Ten Best Al Capone Movies
The notorious Al Capone (1899-1947) ruled the Chicago underworld during the Roaring Twenties. Big Al later ran afoul of the tax man in 1931, serving part of his seven-year prison stretch for income tax evasion at infamous Alcatraz Island. Capone died of complications from neurosyphilis at his Palm Island, Florida, home on January 25, 1947.
Here are ten movies featuring Al "Scarface" Capone that no film fan should ever miss. The screening room at the Lexington Hotel, Capone's old Chicago headquarters, is now open, with Geraldo Rivera as your genial host...
The Untouchables (Paramount, 1987)
Robert De Niro winningly plays Al Capone in this $20 million crime drama that also stars Kevin Costner as U.S. Treasury agent Eliot Ness. Set in 1930, the film is centered on Ness and his Untouchables, who work tirelessly to bring down the ruthless Capone and his criminal empire. One of the most memorable scenes – and certainly an extremely violent one at that – takes place at a gangster banquet where a baseball bat wielding Capone brutally eliminates one of his fellow mobsters who failed to protect a liquor warehouse from the police. The baseball loving Al didn't appreciate his own "players" exhibiting individualism over teamwork – as the bloody result so graphically illustrates.
Director: Brian De Palma
Review: "As Capone, De Niro's going for a broad, theatrical style of acting. He creates a satire on the idea of Capone. With his chest puffed out in front of him, he's a petty despot – Il Duce in spats. But because the crime boss is supposed to represent the force of evil in the film, the absence of any real violence in his characterization is a crucial miscalculation." - Hal Hinson, The Washington Post (6/3/87)
On DVD: The Untouchables Special Collector's Edition (Paramount, 2004)
One sheet movie poster: The Untouchables (1987)
Al Capone (Allied Artists, 1959)
Rod Steiger has the title role of Alphonse Gabriel Capone, charting his rise from New York City transplant to unchallenged czar of the Chicago underworld. Fay Spain plays Maureen Flannery, Capone's love interest and the widow of a man he murdered, with Nehemiah Persoff as Johnny Torrio, Murvyn Vie as George "Bugs" Moran, Robert Gist as Dion O'Banion and Joe De Santis as Big Jim Colosimo. Steiger excels in the "Scarface" role, effectively capturing the gangster's many moods, from violent hoodlum to charming benefactor. The final scene, in which the big shot Capone is attacked while an inmate at Alcatraz, serves as the movie's crowning sense of justice.
Director: Richard Wilson
Review: "A tough, ruthless and generally unsentimental account of the most notorious gangster of the prohibition-repeal era, Al Capone is also a very well-made picture. There isn't much 'motivation' given for Capone, at least not in the usual sense. But the screenplay does supply reasons and they are more logical than the usual once-over-lightly on the warped youth bit." - Variety (1959)
On DVD: Al Capone (Warner Bros., 2009)
Rod Steiger in Al Capone (1959)
Capone (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1975)
Ben Gazzara enters the gangster cinematic sweepstakes, ably playing Al Capone in this somewhat forgotten entry from the Gerald Ford era. Susan Blakely plays Iris Crawford, Capone's main fictional squeeze. "There should be a law against women drinking," Capone tells Iris. "Well, I think there is," Iris smugly replies, correctly referring to the 18th Amendment that ushered in Prohibition. A parade of actors portray real-life gangsters, including Sylvester Stallone as Frank "The Enforcer" Nitti, Harry Guardino as Johnny Torrio, John Cassavetes as Frankie Yale, Frank Campanella as Big Jim Colosimo, John Orchard as Dion O'Banion, Carmen Argenziano as Machine Gun Jack McGurn and John Davis Chandler as Hymie Weiss. Don't look to Capone for the historical facts – Frank Nitti, for example, is seen giving the eulogy at Big Al's funeral despite having died four years earlier. But for a good, violent gangster romp, Capone may just fit the bill, pallie.
Director: Steve Carver
Review: "Sad to say, 'Capone' isn't much fun. There's one good laugh and a lot of violence. And if you're ready for it, there is even a brief outdoor love scene in which Al Capone and his new girl friend run dreamily past soft-focus trees and flowers...But too much of the movie is devoted to a deadingly repetitious series of scenes in which men in overcoats drive up in cars and machine gun gangsters coming out of restaurants." Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (4/18/75)
On DVD: Capone (Fox, 2006)
Lobby card: Ben Gazzara and Susan Blakely in Capone (1975)
Scarface: The Shame of a Nation (United Artists, 1932)
Paul Muni plays Antonio "Tony" Camonte, an extremely violent hood who claws his way to the top of the underworld. The principal character may be Antonio Camonte, but there's little doubt as to who producers had in mind when they filmed this baby during the Great Depression. Mr. Camonte shares the same initials with one Alphonse Capone, who was about to depart to the big house to serve an eleven-year sentence for income tax evasion upon the movie's release on April 9, 1932. Ann Dvorak, Karen Morley, Osgood Perkins, C. Henry Gordon, George Raft and Boris Karloff appear in supporting roles. It's an over-the-top performance by Muni, featuring prominent use of the Thompson submachine gun – a.k.a. "tommy gun," "bean shooter" and "Chicago typewriter." Two of Capone's thugs visited the film's screenwriter Ben Hecht in Los Angeles, demanding to know if the movie was about their boss. When told that it wasn't, they were still curious as to why the picture was titled Scarface. "If you call the movie Scarface, people will think it's about Capone and come to see it. It's part of the racket we call show business," Hecht informed the two torpedoes. Satisfied, the bent noses left the hotel.
Director: Howard Hawks
Review: "The slaughter in 'Scarface, the Shame of a Nation,' the Howard Hughes gangster production which was launched yesterday at the Rialto, is like that of a Shakespearean tragedy, for after the smoke of machine guns and pineapple bombs has blown away and the leading killer has gone to his death on the gallows, the only one of a group of principal characters left is a blonde with carefully plucked eyebrows—she who had been the mistress of two underworld giants." - Mordaunt Hall, The New York Times (5/20/32).
On DVD: Scarface (United Artists, 2007)
The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1967)
The infamous February 14, 1929, St. Valentine's Day Massacre garners the Hollywood treatment in this heavy-handed film presented in docudrama fashion. Jason Robards Jr. plays a swaggering, Irish-looking Al Capone, who orders the bloody hit on Bugs Moran's North Side Gang. A fine supporting cast appears, with George Segal, Ralph Meeker, Jean Hale, Clint Ritchie, Frank Silvera, Joseph Campanella and Bruce Dern filling the ranks of gangsterhood. When a newspaper reporter suggests that maybe cops were responsible for the massacre, Bugs Moran (Meeker) replies, "You must be new to this town, mister. Only Al Capone kills like that." Look for bit player Jack Nicholson, who appears as a gangster named Gino.
Director: Roger Corman
Review: "The only theatrical value and commercial purpose of this luridly publicized picture, which opened at the Warner and the 68th Street Playhouse yesterday, appear to me to be the callous horror and the morbid fascination of the terminal scene, in which those seven members of the Moran gang are trapped and mowed down by Capone machine-gunners in a North Side garage. For those who like blood and twitching bodies, there is plenty of that in this scene." - Bosley Crowther, The New York Times (7/27/67)
On DVD: The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (Twentieth Century-Fox, 2006)
One sheet movie poster: The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967)
The Scarface Mob (Desilu, 1959)
The Scarface Mob is actually a compilation of ABC-TV's The Untouchables (1959-63) two-part pilot episode, which was first telecast via the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse on April 20 and 27, 1959, with host Desi Arnaz introducing each segment. The edited movie was later released to theaters in 1960-62. Eliot Ness (Robert Stack) and his band of Untouchables move in on the Capone gang, hoping to crush Big Al's hold on the Chicago underworld. Neville Brand portrays a sneering Al "Scarface" Capone, with Bruce Gordon as Frank "The Enforcer" Nitti. Also appearing are Keenan Wynn, Pat Crowley, Barbara Nichols, Bill Williams, Joe Mantell, Peter Leeds, Robert Osterloh and Paul Picerni. One scene proved to be particularly racy, at least for 1950s television, whereby several Capone thugs pay a visit to Ness' innocent girlfriend Betty Anderson (Pat Crowley), breaking into her apartment, ripping open her blouse and leering at the "merchandise." I Love Lucy this wasn't.
Director: Phil Karlson
Review: "Originally the opening installments in the TV series, this crime drama of the Aspirin age still looks pretty good in feature form." - Steven H. Scheuer, Movies on TV (1984)
On DVD: The Untouchables - Season 1, Vol. 1, includes feature movie version of the pilot a.k.a. The Scarface Mob (Paramount, 2007)
One sheet movie poster: The Scarface Mob (1962)
Alcatraz Express (Desilu, 1961)
Alcatraz Express is the feature-length version of the two-part The Untouchables episode "The Big Train," first telecast over ABC-TV on January 5 and 12, 1961. The edited movie was later released to theaters in 1962. With Walter Winchell providing the snappy narration, Alcatraz Express opens in 1931, with Al Capone (Neville Brand) having been convicted of income tax evasion and sentenced to an eleven-year prison stretch at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta. Capone's cash bribes have made his stay in the Atlanta pen pretty comfortable, but when it becomes known that Big Al and other top name criminals are now headed to Alcatraz, the Chicago gangster and his mob conspire to spring him loose during the train journey. The old Untouchables gang is here, with Robert Stack as the tight-lipped Eliot Ness, Abel Fernandez as Agent William Longfellow, Nicholas Georgiade as Agent Enrico Rossi, Steve London as Agent Jack Rossman and Paul Picerni as Agent Lee Hobson. Bruce Gordon plays Frank Nitti and Gavin MacLeod appears as gangster Three-Fingered Jack White. Watch Ness and his boys engage in a Wild West shootout with mobsters in a small desert town.
Director: John Peyser
Review: "It still looks like a TV show, but manages to whip up a good amount of suspense." - Steven H. Scheuer, Movies on TV (1984)
On DVD: The Untouchables - Season 2, Vol. 1, includes the original two-part episode "The Big Train" (Paramount, 2008)
Frank Nitti: The Enforcer (ABC-TV, 1988)
This made-for-TV movie stars Anthony LaPaglia as Frank Nitti (1881-1943), one of Al Capone's top lieutenants and the front man for the Chicago Outfit. Like his boss, Nitti was later found guilty of tax evasion and sent to infamous Alcatraz Island for a little 18-month government-sponsored "vacation." Vincent Guastaferro plays Capone, with Trini Alvarado, Michael Moriarty, Michael Russo, Hank Azaria and Bruce Kirby in support. LaPaglia as the feared "Enforcer", lights up the small screen, with Guastaferro's Scarface appearing as second banana.
Director: Michael Switzer
Review: "Al Capone may be the most famous Chicago mobster, but his successor, Frank 'The Enforcer' Nitti (Anthony LaPaglia), was just as ruthless. This biopic goes to great lengths to accurately trace Nitti's rise to the top of the Windy City's underworld, amid corruption, betrayal and violence. The result is an engrossing glimpse into mob life in the early 20th century." - TV Guide (2009)
On DVD: Frank Nitti: The Enforcer (Direct Source, 2006)
Road to Perdition (DreamWorks, 2002)
Good ol' Tom Hanks plays Michael Sullivan Sr., a hit man for the Chicago Irish mob seeking revenge for the murder of his wife and youngest son. Anthony LaPaglia plays Al Capone, whose single scene was axed in the final cut. In the subsequent DVD, however, the sequence was restored in the deleted scenes section. Paul Newman, Tyler Hoechlin, Daniel Craig, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law and Stanley Tucci also appear in this classic gangster tale with plenty of bleak, film noir atmosphere.
Director: Sam Mendes
Review: "Filmed in a harsh winter of rain, snow and chilling darkness, Road will be long remembered for the artistry of cinematographer Conrad Hall. There are breathtaking scenes of shootouts and bank robberies, complimented by Thomas Newman's evocative score." Peter Travers, Rolling Stone (8/1/02)
On DVD: Road to Perdition Widescreen Edition (Universal, 2003)
One sheet movie poster: Tom Hanks in Road to Perdition (2002)
The Untouchables (Paramount Television, 1993-94)
This syndicated television series stars Tom Amandes as fabled Treasury agent Eliot Ness. Appearing in 15 episodes is William Forsythe, who plays the role of Al Capone with hot-headed, tommy gun relish. The series wrapped up its two-season, 42-episode run with the two-part segment "Death and Taxes," telecast on May 15 and 22, 1994, with Forsythe's Big Al eventually running afoul of both. Also look for Paul Regina as a sinister Frank Nitti in 15 episodes.
Director: Tucker Gates, Vern Gillum, Charles Robert Carner, Steve De Jarnatt, Eric Laneuville, et al.
Review: "First installment in Paramount's latest attempt to mine the 'Untouchables' cash cow looks great, sounds trite. Figuratively speaking, at least, it's a return to black-and-white television. Problems may be that the story of Eliot Ness and Al Capone has been told so often, it's already part of the national consciousness." - Todd Everett, Variety (1/12/93)
On DVD: Not commercially available
The Untouchables: Capone Rising
- The Untouchables: Capone Rising, a prequel to the 1987 Brian De Palma movie, is now in pre-production. Nicolas Cage, slated to play Capone, had earlier withdrawn from the film.
- All images courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries, Dallas, Texas
- Top image: Half sheet movie poster style A: Rod Steiger as Al Capone (1959)
Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved.