"He pulls 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."The Untouchables is a 1987 movie directed by Brian De Palma and written by David Mamet. It stars Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Robert De Niro, Andy Garcia and Patricia Clarkson in her screen debut. Connery won an Academy Award for his interpretation.Based on the exploits of (Real Life) 1920s Chicago Prohibiton agent Eliot Ness and his group of loyal agents, nicknamed "The Untouchables" because of their refusal to be bribed by the Mob as many others were at the time. Most notable for pursuing bootleggers and gangster Al Capone (and eventually arresting him—on tax evasion charges!)The movie was theoretically The Film of the Series of the 1960s TV series, but Mamet ended up largely ignoring the TV series, going back to the original sources and crafting his own version of the story.
— Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery)
The film includes the following touchable tropes:
- Adaptational Badass: The real Frank Nitti preferred not to get his hands dirty, and generally left the violence to his subordinates.
- Adipose Rex: Al Capone is an obese kingpin. Robert DeNiro gained 15 pounds for the role, which is not much by his standards. He wanted to double that figure, but the schedule was tight, so he had to wear pads and pillows under his clothes.
- Adult Fear:
- Nitti threatens Ness' family, but particularly his daughter.
- Clichéd as it is, the Baby Carriage scene is this. Come on, your kid's carriage is not only going down a flight of stairs, but it's caught in the middle of a shootout!
- Affably Evil: This is the persona Capone cultivates for the media. Behind closed doors, however, we see he's cruel, petty, vicious and quite bloodthirsty.
- Artistic License – History: Capone and Ness never met face to face.
- Frank Nitti wasn't thrown off a roof. He and Capone were both sent to prison on tax evasion charges, but he got a much lighter sentence and took charge of the Chicago organization (at least in name) after his release. Nitti committed suicide in 1943 rather than face the possibility of another prison sentence.
- Artistic License – Law: A defense attorney cannot change his client's plea without said client's permission, and he certainly shouldn't be doing that in public view.
- At the Opera Tonight: Al Capone is seen attending an opera when Frank Nitti comes up and whispers the news that Jim Malone had been killed.
- Baby Carriage: During the fight in the station, a runaway baby carriage presents Ness with the dilemma of trying to save the baby or dealing with a gun-wielding mobster. He chooses the mobster, trusting that Stone will save the baby. It's the right choice, as Stone stops it with his legs. While still shooting down some mobsters. And the baby is fine in the end.
- Badass Boast: Several, especially considering: a) Eliot Ness is trying to convict Villain with Good Publicity Al Capone; and b) Ness' team is called The Untouchables. Best seen when he refuses a bribe from an alderman.Alderman: You're making a mistake.
Ness: Yeah I know, well I've made them before I'm beginning to enjoy them.
Alderman: You fellows are untouchable, is that the thing? No one can get to you? Hey, everyone can be gotten to.
Ness: You tell Capone, that I'll see him in hell.
- Badass Mustache: Malone.
- Batman Gambit: At Capone's trial, Ness realizes that the judge is skewing the trial in Capone's favor, and that the judge must have been on Capone's payroll. He forces the judge to conduct a fair trial by threatening to reveal evidence, proving that the judge took bribes. The threat works because they have Al Capone's ledger. We quickly find out that it was all a (successful) bluff, when the DA quietly notes to Ness that the judge's name isn't in the ledger....
- Batter Up: Al Capone famously used a baseball bat to savagely murder one of his subordinates.
- Big Bad: Capone, of course.
- Berserk Button:
- Don't insult Stone's heritage, or he'll shoot you. Malone uses this as a Secret Test of Character when recruiting his team.
- At the beginning of the shootout at the bridge, Oscar Wallace is cringing, with a "Oh dear God please get me out of here" look on his face. Then Stone gets shot. Cue Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
- Eliot Ness flips and throws Frank Nitti off a building when he gloats about killing Jim Malone.
- Bittersweet Ending: Capone is behind bars, his deadliest enforcer Nitti gone and his criminal empire shattered. But two of the Untouchables are dead, and Ness had to violate a lot of his personal code of honor - including his tossing Nitti off a roof in revenge for Malone's death - to get Capone.
- Black and White Morality: Capone orders the deaths of children and beats men to death with baseball bats. Ness is all-American Hero who loves nothing more than his family and getting notes from his wife in his lunch. As the film goes on, it turns into Black and Gray Morality as Ness adapts Jimmy Malone's "escalate" philosophy to bring down Capone.
- Blood Brothers: Malone takes Ness to a church, where they talk about a Blood Oath and Malone tells Ness they are now bound by it.
- Bond One-Liner: A classic Non-Bond example. Happens after Ness has thrown Frank Nitti off the roof of the courthouse and he lands on the roof of a Model A:Stone: Where's Nitti?Ness: He's in the car
- Notably, this is all vengeance for killing Malone.
- Also, Costner's line to Nitti just before.
- By-the-Book Cop: Eliot Ness, at least at first.
- Call Back: "There endeth the lesson." (Malone to Ness, then Ness to Capone)
- Car Cushion: Frank Nitti's in the car after being thrown off the roof by Eliot Ness.
- Chekhov's Gunman:
- The mobster with the bowtie. He is seen several times, particularly when he lures Malone out to be shot by Nitti and is later the one who takes the bookkeeper hostage on the train station steps and gets shot by Stone.
- The mobster Ness punches in the face when he tries to stop Ness from confronting Capone. Unfortunately this means he remembers Ness, which sets off the shootout when he sees Ness with the Baby Carriage at the railway station.
- Comically Missing the Point: Capone tells Eliot Ness, "You talk to me like that in front of my son? Fuck you, and your family!" In front of his son....
- Couldn't Find a Pen: After murdering Oscar Wallace and George the Bookkeeper in an elevator, Frank Nitti uses their blood to write the word "TOUCHABLE" on the wall.
- Dangerously Close Shave: The opening scene.
- Desecrating the Dead: A pragmatic variation occurs in the Mounties raid, when the eponymous squad has captured a Capone henchman and is trying to get him to talk about Capone's finances. When the henchman refuses to talk, Malone wanders outside, grabs the corpse of another henchman they killed in the preceding gunfight, and after pretending to threaten to kill him if he won't talk, shoots the corpse through the head, spattering the henchman with gore. The henchman, believing he'd witnessed an actual execution, is very cooperative afterwards.
- After killing Wallace and George, Nitti writes "TOUCHABLE" on the elevator wall with their blood, leaves George's body lying in the corner, and hangs Wallace's body from the ceiling.
- Died in Your Arms Tonight: Malone dies in Ness's arms.
- Dying Moment of Awesome: While he's lured to his death quite easily, Malone doesn't die after absorbing a full magazine of bullets, crawls almost the full length of his apartment to bring a vital clue into Ness' attention, and then delivers meaningful Final Words in his final breath. The scene couldn't be underscored better by Morricone's death theme.
- Dirty Cop: The rule rather than the exception, hence the need for a group of men whose integrity is beyond question.
- Disney Villain Death: Nitti.
- Disproportionate Retribution:
- Done in the first scene when Capone's thugs blow up a bar that wouldn't buy his booze.
- Malone passionately defends that the only way to defeat Capone is by escalating the conflict because Capone will, and the mobster won't give up the fight until Ness is dead. It is a simple rule: 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!
- Doomed Moral Victor: The death of Jim Malone.
- The Dragon: Frank Nitti.
- Escalating War: "He pulls 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."
- Evil Gloating: Something Nitti probably should have done after getting safely off the roof!
- When Capone hears of Malone's death, right at the most heartbreaking scene of Pagliacci, he chuckles for a moment.
- Evil Overlooker: The poster has Capone looming large like Darth Vader over Elliot Ness as he is about to shoot you and the other Untouchables in rifle poses.
- Fake Kill Scare: Done with a twist — Malone scares the crap out of a captured smuggler by letting him see Malone pick up the corpse of a henchman already killed in the gunfight that just happened, then "demand" the corpse reveal information, "threaten" to blow his head off if he won't talk, and then literally carry through with his threat. The surviving captive, not knowing it's a ruse, talks right away.
- Famous Last Words:
- "What are you prepared to do?" Malone
- "I said that your friend died screaming like a stuck Irish pig. Now you think about that when I beat the rap." Frank Nittinote
- Fatal Family Photo: A variation with the same outcome. Two of the four untouchables who pose as brothers for a photo are killed shortly afterwards.
- Foil: Elliot Ness starts as Chicago's idealist white knight, but his nature gets deconstructed by The Unfettered and weary Malone, who during his Disproportionate Retribution speech mentioned above, points out that Ness' by-the-book and clean methods won't get him Capone.Malone: What are you prepared to do?
Ness: Everything within the law.
Malone: And then what are you prepared to do?
- Going by the Matchbook: Frank Nitti has the address of Jim Malone written on a book of matches. Unfortunately for him he does not dispose of it after killing Malone, so when Eliot Ness searches him later it leads to their final shootout.
- He Who Fights Monsters: A prominent theme in the film.
- It's both a lesson and a warning Malone gives several times to Ness.
- Heroic Bystander: The two guys in the train station who die in the crossfire as they try to stop the baby carriage tumbling down the stairs.
- Hidden in Plain Sight: The bookkeeper and his mobster bodyguards walk right past Elliot Ness at the train station, as all they see is a man helping his wife pull their baby carriage up the stairs. Unfortunately the last mobster to enter the station has a bandaged nose from Ness punching him in the face, and remembers the man who gave it to him.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: Well, sure, Capone himself was a Corrupt Corporate Executive who wasn't above killing his own associates or starting a Mob War, but the real Al was much less monstrous than the version here. Also, the movie's Capone had no problem killing kids, while the real Capone tried to avoid any bystander injuries in gun battles, and paid their hospital bills for them if they were hurt.
- Hollywood Law: There are quite a lot of liberties with the depiction of Capone's trial:
- When they discover the jury has been bribed, they switch Capone's jury with the jury next door. Something like this really happened, but not the way it's depicted in the film. Of particular note, in real life the jury was switched much earlier in the trial, and it wasn't specifically the jury that was changed - it was the pool of jurors both sides could select or veto that was switched; switching it when they did in the film, even if it had been allowed, would have meant that the new jury was handicapped by having missed the presentation of key evidence.
- Capone's lawyer attempting to enter a plea without his client's consent is not based on reality, and, in real life, is a good way to have a mistrial, an overturned conviction, and disbarment for the attorney.
- Iconic Item: Malone's St. Jude medallion. He toys with it from time to time and gives it to Ness before dying, and Ness in turn gives it to Stone at the end of the film.
- Idiot Ball: Ness and Co are in a corrupt town, they know they can't trust most of the police and what do they do with their key witness? They put him in an elevator with just one Untouchable (Oscar the accountant) and don't bother to clear out the elevator of anyone they don't trust. They were really holding onto it that day.
- Implied Death Threat: When all the escorting mobsters are dead in the train station, Stone points the gun at the bookkeeper, and pulls back the hammer. The implication is that if he refuses to cooperate, one more dead Capone associate isn't going to make a whole lot of difference.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: George Stone. He shoots the Bowtie Gangster through the *teeth* at a good 10 yards, while holding up a carriage and laying on his back.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: On asked what he'll do when Prohibition is over, Ness replies he'll have a drink.
- Wallace sneaks a mouthful of whiskey from a shot-up barrel after the Canadian border raid.
- Infant Immortality: Averted and subverted. Ness' own young daughter and (at the start) unborn child, prominently featured throughout, survive without a scratch. On the other hand, one of the first scenes in the movie shows a gangster walking out of a bar, and a little girl running after him, carrying him the suitcase he left behind. Guess what's in the suitcase....
- It's Personal: Malone warns Ness that he must take this mindset in order to win. Because the gangsters certainly will.
- Jury and Witness Tampering: Al Capone bribes all the jurors in his tax dodging trial to acquit him—but Ness smells something fishy with the trial, and asks the judge to switch the juries. He even puts some pressure on the judge, on a hunch that he's also been bribed, and the gambit pays off.
- Justice by Other Legal Means: Getting Al Capone on tax evasion, of all things. Even Ness lampshades it in the movie when his accountant sidekick keeps pointing it out. (Though a standard legal tactic today, convicting criminals on tax evasion was a radically new idea at the time, and though it had been used successfully as far back as 1927, no one had ever tried it on so large a scale, or against so prominent a criminal.)
- Kick the Dog: Capone personally beats one of his goons to death with a bat to bring home the point that despite his attempts to paint himself as a good-natured high-roller, he is quite the vicious, ruthless gangster Ness says he is. Also, he has no problem with little girls getting blown up at the beginning.
- Knight in Sour Armor: Malone. Ness starts as a Knight in Shining Armor, but gradually turns into one of these as well.
- Laser-Guided Karma:
- Nitti, who has killed Malone and shot at least three other people during his escape, isn't too concerned. He knows he'll never go to jail. Ness, however, has other ideas. Technically what Ness did was cold blooded murder, but it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.
- The Capone hoodlum who lures Malone into Nitti's tommy-gun ambush gets a bullet in his head from Stone towards the end of the film.
- And of course, Al himself. He had an intricate empire that let him do horrible things with impunity... and was taken down in a way he didn't expect.
- Leeroy Jenkins: Ness and company specifically tell the Mounties to wait for the signal to charge. And what do they do...? Charge before the signal.
- Let's Get Dangerous: After he runs out of bullets Wallace runs towards a gangster, screaming, and hits him twice with the butt of his gun. Finally Wallace enjoys a sip from a nearby barrel of liquor. He's an accountant, by the way.
- Light Is Not Good: Frank Nitti is always seen dressed in white.
- Man in White: Frank Nitti.
- Meaningful Echo: "What are you prepared to do?"
- Mentor Occupational Hazard: Jim Malone.
- Mob-Boss Suit Fitting: A variation, with Al Capone talking business while getting a straight-razor shave from a barber.
- Mohs Scale of Violence Hardness: It gets a 7 (possibly a hard one), because of some of the blood splattering and Al Capone (Robert De Niro) bloodily bashing in the head of one of his stooges with a baseball bat.
- Moral Dissonance: Ness is a crusader, but Malone quickly shows him that if he's going make any headway in this war, he needs to operate on the edges of the law, sometimes outside.
- Naturalized Name: George Stone's birth name is Giuseppe Petri, a close-enough translation ("Petri" is close to pietre, Italian for "stones", but Giuseppe's English equivalent is traditionally Joseph, not George; normally, George would be the Anglicized version of "Georgio").
- Never Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight: Malone provides the page quote and this memorable line, "Now isn't that just like a wop, brings a knife to a gunfight!" Subverted in that the knife guy is actually just bait meant to lure Malone into Frank Nitti's Tommy gun ambush.
- Could also be a Call Back to Malone's "Chicago way" speech
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Ness' speech about the Chicago way and all his moves to honor it (read the conflict escalation) ultimately puts his family in great danger, so that his wife and daughter have to move away from their house to avoid murder or worse. Strangely enough, the threat to his family comes as a surprise to Ness, implying that he honestly thought that Capone would never go that far (or, as in his speech he always has the last word, maybe he would go even further than Capone's murder of his family... Better not to know).
- Noble Bigot with a Badge: Malone is very vocal about his anti-Italian prejudice, but Stone earns his respect.
- Officer O'Hara: Malone and Mike.
- Oh Crap!: Malone has a tragic one when he sees Nitti waiting with his Tommy Gun and realizes he's been set up.
- Nitti when he realizes Ness isn't taking him into custody after all.
- Old-Fashioned Copper: Although not a British film, Malone fills this role. He is introduced by being such a hardass that he tells Elliot Ness to straighten up. His idea of recruiting a new cop? Go directly to the Police Academy and find the guy who shoots straightest.
Malone: I give you the next chief of police!
- Gets downplayed in the end, seeing Malone ultimately picked the second-best shooter, as the best shooter could barely put together an intelligible sentence:
- Old-School Chivalry: The Mounties. To such a ridiculous degree that almost blows the whole Whiskey Exchange ambush. Their glorious melodramatic head-on charge gives the gangsters plenty of warning to get ready. If The Untouchables didn't cut them off from behind, the gangsters would have probably escaped.
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Sean Connery's Irish-Scottish brogue. Almost comical when Jimmy Malone's talking to Chief Dorsett (who has a pronounced Irish brogue)... it's even more obvious Connery's accent is Scottish, not Irish.
- Pragmatic Hero: Malone. In spades. The standout example is his gruesome "interrogation" and "execution" to scare George into cooperating. It's disturbing, but works extremely well.
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Ness, to Nitti. Technically, it's still pre-mortem, as Nitti is still falling when Ness says it.Nitti: Your friend died like a pig.
Ness: What was that?
Nitti: I said your friend died screaming like a stuck Irish pig. Now you think about that when I beat the rap.
[[As Nitti walks away, Ness grabs him and shoves him off the roof.]]
Ness: DID HE SOUND ANYTHING LIKE THAT?????
- Psycho for Hire: Frank Nitti.
- Reality Is Unrealistic:
- The infamous baseball bat scene seems like an over-the-top fabrication. But not only did Al Capone really do this... he attacked three associates during a dinner party this way. At the same time! Capone didn't kill them outright, though; he beat them senseless and then had his bodyguards finish them off with bullets.
- The Chicago police department seems outrageously corrupt for dramatic purposes. But this is more or less what The Feds had to deal with. The Mafia and the local police often were public rivals, but secret partners. As long as the mob kept the violence low and kept to the shadows, they allowed them to bootleg and operate. For a cut, of course. (In addition, Prohibition was basically unenforceable.)
- Reckless Gun Usage: Probably unintentional on the part of the filmmakers, but the Untouchables in general and Ness in particular have a problem with this trope. The latter has a nasty habit of pointing at things with his weapon, and even hugs his daughter while carrying a .45 with his finger in the trigger well.
- Reliably Unreliable Guns: The tommy gun of one gangster jams during a fight. (Truth in Television: a problem real tommy guns were frequently subject to, which is one of the many reasons it was never as popular as gangland movies would have you believe.) To the gangster's credit he tries repeatedly to clear the jam, but it gives the mousy accountant among the Untouchables time to get close enough to KO him with the butt of his shotgun.
- Rooftop Confrontation: The final showdown between Ness and Nitti takes place on the roof of the courthouse.
- Schiff One-Liner: "I think I'll have a drink". Doubles as a meta-continuity nod to the TV-series.
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Moral crusader Eliot Ness earned his men the nickname "The Untouchables" by his vehement refusal of a large bribe from Al Capone.
- Shame If Something Happened: Frank Nitti threatens Eliot Ness's family in this manner.Frank Nitti: Nice house.
- Shotguns Are Just Better: With the exception of the occasional Tommy Gun, the Untouchables wield pump-action shotguns as their main long arms.
- Malone keeps a double-barrel sawed-off in his apartment for protection, but never gets to use it before Nitti mows him down.
- The Sociopath: Capone is a violent psychopath who finds joy in the death of his adversaries, and so does Nitti, his dragon.
- The Squad: Also a Badass Crew.
- Steel Ear Drums: The baby in the carriage sequence.
- Suicidal Gotcha: Elliot Ness chases Frank Nitti onto the roof where he waits in ambush. Ness rolls to the side to evade his fire, only to roll right off the roof with a scream. A smirking Nitti saunters up to the edge to look over, only to be shot by Ness who's lying on a wooden platform, presumably put up for painting or window washing.
- Team Shot: See the image up there. Also an in-universe example, the four pose for a family photo in a restaurant.
- Title Drop: "You fellows are untouchable, is that the thing? No one can get to you? Hey, everyone can be gotten to."
- Too Dumb to Live: No, Mr. Nitti, I don't think it's a particularly good idea to taunt Ness about his partner you murdered when both of you are standing on top of a tall building.
- The Sicilian gunman who tries to shoot Ness with a pistol, when the latter has a shotgun on him, at virtually arm's length.
- Even Ness gets one! Furious at Capone, he draws his pistol and points it at the gangster, whose cordon of gunmen all draw on him. They were well within their legal rights to gun him down, since he was going to pull the trigger on an unarmed man for all they knew.
- Though it should be noted that he wasn't necessarily "dumb," just blinded by rage.
- Took a Level in Badass: Oscar, the federal accountant assigned to Ness's team. More an office worker than a field agent, he takes to wielding a shotgun pretty quickly and gets a few Moments of Asskickery during the Canadian border raid.
- Tragic Keepsake: Malone's keychain.
- Try Not to Die: Essentially, Malone's first rule of law enforcement: Make sure when your shift is over, you go home alive.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Ness and his Untouchables really existed. They really did get Capone on tax evasion. The baseball bat scene and the jury switch are based on real events. On the other hand, quite a lot of the story is just plain made up. The depiction of Ness owes more to dramatic effect than historical accuracy, and the rest of the Untouchables depicted in the film are entirely fictional. In real life there were 11 "Untouchables" not counting Ness, and they all lived to see the end of Prohibition. So did Frank Nitti, who took the reins of the Chicago Outfit after Capone went to prison, successfully diversified the Outfit's interests to keep it going after Prohibition ended, and eventually committed suicide in 1943. The tax evasion case was based on information collected by Frank J. Wilson, from the Treasury Department's Bureau of Internal Revenue; the credit for bringing down Capone belongs to him, not Eliot Ness. Capone and Ness never met face-to-face.
- Of note is that Jim Malone is named after Mike Malone, an agent that infiltrated Capone's organization and then served as a witness in the trial. He died of natural causes in 1960.
- Villainous Breakdown:
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 want to go there in the middle of the night and I want to piss on his ashes!
- Capone's unflappable demeanor slips badly after he learns about the raid at the Canadian border:
- During the court case: As soon as the Judge decides to switch the Juries, Capone freaks out at his lawyer. As soon as his lawyer switches pleas, Capone punches him. When Ness gloats to his face, he repeats the phrase "You're nothing but a lot of talk and a badge" to the point where the more he says it, the more he realizes his life of crime is over.
- Villain with Good Publicity: Capone, who is popular with the media (and somewhat of a celebrity) despite his illegal ties.
- What the Hell, Hero?/Where Do You Think You Are?:RCMP Captain: I do not approve of your methods.
Eliot Ness: Yeah, well... You're not from Chicago.
- What You Are in the Dark: Ness is sorely tempted to shoot Nitti during the rooftop chase, when it's just the two of them there. He decides against it and arrests Nitti instead. But then Nitti just had to go taunting about how Malone died by his hand, and how he'll still beat the rap... so Ness tosses Nitti off the roof to punish him, taunting him as he falls to his very Karmic Death.
- Why Don't Ya Just Shoot Him?: A heroic example. When George is outrunning the older (and much heavier) Malone, Malone fires a quick burst from his Tommy Gun in the air to end the chase."Enough of this running shit..."
- Wicked Cultured: Capone, resplendent in evening wear, is enjoying a performance of the opera Pagliacci when his henchman arrives to inform him of another successful hit. Truth in Television: the real Capone was an opera lover and also a fan (and impresario) of the hot new sound of his era, jazz.
- Would Hurt a Child: The Establishing Character Moment for Capone's organization involves a child being killed when a bar is blown up.
- You Have Failed Me: Al Capone beats one of his goons to death with a bat.