* Editor’s Note: I’m squatting on Wayne‘s turf just for today. I’ll be out of the house by morning, I swear.
Of course, that’s actually not all that funny if you actually think about it. Films that were once regarded as failures often get recast as brilliant, ahead-of-their-time gems decades later. Likewise, movies that perhaps were looked upon as successes once upon a time might now play as incredibly dated (see: Total Recall, perhaps the oldest-looking film from 1990) or insensitive/offensive (see: Revenge of the Nerds, which just so happens to contain a date rape scene that was played for laughs back in the day – and earned them with nary a batted eye).
Unless you haven’t been paying attention, I’m about to do the same for The Untouchables.
Released in 1987, The Untouchables was a big-budget (for the time, though with 2013 lenses, the $20 million is laughably low), big-attention crime thriller. It featured Vito Corleone and James Bond…and neither of those guys was even the star. Instead, up-and-comer Kevin Costner (Silverado was his only hit-to-date) headlined, with another up-and-comer playing the hotshot rookie cop role, in the person of Andy Garcia. Brian DePalma – at or near the height of his powers – directed, and the highly respected David Mamet wrote the screenplay. This was one of those films that was destined to be a hit; released in June, it was a blockbuster that couldn’t fail, and it didn’t.
No, it didn’t fail at all. Connery earned an (or was given an honorary) Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Kevin Costner entered superstardom, Garcia became “the next Pacino,” and DeNiro had his biggest hit of the 1980s. The film feels epic in scope – a period piece that effectively places you in the 1930s.
DeNiro looms as the over-the-top villain. Costner’s Ness is a hero just finding his way, surrounded by a team of archetypes (veteran, dweeb, hotshot). It’s got a catchy title, plenty of tense action set pieces, and even an evil henchman sidekick (Billy Drago) straight out of the comics.
Oops, did I say comics?
Indeed I did – The Untouchables is not just some well-made gangster flick. It’s a superhero film that just happens to be “based on a true story” (nevermind that, naturally, enough elements of the actual history have been changed as to render them meaningless; the names are all that matter here). This is, in the parlance of our times, the origin story of Eliot Ness and his squad of Untouchables. Were this film to be remade today, Ryan Gosling would be hotly pursued for Ness (oops, Gangster Squad didn’t work out so hotly), the conglomerated Liam Neeson/Jeremy Irons would take over for Connery, and, hell, Garcia might be tapped to fill DeNiro’s shoes this time around (after all, DeNiro was too old to play Capone the first time around, so why bother with accuracy now)? The only thing that’s missing are those wonderful toys, and perhaps a fictionalized love interest for Ness (he was a family man in real life and they stuck to that, thankfully).
Of course, the success of The Untouchables had a more direct relationship to comic books and their films – it spawned Dick Tracy, a comic book which aped 1930s Chicago and its violence itself. Warren Beatty might have had an idea to play Tracy in the 70s (which is when Untouchables and Dick Tracy producer Art Linson purchased the rights), but it wasn’t until 1988 – the year following this film – that a Tracy film was greenlit. That doesn’t smell like a coincidence.
So The Untouchables might not hold up as a serious period drama, if ever it was supposed to. But it does provide us with a glimpse into a future that perhaps none involved in making it had any idea was yet to come.
* This review was a part of The Cinematic Katzenjammer’s Not-So-Secret Santa Review Swap (which was supposed to be in July, but I haven’t written a review in at least a year, so gimme a break).