The Untouchables is a stone-cold classic. Brian De Palma’s bravura direction amounts to a clinic on how to make a supreme piece of studio funded entertainment, with showboating performances from a massive cast, all filtered through the elegant and stylized dialogue courtesy of David Mamet; his vulgar poetry really sets this one on fire. It’s been documented that both De Palma and Mamet had a contentious relationship during production, and that both have issues with certain aspects of the film. And that’s fine. I get it. I wasn’t there, and those guys are world-class artists. But as a finished product, this movie kicks ass in ways that most movies could only dream of doing. It seems like all the great directors need to try their hand at a gangster movie, and De Palma really aced it in terms of bringing all of the ingredients together with his sprawling imagining of Elliot Ness vs. Al Capone in 1930’s Chicago. Cinematographer Stephen H. Burum’s flamboyant camera moves have a sinewy quality, with De Palma clearly relishing his chance to stage some violent shootouts and confrontations, with a very memorable death scene from one particularly famous actor.
Everyone in the ridiculous cast had fun with the material, and because each character was distinct and memorable and given something important to do within the jam-packed narrative, everyone felt equally important. Ennio Morricone’s big and blustery Oscar nominated score was a perfect accompaniment to the fully-loaded visuals, while the fabulous production design, which also received an Academy Award nomination, was handled by the prolific Patrizia von Brandenstein, William Elliot, and Hal Gausman, and went a long way in evoking a very specific time and place. Well reviewed by critics and a solid box office hit (it opened to $10 million before legging its way to $75 million domestic), The Untouchables has become a staple cable item throughout the years, with various sequences, most notably the Battleship Potemkin-inspired staircase shootout, becoming iconic cinematic touchstones. I could watch this film any day of the week with zero qualms.