Useful Notes: Al Capone

"You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone."

"He's OK. He's from Brooklyn, that's it."
Jimmy Darmody, Boardwalk Empire

Alphonse Gabriel Capone was one of the first iconic American gangsters of the 20th century. He was the fourth son of first-generation Neapolitan immigrants. Born in New York City, Al dropped out of school and let himself be caught up in street gangs, and as an adult brought himself to the attention of racketeers Frankie Yale and Johnny Torrio. Torrio subsequently invited Capone to join him as a partner when he took over the businesses of Chicago crime lord "Big Jim" Colosimo and expanded his operations to take advantage of the lucrative career of bootlegging created by the passing of 18th Amendment in the United States, banning the manufacture, importation, and sale of alcoholic drinks.

Torrio and Capone established a monopoly for illegal activities in the nearby town of Cicero, but still were caught up in a mild turf war against Irish-American bootlegger Dion O'Banion. When O'Banion was murdered, all hell broke loose amongst the gangs in Chicago and a Mob War began as his subordinates sought revenge and Torrio, a pacifist who narrowly survived an assassination attempt during the events, opted to abandon Chicago and leave all his operations to Capone.

Capone brought things under control with the murder of O'Banion's successor, Hymie Weiss, and set about establishing himself in the establishment of Chicago.

Things started going downhill again when Capone had seven rival gangsters killed in the 1929 Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, bringing him unwanted national attention (though, that said, there is some speculation that he was innocent of that particular crime). The Federal government finally stepped in, assigning Prohibition enforcer Eliot Ness to do some damage against Capone with his handpicked team of incorruptible agents nicknamed The Untouchables, while investigations into his massive secret income for the purpose of tax evasion charges were underway.

Capone finally went to trial in 1931 and, after his attempt to fix the jury failed, he was convicted as a tax cheat. During his imprisonment, a latent case of syphilis he had developed finally hit the tertiary stage, and the damage to his nervous system completely destroyed him. He was released in 1939 and died eight years later.

Not a member of The Mafia (The Mafia was restricted to those of Sicilian descent and Capone, as previously mentioned, was of Neapolitan descent), although his organization, the Chicago Outfit, as well as Capone himself, sat on The Commission. Within a few years of his rise to power, the ethnic divisions in the American mob effectively became meaningless.

Tropes related to Al Capone:

  • Afraid of Needles: This was why Capone refused treatment for the syphilis that eventually killed him.
  • Appeal to Force: Reportedly once claimed "You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word."
  • Arch-Enemy: "Bugs" Moran, leader of the North Side Gang and Chicago's second greatest gangster. More murderous and ruthless than Capone ("Bugs" was underworld slang for Ax-Crazy), but tended to put his pride ahead of sensible decisions and had a serious case of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder when it came to Capone's repeated attempts to strike truces with him, until Capone expressed his displeasure in the form of the St. Valentines Day Massacre.
    • In popular myth, Prohibition agent Eliot Ness and The Untouchables were this too.
  • Batter Up: He apparently beat three disloyal minions to death with a baseball bat.
  • Black Sheep: From the point of view of Al, his brother James was one — he travelled west, changed his name from James Vicenzo Capone to Richard James Hart, and became a Prohibition Agent, earning the nickname of "Two-Gun" Hart. When the newspapers somehow found out his relationship to Public Enemy #1, he and his family moved further west and he joined the BIA as a reservation policeman in Idaho, where he arrested at least 20 wanted killers. The two remained in contact despite their differences, and Hart introduced his children to their "Uncle Al."
  • Brooklyn Rage
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster : He made no secret of his enjoyment of the power and luxury his crime brought him.
  • Dirty Cop: Several served his organization. The sentence "I own the police" is usually attributed to him.
  • The Don
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Scarface. He was apparently embarrassed by the scars, hiding them in photographs and claiming they were war wounds.
  • Evil Mentor: Frankie Yale first, then followed by Johnny Torrio.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Worked with a group of notoriously violent bootleggers called "The Purple Gang."
  • Friend to All Children/Wouldn't Hurt a Child: One of the (surprisingly many) good things about him. In addition, his son Albert Francis aka "Sonny" most certainly did not follow in his father's footsteps.
  • Gangsterland: One of the first names everybody associates with the trope.
  • Genre Savvy: He knew all about the crack prohibition agent time, Izzy And Moe, and when they decided to target him, Al was ready for them. Namely, he had private detectives tail them throughout Chicago to make sure they would never get an opportunity to get into disguise and sneak into his businesses.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: He tried to pass off his facial scars as war wounds, but they were from a knife fight in his youth.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: It is believed he caught syphilis from one of his brothels. This would eventually turn him into an empty shell of a man later in his life.
  • Intimidating Revenue Service: Underestimating it was his undoing. Tax evasion was his only conviction, nothing else would stick, since he had such good lawyers/intimidation that none of the more "serious" charges would stand up to court scrutiny.
  • Just One Little Mistake: After a lifetime of crime, he got nailed for tax evasion.
  • Legitimate Businessmen's Social Club: He used laundries as a front for his dealings (hence the idiom "money laundering"). He was also officially an antique dealer.
  • Luxury Prison Suite: After he finally went to jail.
  • Mama Didn't Raise No Criminal: Capone's mother always denied that her son was a ruthless gangster. In her own words: "Al is a good boy".
  • Mistaken Nationality: After his death some American newspapers tried to pass off that he was born in Italy. In reality Capone was of Italian descent, but born on American soil.
  • The Mob Boss Is Scarier: One of the trope codifiers, at least in the US.
  • Mob War: Against the Irish North Side Gang, culminating in the infamous Valentine's Day Massacre.
  • More Dakka: His name is nearly synonymous with the Thompson Submachine Gun, aka "The Chicago Typewriter."
  • Nasty Party: In 1929, Al Capone learned that three men intended to betray him. He invited them to a lavish banquet, and once they'd eaten and drunk their fill ordered his bodyguards to tie the men to their chairs. Capone worked all three over with a baseball bat, before finally ordering his guards to shoot the would-be betrayers and dump the remains.
  • Neighbourhood-Friendly Gangsters: During The Great Depression he set up soup lines in Chicago.
  • Nice Hat: Wore a huge white hat.
  • Pet the Dog: Had several of these moments.
  • Phony Veteran: At times, he passed his prominent facial scars off as old war wounds, but he never served in the military.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: Al liked to carry a Colt Police Positive as his Weapon of Choice.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!
  • Smoking Is Cool: Iconic cigar smoker.
  • The Virus: It's been proposed that part of his ruthless, ragging personality was caused by him suffering from third stage syphilis, which had no treatment at the time. His son Albert Francis Capone was born with congenital syphilis as well due to this.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: He moved to Chicago from his hometown Brooklyn because he was being investigated for murder.

Fictional works portraying Al Capone:

  • Tintin in America, where he serves as the Big Bad. He's the only real person character in the entire series.
  • Scarface (1932), the original B&W film from 1932, in which the protagonist, Tony Camonte, was inspired by Al Capone. The first adaptation of the novel Scarface.
  • The Untouchables: The villain of two television shows and a film, all of the same name.
  • Young Indiana Jones
  • Night at the Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian has an animated photo of him recruited by Kahmunrah, along with wax statues of Napoleon and Ivan the Terrible.
  • Road to Perdition: In a deleted scene. His enforcer Frank Nitti appears in his place.
  • Boardwalk Empire: He first appears as a young thug trying to expand his share in the business. Over the course of five seasons, we see him becoming the crime boss of Chicago.
  • Deadliest Warrior: A foil for Jesse James in the second season. He loses.
  • Soul Eater: Him and his gang are Kishin eggs, though the writer seems to have made the "mafia" mistake.
  • The Night Chicago Died: about a fictional account of Capone and his gang murdering at least 100 police but not including the narrator's father.
  • Earnest Evans: Shows up as one of the main villains, with his thugs appearing as some of the game's assorted Mooks. He and his minions later show up in the sequel, El Viento. Later translations changed his name to Brady Tressider or Vincente DeMarco.
  • The Untouchables of Eliot Mouse: a family-oriented animated series by BRB Internaciónal (of David The Gnome fame) set in a version of Earth populated by cats and mice, and featuring a feline version named "Al Catone" (get it?) who operates in "Cheesecago", is pursued by the Eliot "Mouse" of the title and has "Dog" Moran and his gang as his main rivals.
  • Bill and Ted's Excellent Video Game Adventure: Capone is one of the many historical figures featured in this NES game.
  • Shadow Hearts: From the New World: In this PlayStation 2 RPG, Capone has a giant talking cat martial artist under his employ.
  • Time Squad: In "The Clownfather", Al Capone had his henchmen act as clowns for one of his children's (or grandchildren's) birthday party and had clowns running his criminal empire. When he learned how the clowns were doing it, he switched them back.
  • Lois and Clark: A scientist used cloning techniques to bring gangsters back to life. Scarface was one of them.
  • The Super Mario Bros. Super Show: King Koopa once took the moniker of Al Koopone.
  • Married... with Children: When Al and Jefferson found a secret compartment inside the shoe store, Al suggested it was Al Capone's treasure.
    • Bud once borrowed money from a loan shark named Vito Capone ("no relation").
  • Billibub Baddings: Al Capone plays a semi-major role in the first book, The Case of the Singing Sword, and the conflict between him and "Bugs" Moran drives much of the plot.
  • Dick Tracy's first arch enemy was a Capone Expy named Big Boy Caprice.
  • Epic Rap Battles of History pits him against Blackbeard.
  • One episode of The Real Ghostbusters features him leading a gang of demonic mobsters ruling another dimension that's a cross between Hell and Prohibition-era Chicago.
  • The Night's Dawn Trilogy has Al Capone return from The Beyond at the height of the reality dysfunction. He effectively takes over a planetary government.