The Untouchables (film)

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The Untouchables
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Brian De Palma
Produced by Art Linson
Screenplay by David Mamet
Based on The Untouchables 
by Oscar Fraley
Eliot Ness
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography Stephen H. Burum
Edited by Gerald B. Greenberg
Bill Pankow
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • June 2, 1987 (1987-06-02) (New York City premiere)
  • June 3, 1987 (1987-06-03) (United States)
Running time
119 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $25 million[1]
Box office $106.2 million[2]

The Untouchables is a 1987 American gangster film directed by Brian De Palma and written by David Mamet. Based on the book The Untouchables (1957), the film stars Kevin Costner as government agent Eliot Ness, Robert De Niro as gang leader Al Capone, and Sean Connery as Irish-American officer Jimmy Malone (based on the real life Irish-American agent and "Untouchables" member Marty Lahart). The film follows Ness' autobiographical account of the efforts his Untouchables team to bring Capone to justice during Prohibition. The Grammy Award-winning score was composed by Ennio Morricone and features some period-correct music by Duke Ellington.

The Untouchables was released on June 3, 1987 and received positive reviews. Observers praised the film for its approach as well as its direction. The film was also a financial success, grossing $76 million domestically, and it was nominated for four Academy Awards, of which Connery received one for Best Supporting Actor.[3]


During Prohibition in 1930, Al Capone (De Niro) has nearly the whole city of Chicago under his control and supplies illegal liquor. Bureau of Prohibition agent Eliot Ness (Costner) is assigned to stop Capone, but his first attempt at a liquor raid fails due to corrupt policemen tipping Capone off. He has a chance meeting with Irish-American veteran officer Jimmy Malone (Connery), who is fed up with the rampant corruption and offers to help Ness, suggesting that they find a man from the police academy who has not come under Capone's influence. They recruit Italian-American trainee George Stone (Andy García) for his superior marksmanship and intelligence. Joined by accountant Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith), assigned to Ness from Washington, D.C., they conduct a successful raid on a Capone liquor cache and start to gain positive publicity, with the press dubbing them "The Untouchables." Capone later kills the henchman in charge of the cache as a warning to his other men.

Wallace discovers that Capone has not filed an income tax return for several years and suggests that the team try to build a tax evasion case against him, since he is well-insulated from his other crimes. An alderman offers Ness a bribe to drop his investigation, but Ness angrily refuses it and throws him out of the office. When Capone gunman Frank Nitti (Billy Drago) threatens Ness' family, Ness has his wife (Patricia Clarkson) and daughter moved to a safe house. His team flies to the Canada – United States border to intercept an incoming liquor shipment, aided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, killing several gangsters and capturing George (Brad Sullivan), a Capone bookkeeper. Malone shoots a gangster through the mouth (not revealing the man is already dead) to scare George into agreeing to testify against Capone.

Wallace prepares to escort George from the Chicago police station to a safe house, but they are shot and killed by Nitti, who has infiltrated the station. Ness confronts Capone and his men over the deaths, but Malone intervenes to save him from being killed and urges him to persuade the district attorney (Clifton James) not to dismiss the charges against Capone. Realizing that police chief Mike Dorsett (Richard Bradford) sold out Wallace and George, Malone forces him to reveal the whereabouts of Walter Payne (Jack Kehoe), Capone's chief bookkeeper. That night, a knife-wielding thug sneaks into Malone's apartment; Malone chases him out with a shotgun, but falls victim to Nitti's Tommy gun ambush. Ness and Stone arrive at the apartment and find Malone, who tells them which train Payne will take out of town before dying.

At Union Station, Ness and Stone find Payne guarded by several gangsters. A gunfight breaks out on the lobby steps, resulting in all the gangsters being killed and Payne being taken alive. As Payne testifies at Capone's trial, explaining the untaxed cash flows throughout the syndicate, Ness notices that Capone seems unusually relaxed and also spots Nitti carrying a gun under his jacket. Ness has the bailiff remove Nitti and searches him outside the courtroom; a matchbook in Nitti's pocket contains Malone's address, leading Ness to realize that he killed Malone. Nitti shoots the bailiff and flees to the courthouse roof. Ness has the opportunity to kill Nitti at one point but chooses not to, then later throws Nitti off the roof to his death when he mocks the way Malone died.

Stone gives Ness a list, taken from Nitti's jacket, that shows bribes paid to the jurors. When the judge refuses to consider it as evidence of jury tampering, Ness bluffs him into thinking that his name is in Payne's ledger of payoffs. The judge subsequently orders that the jury be switched with one in another courtroom, prompting Capone's lawyer to enter a guilty plea on his behalf. Capone is subsequently sentenced to 11 years in prison. Ness closes up his office and gives Malone's St. Jude medallion to Stone as a farewell gift. As Ness leaves the police station, a reporter mentions a rumor that Prohibition may soon be repealed and asks what Ness will do it if that happens. Ness replies, "I think I'll have a drink."



De Niro wanted one extra scene written for his character, and time to finish his commitment to the Broadway production of Cuba and His Teddy Bear and 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."[1] The Untouchables began production in Chicago on August 18, 1986.[4] Actual historical Chicago locations were featured in the movie.[5]

A month after the film was released, De Palma downplayed his role on the film:

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.[6]

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 £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.[7] Mickey Rourke turned down the lead role of Ness.[8]


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.[9] According to producer Art Linson, the polls conducted for the film showed that approximately 50% of the audience was 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".[10]

The Untouchables received positive reviews from film critics and has an 80% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The 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."[11] 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".[12] Conversely, 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.[13] 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".[14] Time magazine's Richard Schickel 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".[15]

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 an Empire magazine historical poll for worst film accent,[16] Connery 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.[17]

Academy Awards

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

American Film Institute

Video game

Review scores
Publication Score
CVG 85%[27]
Crash 94%[25]
EGM 5.8/10 (SNES)[23]
Sinclair User 95%[26]
Your Sinclair 94%[24]
Zzap!64 96%[29]
The Games Machine 96%[28]
Publication Award
Zzap!64 Gold Medal
Crash Crash Smash
Your Sinclair Megagame

A side-scrolling video game was released by Ocean Software in 1989 on ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, MSX, Amiga, DOS, and later on NES and SNES. Based loosely on the movie, 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.

Electronic Gaming Monthly gave the Super NES version a 5.8 out of 10, commenting that "This title would have been better if it were Super Scope compatible, for it is a bit difficult to use the pad during the shooting sequences."[23]


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  5. Actual Chicago and Montana locations of historical buildings used in The Untouchables
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  18. AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees
  19. AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees
  20. 20.0 20.1 AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains
  21. AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees
  22. AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
  23. 23.0 23.1 "Review Crew: The Untouchables". Electronic Gaming Monthly (54). EGM Media, LLC. January 1994. p. 44.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  25. "Archive - Magazine viewer". World of Spectrum. Retrieved 2013-03-05.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  29. "Zzap!64 100th Issue Pull-Out Special Page 5". Retrieved 2013-03-05.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links