all comes to a head. The remaining Untouchables learn Capone’s gang is taking a potential witness out of town, with the real aim to kill him in an ambush at the train station (likely Union Station). Then comes one of the best orchestrated gunfights in American cinema, as Ness and Petri take out Capone’s shooters one by one and save the witness. A baby in a stroller, caught in the crossfire, is kept safe by Petri as he prepares to ice the last remaining shooter.
Ness gets wind that Capone has bought off the jury for his tax evasion trial, and he kills Capone’s star hit man by tossing him off the roof of the courthouse building. Capone goes down screaming as he is dragged off to the slammer.
Yes, a lot of this is overly dramatized.
At the Canadian border the Untouchables work with the RCMP to ambush a liquor shipment at a border crossing. It’s a bridge, so this must be Minnesota. Why the Canadians get involved is not made clear, since Canada has no legal issue with distilling and selling liquor. When the gunfight starts prematurely, the feds mount horses and ride into battle, which battle seems to wind up back at the shack where the feds were waiting in the first place. In between the feds out gun the gangsters, who are armed with Tommy guns and more.
Capone’s gang wants to eliminate their own guy, who can testify against him. How does he do it? He pretends he is going to spirit him out of town on a train, and then sets up an ambush at the train station. Overly complicated?
While Ness and Petri wait at the train station for their quarry to arrive, the situation is made complicated by a woman trying to work a baby carriage (and baby) up a flight of steps. About the time Ness helps the woman get her load to the top of the steps the bad guys arrive, and the gunfight erupts. While guns blaze, the carriage (with baby) starts thumping its way down the steps. It’s a re-creation of the baby carriage scene from Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, but in this case the baby lives.
Eliot Ness was promoted within the Treasury Department following his success against Capone, but his life was generally downhill following. He died in 1957 at the age of 54.
Al Capone entered prison in 1932, at which time he was diagnosed with syphilis. He was released in 1939, but his health continued to decline, and he died in 1947.
The story of the Untouchables was made into a successful TV series that ran from 1959 to 1963.