The Untouchables is a 1987 film based on the 1959 ABC 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 US$76 million domestically.

Plot summaryEdit

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

Seeking ideas for a change of tactics, Ness solicited help from Jim Malone (Sean Connery), an incorruptible Irish American police officer, following a chance encounter one evening. Malone advised Ness to recruit directly from the police academy in order to ensure the officers not have a chance to come under Capone's influence. An Italian American trainee George Stone, formerly Giuseppe Petri (Andy Garcia) was enlisted, due to his superior marksmanship and intelligence under pressure. Along with an accountant, Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith), assigned to Ness from Washington, he had acquired a team capable of combating Capone without fear of corruption.

Their first raid took place in a local post office, where its storeroom was used to house illegal liquor. Malone, along with most of the police, knew where the alcohol was, and knew it was left alone because no one wanted to provoke Capone and his gang. The raid succeeded without anyone getting killed, though Capone took his revenge on the foreman later. As the four picked up steam and became noted by the press, Wallace informed Ness that Capone had not filed an income tax return since 1926. Therefore a feasible method of prosecuting him would have been through a tax evasion charge, if nothing else. At one point, Ness and his men were visited by one of Capone's men offering them a large sum of money in exchange for their dropping the investigation, but Ness angrily rejected the bribe and threw him out, but not before the man invented the name "The Untouchables" for them, and told them that anyone could be assassinated, even them.

The man's words proved to be true when Capone's chief hit man, Frank Nitti (Billy Drago), made smart remarks about Ness and his family outside his house, and drove off before Ness could capture him. Realizing Capone was targeting him and his family, Ness ordered his wife and daughter moved to a safer place while he instructed his team to keep a lower profile during the investigations.

During a raid on the Canada-United States border, Ness captured one of Capone’s bookkeepers, George (Brad Sullivan). They managed to persuade him to provide evidence against Capone. However, when Wallace was escorting him to witness protection, Nitti, disguised as a policeman, shot and killed them both, writing the word "Touchable" with their blood (mocking the team's nickname.) This left Ness with insufficient evidence to press charges, and the frustration drove him into challenging Capone to a physical fight in front of his son and henchmen, for the timely intervention of Malone, who forced Ness out of the hotel and saved him from Capone's wrath.

Malone told Ness to stall the prosecutor from dropping the case while he searched for information regarding Capone’s other bookkeepers. He learned about Payne, another bookkeeper after a brutal fight with the corrupt police chief, Irishman Mike Dorsett (actually an old acquaintance of Malone from their younger years) who had sold out Wallace and George and allowed Nitti to murder the two officers guarding him (explaining how Nitti got the uniform). He called Ness and asked to meet him at Malone's home, unaware that Dorsett has sold him out as well.

Later, Malone was sneaked upon by a knife-wielding thug at his home, whom he quickly drove out the front door at gunpoint, only to be ambushed by Nitti and shot many times by a tommy gun. Ness and Stone arrived to find him mortally wounded. With his dying breaths, he informed the two about Payne’s upcoming departure from Chicago by train. Ness and Stone arrived at Union Station (Chicago) and found Payne guarded by many gangsters. After a fierce shootout (a homage to the famous Odessa Steps scene from the film The Battleship Potemkin), the two succeeded in killing all the gangsters and taking Payne alive.

Payne testified in court against Capone, admitting he had disbursed 1 1/3 million dollars for Capone over a three-year period. Ness, however, noticed Capone remained relaxed and even smiling despite the probability of serving a long prison sentence, and also saw Nitti carrying a gun in court. He took Nitti out of the courtroom with the bailiff and discovered that Nitti was permitted by the corrupt mayor of Chicago to carry the gun into court, and possibly use it inside the courtroom if necessary. However, Nitti was revealed to be Malone’s murderer when Ness saw a matchbook with Malone's address on it. Panicking, Nitti shoots the bailiff and ran up to the roof of the building, exchanging gunfire with Ness all the way. Eventually, Ness had Nitti in his sights, but couldn't bring himself to shoot him in cold blood. Nitti gave himself up to Ness, stating Malone died a coward and Ness should think about that when he, Nitti, "beats the rap" (avoids jail). Enraged at the thought that Nitti would escape punishment for his crimes, Ness pushed Nitti off the roof to his death, avenging both Malone and Wallace.ed Back inside the courthouse, Stone showed Ness a document from Nitti’s jacket, proving that the jury had been bribed, explaining Capone's relaxed mood. After unsuccessfully pleading for justice, Ness extorted the obviously-corrupt judge into doing the right thing, lying that the judge's name was among those in the bookkeeper's ledger of official payoffs, causing the judge to incriminate himself. As a result, the judge switched the jury with the one sitting on a divorce case next door, but before the trial could continue, Capone's lawyer withdrew the plea of "not guilty" for a plea of "guilty" without Capone's consent. Capone flew into a rage and assaulted his lawyer for this, but surprisingly enough, the case was closed, all evidence was thrown to the wind, and Capone was sentenced to eleven years in prison, repeatedly calling Ness "Nothing but a lot of talk and a badge!".

Ness packed up his Chicago office. He saw the Saint Jude pendant that Malone had carried with him for many years. Ness offered 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 wished to have a word from the man who put Capone away, but Ness merely remarked he was just there "when the wheel went 'round." When the reporter mentioned that Prohibition was due to be repealed, he asked what Ness might do then, only to have Ness decide to go for a drink.


The untouchables group

The Untouchables: George Stone (Garcia), Jim Malone (Connery), Eliot Ness (Costner), Oscar Wallace (Martin Smith).

Actor Role Based on
Kevin Costner Eliot Ness Eliot Ness
Robert De Niro Al Capone Al Capone
Sean Connery Jim Malone Martin Lahart
Andy Garcia George Stone -
Charles Martin Smith Oscar Wallace Frank J. Wilson
Richard Bradford Mike Dorsett -
Jack Kehoe Walter Payne -
Billy Drago Frank Nitti Phil D'Andrea
Brad Sullivan George the Bookkeeper -
Patricia Clarkson Catherine Ness -

Selected quotesEdit

  • "He's in the car" - Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness, referring to Nitti, whom he just pushed off the roof and has landed on the roof of a car.
  • "I want you to get this fuck where he breathes! I want you to find this nancy-boy Eliot Ness, I want him DEAD! I want his family DEAD! I want his house burned to the GROUND! I wanna go there in the middle of the night and I wanna PISS ON HIS ASHES!" - Robert De Niro as Al Capone.
  • "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. Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that? I'm offering you a deal. Do you want this deal?" - Sean Connery as Jim Malone.
  • "Come on Mr. Treasury man, ARREST ME!" - Billy Drago as Frank Nitti.

Production Edit

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

Robert De Niro prepared so thoroughly for the role of Al Capone, that he even wore underwear from that period, even though it would never be seen throughout the movie. After the movie came out, he said that he was not satisfied with his performance or the movie overall.

Differences between fact and fictionEdit

  • In the film, there are only four "Untouchables": Ness, Jim Malone, Oscar Wallace, and George Stone. However, according to Ness' biography, there were actually ten of them, including himself. Malone, Wallace and Stone are fictional characters. Malone's real-life counterpart may have been Martin Lahart, an Irish-American from a family of cops who served as Ness's second-in-command. However, Ness and Lahart were both in their 20's at the time of the Capone investigation, and Lahart was born in the U.S., not Ireland. According to Charles Martin Smith in the Special Collector's Edition dDVD feature The Script, The Cast, Wallace, the bespectacled agent with the accounting background, was loosely modeled on Frank Wilson, the Treasury Agent who commanded the team of IRS investigators who put together the tax evasion case against Capone.
  • While Ness and his real Untouchables did battle with Capone's organization, they had little to do with assembling the tax evasion case that would ultimately send Capone to prison. That case was put together by the criminal investigations unit of the Internal Revenue Service separately from Ness' efforts, though some of the evidence used to assemble that case included financial records seized by Ness during raids. Similarly the IRS unit would pass information on to Ness's squad about the location of breweries, stills, etc.
  • Ness's main strategy in his war with the Capone mob was raiding breweries. Breweries represented a major investment of capital and putting one out of commission simultaneously constituted an immediate major loss of assets due to the confiscation of the equipment, and a future major loss of income due to the crippling effect the raids had on the Mob's ability to provide a saleable product. In the film, Ness and his squad make one raid on a liquor warehouse, and intercept an international shipment of liquor coming across the Canadian border, but do not raid a single brewery.
  • Contrary to the meetings in the film, the real Capone and Ness never actually met face to face before the trial of Capone.
  • The baseball bat scene in which Capone bludgeons a mobster is loosely based on an actual 1929 incident when Capone bludgeoned three mobsters to death: John Scalise, Albert Anselmi, and Joseph "Hop Toad" Giunta.
  • Two of the four Untouchables are killed in the movie. In real life, none of the actual Untouchables were killed, though some were injured during their battles against the mob. Frank Basile, an associate of Ness's prior to the formation of the squad, was killed, but he was not officially an agent. Of note, the two Untouchables who are killed drink or prepare to drink alcohol at some point in the film.
  • During the trial scene, Nitti is shown to have bribed the jury of Capone's trial into acquitting Capone of all charges. The judge then substitutes another jury for the tainted one. (This makes little sense, as, in the film, the trial is well underway at the time of the jury-switch, meaning the new jury would be asked to decide a trial in which they'd missed the bulk of the evidence and testimony.) In reality, Nitti was ruling Capone's crumbling empire, while enforcers attempted to tamper with the pool of potential jurors that had been assembled before the trial began. The judge then replaced the pool of potential jurors with another pool that had been assembled for a different trial.
  • The judge in the trial is depicted as a grafter, who switches juries only after being threatened with public exposure of his corruption. In fact, the judge in the Capone trial, James Wilkerson, had a well-deserved reputation for probity and integrity, and the idea for switching the jury pools prior to the beginning of the trial was entirely his.
  • In the film, Capone's lawyer pleads his client guilty over his client's vehement protests. In real life, Capone pled not guilty, and the trial went to verdict. A defense lawyer in a criminal trial would not be allowed to plead guilty on behalf of his client without the client's consent.
  • The final confrontation between Ness and Nitti, in which the latter falls to his death, is entirely fiction. In fact, Nitti spent nearly six years running the empire after the fall of Capone, and he committed suicide in March 1943 upon learning of his possible jail sentence. The Capone minion who was discovered carrying a gun in court, and who was later found to have a list of the jury pool in his pocket, was Phil D'Andrea, not Nitti, and the discovery led to a quiet arrest, not a rooftop shootout.
  • In a similar vein, while Nitti was depicted as Capone's chief hitman in the film, in reality he was, by this point at least, in charge of the gang's financial dealings; Jack McGurn or Fred Burke would have been more accurately depicted in this role.
  • In the film, Ness and his squad are referred to as "Treasury Agents." In fact, at the time of the Capone investigation, the Bureau of Prohibition, the agency Ness worked for, was part of the Department of Justice, and had been since 1930.
  • In the film, Ness is depicted as a family man with a wife, a daughter, and a son on the way. In real life, the thrice-married Ness was a bachelor during most of the Capone investigation. He had only one child, a son he adopted with his third wife, long after his law enforcement career had ended.


Box office Edit

  • Opening weekend U.S. gross: US$10,023,094
  • Total U.S. box office gross: $76,270,454

Background notesEdit

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 - and rare - 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.

Critical responseEdit

The film has received a mostly positive reception from critics. 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." [1] 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." [2] Many reviewers, including Ebert, singled out DeNiro's scenes portraying Al Capone as the biggest disappointment of the film, while giving praise to Connery's performance. Connery, however, won first place in a BBC poll for worst film accent. [3] Leonard Maltin gives the film a four out of four star review. Colin McNaughton rates the film 4 out of 5.

Academy awardsEdit

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


Antoine Fuqua was originally attached to direct in 2004,[1] but DePalma took over the reins a year later.[2] Shooting was set to begin in June 2007,[3] but was delayed to October. Gerard Butler signed on to star in May 2007,[4] and Nicolas Cage was negotiated with to play Al Capone, but left due to scheduling difficulties.[5] In a November 2007 interview, De Palma said that if he could not cast the lead role and begin production within the next month that he may move on to other projects; De Palma stated that he needed to be shooting during the winter to recreate the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.[6]


The Untouchables (1987) Trailer

The Untouchables (1987) Trailer

Further readingEdit

  • 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. Linder, Brian. "An Untouchables Prequel", IGN, 2004-08-25. Retrieved on 2006-11-02. 
  2. "De Palma making Capone", IGN, 2005-06-28. Retrieved on 2006-11-02. 
  3. "DePalma returns to the scene of the crime", Production Weekly, 2006-10-31. Retrieved on 2006-11-02. 
  4. Stax. "Gerard Butler: The New Sean Connery", IGN, 2007-05-18. Retrieved on 2007-05-18. 
  5. Pamela McClintock. "'Untouchables' prequel Cage-less", Variety, 2007-05-24. Retrieved on 2007-05-25. 
  6. Internet Radio, Citizen Broadcasting, Social Media Podcasts - Blog Talk Radio

External linksEdit

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