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Film / The Untouchables (1987)

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"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."
Jimmy Malone

The Untouchables is a 1987 gangster movie directed by Brian De Palma and written by David Mamet. It stars Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Robert De Niro, Andy García, and Patricia Clarkson in her screen debut. Connery won an Academy Award for his interpretation.

Based on the exploits of (Real Life) 1920s Chicago Prohibition 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. This team was 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.

The film includes the following touchable tropes:

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  • 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.
  • Almost Dead Guy: Malone takes a burst from a Thompson in the chest, but manages to live long enough to talk later.
  • And Starring: The cast roll here ends with "and Sean Connery as Malone".
  • Arch-Enemy: Al Capone to Eliot Ness.
  • Artifact Alias: While recruiting George Stone, Malone becomes suspicious of his accent and soon learns Stone was born Giuseppe Petri, later changing his name to disguise his Italian heritage. However, the character continues to go by Stone for the rest of the film, and is referred to as Giuseppe on only one other occasion.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety:
    • Ness kills the first mobster in the Union Station gunfight with a shotgun...that he fires at arm's length, not braced against the shoulder, one-handed. That's a great way to break your shoulder or face with the recoil, or at the very least have your shot be wildly inaccurate.
      • As a real-life illustration of the above, surviving Columbine massacre witnesses say that Dylan Klebold shot that way (one handed with a shotgun, arm extended) in the library shootout: the recoil made the shotgun fly back into his face, breaking his nose.
    • After running into his daughter's room to make sure she's safe, he hugs her and picks her up—with the gun still in his hand.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • Capone and Ness never met face to face before 1932, when Ness was among the federal agents who escorted Capone from Cook County Jail to Atlanta Federal Penitentiary.
    • And on that subject, Ness had nothing to do with Capone's fall due to tax evasion. The man who led the tax evasion investigation was IRS agent Frank J. Wilson (whom Oscar Wallace bears resemblance to), and helped by an undercover agent named Mike Malone, who got himself into Capone's inner circle and access to Capone's ledger. Ness' job was rooting out corruption within the Chicago Police.
    • Frank Nitti wasn't thrown off a roof. He and Capone were both sent to prison on tax evasion charges, but Nitti 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.
    • The judge at Capone's trial switched the pool of eligible jurors prior to the trial with that of an unrelated case, allowing both prosecution and defense to conduct proper juror selection, not the whole jury mid-trial. Additionally, Capone was found guilty by the jury, which he calmly accepted, his lawyer did not enter a guilty plea against his wishes and Capone did not punch him (Capone was very much a Villain with Good Publicity, and physically striking his attorney would ruin that).
  • 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.
    • Similarly, while a judge could certainly dismiss an entire jury if he or she felt it had been corrupted, they could not trade that jury for a different one from another case. The jury selection process (known in legalese as voire dire) is designed to ensure, among other things, that the prospective jurors have no ties to either the prosecution or the defendant. Bringing in a jury the defense attorneys hadn't had a chance to examine would guarantee any conviction would be thrown out on appeal. In addition, no prosecutor would agree to such a thing: what if one or more of the new jurors were friends or business associates of the defendant (which is exactly what voire dire is meant to prevent)?
    • The RCMP would not conduct a bootlegging raid. Most provinces had repealed prohibition laws throughout the 1920s (it was not a sweeping federal law like in the United States), with Prince Edward Island being a holdout until 1948, and was a well and truly dead issue by 1930. The RCMP were also famously reluctant to enforce prohibition laws after experiences as the North-West Mounted Police in frontier days, which contributed to the formation of forces such as the Alberta Provincial Police (the First World War was the primary factor).
  • 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 Bookworm: Oscar Wallace. An accountant by trade, he shows his courage under fire during the bridge shootout.
  • Badass Crew: The Untouchables. (Even Oscar the nerdy tax accountant - a tax accountant for crying out loud! - achieves a Moment of Awesome or two.) They were arguably more badass in real life, considering that unlike in the film, they all lived.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Eliot Ness appears the classiest of the Untouchables thanks to his fine black suit (provided by Giorgio Armani, no less!).
  • Batman Gambit: At Capone's trial, Ness realizes that the judge is skewing the trial in Capone's favor, and that the judge must be (or has 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, as the DA quietly notes to Ness that the judge's name isn't actually in the ledger....
  • Batter Up!: Al Capone famously uses a baseball bat to savagely murder one of his subordinates who was in charge of the first liquor stash successfully raided by the team. This was inspired by a real incident, though he actually killed two men IRL.
  • Being Good Sucks: Ness uses strictly lawful procedures to try to bring Capone down until Jim Malone shows him a less orthodox way. Ness becomes even more of a vigilante after Malone's death - as demonstrated by his vengeful, extrajudicial killing of Nitti and how Ness forces the judge to fix a corrupted jury by lying to him.
  • Big Bad: Capone, of course, is the main antagonist of the film.
  • Big Damn Heroes: During the train station shootout, Ness has run out of bullets and one of the henchmen is just about to come out of cover and shoot him when Stone comes out behind a corner, tosses Ness a gun, and stops the baby carriage's progress down the stairs.
  • Big "NO!": Ness yells "No!" just before Nitti shoots the bailiff and flees to the courthouse's roof towards the end of the film.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Capone is behind bars, his deadliest enforcer 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. The film also ends with the repeal of prohibition, which was one of the driving forces behind organized crime during the period in the first place, though Ness takes it in stride saying he'll go have a drink. And while uplifting in context, the last line carries with it a bit of tragic irony, though, as in real life, Ness died an alcoholic.
  • Black-and-White Morality: Capone thinks nothing of ordering or ignoring the deaths of children and beating his own men to death with baseball bats. Ness is all-American Hero who loves nothing more than his family and getting notes from his wife with his lunch. But as the film goes on, this turns into Black-and-Gray Morality as Ness adapts Jimmy Malone's "escalate" philosophy to bring down Capone.
  • Blood Oath : Malone takes Ness to a church, where they talk about blood oaths and tells Ness they are now bound by one.
  • Bond One-Liner: A classic non-Bond example after Ness kills Frank Nitti by pushing him from the roof of the courthouse and he falls through the roof of a Model A:
    Stone: Where is Nitti?
    Ness: He's in the car...
    • Notably, this is all vengeance for Nitti killing Malone.
    • Also, Ness's line to Nitti just before: "Did it sound anything like that?!"
  • Boom, Headshot!: When Nitti shoots the informant in the elevator and when Stone shoots the Bowtie Driver.
  • Bottomless Magazines:
    • Inverted with Ness' M1911 pistol in the train station shootout which fires six times before locking empty, one less than the gun's capacity and four less than the Star Model B Kevin Costner used on-set.
    • Similarly, the Star Model B Nitti uses in the courthouse shootout only has four rounds in his second magazine before it locks empty.
  • Bribe Backfire: A corrupt alderman tries to bribe Ness on behalf of Capone. The alderman suffers no personal consequences but he does incur a classic scolding from Ness (in front of Ness's team), including the splendid line "In Roman times, when a fellow was convicted of trying to bribe a public official, they would cut off his nose, and sew him into a bag with a wild animal, and then throw the bag into a river," and has the bribe tossed back at him.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Implied during the border raid when Malone tricks the thug into talking after he shoots the already dead mobster:
    Malone: And don't let him clean himself until after he talks!
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Malone to his fellow police workers. His old friend Mike points out that his new clothes are not very proper for an officer.
  • By-the-Book Cop: Eliot Ness, at least at first. He's quickly taught the folly of this when faced with the likes of Capone. He then goes full Cowboy Cop, raids places without a warrant, and, in one case, outright murders Nitti, whom he just arrested.
  • Call-Back: "Here 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 Gun: Nitti has Malone's home address written on a book of matches, which we see when he takes a match to light a cigarette shortly before he guns down Malone. Later, during Capone's trial, Ness has Nitti escorted from the courtroom after seeing he's carrying a gun, and orders Nitti to empty his pockets; the matchbook is among the items taken out. Ness then takes it to light a cigarette...
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • Capone's bookkeeper Walter Payne.
    • 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.
  • Climbing Climax: Capone's trial is interrupted when Nitti flees to the roof of the courthouse after shooting a bailiff.
  • Combat Pragmatist:
    • Malone spells it out for Ness, providing the page quote.
    • Later in the film, Malone pulls a sawed-off shotgun to chase away a Capone thug armed with a knife, saying, "Isn't that just like a Wop? Brings a knife to a gunfight!"
    • The gangsters are pretty pragmatic too. Said gangster lures Malone to Nitti...
  • Cool Old Guy: Even with his brutish personality, Malone is a friendly and charismatic man.
  • Cop Killer: Nitti. In addition to Wallace and Malone, he also kills two uniformed cops as he leaves the police station.
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: After murdering Wallace and George in the elevator, Nitti uses the blood to write "TOUCHABLE" on the wall.
  • Crapsaccharine World: Brian De Palma deliberately made Capone's surroundings very lavish and sumptuous:
    "My image of The Untouchables is that corruption looks great. It's like Nazi Germany. It's clean. It's big. Everything runs smoothly. The problem is all the oppressed people are in some camp somewhere and nobody ever sees them. So the world of Chicago is a slick world. A world that's run by money and corruption and it looks fabulous."
  • Creepy Monotone: Nitti doesn't talk much, but when he does, it's like this.
  • Dangerously Close Shave: In the opening scene, Al Capone moves his head while having a shave. Everyone in the room freezes as they see that the barber has cut him. Capone dismisses the unintentional injury.
  • Death by Adaptation: Frank Nitti, who in Real Life was not killed by Ness, but took over the Chicago Outfit after Capone's imprisonment and lived until 1943.
  • Death by Racism: A rare heroic example with Malone. When the mob sends a knife man into his apartment, Malone pulls a sawed-off shotgun on him. Malone calls the knife man a "dago bastard" while chasing him out out of his apartment. Unfortunately for Malone, this turns out to be a setup: Nitti guns him down at the doorway immediately after that.
  • 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 window 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' arms after Nitti ambushes him with a Tommy Gun, but not before passing on vital information about the bookkeeper whose testimony can bring Capone down.
  • 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 falls to his death after being pushed off the roof by Ness.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • Done in only the second scene, when Capone's thugs blow up a place that wouldn't buy his booze.
    • Malone subscribes to this in a sense, as he believes the only way to defeat Capone is to escalate the conflict since Capone will, too.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Right before Oscar and the witness get in the elevator, an attractive woman walks out and gives everyone a flirtatious grin, meaning nobody bothers to look at the elevator "cop" who turns out to be Frank Nitti, there to execute both of them. Note that the camera follows this particular lady down the hall, who was suspiciously looking at the elevator as it left then goes and stands next to the DA, indicating that she's likely an employee of Capone.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: The death of Jim Malone.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Frank Nitti.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: Done by Stone to Walter Payne after the train station shootout. Made even more effective by the fact that Stone is lying on the lobby floor and using his legs and one hand to hold a baby carriage in place.
  • The Dreaded: Capone is very feared because of his Hair-Trigger Temper and the violent consequences he may take if someone messes with him. Just look at the face of the barber who accidentally cut him at the beginning.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: A villainous example - Frank Nitti briefly dresses up as a police officer to infiltrate the police department and assassinate Oscar and the informant, along with two other police officers who were waiting outside. This is Truth in Television, as the historical Capone really did use men dressed as cops to commit the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, although he never really killed any of the Untouchables.
  • 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.
  • 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 waited to do until 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.
  • Fatal Family Photo: A variation with the same outcome. Two of the four untouchables who pose as brothers for a photo are killed before the film's end.
  • Faux Affably Evil: In public, Capone acts polite and gregarious. Behind closed doors, we see he's cruel, petty, vicious and quite bloodthirsty.
  • Fictionalized Death Account: Frank Nitti (who is portrayed as Capone's best hitman instead of the guy whose business acumen made sure the criminal empire always turned a profit), is depicted as being killed during Capone's trial. In reality Nitti was on trial alongside Capone, although he was only sentenced to a year and a half in jail. Nitti and Capone were both sentenced in 1931, Nitti would live until 1943, when he committed suicide.
  • The Film of the Series: Only not really.
  • Firing One-Handed:
    • Famously done by Elliot Ness during the staircase shootout with a Winchester Model 1912 shotgun.
    • During the same scene, one of the Capone gangsters is shone firing his Tommy gun one-handed before getting shot by Stone.
  • Foil: Elliot Ness starts as Chicago's idealistic 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?
  • Four-Philosophy Ensemble: Eliot Ness (the Realist), Jimmy Malone (the Cynic), George Stone (the Optimist), and Oscar Wallace (the Apathetic).
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Eliot Ness (choleric), Jimmy Malone (melancholic), Oscar Wallace (phlegmatic), and George Stone (sanguine).

  • 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.
  • Guns Akimbo: Stone uses two guns during the shoot-out at the train station. Note that, in his introduction, Stone is presented as something of a pistol prodigy.
  • The Gunslinger: Stone is one of the two best gunmen at the police academy (and didn't stutter like Williamson). One of the reasons he got recruited.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Capone, when not in public, is easy to piss off with a single failure or even in an attempt to cross him. In the court, he had to be hold by several men when his lawyer turns against him or else he could have made another baseball bat scene 2.0.
  • Happily Married: Catherine and Eliot are never seen arguing even with the stressful situation they're living with.
  • 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.
  • Hero Killer: Nitti. The two Untouchable casualties are his work.
  • 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 presumed 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.
    • The first bust by the Untouchables is of a brewery in a building right across the road from the police station where they are based.
  • Historical Domain Character: Eliot Ness, Al Capone, and Frank Nitti.
  • Historical Badass Upgrade:
    • Elliot Ness and his Untouchables skillfully combat Al Capone and ultimately bring him down on tax evasion charges. In reality, while the Untouchables put pressure on Capone's organization, and Ness weeded out the corruption in Chicago's law enforcement, it was an unrelated IRS operation that ultimately brought down Capone. Ness's self-promotion at the time helped popularize the impression that Ness was responsible.
    • The real Frank Nitti preferred not to get his hands dirty, and generally left the violence to his subordinates.
  • Historical Beauty Upgrade: The real Nitti was a deceptively meek-looking guy with a mustache, not the pale skinny psychopath of the film.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Besides portraying the Untouchables as largely responsible for Capone's apprehension, the film also portrays Ness as an Action Dad who gains resolve when Capone targets his family, but Ness had no children when taking on Capone (in fact, Ness's only child, Robert, would be adopted). His later life, in reality, was marked by business failures, alcoholism, an unsuccessful political career and a rocky personal life (he was married three times). Much of the legend around Ness, including the book which inspired the television series, was a conscious effort by Ness to rehabilitate his reputation near the end of his life.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade:
    • Capone himself was a ruthless crime boss 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. 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.
    • Despite his nickname, Frank Nitti was Capone's number two rather than an enforcer, managing the outfit's organization and financial dealings. The movie's Nitti can be viewed as a Composite Character of various Capone henchmen, including "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn and Fred "Killer" Burke, both of whom were suspected of masterminding the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
  • 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. What actually happened was that the jury was switched much earlier in the trial, and it wasn't specifically the jury that was changed, but the pool of potential 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.
    • The Mounties would never get involved in a bootlegging raid, seeing as alcohol was legal in Canada during Prohibition.
  • 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.
    • Shortly before being gunned down Malone takes a drink from a bottle hidden in his apartment. Unlike the funny way Wallace snuck the quick drink this is much more dire and seems to be a last drink of a man who knows his days are numbered.
  • 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.
    • In fairness, even Malone probably couldn't imagine that Capone & Nitti were desperate or crazy enough, respectively, to commit multiple murders in a police station.
  • Impersonating an Officer: Frank Nitti disguises himself as a police officer to assassinate the bookkeeper the Untouchables have persuaded to testify.
  • 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. When first seen at the police academy firing range, he quick-draws his revolver from behind his back and puts all six shots into his target - three in the center of mass, then three in the head - in about two seconds.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: 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....
    • Played completely straight in the Baby Carriage scene. The infant in the baby carriage somehow survives the carriage rolling down the stairs and at least one bullet going through it.
  • Impromptu Tracheotomy: One of the gangsters during the train station shootout gets shot through the back of the throat by Stone.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Ness is the leader of the Untouchables no less. Tell that to the corrupt alderman who tried to bribe him. He ain't playing in the same league as Capone.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Scoop, though he is seen mostly in public appearances, infringes on the snowplow raid to get an exclusive story.
  • It's Personal: Malone warns Ness that he must take this mindset in order to win. Because the gangsters certainly will.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Subverted. After leading a raid on Capone's gang on the Canadian border, Ness has captured one of the gang's coders and is interrogating him in a nearby cabin. The man refuses to talk, so Malone walks outside and pulls another member of the gang to his feet against the window. Exclaiming he's fed up with the easy way, Malone sticks his gun in the man's mouth, and demands information by counting down from three. When met with no response, he blows the gangster's brains out into the room. This scares the captured man enough to spill everything. Unbeknownst to said coder, the other gangster was already a corpse (he was shot by Ness in the earlier firefight).
  • Jury and Witness Tampering: Al Capone bribes all the jurors in his tax dodging trial to acquit him, and Ness smells something fishy. Sure enough, Ness' suspicions are confirmed when Stone discovers a list with all the corrupted jurors' names on it, with the amounts they were paid. Ness then 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 children and other innocent bystanders getting blown up at the beginning.
  • Kid Amidst the Chaos: Clichéd as it is, the Baby Carriage. 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!
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: The 'Bowtie Driver'. Mid countdown.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Malone. Ness starts as a Knight in Shining Armor, but gradually turns into one of these as well.
  • Large Ham: Capone, particularly during his Villainous Breakdown.
  • Laser-Guided Karma:
    • Nitti has killed Malone and shot at least three other people during his escape, but he's sure he'll never go to jail. He doesn't.
    • 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.
  • The Last DJ: When Ness asks Malone why he's still a beat cop at his age, and the latter answers that he's one of the few policemen in Chicago who isn't on the take.
  • 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, then enjoys a sip from a nearby barrel of liquor. He's an accountant, by the way.
  • Light Is Not Good: Frank Nitti is usually shown dressed in a white suit.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: Malone's death.

  • Meaningful Echo: "What are you prepared to do?"
  • Men of Sherwood: The Chicago cops outside of the main quartet are unreliable due to widespread corruption, but the Mounties provide a lot of tactical assistance in ambushing over a dozen bootleggers at the Canadian border and kill many of them without losing anyone.
  • Mentor Archetype: Malone teaches Ness how to deal with Capone's forces in Chicago beyond conventional legal methods.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Jim Malone is Eliot Ness' mentor, showing him the ropes on how to bring down Capone and the corrupt system working against him. Then, Frank Nitti murders him on Capone's orders.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: When Bowtie makes it clear that he's willing to kill Capone's bookkeeper to keep him from testifying in court, the bookkeeper immediately tells Ness that he'll testify if the Untouchables save him.
  • Mob-Boss Suit Fitting: A variation, with Al Capone talking business while getting a straight-razor shave from a barber.
  • Mob War: Chicago is being torn apart by the violence between different mobs. Truth in Television.
  • Money Is Not Power: This Trope is the entire reason for the film's title. Eliot Ness and his group cannot be bribed, which is Al Capone's usual way of keeping the cops away from him.
  • Multiple Gunshot Death: Jim Malone. Pretty rare for the Trope, he manages to survive long enough to provide Ness a vital clue, although the scene makes it clear that he's in incredible agony the whole time.
  • 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: Referenced in-universe via dialogue from Malone (which is also the page quote for this trope), possibly a Call-Back to Malone's earlier description of "the Chicago way" ("he pulls a knife, you pull a gun"), and subverted in that the gangster with the knife is actually just bait, meant to lure Malone into Frank Nitti's fatal tommy-gun ambush.
  • 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.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Malone is supposed to be Irish, yet Sean Connery speaks in his normal accent. When asked why he didn't attempt an Irish accent for the film, he reportedly said, "If I didn't talk like this, you wouldn't know who I am." (it was named "Worst Accent Ever" by the British film magazine Empire).
  • Of Corpse He's Alive: The team are trying to interrogate a mobster to no effect. Malone goes outside to grab the body of a gangster killed in a shoot-out and pops him up against the window in front of the suspect's sight, hiding the man's bullet wound. He then berates the corpse as if interrogating him, pushing a gun to his head and finally shooting it. Naturally, the terrified mobster agrees to tell anything he knows.
  • Officer O'Hara: Malone and Mike.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • The barber trying to shave Capone while he chats with the reporters, after Al moves suddenly and gets a nasty cut on the cheek from his razor.
    • Wallace when Nitti turns his gun on him.
    • Bow Tie attempts to sneak up on Malone with a knife...until he turns around and points a sawn-off shotgun at him.
    • 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 Cop, Young Cop: Malone and Stone.
  • 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.
    • Gets downplayed in the end, seeing Malone ultimately picked the second-best shooter, as the best shooter could barely put together an intelligible sentence:
    Malone: There goes the next Chief of Police!
  • 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.
  • Ominous Music Box Tune: The tune is first heard as Elliot helps a woman struggling with her baby carriage up the stairs. The second time we hear it is at the end of the bloody shootout immediately afterward.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: When Frank Nitti executes Oscar and the witness he first sends out an attractive lady so they can be Distracted by the Sexy, then he makes a concerted effort to hide his face as they get on the elevator. When he shoots them it’s quick Boom, Headshot! and then he quickly rushes off. None of the stoic arrogance we normally see from him indicating he knew how important and dangerous this job was.
  • 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.
  • Open Secret: Early on, Malone states that everyone knows where Capone's operations are, it's just that nobody's willing to strike at them quickly enough to avoid the raid being leaked.
  • Pistol Pose: The poster has the other three Untouchables holding rifles in the back as Ness is about to shoot you and under a giant Capone as Evil Overlooker.
  • Please, I Will Do Anything!:
    • George, the man who was checking the alcohol cargo in the Canadian frontier, gets scared after Jim Malone shoots a gangster's corpse to intimidate him and promises to talk about Capone's tax evasion.
    • At the Chicago Train Station, Walter Payne, Capone's bookkeeper, is held at gunpoint by a gangster and encourages Ness to kill him, promising he will tell anything about Capone's tax evasion in the trial.
  • 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: He died like a pig.
    Ness: What did you say?
    Nitti: I said that 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]
    Nitti: Hey! AAHH!
    [Ness pushes him off the roof]
    Nitti: AAAHHH!
  • Properly Paranoid: "I'm telling you, they ARE going to send someb--"
  • Psycho for Hire: Frank Nitti kills people without even battling an eye and takes pride in it.
  • Put Down Your Gun and Step Away: Played with. When Bowtie threatens to kill Payne unless Ness lets both of them go, Ness lowers his gun. It's a ploy to keep Bowtie's attention off Stone, who hasn't lowered his and proceeds to drill Bowtie through the mouth.
  • The Quiet One:
    • Stone almost never speaks, unless when he has to.
    • Nitti is usually seen in silence, but when he talks...
  • Rage Breaking Point: Ness is a fairly non-violent person, but then Capone menaces his family. He confronts the gangster himself after Oscar Wallace is killed by Frank Nitti and throws Nitti off the building rooftop when he says that Malone died screaming like a pig.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: U.S. Treasury officer Ness, Chicago beat cop Malone, U.S. Treasury Department accountant Oscar Wallace, police academy rookie Stone.
  • 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 which led to the 21st Amendment.)
  • 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 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 Oscar time to charge at him from several feet away and 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.

  • Sadistic Choice: During the stairway shootout Ness has to let go of the baby carriage in order to pump the action on his shotgun, so it starts rolling down the stairs. Ness then has a choice between moving for cover or running after the baby carriage. He chooses the latter, but this means the baby is vulnerable to gunfire from everyone shooting at Ness.
  • Save the Villain: The film both affirms and subverts the trope when Elliot Ness first assists Frank Nitti, whom he had cornered dangling from a rope off the edge of a building, and then after enduring some Evil Gloating Ness reappraises the situation and casually throws him off the roof.
  • Saved by the Platform Below: Ness chases 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.
  • Scenery Porn: While they may be on the wrong side of Montana, the Rockies seen in the border raid are breath taking.
  • Schiff One-Liner: "I think I'll have a drink". Doubles as a meta-continuity nod to the TV-series.
  • Scotireland: Sean Connery plays an Irish cop using his real accent, and it's never addressed. This is, however, rather common for Connery.
  • Screaming Woman: A woman's scream starts off the staircase shootout when she sees Elliot Ness take a shotgun out from under his Badass Longcoat. After that her screams are all silent with only the gunshots and the wheels of the Baby Carriage bumping down the stairs being heard.
  • 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.
  • Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: Kevin Costner is about to shoot you while Sean Connery watches! Since the 2010 Blu-ray reissue, Ness's gun is replaced by a police badge, presumably to underscore that he isn't an Anti-Hero.
  • Shame If Something Happened: Frank Nitti threatens Eliot Ness's family in this manner. Ness, to his credit, immediately gets his family under police protection.
    Frank Nitti: Nice house.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Out of the four main characters, Plucky Comic Relief Oscar Wallace is the first to die.
  • Shoot the Hostage Taker: At the climax of the station shootout.
    Gangster: Me and the bookkeeper are walking out of here, getting into a car, and driving away. Or else he dies. He dies, and you ain't got nothing. You've got five seconds to make up your minds.
    Eliot Ness: [ignores the gangster, addresses Stone] You got him?
    Stone: [Stone is lying flat on his back, supporting a baby with one hand and holding a revolver in the other] Yeah, I got him.
    Gangster: One!
    Ness: Take him.
    Stone: [headshot] Two.
  • 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.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Shown Their Work: While the RCMP would not have conducted a bootlegging raid, they are shown wearing a brown tunic instead of the more iconic Red Serge, which became a formal dress uniform in 1920.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: When Frank Nitti says this to Eliot Ness to taunt him about killing Malone before shoving him off a roof:
    Nitti: I said that your friend died screaming, like a stuck Irish pig. Now you think about that when I beat the rap.
    (Ness calmly gets pissed and drags Nitti to the ledge and tosses him off, Nitti screams on the way down)
    Ness: Did he sound anything like that?!
  • The Sociopath: Capone is a violent psychopath who finds joy in the death of his adversaries, and so does Nitti, his dragon.
    • Notice that when Al Capone bludgeons the guy to death with a baseball bat, the others in the room all look on with varying degrees of horror, except Nitti who just calmly watches as if Capone were merely swatting a fly.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Malone's death scene is interspliced with clips of Capone watching a performance of the opera Pagliacci, and sincerely weeping over the beauty of the singer's voice. The music is not cut off whenever the scene cuts away from the opera — it continues to play over both locations.
  • Specs of Awesome: Besides coming up with the plan to take down Al Capone, Oscar Wallace shows himself to be this. During the Canadian border battle, when his tommy gun jams, he charges one of the hoods and knocks him unconscious with the gun butt. Sadly, after the battle his badassery will be short-lived.
  • The Squad: Also a Badass Crew.
  • Standard Police Motto: The first cadet interviewed for the team stammers out "To protect and serve" when asked why he wants to join the force. Stone gives a slightly more elaborate, "To protect the property and citizenry of the City of Chicago." Malone isn't impressed by either.
  • Steel Ear Drums: The baby in the carriage sequence.
  • Strike Me Down with All of Your Hatred!: Done by Nitti to Ness. He's really just playing a Batman Gambit to toy with him, except it backfires. Badly.
  • 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 nearly shot by Ness who's lying on a wooden scaffold, presumably put up for paiting 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."
  • Token Enemy Minority: George Stone (birth name Giuseppe Petri), is also Italian. This leads to bigotry from Malone, who calls him a "thieving wop" upon discovering that he is Italian. Interestingly enough, Stone is played by Andy Garcia who is actually Cuban, not Italian, but is famous for playing Italian characters.
  • Token Good Cop: When Ness seeks allies on the Chicago Police Department to go after Al Capone, the only honest recruits he can find are veteran Irish Cop Malone and an academy trainee who Capone hasn't had a chance to corrupt yet.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Nitti taunts Ness about Malone while both of them are standing on top of a tall building, and pays for it dearly.
    • The Sicilian gunman who tries to shoot Ness with a pistol, when the latter has a shotgun on him, at virtually arm's length.
  • 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 St. Jude keychain.
  • Truth in Television: The gunman at the Canadian Border furiously tries to unjam him tommy gun as Wallace closes in. The Thompson submachine gun was extremely prone to jamming, which is why the gangsters rarely used it.
  • Try Not to Die: Essentially, Malone's first rule of law enforcement: Make sure when your shift is over, you go home alive.
  • Unfriendly Fire: Bowtie Driver guns down several civilians who get caught in the crossfire during the shootout in the train station.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story:
    • Ness and his Untouchables really existed. Capone really did get busted 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 other Untouchables — Jimmy Malone, George Stone and Oliver Wallace — are entirely fictional. In real life there were 11 "Untouchables" not counting Ness, and they all lived to see the end of Prohibition.
    • Ness did not kill Frank Nitti, who in real life 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 lived until 1943, when he committed suicide.
    • The tax evasion case was based on information collected by Frank J. Wilson, from the Treasury Department's Bureau of Internal Revenue, with the help from a Capone accountant named Edward J. O'Harenote ; the credit for bringing down Capone belongs to him, not Eliot Ness. Capone and Ness never met face-to-face before 1932.
    • Of note is that Jimmy 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.
  • Villain Ball: Before Nitti goes to murder Jimmy Malone, he writes his apartment address on a matchbook. Unfortunately for him, he forgets to dispose of it after the hit. When he is accosted by Eliot Ness, the federal agent appropriates Nitti's matchbook to light his cigarette with. Ness sees the address, and putting two and two together, chases Nitti and ends up pushing him off a roof into a car.
    • Nitti also can't leave well enough alone! Ness pulls him up to the roof after considering shooting him when he's hanging by a rope but then Nitti starts gloating about killing Malone, saying that he "died screaming like a stuck Irish pig" which is what finally makes Ness throw him off the roof to his Disney Villain Death.
  • Villain Has a Point: Everything Capone says during the baseball bat scene is perfectly true and applicable to his organization.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Capone, who is popular with the media (and somewhat of a celebrity) despite his illegal ties.
  • Villainous Breakdown:
    • Capone's unflappable demeanor slips badly after he learns about the raid at the Canadian border:
      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!
    • 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.
  • Visual Pun: Right after Nitti murders Oscar Wallace, George (the informant) and two cops, he's seen fleeing the scene(by Chief Dorsett), and his hands are coated with blood. Nitti (if Dorsett weren't crooked) could have been caught literally red handed.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never find out what happened to Chief Mike Dorsett after his fight with Malone.
  • 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 taunt Ness about how Malone died screaming like a pig, 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.
  • Where Do You Think You Are?:
    RCMP Captain: I do not approve of your methods.
    Eliot Ness: Yeah, well... You're not from Chicago.
  • 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. Not to mention Capone ordering the death of Ness' daughter and infant son.
  • Would You Like to Hear How They Died?: Frank Nitti tells Elliot Ness that Malone "died screaming like a stuck Irish pig." This doesn't end well for Nitti.
  • You Have Failed Me: Al Capone beats one of his goons to death with a bat.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The Untouchables


The Untouchables

Elliot Ness gets caught in a dilemma between saving the baby in the carriage that is going down the staircase, and taking out the gangsters that were sent to kill him. Don't worry, both Elliot and the baby managed to survive the hit.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / BabyCarriage

Media sources: