The Untouchables was one of the great gangster movie events of the 80s. It tells the true story of a federal agent, Eliot Ness, who assembled a small team to take down infamous crime boss Al Capone during Prohibition Era Chicago.
The film’s stellar cast makes it an incredible watch and the movie was well-received by critics and audiences alike. Let’s take a look back at The Untouchables with some facts about the film you may not have known.
20. Robert De Niro insisted on gaining weight for the film
De Niro is no stranger to piling on weight for a movie, having famously gained 60 pounds for Raging Bull in 1980.
When it came to The Untouchables, De Niro informed director Brian De Palma that he wanted to put on 30 pounds to play Al Capone.
“He’s very concerned about the shape of his face for the part,” De Palma told the Chicago Tribune in 1986.
To achieve his plump face and bulldog jowls, De Niro stuck to the same diet he used to bulk up pre-Raging Bull.
He ate pancakes every morning, and was even granted time by De Palma to go away to Italy on an eating tour.
However, De Niro still didn’t manage to get quite as big as Al Capone, and the production team had to pad out his costume to make him appear chubbier.
19. It was Sean Connery’s idea to film the blood oath scene in a church
The classic blood oath scene with Ness and Malone almost didn’t happen in a church.
The scene was originally going to be shot on the street, but Connery approached De Palma and suggested that they film inside a church instead.
Connery felt a Catholic church would be a much better fit for the scene, given the seriousness of the oath the two men take.
Connery also made the point that a church would be the only place safe enough in 30s Chicago for the two men to make a pact to bring down Capone.
De Palma agreed and they shot the scene in Our Lady Of Sorrows Basilica in Chicago. You can still walk right in and see exactly where the scene was shot.
It’s hard to imagine the scene carrying as much gravitas had it been filmed on a nondescript street, so kudos to Connery for making the suggestion.
18. Bob Hoskins was paid $200,000 NOT to star as Al Capone
Since Kevin Costner wasn’t as famous in 1987 as he is now, director De Palma felt that he needed a big name to spice up the cast list and play Capone.
De Palma went straight to De Niro – but wasn’t sure if the busy actor would accept, given his already-packed schedule.
De Palma, not wishing to put all his eggs in De Niro’s basket, sent Bob Hoskins a script and asked him to read over Al Capone’s part.
The two then met up in a hotel and De Palma explained his predicament before asking if Hoskins would be willing to ‘step in’ if De Niro turned down the role.
Hoskins was understanding and accepted the deal, presuming that De Niro would take the role anyway.
Of course, De Niro did go on to take the role – but Hoskins’ offer to work on the film did not go forgotten by De Palma. The director sent him $200,000 just to thank him for his help.
17. Director Brian De Palma considered making a prequel with Nicolas Cage
De Palma and Paramount were keen to keep the ball rolling after the commercial success of The Untouchables.
The director considered continuing the franchise by making a prequel called Capone Rising, which would explore the gangster’s rise to power and provide a backstory to his clash with Ness.
The director was reportedly interested in bringing on Nicolas Cage as Capone, with Gerard Butler playing a younger version of Connery’s character, Malone.
Speaking to Collider in 2012, De Palma claimed that the team had even considered bringing Academy Award-winning actor Benicio del Toro on board for the film.
“We’ve just never been able to get everything together at the same time. It’s owned by Paramount so there’s nothing I can do,” De Palma confessed.
“It’s one of those legendarily great scripts that actors would die to play, but we’ve just never been able to get it all together with Paramount.”
16. De Niro wore the same style of underwear as Al Capone while filming
De Niro’s no stranger to method acting – it’s clear he always gives 110% when performing any role.
The actor took this to a whole new level when he insisted that his underwear matched the type of garment that Al Capone wore.
It didn’t matter to De Niro that no audience would ever see what underwear he had on.
The producers acquiesced and tracked down some of Capone’s former tailors to make the special boxers for De Niro.
According to J Pankan, a salesman at one of Capone’s favourite clothing shops, this underwear was made out of an unusual material.
Pankan claimed that some of Capone’s underwear was made of “hand glove silk” – that is, the same material used to make ladies’ gloves.
15. The “batter up” scene really happened
While some aspects of the film take liberties with the real history of the Untouchables, one memorable scene was directly based off a true incident.
The ‘batter up’ scene sees De Niro as Capone brutally murder one of his men with a baseball bat.
This gruesome episode actually happened in real life. In May 1928, Capone received word that several of his associates were plotting to murder him.
The mob boss invited them all to dinner and proceeded to get them drunk – as De Niro does in the film.
What follows is also based on real events. Capone then proceeded to beat the traitorous men to death with a baseball bat.
De Niro’s performance in this scene is particularly chilling as he switches from amicable party host to ruthless murderer in an instant.
14. De Niro hired Capone’s original tailors to make his costume
It’s common knowledge that De Niro is a method actor through-and-through, displaying meticulous attention to detail when it comes to getting inside his character’s minds.
The Untouchables was no different for De Niro. The actor wanted to ace Capone – and so asked to be dressed in the exact same clothes as him.
De Niro and the film’s producers tracked down Capone’s original tailors and had all of De Niro’s costumes custom-made.
Every piece of clothing De Niro wears in the film – including his underwear – was made by Capone’s own tailors.
De Niro is dazzling as the notorious mobster, so it seems that the outfits worked their magic on him.
The replica costumes also do a marvellous job of plunging the audience back into the 30s and show an impressive attention to detail.
13. The last surviving Untouchable worked as a consultant on the film
Albert H ‘Wallpaper’ Wolff, one of the real-life Untouchables and their last surviving member, worked as a consultant on the film.
He helped Kevin Costner to get his part just right, explaining the finer details of Ness’ character.
He also demonstrated to the actors how weapons such as shotguns were handled in the 30s.
Speaking to People magazine in 1987, Wolff explained what was required of him. “I was asked to show Costner how to act like Ness,” he recalled.
“I told him Ness was passive. I told him how to walk. Ness walked slowly. I said, when you take the gun out, be ready to use it, because it’s your life or their life.”
Wolff died at the age of 95 in March 1998, but legacy of the Untouchables has undoubtedly been immortalised by the movie.
12. The film won Connery his only Oscar
It may surprise some people to learn that despite Connery’s stellar work in films such as Dr No, his first Oscar was not for any of his performances as James Bond.
Connery’s one and only Oscar was for his portrayal of Malone, the steely Irish cop in The Untouchables.
Connery won the award for Best Supporting Actor in 1988. At the time, his film career had already spanned three decades, but the award was also his first Academy Award nomination.
By winning, Connery beat acting greats Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Albert Brooks and Vincent Gardenia – a particularly impressive feat.
He was presented the award by Cher and a very young Nicolas Cage. In his speech he wished for the ongoing strike at the Writers Guild of America to end.
Connery has now got two BAFTAs and three Golden Globes to his name, but his Academy Award for The Untouchables remains his only Oscar.
11. The envelope scene is a nod to Capone’s real-life attempts to bribe Ness
In one scene in the movie, an envelope is dropped onto the desk of Eliot Ness.
It is assumed to be a bribe, but the amount inside the envelope is never revealed to the audience.
The envelope scene is a dramatisation of Capone’s repeated, failed attempts to bribe Ness with extortionate amounts of money.
Capone promised Ness that $2,000 (around $30,000 or £24,000 in today’s money) would be on his desk every Monday morning if he “took it easy.”
In other words, Capone wanted to pay Ness to turn a blind eye to all of his bootlegging.
Ness refused the bribe, leading to his Prohibition agents gaining the nickname ‘The Untouchables’ due to their inability to be corrupted by money.
10. The Union Station shootout scene was meant to take place on a train
Originally, the final gunfight saw Ness and George Stone battling Capone’s hitmen on a stopped train.
However, Paramount decided that staging the elaborate scene while locating and restoring a genuine 1930s train would be too expensive.
To save money, De Palma then suggested that the shootout take place on the steps of Chicago’s Union Station.
The scene is arguably one of the most memorable from the entire film – if not from 80s cinema as a whole.
The station setting permitted for hyperrealistic details which wouldn’t have been possible on a train, such as the station’s ever-ticking clock and the presence of a woman struggling to mount the stairs with her pram.
The serendipitous scaling down of the original idea resulted in one of the most iconic action scenes ever made.
9. The set for Capone’s barbershop featured his personal effects
We get a glimpse of what things were like inside Capone’s personal barbershop in the film.
The set for the barbershop at the Lexington Hotel actually included several items, such as cologne bottles and shaving brushes, that belonged to the real mobster.
The barbershop scene marks the first time the audience sees De Niro as Capone in the film.
As well as using his material possessions, De Niro also borrows a lot of Capone’s words.
One line in particular borrows from a famous Capone quotation. De Niro says: “on a boat it’s bootlegging, on Lakeshore Drive, it’s hospitality.”
The original Capone quotation is as follows: “when I sell liquor, it’s bootlegging. When my patrons serve it on a silver tray on Lakeshore Drive, it’s hospitality.”
8. Connery was taken to the hospital after a stunt in his death scene went wrong
Connery evidently did not expect the squibs – stage explosives – used in his Untouchables death scene to be quite as violent as they were.
After the first take, Connery had to be rushed to hospital with grit and fake blood in his eyes.
De Palma was surprised to learn that Connery had never worked with exploding blood packs before, given his tenure as James Bond.
Connery hated using the packs and had to be persuaded to try again after he’d recovered from his hospital visit.
Getting dust in his eyes was nothing, however, compared to some of the stunts he’d pulled in Bond films.
In Dr No, Connery was almost killed while filming his own stunts in a car chase scene.
7. In real life, Al Capone didn’t dare to kill the Untouchables
In real life, Capone had a non-violence pact with his hitmen regarding the Untouchables. Killing one of them was very much off-limits.
Shrewd Capone knew that killing a Prohibition agent would be too much trouble for his outfit to handle.
Capone did make repeated attempts at buying off the agents, and often tried to bribe Ness into ignoring his ongoing bootlegging business.
But Capone never sought to take any of the lives of the Untouchables – a stark contrast to the more violent film.
Despite Capone’s best efforts to win over Ness and his agents with money, Capone was eventually brought to trial for tax evasion.
Much of the evidence used against him was procured by the Untouchables and, ultimately, Capone was convicted in 1931.
6. It was almost shot in black and white
Director of photography Stephen Burum tried to convince De Palma that the film should be shot in black and white.
Burum believed that shooting in black and white would help evoke the spirit of the 1930s better for modern audiences.
Speaking to American Cinematographer in 1987, Burum claimed that “when most people think of period pictures, they think of black and white, because that’s the way the pictures are represented to us historically.”
De Palma refused, however, and so the movie was ultimately shot in Technicolor. Burum had to get creative when it came to recreating the 30s.
“At night, we flagged off the tall buildings that had fluorescent lights that weren’t from the period,” Burum says.
“We had to replace all the light poles and remove the TV antennas. Finding period lamp fixtures was enormously expensive and time consuming.”
5. The film omits Capone’s attempted manipulation of his own trial
Something the film doesn’t depict is Capone’s attempt at a plea bargain, which ultimately failed when the plan was leaked to the press.
Before his trial, a deal was secretly struck between Capone’s lawyers and government prosecutors. Capone was to plead guilty to a lighter charge, and as a result would receive a shorter sentence.
However, the plan was foiled when word got out. The press were outraged, and Capone was forced to abandon the plot.
The film does mention Capone’s attempt to bribe the jury and this second plan’s failure.
Capone’s henchmen had bribed the jury for his trial, but unbeknownst to them, the authorities had been alerted to this.
When the judge entered the courtroom, he asked for the jury to be swapped out with another from an unrelated trial, ruining Capone’s chances at getting off lightly.
4. Costner was considered a risky choice for a leading man
While Costner was an established actor, he was not exactly a household name in 1987.
It may surprise some people to learn that Costner was considered a risky choice for a leading role.
Part of the reason director De Palma was so keen to get De Niro on board for the film stemmed from the fact that he was anxious about how well Costner would go down.
The Untouchables made Costner’s career. After his success as Ness, the actor was sought for the lead in Field of Dreams, Bull Durham and – of course – The Bodyguard.
But the road to success wasn’t easy, and Costner recently revealed that he had a hard time acting alongside De Niro in the film.
“I had trouble with some of the scenes with [De Niro], because my character was very straight-arrow, and Robert was able to jump off the page,” he said in 2017.
3. Ness’ family life was altered to make the character more sympathetic
Costner’s Ness is a highly sympathetic character, not least because of his family values and love for his wife and daughter.
But the real Ness’ personal life wasn’t quite as blissful or stable as it is in the film.
Despite the fact the film is based on real events, De Palma was happy to embellish some aspects of Ness’ life so as to make him a more appealing character.
Ness’ honourable values are made starkly apparent when he realises Capone could hurt his family.
He admirably sends his wife and daughter to a safe place and instructs his team to keep a lower profile during the investigations.
However, in real life, Ness was single during the Untouchables’ heyday and went on to marry three times. He also never had a daughter – only one adopted son.
2. Montana locals were cast as police officers in the iconic Hardy Bridge scene
One of the most memorable scenes from The Untouchables has to be the Hardy Bridge shootout sequence.
Paramount Pictures contacted the Montana Film Commissioner’s Office in 1986 to help find a period bridge between the United States and Canada.
The office suggested the Hardy Bridge, which crosses the Missouri River. The production team loved the location.
The team quickly set to work on adding some 1930s touches to the set, and even rented several vintage cars for extra realism.
The bridge was closed for two weeks as filming commenced. Hundreds of locals watched the team from a nearby field.
Some lucky locals were even cast in the film and made appearances as members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (known as Mounties).
1. Roger Ebert called De Niro the “big disappointment” of the movie
Most would say that De Niro makes a dazzling and believable Capone – but legendary film critic Roger Ebert disagrees.
In 1987, Ebert went as far as saying De Niro’s performance was a “big disappointment” and that “the movie’s Capone segments seem cut off from the rest of the story.”
“De Niro comes onscreen with great dramatic and musical flourish, strikes an attitude, says a line, and that’s basically the whole idea,” he wrote in his 1987 review.
“There isn’t a glimmer of a notion of what made this man tick,” Ebert goes on.
Ebert went on to name Sean Connery as the best actor in the whole film.
Ebert claimed that while Connery is on screen “we can believe, briefly, that the Prohibition Era was inhabited by people, not caricatures.”