An Offer You Can’t Refuse #20: The Untouchables (dir by Brian DePalma)


“Let’s do some good!” Eliot Ness shouts as he and a platoon of Chicago cops raid what they believe is a bootlegger’s warehouse.

That line right there tells you everything that you need to know about the 1987 film, The Untouchables.  In real life, Eliot Ness was known to be an honest member of law enforcement (which did make him a bit of a rarity in 1920s Chicago) but he was also considered to be something of a self-promoter, someone who tried to leverage his momentary fame into an unsuccessful political career.  In the 50s, after Ness had lost most of his money due to a series of bad investments and his own alcoholism, Ness wrote a book about his efforts to take down Al Capone in Chicago.  That book was called The Untouchables and though Ness died of a heart attack shortly before it was published, it still proved popular enough to not only rehabilitate Ness’s heroic image but also to inspire both a television series and the movie that I’m currently reviewing.

None of that is to say that Ness didn’t play a role in Al Capone’s downfall.  He did, though it’s since been argued that Ness had little to do with actual tax evasion case that led to Capone going to prison.  It’s just that, in real life, Eliot Ness was a complicated human being, one who had his flaws.  In The Untouchables, Kevin Costner plays him as a beacon of midwestern integrity, a Gary Cooper-type who has found himself in the very corrupt city of Chicago in the very corrupt decade of the 1920s.  The film version of Eliot Ness has no flaws, beyond his naive belief that everyone is as determined to “do some good” as he is.

So, The Untouchables may not be historically accurate but it’s still an entertaining film.  It’s less concerned with the reality of Eliot Ness’s life and more about the mythology that has risen up around the roaring 20s.  Everything about the film is big and operatic.  In the role of Al Capone, Robert De Niro sneers through every scene with the self-satisfaction of a tyrant looking over the kingdom that he’s just conquered.  While Costner’s Ness tells everyone to do some good, De Niro’s Capone uses a baseball bat to keep his underlings in line.  He goes to the opera and cries until he’s told that one of Ness’s men has been killed.  Then a big grin spreads out across his face.  It’s not exactly a subtle performance but then again, The Untouchables is not exactly a subtle movie.  It’s not designed to be a film that makes you think about whether or not prohibition was a good law.  Instead, everything is bigger-than-life.  It’s a film that takes place in a dream world that appears to have sprung from mix of old movies and American mythology.

In real life, Ness had ten agents working under him.  They were all selected because they were considered to be honest lawmen and they were nicknamed The Untouchables after it was announced to the press that Ness had refused a bribe from one of Capone’s men.  In the film, Ness only has three men working underneath him and they’re all recognizable types.  Sean Connery won an Oscar for playing Jmmy Malone, the crusty old beat cop who teaches Ness about the Chicago Way.  A young and incredibly hot Andy Garcia plays George Stone, the youngest of the Untouchables.  Best of all is Charles Martin Smith, cast as Oscar Wallace, a mild-mannered accountant who first suggests that Capone must be cheating on his taxes.  There’s a great scene in which the Untouchables intercept a liquor shipment on the Canadian border, all while riding horses.  Sitting on the back of his galloping horse and trying not to fall off, both Oscar Wallace and the actor playing him appear to be having the time of their lives.  For Oscar (and probably for much of the audience), it’s a fantasy come to life, a chance to “do some good.”

The Untouchables was directed by Brian DePalma and his stylish approach to the material is perfect for the film’s story.  DePalma fills the film with references to other movies, some from the gangster genre and some not.  (In one of the film’s most famous sequence, DePalma reimagines Battleship Potemkin‘s massacre on The Odessa Steps as a shoot-out between Eliot Ness and Capone’s men.)  DePalma’s kinetic style reminds us that The Untouchables is less about history and more about how we imagine history.  In reality, Capone was succeeded by Frank Nitti and The Chicago Outfit continued to thrive even in Capone’s absence.  In the film, Nitti (played by Billy Drago) brags about killing one of the Untouchables and, as a result, is tossed off the roof of a courthouse by Eliot Ness.  It’s not historically accurate but it makes for a crowd-pleasing scene.

Big, operatic, and always entertaining, The Untouchables is an offer that you can’t refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface (1932)
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 
  7. The Roaring Twenties
  8. Force of Evil
  9. Rob the Mob
  10. Gambling House
  11. Race Street
  12. Racket Girls
  13. Hoffa
  14. Contraband
  15. Bugsy Malone
  16. Love Me or Leave Me
  17. Murder, Inc.
  18. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
  19. Scarface (1983)

Delta Force 2: The Colombian Connection (1990, directed by Aaron Norris)


Cocaine is flooding the United States and only one man is to blame!  Ramon Cota (Billy Drago) is so evil that, after killing a group of DEA agents, he appears on closed-circuit television just so he can taunt their superior, John Page (Richard Jaeckel).  When Ramon drives through his home country of San Carlos, he kills the peasants, rapes their women, and murders their babies, just because he can.  He’s one bad dude.

Ramon is untouchable as long as he stays in San Carlos but occasionally he does have to leave the country so he can conduct business.  A frequent flyer, Ramon always buys every seat in first class so that he and his bodyguards can have privacy.  However, what Ramon didn’t count on, was Delta Force’s Col. Scott McCoy (Chuck Norris!).  McCoy and his partner, Maj. Chavez (Paul Perri), aren’t intimidated by that curtain separating first class from the rest of the plane.  As soon as Ramon’s flight enters American air space, they burst out of coach, knock out Ramon’s bodyguards, and then toss Ramon out of the plane.  Being an experienced skydiver (not to mention that he’s also Chuck Norris), Col. McCoy is able to catch up to Ramon and grab him before he plummets all the way to the Earth.

Unfortunately, arresting Ramon in America means that you run the risk of a liberal, Carter-appointed judge setting a low-enough bail that Ramon can go free.  Having taken advantage of America’s own legal system, Ramon murders Chavez and returns to San Carlos, leaving Col. McCoy and the rest of the Delta Force to seek vengeance for their fallen comrade.

Only Chuck Norris returns for this sequel to the greatest movie ever made.  Unfortunately, Lee Marvin died shortly after the release of the first Delta Force.  Even though John P. Ryan (as General Taylor) and Richard Jaeckel both seem to be attempting to channel Marvin’s grim, no-nonsense spirit in their performances, it’s just not the same.  What made the first Delta Force so memorable was the mix of Marvin’s cool authority and Chuck Norris’s general badassery.  Norris is as tough as always but the film still has a Lee Marvin-size hole in the middle of it and, without Marvin glaring at the bad guys and barking at the Washington pencil pushers who think they know how to keep America safe, Delta Force 2 could just as easily be a sequel to one of Norris’s Missing In Action films.  This is a Chuck In The Jungle movie, with drug dealers replacing the usual Vietnamese POW camp commandants.

If you can see past the absence of Lee Marvin, Delta Force 2 is an okay Chuck Norris action movie.  It’s typical of the movies that he made for Cannon but the fight scenes are well-directed by Chuck’s brother and Billy Drago is a loathsome drug lord who gets what he deserves.  Chuck gets a few good one-liners and you’ve got to love the film’s final shot.  Delta Force 2 never comes close to matching the original but at least it’s got Chuck Norris doing what he does best.

A Movie A Day #104: True Blood (1989, directed by Richard Kerr)


Ten years after being wrongly accused of murdering a cop, Raymond Trueblood (Jeff Fahey) returns to the old neighborhood.  Ray has just finished a stint with the Marines and he is no longer the irresponsible hoodlum that he once was.  He wants to rescue his younger brother, Donny (Chad Lowe), from making the same mistakes that he made.  But Donny now hates Ray and is running with Ray’s former friend, Spider Masters (Billy Drago).  Spider is also responsible for framing Ray for killing the cop.  When he is not trying to save his brother, Ray falls in love with Jennifer Scott (Sherilyn Fenn), a tough waitress who is soon being menaced by Spider.

Like Crime Zone, True Blood is typical of the type of B-movies that Sherilyn Fenn was stuck in before being cast as Audrey Horne in Twin Peaks.  It’s a nothing part but Fenn is authentic and sincere in the part and, as usual, Fenn’s performance is one of the best things about the movie.

Overall, True Blood is predictable but it is still better than the typical late 80s B-movie.  Chad Lowe is never believable as a member of a street gang but Jeff Fahey does a good Clint Eastwood impersonation as Ray and Billy Drago is, as always, a great villain.  Fans of Dawn of the Dead will want to keep an eye out for Ken Foree as one of the detectives investigating Ray.

A Movie A Day #42: Hero and The Terror (1988, directed by Steve Tannen)


hero_and_the_terror_posterDanny O’Brien (Chuck Fucking Norris!) is a tough Los Angeles cop who has been nicknamed Hero.  Danny hates it when people call him “Hero.”  Maybe if Danny knew what people usually call cops, he would not complain so much about his nickname.  Three years ago, Danny captured Simon Moon (Jack O’Halloran), a neck-breaking serial killer nicknamed “The Terror.”  After he was captured, The Terror faked his own death and disappeared.  He ended up living in a deserted theater and not bothering anyone until the Mayor of Los Angeles (Ron O’Neal, Superfly himself!) decides to tear down his new home.  The Terror does not take kindly to urban renewal and goes on another killing spree.  Can Hero track down and beat the The Terror while also making it to the hospital in time to see his girlfriend give birth to their baby?

Not surprisingly, Hero and the Terror is one of the films that Chuck made for Cannon Films in the late 80s and, along with Chuck and Ron O’Neal, it features Cannon regulars Steve James and Billy Drago.  (Billy Drago actually plays a good guy, for a change.)  It’s obvious that Chuck was trying to broaden his horizons with Hero and the Terror: with the exception of the final confrontation between Hero and the Terror, there’s less kung fu action than in his previous films and a lot of the movie is dedicated to his relationship with his girlfriend and his struggle to handle her pregnancy.  That’s all good and well and the Chuck Norris of Hero and The Terror is a much better actor than the Chuck Norris who could barely deliver his lines in Breaker, Breaker but, ultimately, a Chuck Norris movie with more human interest and less roundhouse kicks just feels wrong.

(On Netflix, there’s a whole documentary about how Chuck Norris’s roundhouse kicks led to the collapse of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s communist dictatorship in Romania.  It’s called Chuck Norris vs. Communism.  Communism didn’t have a chance.  Hopefully, Chuck will never turn against capitalism because, if he does, it’ll probably lead to another stock market crash.)

I once read an interview with Gene Hackman, in which he was asked to name his least favorite of the movies that he had made.  Hackman selected March or Die.  “I can’t believe I was in something called March or Die,” Hackman said.  If he thought March or Die was a bad title, he should be happy that he didn’t end up in Hero and The Terror.  Give Chuck Norris credit.  Even if he’s not Gene Hackman and even if the movie does not really work, he is the only actor who could credibly star in something called Hero and the Terror.

Worst of the Worst: Mad Dog Time (1996, directed by Larry Bishop)


Mad_dog_time_4841Remember how, in the 1990s, every aspiring indie director tried to rip off Quentin Tarantino by making a gangster film that mixed graphic violence with quirky dialogue, dark comedy, and obscure pop cultural references?  That led to a lot of terrible movies but not a single one (not even Amongst Friends) was as terrible as Mad Dog Time.

That Mad Dog Time was terrible should come as no surprise.  Most directorial debuts are.  What made Mad Dog Time unique was the sheer amount of talent that was assembled and wasted in the effort to bring this sorry movie to life.  As the son of Joey Bishop, director Larry Bishop was Hollywood royalty and was able to convince several ridiculously overqualified actors to play the thinly drawn gangsters and rouges who populated Mad Dog Time.  Much like the Rat Pack movies that his father once starred in, Larry Bishop’s debut film was full of familiar faces.  Some of them only appeared for a few seconds while others had larger roles but they were all wasted in the end.  Hopefully, everyone was served a good lunch in between filming their scenes because it is hard to see what else anyone could have gotten out of appearing in Mad Dog Time.

Mob boss Vic (Richard Dreyfuss) has just been released from a mental hospital.  With the help of his main enforcer, Mick (Jeff Goldblum), and a legendary hitman named Nick (Larry Bishop, giving not only the worst performance in the film but also the worst performance of the 1990s), Vic is going to reassert his control over the rackets.  Vic also wants to find his former mistress, Grace Everly (Diane Lane) but he doesn’t know that Grace is now with Mick and that Mick is also having an affair with Grace’s sister, Rita (Ellen Barkin).

(Grace and Rita are the Everly Sisters!  Ha ha, between that and all the rhyming names, are you laughing yet?)

Anka and Byrne

Ben London (Gabriel Byrne) has taken over Vic’s nightclub and, while singing My Way with Paul Anka, tells Vic that he should take an early retirement because he’s a paranoid schizophrenic.  Before he can deal with Ben, Vic has to kill all of his other rivals, all of whom are played by actors like Michael J. Pollard, Billy Idol, Kyle MacLachlan, Gregory Hines, and Burt Reynolds.  The bodies start to pile up but Jimmy the Undertaker (Richard Pryor, looking extremely frail in one of his final roles) is always around to make sure that everyone gets a proper burial.

And there are other cameos as well.  Joey Bishop is the owner of a mortuary.  Henry Silva is wasted as one the few gangsters to stay loyal to Vic.  Christopher Jones, who previously co-starred with Larry Bishop and Richard Pryor in Wild In The Streets before dropping out of a society, plays a hitman who pretends to be Nick Falco.  Even Rob Reiner shows up a limo driver who talks too much.

Almost every poorly paced scene in Mad Dog Time plays out the same way.  Three or more men confront each other in a room.  Hard-boiled dialogue is exchanged for an interminable length of time until someone finally gets shot.  You would think, at the very least, it would be watchable because of all the different people in the cast but none of the actors really seem to be into it.  Richard Dreyfuss and Jeff Goldblum resort to smirking through their scenes while Gabriel Byrne often appears to be drunk.  Whenever he’s in a scene, Burt Reynolds seems to be trying to hide his face and it is hard to blame him.  There were many terrible movies released in the 90s but none were as bad as Mad Dog Time.

Guilty Pleasure No. 5: Invasion U.S.A.


InvasionUSA

Time to put up a new guilty pleasure that goes way, way back for me. This flick came out a year after the ultra-violent, thus equally awesome Red Dawn. As a very impressionable young boy that film had me and my brother and a select group of friends coming up with ways to form our very own Wolverines. While our plans were really just an excuse to play war games in the playground it was the following year in 1985 when this latest “guilty pleasure” had my brother and I moving up to a new level doomsday prepping.

That film was the Chuck Norris classic bloodbath: Invasion U.S.A.

Instead of the Soviet military invading the U.S. mainland this time around it would be Latin American communist guerrillas led by a Rogue KGB agent who would be doing the invading. Well, invading the suburbs and malls of Florida at least. Just like in true exploitation fashion the film would use the fear Americans had of foreign terrorists (this was the era of the airline hijackings, hostage takings and cafe bombings) finally putting it in their heads to strike at the American heartland.

But who would stop them if none other than the poor man’s Sylvester Stallone. He was no Rambo, but his name has become even more feared in popular culture. He is Chuck Norris and he’s the country’s only savior against hundreds of well-armed terrorist guerrillas and the rogue Soviet leaders. For a pre-teen set this was a flick that opened up the imagination to new levels of violence (thus awesome playground wargaming afterwards) and epic action. It’s not a surprise that it would be the Cannon Films group led by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus (proprietors of some of the 80’s best and most violent action films of the era).

This film has become a sort of cult classic amongst action film aficionados. It’s literally a film that puts on the action gas from the start and doesn’t let up. Even has grindhouse stalwarts like Richard Lynch and Billy Drago to give it some exploitation creds.

They sure don’t make action flicks like this anymore. Which really is a damn bloody shame.

On a side note: this is one flick I hope Lisa Marie, Leonard and these Snarkalecs they seem to be hanging about it to view one night if it ever airs on TV.