"ALMOST MADE IT INTO THE UNTOUCHABLES"
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For the unforgettable final scene of Brian De Palma’s gangster epic, in which Prohibition agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) brings Al Capone (Robert De Niro) to justice, Morricone presented nine possible options. As he remembers it, he hoped De Palma would choose any of them except the seventh—which, of course, is exactly the one the director wanted. “In the end, he was absolutely right,” the composer says. Celebratory music is a rare mode for Morricone, who favors more hypnotic, moody creations. “But De Palma chose the piece that was most like [the ending]—it showed the triumph of the police over the bad guys.”
The moment he stepped into the 1920s Chicago, Dan Clancy knew he'd found his life's calling.
"My dad told me that a movie filming in Chicago was looking for production assistants," the Park Ridge resident told us. "I got lucky enough to get on the movie 'The Untouchables.'
"It was amazing to meet Sean Connery, to meet Brian De Palma. That was pretty cool. On a street off Ogden Avenue on the West Side, they transformed the entire neighborhood into the 1920s and it was just mind-boggling! I saw that and said, 'I want to do this for the rest of my life.'"
That was 1986.
Today, Clancy works as a production designer after moving up through the ranks as a production assistant, set dresser, leadman and set decorator.
"No, not at all," replied Costner. "They wanted to see Sean Connery and Robert De Niro. Dallas has a little bit of insecurity about what happened there with Kennedy [Costner filmed the 1991 John F. Kennedy assassination film, JFK in Dallas], but Chicago doesn't apologize for nothing. You don't apologize for Capone. We were here filming for two and a half or three months. I hadn't spent time in a big city before that. I also had never lived 15 floors up where you could look across and see your neighbor. I'd never experienced anyone that close to me in my life. You got to know a person without ever talking to them because you got to see the patterns of their life. You could almost turn into a peeping Tom here."
At the conclusion, Armani looks back at two early highlights in his film career: "I’ve now designed the costumes for 225 films. My favourites were those I created for The Untouchables, [directed] by Brian De Palma, because I was able to fully explore my love for the elegance of the 1920s and 1930s. But my first film collaboration happened by chance, like all really exciting adventures, when a young film-maker named Paul Schrader asked me to dress Richard Gere. Schrader was fascinated by the modernity of my style. The film was American Gigolo and the rest, as they say, is history."
In a separate article posted about a year ago at the London Evening Standard, upon the release of Martin Scorsese's The Wolf Of Wall Street (for which he also designed the costumes), Armani further discussed designing for the two '80s films:
"Richard Gere has a different body type to Leo [DiCaprio]. He has an incredible sensuality and wears every look so naturally, so he was a pleasure to dress. It was 1980 but there was a modernity to the plot, which put a handsome, alluring man at the centre of a psychological thriller.
"At that time, I was motivated by the desire to modernise menswear. In most other areas, new technology was moving forward at a fast pace, but in the field of men’s clothing we were still tied to more or less the same clothes as our fathers and grandfathers wore. I wanted to use softer fabrics and rethink the suit, getting rid of most of the linings and fillings. The unstructured result was a truly new look that preserved its precision while becoming more body-conscious and more comfortable."
"The time of Prohibition, big gangsters and the first police heroes fighting against the Italian-American Mafia fascinates me. It was a courageous, almost epic, period. It holds major appeal, like all great battles between good and evil: a sheriff and his men fighting against the bad guys, like in the Westerns of the last century, but the fact that it was based on real events made it more fascinating.
"In those years, the volumes were generous and a little bit heavy, with big overcoats completed with the ubiquitous Borsalino hat. The real clothing from that period was quite far removed from my vision as a designer; it was precisely those volumes that, starting in the late 1970s, I wanted to lighten up. So for the film we sought a compromise — credible clothing for the period but more in keeping with my aesthetic.
"I am not sure Kevin Costner changed a great deal between this film and when I dressed him for The Bodyguard in 1992. The Untouchables made him an international star, while The Bodyguard confirmed his status as a sex symbol. What might have happened between the two films is an increase in the public’s estimation of him, but his qualities as an actor remained unchanged."
"Early in The Untouchables (1987)," writes Van Dussen, "director Brian DePalma constructs a quaintly banal Depression-era scene in which a young girl enters a corner market, carries on an innocent exchange with the shopkeeper – and is horrifyingly struck down with a sudden act of violence. That sequence could be dropped whole into a filmmaker's textbook, both for its narrative skills at establishing the vital stakes for the story that will follow and for its cinematic canniness at riveting our focus to the screen. Pay attention, it tells us, because this is the casually brutal world in which these characters live. If such a textbook exists, director Ava DuVernay has absorbed every page. Her third feature, Selma (rated PG-13), is a stirring account of a crucial few months in the civil rights battles of the 1960s, imbued with all the respectful dignity that such a subject demands."
Toward the end of the review, Van Dussen returns to the Untouchables theme:
"A scene early on echoes DePalma's Untouchables moment in its out-of-nowhere horror," Van Dussen states. "In another sequence, the retaliation of white Alabama troopers against King’s marchers during the first attempted Selma-Montgomery march is filmed as a kind of obscenely violent poetry that recalls the classic Odessa Steps scene in Battleship Potemkin (1925) for its portrayal of human suffering as a civic act."
The Untouchables, which arrived on 8-bit and 16-bit almost two years after Brian De Palma's 1987 movie had been a sizeable critical and commercial hit, felt marvellous at the time: an expansive, polished Prohibition-era shoot-em-up that offered up six relatively distinct mini-games. Thankfully, none of them involved completing a sliding block puzzle of Sean Connery's scowling face as Irish beat cop Malone, although many included the illicit thrill of a bootleg liquor gauge, even if your dogged G-Man was mostly destroying the booze rather than imbibing it. My experience on the Spectrum should have been the most lo-fi of all the home computer versions, but it somehow seemed like the classiest - enviably crisp sprites rendered in a consistent palette of black and cool blue, accompanied by a series of digitised mugshots that kinda, sorta looked like at least some of the actors.
Intentionally or not, The Untouchables was also a system-seller, as the downside of having six completely different levels was having to load almost every single one of them separately. Ownership or access to a disk-drive-enabled Spectrum +3 was absolutely essential for maximum enjoyment. On old-fashioned cassette, the tussle for Chicago supremacy between Eliot Ness and Al Capone became a downtime-punctuated crawl. To exacerbate matters, the first level was actually the worst - a platform scramble round an anonymous warehouse, with you as Kevin Costner's dourly single-minded Ness, tasked with gathering evidence against the notorious crime boss through the time-honoured process of wasting gangsters, hopping between precariously-stacked pallets and picking up violin cases to access a Thompson sub-machine gun.
Even Ocean must have suspected that floaty platforming didn't showcase their game at its best, as they widely released the second level as a demo instead. This turned out to be a masterstroke, because that instalment - based on a bootlegger shoot-out on a bridge at the Canadian border - is the best of the lot. In the spirit of the arcade game Cabal, it's a thrilling shooting gallery where your character is also visible on-screen, rolling across the ground while firing off rifle rounds and destroying hooch barrels. A separate binocular scope nominally shows where you're aiming, but it's pretty easy to gauge from the trail of dustclod ricochets and trenchcoat-wrapped bodies you leave in your trigger-happy wake.
The third level, where you heft a shotgun in a tense alleyway shootout and swap between your four Untouchables to keep the mission-vital ones alive, is almost as good. But it's level four - where the action switches from side-on to top-down - that is especially memorable, as it recreates the most iconic scene in the movie, a haphazard shootout at a railway station that takes place while a baby's pram bumps through the crossfire. It was De Palma's celebrated, agonisingly drawn-out tribute to the Odessa Steps massacre in the silent movie classic Battleship Potemkin.
Just as BDP atomised and expanded what must have been a pretty sparse page of script - there's no dialogue, apart from a mimed scream of "my baby!" from the panicking mother - so the game extends it even further, charging you with managing the health of both Ness and the baby. Admittedly, it's another shooting gallery, albeit one that gives you the morally questionable option to use the pram as a temporary shield, safe in the knowledge that you can subsequently hustle it toward a restorative first-aid kit at the next landing. But 25 years on, another thought occurs: did The Untouchables accidentally invent the dreaded escort mission?
In the movie, the sharp suits for gangsters and G-Men alike were designed by Giorgio Armani. The score was just as lavish and lovingly tailored: a sumptuous, thrilling, Oscar-nominated suite by Ennio Morricone, It's unclear whether Ocean ever had the option to try and recreate the work of the Italian master, although 8-bit sound chips would certainly have struggled to recreate the querulous mouth organ and slightly detuned piano that characterise his soundtrack.
Instead, they opted for a very different but ultimately inspired route. Jonathan Dunn, Ocean's astonishingly talented in-house maestro, adapted the chirpy rags of Scott Joplin, imbuing the game with a bouncy, cheery energy that - while slightly at odds with the demands of mowing down dozens of wise guys - gives it an undeniable vim and vigour. It may have triggered a little cognitive dissonance in historians and cinephiles - ragtime was on its way out by the time Prohibition kicked in, and the syncopated style was also indelibly associated with The Sting, another sharply-tailored period piece - but it undeniably helped synthesise a cohesive identity for a potshot-pourri of a game. Deployed alongside the uniform colour scheme, it helped bind the disparate levels together, and make The Untouchables one of the most aesthetically successful video game movie adaptations of all time.
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