The Untouchables

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"He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue!"
Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery)

A live action television series aired between 1959 and 1963 based on the exploits of (Real Life) 1920s Chicago Prohibition agent Eliot Ness and his group of loyal agents, nicknamed "The Untouchables" because of their refusal to be bribed by the Mob as many others were at the time. Most notable for pursuing bootleggers and gangster Al Capone (and eventually arresting him--on tax evasion charges!) Later adapted as a movie in 1987, directed by Brian De Palma and written by David Mamet. It starred Kevin Costner, Sean Connery and Robert De Niro. The film itself inspired a second television series in 1993, with Tom Amandes.


Tropes used in The Untouchables include:

The TV show contains examples of:[edit | hide | hide all]

The film contains examples of:[edit | hide]

  • Agree to Disagree
  • At the Opera Tonight: Robert DeNiro as Al Capone is seen attending an opera when Frank Nitti comes up and whispers the news that Jim Malone had been killed.
  • Baby Carriage: The fight in the station.
  • Badass Bookworm: Oscar Wallace.
  • Badass Mustache: Malone.
  • Batman Gambit: Ness bluffs the judge overseeing Capone's trial to switch juries (as Capone's had been bribed), by telling the judge his name was in the ledger listing all of Capone's payouts. The DA notes that they didn't find the judge's name in that ledger...
  • Batter Up: Al Capone famously used a baseball bat to savagely murder one of his subordinates.
  • Berserk Button: Eliot Ness flips and throws Frank Nitti off a building when he gloats about killing Jim Malone.
  • Big Bad: Capone, of course.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Capone is behind bars, his deadliest enforcer Nitti gone and his criminal empire shattered. But two of the Untouchables are dead, and Ness had to violate a lot of his personal code of honor - including his tossing Nitti off a roof in revenge for Malone's death - to get Capone.
    • Even worse, a reporter notes that Prohibition, the law that enabled Capone to build up his criminal empire, may be getting repealed soon (historically, it was repealed two years after Capone's arrest), meaning that Congress had figured out the law was a mistake, and that the whole thing was a mistake. So Malone and Wallace died for almost nothing.
  • Black and White Morality: Capone is a Complete Monster who orders the deaths of children and beats men to death with baseball bats. Ness is all-American Hero who loves nothing more his family and getting notes from his wife in his lunch.
    • As the film goes on, it turns into Black and Gray Morality as Ness uses more questionable means to bring down Capone.
  • Blood Brothers: Malone takes Ness to a church, where they talk about a Blood Oath and Malone tells Ness they are now bounded by it.
  • By-The-Book Cop: Eliot Ness, at least at first.
  • Car Cushion: Frank Nitti after being thrown off the roof by Eliot Ness.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The mobster with the bow-tie. He is seen several times, particularly when he lures Malone out to be shot by Nitti and is later the one who takes the bookkeeper hostage on the train station steps and gets shot by Stone.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Capone tells Eliot Ness, "You talk to me like that in front of my son? Fuck you, and your family!" In front of his son...
  • Dangerously Close Shave: The opening scene.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Malone died in Ness's arms.
  • Disney Villain Death: Nitti.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:

Malone: You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way!

  • Doomed Moral Victor: The death of Jim Malone.
  • The Dragon: Frank Nitti.
  • Evil Gloating: Something Nitti probably should have done after getting safely off the roof!
  • Evil Overlooker: The poster has Robert Deniro's Capone looming large like Darth Vader over Elliot Ness as he is about to shoot you and the other Untouchables in rifle poses.
  • Fake Kill Scare: Done with a twist -- Sean Connery scares the crap out of a captured smuggler by letting him see Connery demand that his accomplice reveal information, threaten to blow his head off if he won't talk, and then literally blow the accomplice's brains out. What the surviving captive (who, terrified, tells all he knows) didn't know was that the accomplice had already been fatally shot in the gunfight just before: Connery was "interrogating" a corpse.
  • Famous Last Words:
    • "What are you prepared to do?" Malone.
    • "He died screaming, like a stuck Irish pig. Now you think about that when I beat the rap." Frank Nitti.
  • Fanfare
  • The Film of the Series
  • Going by the Matchbook: Frank Nitti has the address of Jim Malone (Sean Connery) written on a book of matches. Unfortunately he forgets to dispose of it after killing Malone, so when Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) searches him later it leads to their final shootout.
  • Hollywood History: In many ways. The real Al Capone and Eliot Ness never met face-to-face, there were 11 "Untouchables" who all lived after prohibition, but most notably, the real Frank Nitti lived several years after Capone's conviction, rather than being thrown off a roof by Ness.
  • Hollywood Law: When they discover the jury has been bribed, they switch Capone's jury with the jury next door. This is, interestingly, actually an aversion as this somehow really happened. Capone's lawyer attempting to enter a plea without his client's consent is not, and, in real life, is a good way to have a mistrial, an overturned conviction, and disbarment for the attorney
  • Idiot Ball: Ness and Co are in a corrupt town, they know they can't trust most of the police and what do they do with their key witness? They put him in an elevator with just one Untouchable (Oscar the accountant) and don't bother to clear out the elevator of anyone they don't trust. They were really holding onto it that day.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: On asked what he'll do when Prohibition is over, he replies he'll immediately have a drink.
  • Justice by Other Legal Means: Getting Capone on tax evasion, of all things. Even Ness lampshades it in the movie when his accountant sidekick keeps pointing it out.
    • Justified. In Real Life, the only rap that could put Capone away WAS tax evasion.
  • Let's Get Dangerous: After he runs out of bullets Wallace runs towards a gangster, screaming, and hits him twice with the butt of his gun.
  • Light Is Not Good: Frank Nitti is always seen dressed in white.
  • Man in White: Frank Nitti.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Jim Malone.
  • Never Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight: Malone provides the page quote.
    • Also, this memorable line:

Malone: Now isn't that just like a wop, brings a knife to a gunfight!

  • Noble Bigot with a Badge: Malone is very vocal about his anti-Italian prejudice, but Stone earns his respects.
  • Officer O'Hara: Malone.
  • Psycho for Hire: Frank Nitti.
  • Put Down Your Gun and Step Away: Subverted.
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns: The tommy gun of one gangster jams during a fight (Truth in Television: a problem real tommy guns were frequently subject to, which is one of the many reasons it was never as popular as gangland movies would have you believe). To the gangster's credit, he tries repeatedly to clear the jam, but it gives the mousy accountant among the Untouchables time to get close enough to KO him with the butt of his shotgun.
  • Schiff One-Liner: "I think I'll have a drink."
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules: Moral crusader Eliot Ness earned his men the nickname "The Untouchables" by his vehement refusal of a large bribe from Al Capone.
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: With the exception of the occasional Tommy Gun, the Untouchables wield pump-action shotguns as their main long arms.
  • Shout-Out: The baby carriage rolling down the stairs in Union Station is a direct homage to the famous "Odessa Steps" sequence in Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 masterpiece The Battleship Potemkin.
    • It's even more impressive when you know that the sequence was a last-minute alternative to the original scene, a car/train chase that was prohibitively expensive (the chase did make the novelization).
  • The Squad: Also a Badass Crew.
  • Steel Ear Drums: The baby in the carriage sequence.
  • Such a Lovely Noun: Frank Nitti threatens Eliot Ness's family in this manner.

Frank Nitti: Nice house.

  • Team Shot: See the image up there. Also a in-universe example, the four pose for a family photo in a restaurant.
  • Too Dumb to Live: No, Mr. Nitti, I don't think it's a particularly good idea to taunt Ness about his partner you murdered when both of you are standing on top of a tall building.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Oscar, the federal accountant assigned to Ness's team. More an office worker than a field agent, he takes to wielding a shotgun pretty quickly and gets a few Moments of Asskickery during the Canadian border raid.
  • Tragic Keepsake: Malone's keychain.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The leader of the RCMP calls out the Untouchables' brutal methods.
    • Let us note that the guy being brutally interrogated was already DEAD when Malone splattered his brains out. The only person that KNOWS said crook is dead is Ness, being the man who killed him quite thoroughly a few moments ago. That is to say, the RCMP officer fell for it as well as the hood.

RCMP Captain: I do not approve of your methods.
Eliot Ness: Yeah, well... You're not from Chicago.

    • Even if the Mountie knew that it was a dead man (since the movie only shows clearly that the reluctant gangster isn't aware that Malone is interrogating a corpse), many would find it a questionable method of doing police-work.
    • Also an example of Where Do You Think You Are?.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Ness is sorely tempted to shoot Nitti during the rooftop chase, when it's just the two of them there. He decides against it and arrests Nitti instead. But then Nitti just had to go taunting about how Malone died by his hand, and how he'll still beat the rap...
  • You Have Failed Me...: Al Capone beats one of his goons to death with a bat.

The 1990s TV show contains examples of:[edit | hide]

  • Guns Akimbo: Subverted when the senior member confronts a villain who framed him. The villain tries to resist with twin tommy guns. However, the idiot doesn't realize that given how heavy the gun type is, he can't even keep them level and so doesn't do much more than shoot up the floor in front of him with a lot of noise. For his part, the Untouchable simply shoots the villain with two carefully aimed pistol shots.
    • In the 1980s version, 'George Stone' has two guns on him at the train station when they separate. Stone notices Eliot has run out of ammunition, charges in, and passes Eliot one of his own pistols.
  • Meek Townsman: An episode in which the Untouchables and some of Capone's men go to Kansas, and the mayor is the Meek Townsman. He makes a speech, talking as if he's saying something noble, but he's telling his townspeople not to help Eliot Ness and co. fight the gangsters: "live to farm another day. To father, another day."