Sunday, April 5, 2009

Don't Make a Scene: The Untouchables

The Set-Up: Al "Scarface" Capone would never have made it as a motivational speaker, even though he could be quite effective. In this scene, from the David Mamet screenplay of "The Untouchables," the further subversion of American values through the mad-house mirror of the Capone regime in Chicago takes place.

Mamet has carefully set up Capone's world from his point-of-view. He has control of the city through bribing the Chicago police and judicial system, and he is treated as a celebrity by the press that hangs on his every word as if he were some philosopher-king instead of a thug. In Capone's lavish world, he is the government, and any legitimate agency opposing him is thus doing harm to the city of Chicago. It's a sociopath's (or, for that matter, any out-of-control entrepreneur's*) dream-world of success, prestige and glamor.

So there's a war going on out there for the hearts and minds of the people of Chicago, and Capone has to get his hands dirty to make sure that his lieutenants know what's at stake. He does so at a typically lavish tuxedo dinner, the kind any head of a big organization might throw for his corporate heads. But the main attraction is an address by the Big Man himself to rally the troops and make sure everybody's on the same page...and the same Mamet's spare, stacatto dialogue.

Based on a real incident, it is brutal, chilling, and shocking--and it gives director Brian De Palma and his circling camera (here placed at the centerpiece of a large circular table)another visual set-piece that he can exploit.

The Story: Elliott Ness (Kevin Costner) and his team of "Untouchables" (Sean Connery, Andy Garcia, Charles Martin Smith) have just scored a major coup--the first in their mission to "get" Capone, and bring him to justice. A raid on a post-office back-room liquor distribution system has been routed, and the cops celebrate at an Italian restaurant. A lone member of the press, a photographer, is paying attention to the story, and is given permission by the cops to take a celebratory picture--The Untouchables' first splash of publicity. From that record, DePalma fades in on the looming face of Al Capone (Robert De Niro) , as he launches into a speech at a dinner for his team that has just seen its first defeat.


Capone: Life goes on...

Capone: A man becomes pre-eminent, he's expected to have enthusiasms...

Capone: Enthusiasms. Enthusiasms. What are mine? What draws my imagination? What is that which gives me joy?

(Lieutenants chime in: "Dames, Music, Broads! Cards! Booze!")

Capone: Baseball! (Raucous laughter and applause)

Capone: A man. A man stands alone at a plate. This is the time for what? (murmurs)

Capone: For individual achievement! There, he stands alone. But in the field, what? (murmurs) Part-of-a-team!

(The hoods murmur..."Yeah, Teamwork")

Capone: Looks, throws, catches, hustles, part of one big team. (Agreeing murmurs all around)

Capone: Bats himself the live-long day. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and so on. (laughter)

Capone: His team don't field, what is he? (murmurs--"Nuthin'")

Capone: You follow me? No one!

Capone: Sunny day, the stands are full of fans, what does he have to say? "I'm goin' out for myself!"

Capone: "But!...I get nowhere...unless the team wins!!"

(Hood in front of Capone "yes-man's" "The Team". Capone appraises him, then grips that bat and smashes it against the lieutenant's skull. Once. Twice. Four Times. Blood spatters the table.)

Finished, Capone scans the table, looking for disagreement. The blood pools on the table-cloth. Clearly there isn't. He's made his point. Life goes on.

"The Untouchables"

Words by David Mamet

Pictures by Stephen H. Burum and Brian De Palma

"The Untouchables" is available on DVD from Paramount Home Video

Opening Day is Tomorrow. Play ball!

* This was written long before the Wall Street melt-down, but it's no stretch to imagine Mamet's Al Capone quoting GM President (and Secretary of Defense) Charles Erwin Wilson: "What's good for General Motors is good for America and vice versa."

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