The Untouchables

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Sorry these are getting longer but Ennio Morricone deserves it. Following on from the last two movies I thought I’d combine them in another tribute to Morricone. He may be known mostly for his work on westerns with Sergio Leone, but he did roughly 500 movie scores including a great one for Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables”. It’s another movie that De Palma knocked out of the park. It uses so many story cues from “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell that I often like to think of it as “Star Wars” (which was hugely influenced by Campbell’s work) but set in thirties Chicago.

Morricone was nominated for an Oscar for his score, and won a BAFTA and a Grammy. It’s definitely one of his best. It’s distinctively Morricone, and captures the thirties perfectly while giving it a modern twist. It’s also, at times, one of his more dramatic scores, similar to his score for “The Battle of Algiers” (which you should watch). It’s atmospheric, sweeping and moving as always, but is often throbbing, more staccato, more Hitchcockian. And always has his touch of the unusual.

The film is, of course, another true story (although it takes a lot of liberties with the facts). It’s the story of how Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and his team took down Al Capone (Robert De Niro) in Chicago during Prohibition. Sean Connery won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and was BAFTA nominated for his role as the classic character that every great story needs, the wise old mentor. He’s basically Obi Wan Kenobi to Ness’ Luke Skywalker. And Capone is obviously Darth Vader.

It looks amazing (production and costume design were both nominated for Oscars), all the actors are great, and it’s beautifully photographed by Stephen H. Burum who also shot “Carlito’s Way” for De Palma. It’s brilliantly written by tough-guy playwright David Mamet (of “Glengarry Glen Ross” fame), and De Palma once again does a fantastic job of using everything he learned from Hitchcock and other classics to rack up the tension.

The now famous baby carriage scene near the end, for example, is an homage to the Odessa Steps scene in Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin”, which is still a masterclass in film editing today. And, like almost all of Hitchcock’s films, De Palma ends it with a deadly chase at great height. It’s another must-see. My final tribute to Morricone is coming tomorrow.

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