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The Untouchables

Theatrical poster
Directed by Brian De Palma
Produced by Art Linson
Executive Producer:
Raymond Hartwick
Written by Original Novel:
Oscar Fraley
Eliot Ness
David Mamet
Starring Kevin Costner
Robert De Niro
Andy García
Charles Martin Smith
and Sean Connery
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography Stephen H. Burum, ASC
Editing by Gerald B. Greenberg
Bill Pankow
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) June 2, 1987
Running time 119 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $25,000,000
Gross revenue $76,270,454

The Untouchables is an 1987 American crime-drama film based on the 1959 television series, and follows Eliot Ness's autobiographical account of his efforts to bring Italian-American gangster Al Capone to justice during the Prohibition era. It was directed by Brian De Palma and adapted by David Mamet, and starred Kevin Costner as Ness, Sean Connery as Irish-American beat cop Jim Malone, and Robert De Niro as Capone.

Connery received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film. The film became a solid hit, grossing over $76 million domestically. A prequel, The Untouchables: Capone Rising, is as of early 2010 in pre-production. Directed also by Brian De Palma, the new film's plot details the story of Al Capone's rise to power.



Prohibition in the United States leads to an organized crime wave in the 1920s and early 1930s. Various gangs bootleg vast amounts of alcohol and control their businesses with violence and extortion. The problem is most serious in Chicago, where gang leader Al Capone (Robert De Niro) has almost the whole city (even the Mayor of Chicago) under his control, and supplies low-quality liquor at high prices. Treasury Department agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) is put in charge of leading the crusade against Capone and his empire. Ness's initial strategy is to conduct raids using a large squad of uniformed officers, but these fail due to corrupt members of the Chicago Police Department, who secretly warn Capone's men of Ness's raids and hope that public humiliation will put a quick end to Ness's efforts.

Seeking ideas for a change of tactics, and motivated by a grieving mother whose daughter was killed in an explosion early in the movie, Ness solicits help from Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery), an incorruptible Irish police officer, following a chance encounter one evening. Malone advises Ness to recruit directly from the police academy in order to ensure the officers do not have a chance to come under Capone's influence. An Italian American trainee George Stone, formerly Giuseppe Petri (Andy García) is enlisted, due to his superior marksmanship and intelligence under pressure. Joined by accountant Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith), assigned to Ness from Washington, he has built an incorruptible team, capable of combating Capone.

Their first raid takes place in a local post office, where its storeroom is used to house illegal liquor. Malone, along with most of the police, know where the alcohol is, and know it is left alone because no one wants to provoke Capone and his gang. The raid succeeds without anyone getting killed, though Capone takes his revenge on the foreman later by beating him to death with a baseball bat. As the four pick up steam and become noted by the press, Wallace informs Ness that Capone has not filed an income tax return in four years; therefore, they can try Capone for Tax evasion, if nothing else. The day after the first raid, the Untouchables are visited by a local alderman, who offers them a large sum of money in exchange for their dropping the investigation. Ness angrily rejects the bribe and throws him out, but not before the alderman invents the name "The Untouchables" for them, and tells them that anyone can be assassinated, even them.

Shortly after this, Capone's chief assassin, Frank Nitti (Billy Drago) shows up outside Ness' house and threatens him and his family, driving off before Ness can capture him. Realizing Capone is targeting him and his family, Ness and his team move his wife and daughter to a safer place, and Ness instructs his team to keep a lower profile during the investigations.

During a raid on the Canada – United States border, Malone captures one of Capone’s bookkeepers, George (Brad Sullivan). George refuses to co-operate, until Malone shoots a thug (who was actually already dead) in the mouth to frighten him. Enraged even further, Capone orders his men to hunt down and kill Ness, knowing that with Ness dead, the Untouchables will be finished.

At the police station, the Untouchables are being congratulated when Wallace is escorting George to witness protection. Nitti, disguised as a policeman, shoots and kills them both in the service elevator. Ness is left with insufficient evidence to press charges, and the frustration drives him into challenging Capone in public to a physical fight in front of his son and henchmen at Capone’s headquarters, the Lexington Hotel. Malone intervenes and forces Ness out of the hotel, defusing the confrontation.

Malone tells Ness to stall the prosecutor from dropping the case while he searches for information regarding Capone’s other bookkeepers. He learns about Walter Payne, another bookkeeper, after a brutal fight with his old Irish friend, Mike Dorsett, the corrupt police chief who had sold out Wallace and George and also tipped Malone off about the border shipment. Malone calls Ness and asks to meet him at his home.

Later, Malone is stalked by a knife-wielding thug, "Bowtie," at his home, whom he quickly drives out the back door at gunpoint (and belittles for his incompetence), only to be ambushed by Nitti wielding a tommy gun. He survives, however, long enough for Ness and Stone to find him. With the last of his strength, he clutches his beloved Saint Jude pendant and informs the two about Payne’s upcoming departure from Chicago by train before dying.

Ness and Stone arrive at Union Station and find Payne guarded by Bowtie and many gangsters. After a fierce shootout (a homage to the famous Odessa Steps scene from 1926 Russian film The Battleship Potemkin), the two succeed in killing all of the gangsters (including Bowtie) and taking Payne alive.

Payne testifies in court against Capone, admitting he has disbursed $1.3 million for Capone over a three-year period. Ness, however, notices Capone seems rather relaxed and a little bored, despite the probability of serving a long prison sentence, and also sees Nitti carrying a gun in court. He takes Nitti out of the courtroom with the bailiff and discovers that Nitti was permitted by the corrupt mayor of Chicago to carry the gun into court. However, Ness identifies Nitti as Malone’s murderer after seeing Nitti's matchbook with Malone's address on it.

Panicking, Nitti shoots the bailiff and runs up to the roof of the building, exchanging gunfire with Ness all the way. Eventually, Ness has Nitti in his sights, but can't bring himself to shoot him in cold blood. Nitti gives himself up to Ness, insulting Malone and bragging that he will never go to prison. Enraged at the thought that Nitti will escape punishment for his crimes (even with evidence and testimonies to prove his guilt) and provoked to revenge, Ness throws Nitti off the roof to his death.

Back inside the courthouse, Stone shows Ness a document from Nitti’s jacket that reveals that the jury has been bribed, explaining Capone's relaxed mood. The judge, however, has no intention of using it as evidence and is fully prepared to let Capone go free, inadvertently revealing his corruption. In a last ditch effort, Ness extorts the judge into doing the right thing, bluffing that the judge's name is among those in the bookkeeper's ledger of official payoffs. As a result, the judge decides to switch the jury with another preparing to hear a divorce case next door, which shatters Capone's previously calm demeanour. Before the trial can continue, Capone's lawyer withdraws the plea of "not guilty" for a plea of "guilty" without Capone's consent (in real life, an action prohibited by criminal defense attorneys). Capone is sentenced to 11 years in prison. Although it is literally Capone's own lawyer who puts Capone behind bars, Ness receives all of the credit. Ness advises Capone not to give up though, but Capone just brushes Ness off, calling him "nothing but a lot of talk and a badge."

Ness packs up his Chicago office. He sees the Saint Jude pendant that Malone had carried with him for many years. Ness offers Stone the pendant, having shaken hands with him. "He would have wanted a cop to have it," Ness insists, because Jude was the patron saint of police officers. Out on the street, a reporter wishes to have a word from the man who put Capone away, but Ness merely remarks he was just there "when the wheel went 'round." When the reporter mentions that Prohibition is due to be repealed, he asks what Ness might do then. Ness says the now-famous line, "I think I'll have a drink."



The media reported that the producers wanted Sean Connery for the movie but could not afford his salary, so he agreed to do the movie for $50,000 with a 10 percent share of the proceeds. The expectation was that the movie would not make much money, so the producers agreed to it. However, it exceeded all expectations and Sean Connery reaped a large amount of money. It was one of the most publicized times that an actor had benefited so greatly from having "bet" on the future of the movie and since then other actors have parlayed their acting skills into taking less up front for a part of the proceeds.

The Untouchables was filmed in Chicago, Illinois; Hardin, Montana; and the surrounding areas of Great Falls, Montana, between August and November 1986.

According to Brian De Palma, Robert De Niro and Bob Hoskins were the prime candidates for the role of Al Capone, and Hoskins, for his brief collaboration after De Niro declined but before he changed his mind, was sent a £20,000 cheque by De Palma. Robert de Niro prepared so thoroughly for the role, that he even wore underwear from that period, even though it would never be seen throughout the movie. After the movie came out, he reportedly said that he was not satisfied with his performance or the movie overall.[citation needed] Hoskins, meanwhile, later sent a "Thank You" note to De Palma and jokingly asked him if there were any more films he didn't want him to appear in.


The Untouchables opened on June 3, 1987 in 1,012 theaters where it grossed USD $10 million on its opening weekend. It went on to make $76.2 million in North America.[1]

The film has received a mostly positive reception from critics and has an 81% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Vincent Canby, of The New York Times, gave the movie a glowing review, calling it "a smashing work" and saying it was "vulgar, violent, funny and sometimes breathtakingly beautiful".[2] Roger Ebert, on the other hand, said, "The Untouchables has great costumes, great sets, great cars, great guns, great locations and a few shots that absolutely capture the Prohibition Era. But it does not have a great script, great performances or great direction".[3] Hal Hinson, in his review for the Washington Post, 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".[4]

Many reviewers, including Ebert, singled out De Niro's scenes portraying Al Capone as the biggest disappointment of the film, while giving praise to Sean Connery's work. While he was voted first place in a Empire magazine historical poll for worst film accent[5], Connery was awarded the 1987 Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance. Pauline Kael called it "a great audience movie--a wonderful potboiler."


Academy Awards

Award Person
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Sean Connery
Best Costume Design Marilyn Vance
Best Score Ennio Morricone
Best Art Direction - Set Decoration Patrizia von Brandenstein
William A. Elliott
Hal Gausman

Video game

A side-scrolling video game was released by Ocean Software in 1989 on ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, MSX, Amiga, MS-DOS, and later on NES, SNES. Based loosely on the movie it lets you play out some of the more significant parts. It is set in Chicago and the main goal of the game is to take down Al Capone's henchmen and eventually get Capone in jail.

Playable characters
  • Eliot Ness
  • Jimmy Malone
  • Oscar Wallace
  • George Stone (Giuseppe Petri)
  1. The Streets: This is the first level in the game and it puts you as Elliot Ness shooting at gangsters from behind a warehouse as they shoot at you.
  2. The Warehouse: As Ness you must shoot guys who have information regarding Capone and pick up the information they drop when they have been shot.
  3. The Bridge: This is the first level in which The Untouchables (Stone, Malone, Wallace, and Ness) are the playable characters. As the Untouchables you blow up some of Capone's drug trafficking trucks.
  4. The Alley: This level is very similar to The Streets, however, you have the option to switch between Ness and the Untouchables.
  5. The Train Station: As Ness you must guide a baby-carriage down a flight of stairs while fighting off Capone's henchmen.
  6. The Hostage: One of Capone's henchmen has taken a man for a hostage, Capone's bookkeeper and possible witness, and while controlling George Stone you must take one shot to take out the henchman.
  7. The Rooftops: Another level that is similar to The Streets except you must reload your own gun in between shots while you take cover behind a courthouse wall. This level is a confrontation between Eliot and Capone's assassin and enforcer, Frank Nitti.

See also

Further reading

  • Tucker, Kenneth. Eliot Ness and the Untouchables: The Historical Reality and the Film and Television Depictions. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2000. ISBN 0-7864-0772-7


  1. ^ "The Untouchables". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-07-17. 
  2. ^ Canby, Vincent (June 3, 1987). "DeNiro in The Untouchables". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-17. 
  3. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 3, 1987). "The Untouchables". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2008-07-17. 
  4. ^ Hinson, Hal (June 3, 1987). "The Untouchables". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-07-17. 
  5. ^ "Connery 'has worst film accent'". BBC. June 30, 2003. Retrieved 2008-07-17. 

External links


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