The Untouchables (1987)


Our Weekly Entertainment Dispatch

Ness and his Untouchables take on Capone

The Untouchables (1987)

The Untouchables captivated audiences when it premiered in 1987.  Director Bran DePalma managed to pull in the biggest names in show business to tell the story of Eliot Ness and his crusaders as they took down Al Capone.  Ness’ “Untouchables” shot it out with the Chicago Outfit as they built their big case against Scarface.  Is it a true story? No.  Is it a great story? Yes.

The Untouchables fictionalizes the tale of Eliot Ness, a Prohibition Agent for the Treasury Bureau in 1920.  Costner plays Ness and does a nice job as a strait-laced Ness.  The Untouchables are Andy Garcia as Chicago Police recruit George Stone, Charles Martin Smith as IRS Agent Oscar Wallace, and Sean Connery, who steals the show as old school Chicago Cop Jim Malone.  Connery would win a well-deserved Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance.  Robert DeNiro is also fantastic as the psychotic Al Capone.  DeNiro seems to put a lot of “enthusiasm” into the role. 

Ness and his crew build a Volstead Act violation case against Capone. (The Volstead Act is the bill that codified the 18th Amendment’s ban on the sale, manufacture, or transportation of alcohol.  It was in effect until the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition in 1931.)  Ness, knowing that Capone owned Chicago law enforcement, hand selected his crew, ensuring that they could not be bought.  (Capone did, in fact, unsuccessfully try to bribe Ness) His hodgepodge of lawmen goes after Capone’s liquor operations until IRS Agent Oscar Wallace comes up with the tax evasion angle.  They hammer away at Capone’s operation in a multifaceted major case.


What this story portrays is a straight up the middle, good guys vs bad guys film.  The Untouchables represent all that can be great about law enforcement.  It puts the systemic corruption of the Prohibition Era on the back burner and shows how good cops can be.  There is violence and death but, in the end, it is an uplifting and inspiring story. 

It does not however portray the case against Capone as it actually happened.  The IRS tax evasion case was built without much help from Ness and Company.  Ness was a Treasury Agent for a few years before moving on to be the head of Public Safety for Cleveland.  He not only fought a public war on alcohol, but a personal one as well.  One he didn’t win, eventually dying young and broke after his alcoholism left him unemployed.  His memoir that inspired this film was published after his death.

But for one bright shining moment in the early 1930’s Ness and his crew were untouchable.  Turning down bribes and ignoring death threats, they put a serious dent in the Chicago Outfits bootlegging operation.  Implementing wire taps, raiding distilleries, and intercepting booze shipments, the real Untouchables cost Capone about $45 million in today’s dollars. 

The Untouchables runs about two hours and is full of action.  There are some heartbreaking moments and some great lines. We couldn’t find it for free, but you can catch The Untouchables on the regular streaming services for $4.  Enjoy this uplifting cop flick where the good guys win and the bad guy goes to jail, contracts syphilis, and dies.  Hey, a win is a win!

Enjoy the movie and Stay Safe!




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