Thursday, February 02, 2006

THE F*@% YEAH FILES (Movie Version) #5

Few films have as many masterfully arranged sequences as Brian DePalma’s tour de force:
The Untouchables (1987)

I know you all agree with me, and the only question in your minds is which scene I will choose for today’s installment of the F*@% Yeah Files (movie edition). Will it be Al Capone’s (Robert DeNiro) notorious baseball scene, when he demonstrates the effect a Louisville slugger can have on a human skull? Perhaps the scene when Elliot Ness (Costner) launches Frank Nitti off the roof of the Chicago courthouse and into a car far below, Lethal Weapon-style? Maybe the man-on-man kissing scene between Costner and Andy Garcia? …hang on, I’m thinking of The Touchables, which I rented one lonely night along with E.T., The Extra Testicle and Field of Reams.

What the hell, let’s get crazy and pick two scenes.

The first scene takes place in a cabin on the Canadian border, after Elliot Ness’s gangbusters have teamed up with some Canadian Mounties to intercept a shipment of contraband alcohol. They’ve captured one gangster, who is not cooperating. The tough Chicago cops try to rough up the goon, but the upright Canadian cop won’t allow it. Jim Malone (Sean Connery), who plays dirty, decides to put the fear of God into their captive, so he grabs his gun and goes out on the porch, where (unbeknownst to the captive) another mobster has succumbed to his wounds.

Malone grabs the dead man’s body and threatens to shoot if he doesn’t talk while their captive listens with increasing unease. Malone hoists the corpse up against the cabin window in full view of the live mobster, shoves his gun in the dead guy’s mouth, and yells, “I’ll give you to the count of three to tell me what I want to know!”

Of course, the dead guy says nothing, so Malone pulls the trigger. Blood sprays, and the prisoner inside the cabin freaks out big time – he’ll talk. The Mountie is aghast as well. “I don’t approve of your methods!”

“You’re not from Chicago,” Elliot Ness says.

Oh, F*@% Yeah!

The only scene that tops that one is the one sequence that everybody remembers from The Untouchables – the baby carriage scene, an homage to a classic scene in Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin. Like I'd know. I saw the Odessa steps sequence in Film Studies class, but I've never seen Eisenstein's entire movie. I'm just trying to act smart.

I won’t insult you by describing the whole thing frame-by-frame -- actually, yes I will insult you. After Sean Connery dies a bloody death (SPOILER!), Ness decides to go after Capone for tax evasion, and to do that he needs to nab Capone’s bookkeeper at Union Station.

Ness and Stone (Garcia) wait for the mobsters to arrive at the train station. It's almost midnight. Ness takes a position at the top of a huge flight of stairs and waits. Is that a mobster down below...? No, just some guy meeting his sweetheart.

While he waits, Ness notices a young mother struggling with a baby carriage, trying to pull it up the stairs. Ever gallant, Ness moves to help the woman pull the carriage up.

While he's pulling the carriage up he spots Capone's men. First one. Then another. Then another. He spots the bookkeeper.

A bandaged thug at the top of the stairs recognizes Ness... and IT IS ON. Ness pulls a shotgun from his overcoat, still holding the baby carriage, and blows Bandaged Thug away.

Chaos. Bullets start flying. Ness loses his grip on the baby carriage while shooting another goon, and it starts to careen down the stairs. A mobster at the bottom of the stairs starts shooting at Ness, who shoots a couple more bad guys. He's out of shotgun ammo.

He's got to save the baby! Ness pulls out a pistol and dives after the runaway carriage while mobsters shoot at him from all directions.

Bystanders are getting tagged left and right. Ness shoots at the guy at the bottom of the stairs, who ducks behind a pillar.

Shit, Ness is out of ammo again! He's screwed - the guy behind the pillar is reloading, and a wounded mobster on the stairs is still shooting at him.

Stone runs up, drawing two pistols. He throws one to Ness, who blows away the guy behind the pillar.

Stone does a sliding save at the bottom of the stairs, catching the baby carriage while drawing down on the last thug on the stairs. That's some cool shit right there.

Stand-off. Desperate, the wounded mobster grabs the bookkeeper and holds a gun to his head. The mobster says he'll kill the bookkeeper unless Ness lets them leave. "You got five seconds to make up your mind!"

"You got him?" Ness asks Stone.

"I got him," Stone says.

The cornered mobster is freaking out. He starts to count. "One--!"

Stone fires.

One shot, right in the head.

"Two," Stone says.

F*@% Yeah, and F*@% Yeah again!

Long dismissed by suckers as a pale imitator of Hitchcock, director Brian DePalma came into his own with this film, and in particular this legendary sequence, which is so perfectly choreographed and edited that it deservedly became a classic. When I saw it in the theater for the first time I forgot to breathe. In my mind, it’s one of the top ten action scenes of the 20th century. I am prone to hyperbole, it’s true – but you gotta recognize The Untouchables. You gotta recognize.

Willem? What say you?


Anonymous said...


John Jakala said...

Oh, man, I still remmeber seeing that in the theater when it first came out. There were so many great F*@% Yeah moments in that film. Another great one is when Connery's character explains how they'll beat 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."

I think I need to see this again. F*@% Yeah!!

smokedog said...

"Here endeth the lesson."

F*@% Yeah!

Anonymous said...

Connery gets most of the F*@% Yeah moments in this movie, but the train station scene with Costner and Garcia might be the most badass of them all.

I'm also very fond of when Connery sticks it to the Chief in the bar alley in the rain.

The Nitty off the roof scene is cool, except for the shot of Nitty from below flailing his arms as he's falling with the pretty blue sky. That looks fake as hell. But Coster makes up for it when Garcia asks him where Nitty is and he just says, "He's in the car." F*@% Yeah!

call me jack... said...

I'm gonna be honest, I personally can't put the end scene on my list of "F*@% YEAH" yeah moments. it just switches back and forth between the "f'ing cool" list and the "so over the top it's funny" list a little too much for me.

Anonymous said...

For me, the best "F*@% yeah!" moment is when the accountant (who's name escapes me) knocks out Mob Guy with a shotgun during that raid in Canada. Little, nerdy guy in glasses nuts up and takes down a mafia soldier with an unloaded shotgun. BadASS. As another nerdy guy with glasses, I salute you; forgotten guy from Untouchables.

zailo said...

You can't get any more airwolf than popping caps straight into some smartass thugs mouth while he is trying to threaten you.
Another Garcia movie, Black Rain, has a few F*@% Yeah moments come to think of it.
"emgjnizh" Why don't I just mash my fists down the keyboard as my verification.

Alfred said...

pretty dope

there was a pretty funny sendup of that train station scene in one of the naked gun movies...

Anonymous said...

Okay, I have to offer a correction:

The cornered mobster is freaking out. He starts to count. "One--!"

"Take him," says Ness evenly.

Stone fires.

That "Take him" is key, because it gives you just enough time to go "F*@% YEAH" while Stone is firing. You're shouting it as the F@*% YEAH moment happens. Genius!

Edward Liu said...

Andy Garcia in The Untouchables was like the master swordsman guy in Seven Samurai -- totally cool, almost completely unflappable, 100% USDA Grade A badass. I always loved the scene where he demonstrates "The Chicago Way" to Sean Connery:

"I said that (poke) you're a (poke) lying member (poke) of a (poke) NO (poke) GOOD (poke) RACE!"


"Maybe, but I'm better than you, you stinking Irish pig."


"Oh, I like him."
"Yeah. Me too."

F*@% YEAH!

I also get all choked up at the end, when Andy Garcia is about to lose it and says, "Mr. Ness, he'd have wanted you to have that." And Costner just says back, "He'd have wanted a cop to have it."

Word verification: ohjyahs. Which is how they say "F*@% YEAH" in Yoruba.

Devon Sanders said...


You made my day, Dave Campbell.

Anonymous said...

So cool you did this, cos it's on AMC tonight!

And it's neat that you did it after Chuck Norris, since Billy "Frank Nitti" Drago did a ton of Chuck movies during the Golan-Globus era. Usually as a bad guy.

Andy Garcia was never more awesome than in that scene.

"qquqhn"- sounds like a bowel movement.

Anonymous said...

Fav line from the movie is by Connery...."Just like a wop. Bringing a knife to a gun fight." Of course, that scene is more of a "Fuck, NO! moment.

Anonymous said...

All these great scenes and quotes, but where's the love for David Mamet?

Anonymous said...

You had it right at the beginning. All you had to say was "The Untouchables. F*@% YEAH!"

That said, those are two excellent choices.

Sleestak said...

I don't believe you havent covered Billy Paul or Buford Puseer (Original!) yet

Jon said...

"Mista, mista, you forgot your--"


Anonymous said...

It's your journal man, but I hope you're gonna do Princess Bride

Michael Brown said...

All great choices! I love the F*@% Yeah! Files whether it be comics or movies. And I agree with an earlier comment that a whole seperate blog could be dedicated to these. However, the best thing about F*@% Yeah! moments is they are so genuinely rare and precious. A whole F*@% Yeah! Blog might diminish the whole F*@% Yeah! goodness. Still great F*@% Yeah! observations all!

word verification (bphxpv) -- I think I just sent an imp back to his home dimension with that one.

Anonymous said...

I second Willem Dafoe's death from "Wild at Heart" and I'd recommend a Connery Bond "F*@% Yeah" feature (remember the F*@%in' jetpack scene). A superhero film F*@% Yeah feature would be great as well.

Anonymous said...

I was referring to the "Thunderball" pre-titles sequence. Prior to the effin' jetpack escape, it (the PTS) also features the "chateau fight" with a male SP.E.C.T.R.E (notice the correct spelling) agent in drag. Come on, you can't beat that. Don't turn your back on Bond, Campbell.

Anonymous said...

"And it's neat that you did it after Chuck Norris, since Billy "Frank Nitti" Drago did a ton of Chuck movies during the Golan-Globus era. Usually as a bad guy."

He was also the nemesis of Brisco County Jr.

Anonymous said...

Dave, have you taken over programming for AMC? Last night they showed the Untouchables, followed by In the Heat of the Night.

Tom the Dog said...

I recognize.

My favorite part is when Connery says, "Isn't that just like an Italian-American? Brings a knife to a gun fight."

It's right up there with that scene at the beginning of Scarface, where the immigration officials are interrogating new immigrant Al Pacino. "Where'd you get the beauty scar, tough guy, eatin' pineapple?"
"How am I gonna get a scar like that eatin' pineapple?"

Or that bit in Blue Velvet where Dennis Hopper says, "Heineken? Freak that foreign stuff!"

...Man, I gotta stop watching the cleaned-up versions of these movies.

Anonymous said...

Um. Am I the only person around who... well... hated this movie?

Costner sleepwalks through it, delivering a dull and listless performance punctuated by sulky frowns. Everyone calls Sean Connery "Irish" even though his accent is 100% Scottish. De Niro's Capone -- except for two scenes -- is an over-the-top Mussolini, more buffoonish than menacing. The Mamet script has nothing to do with either the TV series or the book. And the score is too damn loud.

But most of all: the scene where Ness throws skull-face dude off the roof? That totally ruined the movie for me. Maybe it's just me, but the first 90% of the movie sets Ness up as a guy who plays by the rules. At the end, he turns into just another stupid vigilante. I hated that. And it's not even the result of a plausible moral transformation... it just happens because DePalma thought it would make a cool scene.

I guess F*@% Yeah doesn't work for me unless I care about the story or the characters. And in this movie, I pretty much didn't.

That said, there were two scenes in that movie that did work for me.

I said that De Niro's Capone is a disappointment, and mostly he is. He's on scene for like a quarter of the movie, and most of the time he's more boring than scary.

But two scenes. One of course is the famous "Baseball!" scene. That scene surprised and unnerved me when I saw it. The way De Niro's face suddenly contorts is brilliant, and the last bit -- with the blood on the tablecloth -- is one of the rare moments where, for me, De Palma gets it right.

The other? Capone again, but it's subtle. He's sitting in a barber's chair, getting shaved, while his flunkies report to him. We get glimpses of the barber's intent face. Then Capone makes a sudden move... and the barber nicks his chin. Capone puts a finger up, sees the blood, glances up at the barber... and we see that the barber is white-faced, trembling, literally terrified for his life. The camera pans to the flunkies, who have gone totally still and silent. Then it hangs for a moment on Capone's face, and we can /see/ him teetering between "Should I fly into a violent rage and kill this guy rigt now, or let this pass and move on?" And then he moves on... but it's an authentically powerful and scary moment.

Sorry to disagree. I wouldn't even mention it, except that Dave and I seem to be on the same wavelength most of the time.

Doug M.

Anonymous said...

On a completely unrelated note, I was flipping through the DC solicitations in the Feb previews this morning.
Saw the cover of Batman and the Monster Men #6.
It made me think of you.

Tim Easy said...

For my money, if it's got to be a DeNiro film, please let it be The Deer Hunter. The fact that everyone drinks Rolling Rock cans in that movie is totally airwolf.

Quilty said...

This is an excellent F*@% YEAH movie. That whole staircase scene HAD to be presented in slo-mo because it's so... dense. Ness struggling with whether or not he should help the lady out. Ness pushing the lady off after the gunfight starts. Half the guys on the staircase taking bullets as they tried to stop the baby carriage. Man, I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it.

The whole movie is filled with F*@% YEAH moments, and even more (lesser) HELLS! YEAH moments.

Goodsnitch: Nerdy Guy with Glasses is Charles Martin Smith, who apparently is the poor man's Bob Balaban.

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