“You wanna know how to get Capone? 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! And that’s how you get Capone.”-Sean Connery to Kevin Costner
Sean Connery. Kevin Costner. Brian De Palma. Ennio Morricone. Could it be possible that each of these artists—two actors, a director and a film composer—did their best work in The Untouchables? It’s possible. Not likely. Still——
The opportunity to judge for yourself is now at hand in some bang-up new Blu-ray releases from Warner Bros., officially available May 21, two volumes in the “Ultimate Gangster Collection.” One set, the “Classic Collection,” represents, some might say, the cream of black-and-white in this genre, from 1931 to 1949, climaxed by James Cagney’s White Heat. The other set which includes three other films, The Petrified Forest, Little Caesar and The Public Enemy arrives under the “Contemporaty” moniker. Both are available on Blu-ray 5/21. Thanks to Warner Brothers for the review copy provided.
The second set, the “Contemporary Collection,” is just as “creamy,” albeit much, much bloodier, thanks to the vivid color and the immense “progress” made in the name of realism. These five gangster movies were made between 1973 and 1995. In order of creation, they are Mean Streets,The Untouchables, GoodFellas, Heat and The Departed. Were it not that all but two of the films are directed by Martin Scorsese and all but one stars Robert De Niro, this could be regarded as a first-rate tribute to these two men. Rather than to any individuals, this set is a first-class tribute to the gangster films of this later period of Hollywood history.
The great wonder of both DVD sets is not, as is usually the case, that the buyer, to use an appropriate metaphor, inherits a dubious gun case with only one or two loaded guns. Congratulations to Warner Bros.! There are no blanks in either of these sets. All are at least three-star films, most of them four, four being tops.
As to that question regarding the convergence of such outstanding talent in The Untouchables, the movie which is the specific interest here, Sean Connery, Brian De Palma and Ennio Morricone were never better. Oscars are sometimes ill-placed, and governed by all sorts of non-acting criteria, but Connery’s Best Supporting Actor award is clearly deserved, even if it were a belated award for accumulative work, which fortunately it is not. That that category was not especially strong in 1987 should not diminish his Oscar. The acting is, indeed, the best of his career.
Kevin Costner was in the middle of his ripest period, with the luck to fall into a cluster of good films, making each role his own. His success had officially begun a few years earlier, in 1985, with Silverado. The Untouchables was immediately followed by No Way Out—a slick thriller, however preposterous the about-face ending—and then, often one after the other, such right-on targets as Bill Durham, Field of Dreams, Dances with Wolves, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, JFK and Wyatt Earp
Despite the sometimes lack of the most nuanced of performances, his acceptance from the first has been largely due to his wholesome, boyish appearance and likable personality, a kind of James Stewart successor. Like Stewart, he mostly plays, and is most comfortable as, an easy-going good guy, one of the few exceptions being the serial killer role in Mr. Brooks.
Not that The Untouchables contains Costner’s greatest performance. It doesn’t. The competition, too, is rather tight. He is obviously out shown by Connery, an indomitable presence and a born scene-stealer in any case. Even Charles Martin Smith holds his own and gains sympathy as another nice “good guy,” so much so that the seasoned filmgoer will instinctively sense, “Yep, he’s gonna die before this flick is over.”
As for Robert De Niro, his always larger-than-life acting well suits this larger-than-life movie. He is variously gripping as the evil Al Capone, from violently malicious when his power is threatened to tearfully sentimental during a performance of “Vesti la giubba” from Pagliacci. His method acting seems to pay off remarkably well here—critics must not be against “the method” when it works!—especially during the “baseball bat” luncheon and his staircase confrontation with Ness, this Federal agent nemesis: “I want him DEAD! I want his family DEAD! I want his house burned to the GROUND!” Since De Niro never has a scene with Connery, the one actor in this flick strong enough to challenge him, the results of that comparison must remain forever inconclusive. For me, however, it’s the Scotsman all the way.