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Thursday, April 12, 2018
http://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/comey.jpgMichiko Kakutani reviews James Comey's new book, A Higher Loyalty, for the New York Times:
Comey is what Saul Bellow called a “first-class noticer.” He notices, for instance, “the soft white pouches under” Trump’s “expressionless blue eyes”; coyly observes that the president’s hands are smaller than his own “but did not seem unusually so”; and points out that he never saw Trump laugh — a sign, Comey suspects, of his “deep insecurity, his inability to be vulnerable or to risk himself by appreciating the humor of others, which, on reflection, is really very sad in a leader, and a little scary in a president.”

During his Senate testimony last June, Comey was boy-scout polite (“Lordy, I hope there are tapes”) and somewhat elliptical in explaining why he decided to write detailed memos after each of his encounters with Trump (something he did not do with Presidents Obama or Bush), talking gingerly about “the nature of the person I was interacting with.” Here, however, Comey is blunt about what he thinks of the president, comparing Trump’s demand for loyalty over dinner to “Sammy the Bull’s Cosa Nostra induction ceremony — with Trump, in the role of the family boss, asking me if I have what it takes to be a ‘made man.’”

Throughout his tenure in the Bush and Obama administrations (he served as deputy attorney general under Bush, and was selected to lead the F.B.I. by Obama in 2013), Comey was known for his fierce, go-it-alone independence, and Trump’s behavior catalyzed his worst fears — that the president symbolically wanted the leaders of the law enforcement and national security agencies to come “forward and kiss the great man’s ring.” Comey was feeling unnerved from the moment he met Trump. In his recent book “Fire and Fury,” Michael Wolff wrote that Trump “invariably thought people found him irresistible,” and felt sure, early on, that “he could woo and flatter the F.B.I. director into positive feeling for him, if not outright submission” (in what the reader takes as yet another instance of the president’s inability to process reality or step beyond his own narcissistic delusions).

After he failed to get that submission and the Russia cloud continued to hover, Trump fired Comey; the following day he told Russian officials during a meeting in the Oval Office that firing the F.B.I. director — whom he called “a real nut job” — relieved “great pressure” on him. A week later, the Justice Department appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel overseeing the investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

During Comey’s testimony, one senator observed that the often contradictory accounts that the president and former F.B.I. director gave of their one-on-one interactions came down to “Who should we believe?” As a prosecutor, Comey replied, he used to tell juries trying to evaluate a witness that “you can’t cherry-pick” — “You can’t say, ‘I like these things he said, but on this, he’s a dirty, rotten liar.’ You got to take it all together.”

Put the two men’s records, their reputations, even their respective books, side by side, and it’s hard to imagine two more polar opposites than Trump and Comey: They are as antipodean as the untethered, sybaritic Al Capone and the square, diligent G-man Eliot Ness in Brian De Palma’s 1987 movie “The Untouchables”; or the vengeful outlaw Frank Miller and Gary Cooper’s stoic, duty-driven marshal Will Kane in Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 classic “High Noon.”

One is an avatar of chaos with autocratic instincts and a resentment of the so-called “deep state” who has waged an assault on the institutions that uphold the Constitution.

The other is a straight-arrow bureaucrat, an apostle of order and the rule of law, whose reputation as a defender of the Constitution was indelibly shaped by his decision, one night in 2004, to rush to the hospital room of his boss, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, to prevent Bush White House officials from persuading the ailing Ashcroft to reauthorize an N.S.A. surveillance program that members of the Justice Department believed violated the law.

One uses language incoherently on Twitter and in person, emitting a relentless stream of lies, insults, boasts, dog-whistles, divisive appeals to anger and fear, and attacks on institutions, individuals, companies, religions, countries, continents.

The other chooses his words carefully to make sure there is “no fuzz” to what he is saying, someone so self-conscious about his reputation as a person of integrity that when he gave his colleague James R. Clapper, then director of national intelligence, a tie decorated with little martini glasses, he made sure to tell him it was a regift from his brother-in-law.

One is an impulsive, utterly transactional narcissist who, so far in office, The Washington Post calculated, has made an average of six false or misleading claims a day; a winner-take-all bully with a nihilistic view of the world. “Be paranoid,” he advises in one of his own books. In another: “When somebody screws you, screw them back in spades.”

The other wrote his college thesis on religion and politics, embracing Reinhold Niebuhr’s argument that “the Christian must enter the political realm in some way” in order to pursue justice, which keeps “the strong from consuming the weak.”

Posted by Geoff at 6:43 PM CDT
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Monday, March 12, 2018

Full interview segment at YouTube.

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, March 13, 2018 12:03 AM CDT
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Tuesday, March 6, 2018
http://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/mametchicago.jpgDavid Mamet's new novel, Chicago, takes place in the prohibition-era Chicago of the 1920s, and, according to Ron Charles' review in the Washington Post, includes a cameo by Al Capone:
Although the characters in David Mamet’s new novel, “Chicago,” never sound like real people, they always sound like David Mamet people, which is a strange indication of his success. We would recognize these guys in a dark alley, not from any actual experience in dark alleys but from “Speed-the-Plow,” “American Buffalo” and “Glengarry Glen Ross,” plays that have explored 86-proof masculinity for decades.

In “Chicago,” Mamet returns once again to the city where he was raised and where he started to work in theater. The novel also marks a return to the Prohibition era of “The Untouchables” (1987), Brian De Palma’s gangster film for which Mamet wrote the screenplay. But what’s striking is how little difference the time makes. Past or present, Mamet’s men must always contend with the rapidly changing currents of the day. The moment you hear Mamet working in 1920s Chicago, it’s obvious that this bullet-ridden era fits him as comfortably as a newsboy cap. Yet he’s often felt like an on-the-money writer, catching the zeitgeist even before the cigarette smoke clears the room. Remember that “Oleanna,” his deeply unsettling play about sexual harassment, opened just months after Clarence Thomas joined the Supreme Court. And now, while releasing this novel set 90 years ago, he’s working on a script about recently disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Chicago” is not overly inconvenienced by the actual history of the 1920s. “Received chronology,” Mamet notes at the opening, “has been jostled into a better understanding of its dramatic responsibilities.” (Leave it to Mamet to be more responsible than God.) But if this isn’t the exact history of Chicago, it’s still the city you think you know. Italian and Irish gangsters rule competing halves of the town. Al Capone makes a cameo. With alcohol illegal and ubiquitous, the city government is an institution of organized influence peddling. Every crime scene is picked over by sticky-fingered policemen shopping for their wives and girlfriends.

Posted by Geoff at 11:44 PM CST
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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Thanks to Metrograph for tweeting the image above last weekend, as the New York City movie theater screened Brian De Palma's The Untouchables. The image shows a letter that De Palma had written to theaters that were getting ready to show The Untouchables in 1987. "Dear Theater Manager/Operator," begins the letter. "There are two or three things you should know about The Untouchables." The letter continues:
Firstly, it is important to realize that the 70mm prints were blown up from a 35mm anamorphic negative which means in order to maintain a 2.35:1 screen aspect ratio, it became necessary to introduce frame lines top and bottom that, unfortunately, may be projected.

Therefore, any help you can provide toward alleviating this problem (either by adjusting your screen masking or cutting new projector mattes) would be greatly appreciated.

It is also hoped that in converting your print to a platter format, clear rather than opaque tape be used to join the reels and that fast drying white ink or some other commercially available marker be employed to mark the joins.

Though these procedures may take some extra time, they are plainly in the interests of our audience.

Finally, a note on changeovers.

If you intend to screen your print on 2,000 ft. reels, be advised that the changeover cue marks at the end of reel 1 may be difficult to see. As scribed in, they occur at the end of a scene in which Robert DeNiro (Capone) reads a paper in bed while smoking a cigar.

Fortunately, these cues are the only ones you need to worry about, as the rest are clearly visible.

Thank you for hearing us out.

We wish you much succcess with The Untouchables and trust you won't hesitate to call the T.A.P. hotline (1-800-545-2525) should any problems arise.

Sincerely, Brian DePalma

Posted by Geoff at 12:04 AM CST
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Saturday, July 1, 2017

The New Beverly's recent pairing of John Mackenzie’s The Long Good Friday with Brian De Palma's The Untouchables is interesting for at least a couple of reasons. Chief among them is that Bob Hoskins, the star of The Long Good Friday, had been cast as Al Capone in De Palma's film before De Palma successfully negotiated with Paramount to pay to get his first choice, Robert De Niro, on board for the role.

The way Hoskins told the story to Absolute Radio in 2009 was that De Palma sent Hoskins the Untouchables screenplay and told him to look at Capone. "I went to meet him at his hotel," Hoskins said on the Christian O’Connell Breakfast Show, "and he said ‘really I want Robert De Niro to play him,’ and I thought, ‘well great what am I doing here?’ He then said ‘but if he don’t do it, would you sort of step in?’ and I said ‘yeah of course I will’. Anyway months went by and I read the papers and saw De Niro was doing it. I’d sort of forgotten all about it, and then Linda – my Mrs – was opening the post one morning and said ‘what’s that?’ and it was a cheque for £20,000. It said ‘thanks for your time Bob, love Brian’. [He laughed] I phoned him up and I said ‘Brian, if you’ve ever got any films you don’t want me in son, you just give me a call!’”

This was a good six years after Hoskins had made his mark in The Long Good Friday. Another reason this double feature is interesting is that Mackenzie would go on, in 1986, to direct a TV movie out of a screenplay De Palma had developed with novelist Scott Spencer in the early 1980s, Act Of Vengeance.

Here are links and excerpts from the program notes for both films, as well as a couple of other recent articles about The Untouchables:

Kim Morgan on The Long Good Friday

Watching Bob Hoskins walk through the airport in John Mackenzie’s The Long Good Friday is one of those pleasures in cinema that doesn’t happen enough these days. And, really, watching Bob Hoskins do anything – walk, talk (that voice!), whisper, prepare a creepy dinner based on his dead mother, joke, yell, fall in love or spiral into an anger so intense that his neck looks bigger than it really was (and it already was big) and with his face so engorged that it could appear perilously close to bursting. He really could be gloriously terrifying. And charming – often at the same time. He shined and charmed and intimidated and moved you with his tenderness – he’d catch you off guard with it. He had those eyes too – nothing spectacular at first sight until he started emoting – orbs that, in a state of actorly rage, Helen Mirren said looked like, “two little shiny black olives.” Honoring her fellow actor and friend who passed away in 2014, Mirren, his co-star in The Long Good Friday, continued describing Hoskins as such: “Chock-a-block with testosterone, mucho machismo, a real bloke’s bloke, built like a brick outhouse, but with a gentleness, a sweetness and a love and respect for women that was very rare then, and is quite rare now.” That’s lovely – those seeming contradictions of the barrel-chested bruiser who claimed he was never as tough as he looked. As he put it: “You don’t end up with a face like this if you’re hard, do ya? This comes from having too much mouth and nothing to back it up with. The nose has been broken so many times… Oh yeah, plenty of courage. I’m the soppy sod who got up again.”

Just reading his self-description (from a terrific interview in The Guardian) makes me miss Bob Hoskins and miss his voice (if you can believe this insanity, at one point Hoskins’ voice was going to be dubbed for The Long Good Friday and the movie over-edited and dumped on TV). So watching The Long Good Friday again, and watch his swagger through the airport, that now famous opening entrance, was especially effecting. And he’s not even talking yet! I thought to myself, who is like this guy anymore? Who? And who ever was? An unlikely leading man in the vein of Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney, a bulldog (or, more, a pitbull) and that guy who either hugs or punches you (or both) after a long night of drinking, he was a stocky lug, short in stature but large in charisma, with a slangy eloquence that was rough-hewn melodious, a guy one loves to listen to – his rugged cadence was often full of wit and an energy that was both boot shaking and an absolute pleasure. Like this lovely/scary threat to a corrupt cop from Good Friday: “Don’t you ever tell me what I can or can’t do! Bent law can be tolerated for as long as they’re lubricating, but you have become definitely parched. If I was you, I’d run for cover and close the hatch, ’cause you’re gonna wind up on one of those meat hooks, my son.”

Garret Mathany on The Untouchables
With the perfect cast in place to bring the story to life, De Palma was free to use his signature visual storytelling mastery, using long takes and his trademark-Hitchcock-influenced “creeper” sequence – shot from the killer’s point of view who is stalking the victim but doesn’t want to be seen. While the hand-held creeper sequence devoid of dialogue is always highly effective in the De Palma filmography, none evokes the emotional impact like the one that takes us through Jim Malone’s modest apartment – the climax of which solidified Sean Connery’s name on his Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. It’s a show stopper, and the most important lesson that Costner’s Ness needs to learn. The kind of lesson that Malone was trying to impart to Ness in the famous church scene that director of photography Stephen H. Burum shot from a low angle, making the two men appear larger than life, overwhelming the screen as Malone prods Ness – “What are you prepared to do?” Ness’s answer – “Everything within the law,” will fall woefully short to bring down Capone. The irony of the bloodshed that Malone forewarns will be the result of Ness’s crusade, while the two men speak of violence in a house of God, was a set location suggested to De Palma by Connery himself. This connection to the material was a perfect example of the veteran actor shepherding the characters not only onscreen, but off-screen as well.

Burum originally wanted to shoot the film in black and white, but after De Palma explained that the studio would never go for that, he instead came up with a “compositional plan to shoot repetitive images.” In a kind of Kubrick-esque pattern, he set up shots with the same make of car lined up in identical formations on both sides of the street, creating a sense of period familiarity without overwhelming us with colors and busy sets. Burum also employed framing with a lot of “negative space” to remind the audience that things were still evolving, and there weren’t as many people jammed together in an urban environment like there was 30 years ago when the film was first released. Location Scout Eric Schwab and Visual Consultant Patrizia von Brandenstein return Chicago to its prohibition history, with essential locations that keep us in the film’s time period. The two were key contributors to the authenticity of the film’s period look, and put the green screen and computer mate backgrounds of today’s movies to shame.

When the production couldn’t afford to bring to life Mamet’s train collision at Union Station as it appeared in the script, De Palma shows off a bit, crafting the Odessa Steps homage from Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925), forcing Costner and Garcia to deal with a baby carriage and its tiny passenger as it makes its way down the Union Station stairs, while they are engaged in a gun fight with Capone’s men. De Palma knew that it’s one thing to blow a cute girl with pig-tails to smithereens, but it’s something else all-together to have a baby killed. Who says De Palma films are too violent?

De Palma and Mamet created an opera with De Niro as a cherubic “Pagliacci” character that is both jester and royalty, and no opera is complete without costumes to enhance the story and the music that tells it – with Marilyn Vance nominated for Best Costume Design (Vance always took exception to the Armani credit) and Ennio Morricone nominated for Best Original Score. For all the film’s smart camera moves, genre raising script, slick production design, and standout performances, the key to the film is Morricone’s score. The sweeping music lifts you out of your seat, while the driving intensity pins you to it. His five note piano march builds suspense while the sharp notes of his haunting, hair raising harmonica, informs us that something wicked is lurking, and on a dime Morricone turns the Post Office raid into a pride filled victory for Ness’ crew, with a colorful musical exclamation mark of what would’ve otherwise been a simple scene unto itself. It’s incredible work by the genius composer.

The Untouchables is a handsome, incredibly satisfying film experience, that continually one-ups itself, and even the violence has a brilliant polish to it we can’t turn away from. The film sits on De Palma’s Mount Rushmore, remaining every bit as stylized in the crime genre as Tim Burton’s Batman that followed in 1989, or the comic book color palette of Dick Tracy in 1990, ranking among one of the decade’s finest crime films.

Critic's Notebook: The Untouchables 30 Years Later
by John DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter

When I first saw The Untouchables as a teenager, I had never heard of Sergei Eisenstein or the Odessa Steps sequence that Brian De Palma masterfully cannibalized for the film's Union Station set-piece shootout. I knew serious actors sometimes transformed their bodies for a part, but never realized — until reading that Robert De Niro wore silk boxers to help identify with Al Capone — the lengths some went with preparations the audience would never see. And I'd never heard of its screenwriter, David Mamet, whose voice I'd soon encounter in both the plays others turned into movies (Glengarry Glen Ross) and the films (The Spanish Prisoner) he crafted from scratch as writer-director.

De Palma brought these and other highbrow elements together in a movie so well paced and entertaining that a budding cinephile could watch it on a sofa with friends whose tastes barely stretched beyond action blockbusters and broad comedy. The director had been smarting-up sleazy genre pictures for years by the time he made it, and had enjoyed success with the controversially violent Scarface; but here, almost 20 years into his career, was a four-quadrant hit like (if smaller than) those made by his contemporaries Lucas, Spielberg and Coppola. In terms of mainstream appeal, the only picture he would ever make to compete with it was the first Mission: Impossible.

Pauline Kael reprint from The New Yorker at The Stacks:
The Untouchables Is Too Neat To Be A Truly Great Gangster Movie

The Untouchables is a dream of gangsters in Chicago. It isn’t De Palma’s dream, though. This isn’t a “personal” movie. He isn’t the voluptuary satirist here that he is in Carrie or Dressed to Kill or the hallucinatory The Fury; he isn’t the artist that he is in Blow Out. And The Untouchables doesn’t have anything comparable to the romantic lushness or the obsessive, sensuous rhythms that Leone brought to Once Upon a Time in America. The picture is more like an attempt to visualize the public’s collective dream of Chicago gangsters; our movie-fed imagination of the past is enlarged and given a new vividness. De Palma is a showman here. Everything is neatly done in broad strokes—the gangsters’ bulging bodies in their immaculately tailored suits, the spats and fedoras, the tommy guns and gleaming cars, the gilt on the furniture, the deep, plushy reds of the blood. And the slight unbelievability of it all makes it more enjoyable.

De Palma has been developing a great camera technique, and in this movie—it’s his 18th—he uses it more impersonally than in the past. He’s making a self-consciously square movie. He works within the structure of Mamet’s moral fable, and Mamet is a master of obviousness. This writer is all deliberation—his points are unavoidable. Yet his characters have a fullness: you get what you need to know about each one. His dialogue is pointed; it has tension. And the scenes have a satisfying economy. He’s a good engineer, and his construction provides De Palma with the basis for reaching a broad audience. De Palma employs this engineering without being false to his own sensibility. He puts almost no weight on Mamet’s moralism. (The film isn’t at all like the Mamet-Lumet The Verdict.) De Palma doesn’t press down on the scriptural language—he uses it as much for its rhetorical color as for its import—and when Ness makes a speech about how the war with Capone has changed him, De Palma glides over the words.

De Palma’s resistance to Mamet’s heart-tugging devices results in a neutral tone in some of the scenes. (The mother of a little girl who has been killed by a gangland bombing comes to see Ness to encourage him in his efforts; there are interludes of Ness at home with his wife and small daughter to show us the domestic tranquility he’s trying to protect; and his wife puts little notes in his lunch bags telling him how proud she is of him.) But if De Palma’s cool neutrality is infinitely preferable to the cloying emotions that other directors might have piled on to scenes such as the one where the little girl is killed by the bomb (she might have been a bonny little lass), it nevertheless creates dead spots. At times, you feel that he’s going through the motions pro forma, in order to preserve Mamet’s structure. Yet De Palma takes such pride in camera angles and the organization of the shots that even the dead spots are likely to have some visual life. (The cinematographer, Stephen H. Burum, uses Panavision to spectacular effect. The imagery, though, isn’t always backed up by the music; every now and then you wonder what Ennio Morricone’s throbbing disco-synthesizer beat is doing in this period.)

De Palma demonstrates his technical command in a stakeout on the marble staircase of Union Station, where Ness and his sharpshooter have gone, hoping to grab Capone’s bookkeeper. They’ve been tipped off that he’s going to try to slip out of town, and they know that he’ll be escorted by gunmen. A young mother is struggling up the steps with two suitcases and a child in a cumbersome old-fashioned baby buggy. Ness, positioned at the top of the stairs, keeps looking down at her progress, knowing that she’s going to be right in the line of fire, and De Palma has the beautiful effrontery to make us experience Ness’s anxiety in suspended time, as in the instant of a car’s skidding into a tree. He holds sound in suspension, too: the shooting is punctuated by the noise of the buggy as it rolls down, clattering slowly, step by step. The sequence deliberately evokes the Odessa Steps montage in Potemkin. It doesn’t involve crowds and armies, though—only a small number of people—and it isn’t meant to be taken as real life. It’s a set piece, and when it’s over, you want to applaud De Palma for having the nerve to bring it off.

Posted by Geoff at 4:02 PM CDT
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Friday, June 30, 2017

Posted by Geoff at 7:18 PM CDT
Updated: Friday, June 30, 2017 7:19 PM CDT
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Monday, June 5, 2017

Entertainment Weekly's Mary Sollosi posted an article today with the headline, "The stars of The Untouchables look back, 30 years later." The article pulls together new interviews with Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, and Robert De Niro. Check out the full article at the link above-- here's an excerpt:
Signing on to make the movie “was the easy part,” De Niro says. Then came the hard part. There’s a certain level of pressure that comes with playing a historical character, especially one who has achieved such mythic stature in the collective imagination as Capone. Researching the part, the Oscar winner read a book (likely My Years With Capone: Jack Woodford and Al Capone) that gave him crucial insight about the legendary gangster. “It was supposedly written by a young kid, a piano-player, a prep school-type kid,” De Niro recalls. “Capone would take him around as kind of, I felt, maybe as a chronicler of his exploits, and he played at one of his speakeasies.”

To physically recreate Capone, De Niro says he watched footage of the gangster and “tried to gain as much weight as I could and shave my head more so I could look as round as I could in the time that I had to prepare for it.”

As for Ness, “I remember checking on him and his life — and it wasn’t as rosy as people might want to think,” Costner admits. “But the truth is, you’re stuck inside the lines of something that’s written… I understood history of him, but I really was having to play this character.” From there, “what we were trying to do was get the clothes right, because we had a really good script.”

And such clothes! The cast’s sharp Prohibition-era suits are credited to Armani (though costume designer Marilyn Vance reportedly took issue with the designer’s credit). “I wasn’t even familiar with Armani, that shows you what a country bumpkin I was,” Costner says. De Niro remembers another piece of the mise-en-scene fondly: “There was a barber’s chair that I wish I had held onto. I think they paid $5,000 for it at the time,” he recalls. (He spends the film’s opening scene in it). “It was a great chair. I’m sorry I didn’t get it.”

Behind the Scenes

A $5,000 mosaic-covered barber chair is the least of it when you look more closely at Capone’s opulent surroundings, which provide stark contrast to the grimy streets and modest apartments occupied by the Ness’ Untouchables throughout the film. Capone is mostly kept in such lavish settings as the Lexington Hotel, where he lived, or the opera, and only comes face-to-face with Ness in two scenes: First in the lobby of the Lexington, and then again at the very end, in the courtroom where he is found guilty of tax evasion.

“I had trouble with some of the scenes with [De Niro], because my character was very straight-arrow, and Robert was able to jump off the page,” Costner remembers. “I was trying to survive with my straight-arrow language against someone who was throwing a level of street language at me that had a level of improv to it. So it was hard for me to survive in some of those scenes, and Sean talked to me a little bit about it.”

Malone and Ness’ mentor-mentee relationship “was very real” between the actors playing them, Costner says, and the dynamic among all the Untouchables “couldn’t have been better,” according to Connery. “All the actors were very experienced and professional. Everybody played an important element in the film.” (Costars on Ness’ team included Charles Martin Smith and Andy Garcia.)

Costner also says he felt “in sync” with De Palma, whose Scarface had come out four years prior. “Brian was so open for ideas and suggestions,” Connery added. “Working with him was everything that I expected.”

De Niro had worked with the filmmaker years before, when both were at the very beginning of their careers, on 1968’s Greetings, 1969’s The Wedding Party, and 1970’s Hi, Mom! “This was a different type of thing altogether than [what] we did when we were young,” he says of The Untouchables, adding that, “Brian’s style of shooting was helpful. He’s a good director with actors.”

“Violent, Violent Men”

“I’ve always not appreciated when [violence] wasn’t handled right in movies,” Costner says. “Violence is vulgar, and a lot of times there’s not a lot of ballet to it. The Untouchables was about a violent time and violent, violent men.”

It certainly was. “The essence of the movie [was] about street violence,” Connery writes — and his character understood that better than anyone. The actor counts an early scene between Malone and Ness — “not in particular because I suggested it” — among his favorites. Hiding in a church, the old cop gives the naïve G-man a master class in justice, Chicago-style.

“You want to get Capone? Here’s how you get him,” Malone instructs Ness. “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.”

Later, after intercepting a booze shipment at the Canadian border with some Mountie assistance, Malone savagely murders an already-dead body to scare one of Capone’s men, oblivious that the victim was already a corpse, into talking. “I do not approve of your methods!” the horrified Mountie captain exclaims. “Yeah? Well, you’re not from Chicago,” Ness replies. And so, the student has become the master.

“It was all about expectancy,” Connery says of the shocking moment. “The scene was very realistic and quite vicious if I must say. Very creative to say the least.”

Another memorable demonstration of brutality comes from De Niro’s Capone after Ness’ first successful alcohol raid. Gathering all of his top cronies for an extravagant meal, he delivers a speech about the importance of teamwork, likening his crew to a baseball team — and one unnamed member to a showboating player.

“Sunny day, the stands are full of fans,” he muses. “What does he have to say? ‘I’m goin’ out there for myself. But I get nowhere, unless the team wins.’”

As his cigar-chomping cohorts murmur their agreement, he takes a baseball bat to the head of the guy who let him down.

“It’s a touching scene,” De Niro says when asked about the horrific sequence. “I’m joking.”

“The baseball [scene] is a memorable one — whether good or bad, but it was memorable,” he says, more seriously. “The rhythm of the dialogue in that one especially is so specific that you really have to know it so that it will work.”

However, The Untouchables’ biggest showstopping “ballet of death,” as Costner calls it, might be the Battleship Potemkin-inspired train station gunfight in which Ness and George Stone (Garcia) engage in a shootout with some of Capone’s men across a wide staircase — as a baby carriage rolls down the steps the whole time.

Costner remembers pestering De Palma with constant questions about the rest of the players in the complicated sequence. “Constantly, when the camera would fall on me, I would say, ‘Now, is that guy still alive to my left or to my right?’” he recalls. “And he was like, ‘Which guy? I’m on you right now.’ I said, ‘I understand, but I’ve got to know: Has that guy already been shot? Or is there another one coming? Or is there somebody over here?’ Brian would look at me and I said, ‘I need to act that. If [Ness is] going to survive, that means he has to have a sixth sense about where people are.’”

He also made a point of never shooting his gun more times than it would realistically have had bullets, and then reloading after he did. “It drove Brian a little crazy, but then he actually came to love it,” Costner says. “He was like, ‘What’s going on here?’ and I said, ‘Well, I’ve already shot [all my bullets]. Why don’t you make sure that you tie some drama up in this boring part that you call reloading?’”

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, June 6, 2017 12:17 AM CDT
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Sunday, June 4, 2017

At least a handful of posts around the internet have popped up recently to mark the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, which was released on June 3, 1987. Here are some links:

The Untouchables, At 30, Has Only Improved With Age
by Larry Taylor at Monkeys Fighting Robots

If you come into Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables expecting a history lesson, well, that’s your fault. In no way is this an accurate portrayal of treasury officer Eliot Ness and his showdown with the volcanic, tax-evading sociopath mobster Al Capone; what it is is a magnificent cops and robbers fable whose romanticism has only grown more endearing over the last thirty years.

With the razor-sharp, melodramatic score from the incomparable maestro Ennio Morricone, tapping into a certain urgency when needed, the prickly screenplay from the master, David Mamet, the slick cinematography, terrific suspense, and a cast who seemed to be born for their respective roles at the time, The Untouchables whisks along on its substantial merits, leaving all historical accuracy behind in lieu of a rich bit of pulp storytelling that makes it one of the best of all gangster films. And in 1987, this sort of story felt alien.

The mid 80s was a bit of a void for the gangster genre. Save for De Palma’s other gangster opus, Scarface in 1983, the genre had seen a significant ebb in the midst of Reagan’s “Morning in America” hedonism. A look back at the crooks and thieves of America’s past wasn’t in vogue, and The Untouchables represented a distant era of the country that hadn’t been explored during the decade. But De Palma delivered the goods, and his film was noticed; and as the decades tick away, the idiosyncratic style De Palma employs here has become both a relic and a flashpoint of a certain type of crime drama we may never see again...

...For all its pomp and circumstance at the time, The Untouchables has managed to sing even louder and sharper in this, it’s thirtieth year. It has all the familiar De Palma style flourishes, but remains a classic tale of cops and crooks, told less as a true story and more as a fable of pulp fiction, handed down through generations of kids who remember Eliot Ness wiping the streets clean of crime during the prohibition. De Palma captures the mysticism of these unflappable lawmen, dedicated to justice and unflinching in the face of danger. The purity of this story feels wholly unfamiliar when compared to the De Palma catalogue, full of rogues and murderers. But he manages to hit all the right beats to romanticize a bygone era in both cinema and American history.

De Palma’s action set pieces still work beautifully, for all their flaws. The shootout at the Canada border, the showdown between Ness and Frank Nitti (Billy Drago) on the rooftop, the Battleship Potemkin homage on the staircase in Grand Central and, most tragically, Nitti’s visit to Malone’s apartment… they all sing with the terrific choreography of a master at the top of his craft.

The immediate play would be to compare The Untouchables to the classic gangster films. How does it stack up against the likes of White Heat? The Godfather? Goodfellas? Maybe it isn’t as seamless or classic as some of the best of the genre – and for my money Carlito’s Way is the better De Palma entry into this field – but something about The Untouchables feels more timeless than just about any of the greats. Perhaps it’s the effervescent approach to the story, or Mamet’s killer words, or the impeccable casting that give the film a timeless quality. Whatever the case, the story has only gotten more potent and more captivating over the last thirty years.

Retouched: How Inaccuracy Improves De Palma’s Untouchables
by Brian Salisbury at Film School Rejects

It’s often the case that biopic films are judged by their adherence to the facts of the actual stories on which they are based. It would then stand to reason that the more accurate the filmic depiction, the better the movie. Right? Not necessarily. While creative license is often met with resistance, sometimes biopics benefit tremendously from veering heavily away from historical veracity.

Case in point, Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables.

One would presume that the story of a legendarily irreproachable squad of law enforcement officers taking on one of the most notorious villains in American history would warrant no creative tinkering to sell to audiences. However, the 1987 movie takes a Tommy gun to the facts of Elliott Ness’ crusading squadron and the adversarial nature of his relationship with Capone. And thank goodness it does.

The actual story of The Untouchables is, cinematically speaking, as interesting as reading the language of the Volstead Act itself. There were no violent acts of retribution perpetrated by Capone against Ness’ men. Capone never went after Ness’ family, and in fact, Ness had no children during the years he pursued Capone. This would completely negate the scenes of Nitti outside Ness’ home as well as the moment wherein the mother of the little girl killed in the prologue instills confidence in Ness with her teary-eyed affirmation, “it’s because I know that you have children too.” In fact, the scene wherein Ness expels from his office a Capone agent attempting to bribe him represents the entirety of Capone’s nefarious tactics for dealing with the troublesome lawman.

Drama requires conflict; the more heated and personal that conflict, the more compelling the drama. Robert De Niro and Kevin Costner screaming at each other in a courtroom while Capone’s goons hold the mobster back from starting a full-on brawl, that’s dramatically viable. Less so is the fact that historically Capone and Ness were never actually in the same room with one another at any point in their lives. Frank Nitti being thrown off a roof by a vengeful Elliott Ness, incredibly dramatic! The real Frank Nitti killing himself on a railroad track–missing with the first shot to his own head–is more sad than dramatic.

Most importantly, The Untouchables crafts a bonafide boy scout out of Elliott Ness, aforementioned roof-tossing of Nitti aside. In reality, Ness was a troubled individual whose crusades beyond bootlegging included prosecuting anyone who had contracted a venereal disease. He had several failed marriages and ended up drinking himself penniless with several visits to brothels along the way. This suggests a man far more morally conflicted than the spit-polished hero of the film. Although we watch him wrestle with crossing the line in multiple scenes, there is always the sense of a greater good being pursued. Almost as a nod to his real-life, morally gray personal life, the last line of The Untouchables is Ness answering a question as to what he would do if Prohibition were repealed with, “I think I’ll have a drink.”

There are valid reasons to deride factual revision for the sake of entertainment, but when a filmmaker is concerned with the legend of a historical figure more than the textbook facts, it creates multiple perspectives by which to evaluate that figure’s worth. It also has the potential, as in the case of The Untouchables, to make for a far more thrilling cinematic experience.

30 Years Ago, Ennio Morricone Proved He Was Untouchable
by Michael Roffman at Consequence of Sound

All joking aside, there’s no denying how vital Morricone is to De Palma’s gangster epic. From the thudding main titles to the sweeping end credits, his Grammy Award-winning score rarely leaves a frame of the picture, glossing over the historical Chicago scenery, beefing up the undulating tension, and making every onscreen relationship feel palpable. That latter notion is by far the most important facet to his score, as the story’s success is paramount to whether or not you love the characters. If you do, you’re likely on the edge of your seat, hoping and praying that heroes like Malone and Stone make it out alive. If you don’t, well, De Palma’s blatant homage to Old Hollywood may come off a little too schmaltzy and cartoonish for your tastes. That’s how Ebert felt.

“De Palma’s Untouchables, like the TV series that inspired it, depends more on clichés than on artistic invention,” the late critic argued three decades ago for the Chicago Sun-Times. To his credit, he’s not wrong. The film leans heavily on clichés, but that’s kind of the point, as De Palma takes these familiar tropes to prey upon your emotions. Ness isn’t anything but The Good Cop out to “do some good” just as Capone isn’t anything but the big baddie who wants to see everyone “DEAD!” Arguably, the only face with any actual nuance is Connery, who, alongside De Niro, was the only true veteran of the bunch and had the chops to rise above David Mamet’s surprisingly mild screenplay. Though, unlike De Niro, he wasn’t fulfilling the hype of a major historical figure and wasn’t required to be a larger-than-life caricature, so he had a little more agency in front of the camera.

Morricone factored into all of this by carving out a score that gave a heart and muscle to De Palma and Mamet’s familiar archetypes. His compositions for The Untouchables are large and vibrant, gushing with all sorts of angst, swagger, and gusto. Take Capone’s theme, for instance, which thunders along with ragtime piano, boozy brass, and velveteen strings. It’s boisterous and over the top, but so is De Niro’s performance, and the ebbs and flows of Morricone’s instrumentation paint the scenery with broad strokes that actually wind up doing a lot of the heavy lifting for Scorsese’s prizefighter. The same treatment occurs for Costner’s Ness, namely his lonely plight as an unpopular Prohibition agent. Morricone’s “Death Theme”, which is without a doubt one of the composer’s most beautiful works to date, adds an unshakable weight to the officer’s violent quest. His ironclad determination in fighting for truth and justice is signified by the lone saxophone that pines at the solitude and loss that comes with such a fate.

As the film burns through its 119-minute runtime, Morricone’s themes quickly become signifiers, and that extends not only to the characters but their heroics and villainy. Maudlin flute watches over the Ness family, bass and drums belong to the mob, and brass lifts our four Untouchables far above the skylines of Chicago. These signifiers elevate a number of key scenes — the entire shootout on the Canadian border; Malone’s heart-wrenching, gory demise; and Ness’ cat-and-mouse rooftop chase with Frank Nitti — making Morricone more or less responsible for the strongest feelings one might draw from the film, whether it’s awe and wonder or suspense and remorse. The greatest example of this is at the very end, when Ness returns to his office to clean out his desk and finds a photo of his colleagues, two of whom are now deceased. Almost instantly, Morricone swoops in to catch us, tearfully uncorking all of those feelings we’ve been reserving for the film’s four untouchable heroes.

Even when he strays, Morricone never stumbles, and that much is obvious during the film’s climactic shootout at Union Station, aka The Baby Carriage Scene. Dubbed “Machine Gun Lullaby”, his composition for this sequence welds the sounds of a baby mobile to his more traditional brass and strings. It’s an unorthodox move that some may consider too on the nose, especially given how many shots De Palma supplies of the goddamn carriage. But, and this may be a reach (just roll with it), this juxtaposition is a brilliant subversion. Because in addition to turning the whole situation into a hazy nightmare, it also adds a certain gravitas to Ness’ psyche. If you recall, his whole charade against Capone truly started, at least narratively speaking, following an emotional run-in with the grieving mother of the little girl who died in the film’s opening. It was she who lit the fire under his shoes — Ness is also a parent, mind you — so it’s rather poetic the film would come full circle and place the life of another child in Ness’ hands.

The Untouchables: The Sacrifice of the Righteous, Prams, a Lot of Talk and a Badge in the Cult of De Palma
by Giuseppe Grossi at MoviePlayer

It's thirty years old, but seems even older. Reviewing The Untouchables today could make you think of a "badly-aged" movie, but that is not the case. Because the film already had a classic aftertaste at the end of the 1980s, impregnated as it was with rhythms, images, words and characters referring to a bygone movie era. Deliberately close to the imagination of the old noir, De Palma draws a city often emptied, desolate, dominated by the shadows of its characters. It seems like a purgatory in Chicago, full of silhouette in the darkness, inhabited by men of action and women waiting for the return of their hero home. In clear opposition, immediate, absolutely Manichaean struggle between good and bad, then we find the epic tale of the western, a genre also available from the retro soundtrack by Ennio Morricone and some shots as tight close-ups, directing the gaze of the characters. If the American cinema of those years exalted the hypertrophic power of the lonely, individualist hero capable of sufficing for himself (Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger are the two highest representatives), De Palma rediscovers the pleasure of the group alchemy between complementary characters and men joined in risking everything in order to respond to their moral integrity. Men of other times, like their movie.

'The Untouchables': THR's 1987 Review
by Duane Byrge at The Hollywood Reporter

Four police chiefs, three district attorneys, a wad of grand juries couldn't bring Al Capone down. It took a green government graysuit named Eliot Ness to put him away. That irony buttresses this old-fashioned, well-crafted black hats vs. white hats shootout.

Paramount's going to have to hire more armored cars to transport The Untouchables' considerable box-office booty to its already teeming [Beverly Hills] Cop [2] vaults.

Straightforward and crisp, The Untouchables is a classically structured good-guy/bad-guy epic, pitting the square, wet-behind-the-ears Treasury agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) vs. America's most notorious, ruthless and powerful Prohibition-time gangster, Al Capone (Robert De Niro).

While overtly melodramatic, The Untouchables is a perceptive and hard-driven actioner. It's an intriguing character confrontation, loaded with ironies, both personal and social — on one side, the flamboyantly powerful gangster whose booze smuggling made him a popular hero amid a Prohibition-weary public; on the other side, a faceless outsider whose straitlaced, insistent dedication threatened to overturn the town's well-oiled troughs.

As Eliot Ness, Kevin Costner plays it tight to the vest. Those who recall Robert Stack's superbly confident portrayal and hail-hearty voice in the TV series may be initially turned off by this interpretation. But to Costner's considerable credit, he defers to the staid traits of character throughout; ultimately, it is these small, relentlessly Sunday School qualities that make his ultimate victory against the seemingly invincible Capone believable — the tortoise vs. the hare.

Throughout, the scrupulous Ness is nevertheless shrewd enough to surround himself with a trusted yet unorthodox team. Sean Connery as a wizened Irish beat cop, Charles Martin Smith as an eager beaver accountant, and Andy Garcia as a fearless rookie cop round out Ness' team of “Untouchables” — men who are most out of orbit in Capone's bloody Chicago universe.

The Untouchables' most entertaining scenes, unquestionably, center around these superb supporting characters; Connery and Smith, in particular, both make the most of their juicy roles. As Al Capone, Robert De Niro is mesmerizingly intimidating — characteristically, De Niro gained 30 pounds for the role, had his hairline altered, acquired a scar. One instant he's a populist-styled protector, the next, a rapacious killer — De Niro makes these instant transitions frighteningly believable. When he's on the screen, wide-eyed and smiling, your instinct is to duck and cover.

Also deserving praise on the bad guy's side is Billy Drago as the psycho, trigger-happy Frank Nitti — his mean and vicious glint is razor sharp.

Despite one excessively showy and laughable slo-mo, Potemkin-like scene — Ness wipes out a horde of thugs while rescuing a cascading baby carriage — director Brian De Palma brings The Untouchables in tight and true, in the spirit of Ness himself. Unlike Scarface, no one is likely to claim that this film's considerable violence is gratuitous.

Technical credits, like the supporting character portrayals, are well realized and particular. Marilyn Vance's costumes, from the luridly vivid gangster regalia to Ness' Sears-style graywear, are starkly expressive. Meticulous details, contrasting further the character consistencies, are evident throughout in the production design — credit visual consultant Patrizia von Brandenstein for the expressive period nuances. Ennio Morricone's astringent score, featuring a harsh and lyrical trumpet blend, is wonderfully piercing, the perfect sounds for this well-contrasted film.

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, June 5, 2017 7:23 PM CDT
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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Clifton James, who had appeared in two Brian De Palma films-- The Untouchables (1987) and The Bonfire Of The Vanities (1990), passed away Saturday at the age of 96. His daughter, Lynn James, told the Associated Press, "He was the most outgoing person, beloved by everybody. I don't think the man had an enemy. We were incredibly blessed to have had him in our lives."

Most of the articles about James' passing highlight his role as a redneck sheriff in two James Bond films starring Roger Moore: Live and Let Die (1973) and The Man With the Golden Gun (1974). "His daughter noted that her father sometimes said actors get remembered for one particular role out of hundreds," states the Associated Press article. "His is the sheriff's, but he said he would have never picked that one," said Lynn James. During the prime of his career, the article states, James "loved working on the stage in New York."

Here's part of an obituary written by Meagan Navarro at ScreenRant:

James was born May 29, 1920 in Spokane, Washington as the oldest of five siblings, and the only son. His mother was a teacher and his father a journalist. He was raised near Portland, Oregon during the height of the Great Depression. A decorated World War II veteran, James served nearly five years in the South Pacific and has earned numerous decorations for his service including a Silver Star, Bronze Star, and two Purple Hearts.

After leaving the Army, James took classes and acted in plays at the University of Oregon before moving to New York to launch his acting career. His first stage appearance was The Time of Your Life, and he continued to perform in numerous stage plays on Broadway.

Despite being a northerner with a love of theater, his most famous role came on film as the tobacco spitting southern sheriff from Louisiana in 1973’s Live and Let Die. The stark comedic contrast to Roger Moore’s cool, sophisticated James Bond proved to be so popular with audiences that the writers wrote the comic-relief character into the next James Bond film, 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun. This entry saw the popular character bringing even more comedic relief to the film as it took the southern sheriff out of the south and into Thailand. His knack for portraying a cigar-chomping, tobacco chewing southerners carried over in many other film roles, as in his role of Carr in Cool Hand Luke. James also acted opposite to Bruce Willis in The Bonfire of the Vanities, and Robert De Niro in an uncredited role as a district attorney who prosecuted Al Capone in The Untouchables.

On television, James had appeared in Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The Dukes of Hazard, Lewis & Clark, The A-Team, Dallas, and more. As a lover of celebrating holidays with his wife, Laurie, James once played Kris Kringle in a 1996 episode of long-running soap opera All My Children. Perhaps his most notable television role, however, is that of powerful Houston lawyer Striker Bellman in the soap opera Texas, from 1981 to 1982.

James leaves behind his wife, his five children, 14 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren, as well his two younger sisters Cicely and Beverley. He will be missed.

Posted by Geoff at 3:21 AM CDT
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Monday, March 27, 2017

Deadline's Anita Busch reported today that Paul Greengrass is in negotiations with Paramount to direct Ness, an adaptation of Torso, a graphic novel by Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko that fictionalizes Eliot Ness' time in Cleveland, hunting down a serial killer. Brian Helgeland is named as the screenwriter. The project, which, according to Busch, Paramount is eyeing as a potential franchise, had obsessed David Fincher for a while about a decade ago. Fincher's version had a screenplay by Ehren Kruger, and in December of 2008, without yet getting the greenlight from Paramount, Fincher was nevertheless quietly preparing to begin shooting with Matt Damon in the title role. Casey Affleck had also been cast, with Rachel McAdams also in negotiations for a role. Paramount pulled the plug on the project soon after. (Meanwhile, De Palma's Untouchables prequel, Capone Rising, had been stalled over questions about who owns the rights.)

If Greengrass does indeed go forward as director, it does not seem far-fetched in the least to expect that his Bourne franchise star Damon will hop back on board to play Ness. Paramount is probably salivating over the ads already: "From the director of Jason Bourne," while Matt Damon's face is plastered all over the screen. Although Fincher's interests are probably seen as too dark, bold, and risky to build a potential police franchise around, he had told MTV's Kurt Loder in 2007 that it wasn't the torso killings that interested him so much, but rather "the de-mythologizing of Eliot Ness. Because, you know, The Untouchables was only two or three years of the Eliot Ness story. There's a whole other, much more sinister downside to it. And so that's of interest to me. We want to make it the Citizen Kane of cop movies."

Posted by Geoff at 11:33 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, March 27, 2017 11:38 PM CDT
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