Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Untouchables

The Untouchables
seen on TV @ AMC

Chicago! The Windy City. I've been there twice, once for business (working a comic convention) and once for pleasure. The former was during a blizzard, and I think I've talked about that here before. 

The latter was during the summer. This, I believe, was 1997 or thereabouts. I spent a week there, and did all the tourist-y things one does when in Chicago: I took a boat ride on Lake Michigan, I went to a Cubs game, I went to the art museum, I even went to a South Side blues joint!

What I didn't do is take very many pictures. Don't know why! I especially wish I took some pictures of Wrigley Field. All I have left as proof that I was there is a Cubs soda cup that's not only cracked but faded. Don't even remember who won the game.

I'd like to go back now that I've read Erik Larson's The Devil In the White City, the book about the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. I know nothing's left from that era, but I'd still like to see the places associated with the Fair, the places where the Fair was, and make the connections. That was such an incredible story - a serial killer stalking the city during what should have been its most inspirational and celebratory moment. I heard that Leonardo DiCaprio wants to make a movie of that book. I could totally see him as the gentleman killer, H.H. Holmes, but to do that book justice, I think you'd have to make it an HBO mini-series.

Chicago, it seems, has a bit of a rep for being a dangerous town in general, mostly because of the gangster era. As movie fans, we remember films like the original Scarface and The Public Enemy and Little Caesar and we watch Jimmy Cagney gun down people with a wink and a smile and Eddie Robinson do his whole "Yeah! Yeah!" shtick and we think it's all kinda amusing now, but we forget that these movies reflected a very real situation at the time. A look at some of the most notorious Chicago gangsters of the day reveals only a glimpse of the damage they caused and the lives they affected.

And yet, we've glamorized them, to an extent. Their deeds may have been heinous, but even in their day, they exuded a certain power and notoriety that the public found alluring as well. Chalk it up to human nature, perhaps, but we like gangster stories, as cautionary tales, if nothing else, and we especially like it when there's a hero who stands against them... a hero like Eliot Ness.

We now know that much of the Eliot Ness vs. Al Capone myth is greatly fictionalized, but so what? Ness' book, The Untouchables, the TV adaptation of same from the late 50s with Robert Stack, and of course, the 1987 feature film, make for great American theater: good guys and bad guys that are larger than life, and who were real. So what if the movie, directed by Brian DePalma and written by David Mamet, was more Hollywood mythmaking? This is the way it should have happened!

What I like about the way Kevin Costner depicts Ness is that he's not the square-jawed, two-fisted hero who knows what to do. He needs direction, he needs guidance in order to take down Capone, and who better to give it to him than James Bond? Sean Connery's one and only Oscar-winning role is so much fun to watch not just because he's the take-no-shit cop, but because he's the take-no-shit cop who helps makes Ness into a legend.

(BTW, if you want more Eliot Ness, I highly recommend the graphic novel Torso, about Ness' post-Capone career in Cleveland, where he's on the trail of a serial killer.)

Battle Royal: The gangsters


  1. I LOVE The Devil in the White City.I couldn't believe at the time how much I was gripping my book white knuckled and thinking, "CRAP! They've gotta get those buildings up in time!!!" So good...and that's not even to mention the murder story. There was--and think there still is--a Devil in the White City tour in Chicago so you can ride around and see/learn about the sites.

    I remember the first time I walked into the old and pretty part of Union Station and thought, "Oh, this was in the Untouchables!" Great movie, and I haven't seen it in a long time.

  2. A "Devil" tour? I'll have to remember that next time I'm in Chicago.


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