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Brian De Palma
Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Charles Martin Smith, Andy Garcia, Robert De Niro, Richard Bradford, Jack Kehoe, Brad Sullivan, Billy Drago
Writing Credits:
Oscar Fraley (novel), Eliot Ness (novel), Paul Robsky (novel), David Mamet

Al Capone. He ruled Chicago with absolute power. No one could touch him. No one could stop him ... until Eliot Ness and a small force of men swore they'd bring him down.

The critics and public agree. Brian DePalma's The Untouchables is a must see masterpiece - a glorious, fierce, larger-than-life depiction of the mob warlord who ruled Prohibition-era Chicago ... and the law enforcer who vowed to bring him down.

This classic confrontation between good and evil stars Kevin Costner as federal agent Eliot Ness, Robert DeNiro as gangland kingpin Al Capone and Sean Connery as Malone, the cop who teaches Ness how to beat the mob: shoot fast and shoot first.

Box Office:
$25 million.
Domestic Gross
$76.270 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital EX 5.1
English Dolby 2.0
French Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 119 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 10/5/2004

• “The Script, The Cast” Featurette
• “Production Stories” Featurette
• “Reinventing the Genre” Featurette
• “The Classic” Featurette
• Original Featurette
• Trailer


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Untouchables: Special Collector's Edition (1987)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 28, 2004)

Some movies don’t get much respect during their initial runs but they gain favor as the years pass. Into this category falls Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables. As I recall, the movie received pretty mixed reviews when it hit theaters in 1987, but since that time, it seems to have become regarded as a minor classic of the crime/gangster genre.

I won’t quibble with that interpretation. Although The Untouchables falters at times, mainly due to a rather slow start, the movie provides a mostly provocative and exciting experience. It’s not quite a great film, but it usually worked very well.

Based on the factual efforts of federal agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner), the story focuses on his efforts to nab infamous crime boss Al Capone (Robert De Niro). In extremely corrupt Prohibition-era Chicago, Ness builds a team of “Untouchables”: fellow agents who resist the temptations of bribes and who can’t be bought. Ness adds three teammates: grizzled cop Jim Malone (Sean Connery), nerdy accountant Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith), and hotheaded sharpshooter George Stone (Andy Garcia). With this group in tow, Ness starts to clean up the town.

Capone remains his white whale, however, and Ness, et al, spend most of the film in pursuit of him. For the most part, Untouchables offers a fairly standard gangster flick, but it’s made special due to the talents of its actors. Actually, that should be made more specific: I liked the film largely because of the supporting cast. Costner is fine as Ness, and he adds a genuine quality to the role that works, but he doesn’t provide much spark in this rather straight-laced role. De Niro is also good as Capone, but he doesn’t have to reach too far into his bag of tricks for the part.

Connery won his first - and only - Oscar for his work here. While I think this award was essentially a cumulative prize for his terrific career, I can’t deny that Connery provided solid work in Untouchables, and the film returned the favor. After a fairly long series of mostly-forgettable films, Untouchables sparked the career renaissance he enjoys to this day. Frankly, the movie seemed somewhat dull and drab until Connery entered. From that point on, however, it was much more exciting and compelling; Connery’s presence really helped bring the picture to life, and the fine talents of Smith and Garcia also maintained this more spry and involving atmosphere.

Not that they work in a vacuum, of course, as Untouchables marks one of De Palma’s better efforts. I’ve occasionally cracked on De Palma because of his extremely spotty track record. As with John Carpenter, De Palma maintains a positive reputation even though most of his films have been dogs, and flea-bitten ones at that.

However, I will give credit where it’s due, and De Palma manages to maintain a good pace throughout Untouchables. He especially excels during some of the action scenes. One of the film’s most famous segments takes place in a train station and involves a pram; it’s a truly memorable and tense piece. Also terrific was the shoot-out on the Canadian border; De Palma took some fairly standard material and made it quite crisp and exciting.

Actually, one of my favorite aspects of Untouchables stemmed from its attitude toward violence. I liked the fact that we found a protagonist in Ness who understood the implications of physical attacks and who tried hard to avoid the use of weapons. Too many movies treat the subject in a cavalier manner, and Untouchables has some of those moments as well. However, it largely uses violence in a powerful manner that made its repercussions more clearly felt; when a main character dies, the impact seemed much stronger than usual.

The Untouchables has its flaws, but as a whole, I found the film to offer a dramatic and compelling experience. Inconsistent director Brian De Palma managed to provide strong guidance on this occasion, and the terrific cast let the movie reach a higher level. For an action/gangster flick, you can’t do too much better than this.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

The Untouchables appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the picture displayed some problems, as a whole I thought it offered a good viewing experience.

Sharpness appeared crisp and tight throughout most of the film, with virtually no signs of soft or hazy images. A little edge enhancement seemed apparent, though. I also noticed a few examples of jagged edges and some moiré effects cropped up in items like stairs and blinds, but these remained fairly minor. Print flaws presented the DVD’s most significant issues, but even these stayed modest. White speckles appeared most frequently, and I also detected occasional bouts of grain, grit, and a few nicks. For the most part, these stayed in the background, but they did prove distracting at times.

Colors looked nicely rich and natural. Untouchables favored a warm and glowing palette, and the DVD reproduced these hues well. I found the tones to appear clear and vibrant throughout the film without signs of bleeding or noise. Black levels were nicely deep and dark, and contrast seemed strong. Shadows lacked any problems related to excessive heaviness or murkiness. Ultimately, I was quite pleased with the image found on this DVD; without the print flaws and minor edge enhancement, the picture might have made it into “A” territory.

The remixed Dolby Digital EX 5.1 soundtrack of The Untouchables provided a dated but generally solid piece. The soundfield remained largely anchored to the forward channels. Across the front spectrum, I thought the audio appeared somewhat too “speaker specific” for parts of the track. For example, when a card game takes place on the left hand side of the screen, the shuffling of the cards seemed too loud and prominent, and was artificial. However, much of the sound blended together nicely and also panned well. Music offered solid stereo separation. Surround usage appeared fairly minor. I detected some minor ambiance at times, and a few gunfight scenes added useful atmosphere.

Audio quality also seemed erratic but relatively good. Dialogue had the most variation. Most of the speech came across as clear and acceptably natural, but some lines could be flat and dull. For some reason, that tendency was most prevalent during Connery’s scenes. Effects appeared reasonably crisp and realistic, though some distortion could crop up at times; not surprising, gunfights and explosions presented the biggest problems in this domain. Easily the best aspect of the soundtrack stemmed from the reproduction of Ennio Morricone’s excellent score. The music always sounded clean and full, with some nice low-end and clear highs. A little tape hiss also accompanied the score at times, but for the most part, the music seemed wonderfully rich. As a whole, the soundtrack of The Untouchables was something of a mixed bag, but it worked reasonably well for a film of its vintage.

How did the picture and audio of this release compare with those of the original DVD from 2001? The pair seemed identical. All of the issues I noticed with this version popped up in the old one as well. I didn’t regard this as a significant problem, though, as the prior disc was quite good. The transfer could use a clean-up, but it was already satisfying.

One area in which this new version clearly topped the old one related to supplements. The original disc only included the film’s trailer, which also appears here. The “Special Collector’s Edition” doesn’t dazzle with extras, but it does expand things.

Other than the trailer, all of the supplements come from featurettes. That means no audio commentary or deleted scenes. The first featurette comes with the title The Script, The Cast and runs for 18 minutes and 31 seconds. It includes movie snippets, shots from the set, and interviews. We get remarks from director Brian De Palma, producer Art Linson, and actors Kevin Costner, Charles Martin Smith, Andy Garcia, and Sean Connery. They discuss how De Palma ended up on the project, some general notes about its development, casting and the characters, and the interaction on the set. It comes as a disappointment that none of the actors appear in new interviews; all of their clips came from the set and frankly, they don’t tell us much. However, the new comments from De Palma and Linson prove valuable, especially when they chat about the struggle to land De Niro. It’s an inconsistent featurette but it includes more than a few good tidbits.

Next we find 17 minutes and 18 seconds of Production Stories. It provides notes from De Palma, Connery, Smith, Costner, director of photography Stephen H. Burum, and visual consultant Patrizia Von Brandenstein. We learn about decisions related to the movie’s visual style, locations, production design and vintage elements, clothes, character issues, and some scene specifics. Another mix of old and new interviews, this one seems more satisfying than “Script”. It jumps from one topic to another without great logic, but it gets into many useful subjects and explores them moderately well.

In Reinventing the Genre, we get a 14-minute and 23-second piece. It offers statements from De Palma, Smith, Costner, Burnum, and Linson. They get into ways they attempted to expand the gangster genre such as the horseback scene, some character death sequences, the train station, the score, Billy Drago’s turn as Frank Nitti, and an alternate ending concept. We hear some notes about the actors’ issues for the various pieces, changes that popped up along the way, and technical concerns like Steadicam shots. As with “Stories”, it doesn’t flow terribly well, but a lot of good information pops up to make this an entertaining and intriguing piece.

For the final new featurette, we discover The Classic. It goes for five minutes, 39 seconds and presents remarks from De Palma, Burnum, Smith, and Linson. They cover their initial reactions to the completed movie, its score, and public success. It doesn’t tell us much other than that people liked the flick, so don’t expect much from this piece.

Lastly, we locate an Original Featurette subtitled “The Men”. From the period of the movie’s initial release, it takes five minutes, 26 seconds and presents notes from Costner, Connery, Garcia, and Smith. It mainly concentrates on general story and character explanations and tells us very little about the movie’s creation. It’s a promotional piece and little more.

Note that as usual with Paramount DVDs, the supplements include subtitles. For The Untouchables, these offer English, Spanish and French text.

The Untouchables makes for a solid DVD. The movie itself doesn’t always fire on all cylinders, but it provides a generally exciting and well-executed affair. The DVD offers solid picture plus erratic but relatively good sound and some modest but informative extras.

For those who don’t own the prior DVD, I definitely recommend this version of The Untouchables. It’s an effective flick and a good DVD. However, those who do already have the prior release will probably want to stick with it. The old one presented equivalent picture and audio quality. It lacked extras, but the supplements with the new one don’t seem good enough to warrant a double-dip.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4814 Stars Number of Votes: 27
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