Cast & Crew
In 1919, Brooklyn-born gangster Al Capone arrives in Chicago to become a bodyguard for Johnny Torrio, a mobster whose "emporium" offers "booze, gambling and broads" to anyone willing to pay for them. Capone soon meets "Big Jim" Colosimo, who controls the First Ward and promises to introduce the young tough to famous Italian opera singer Enrico Caruso. After Prohibition is enacted in 1920, Capone devises ways to capitalize on the public's thirst for liquor, and helps to make Colosimo and Torrio rich and powerful. Nevertheless, gang leaders Dion "Dini" O'Banion, George "Bugs" Moran and Earl Weiss, known as "Hymie the Pole," complain that Colosimo is too old and soft, and O'Banion mocks the gangster's Italian accent and mannerisms. Secretly, Capone advises Torrio to get rid of Colosimo, but after the old man and his guards are shot, Torrio's guilt at betraying a member of his family gets the better of him, and he begins to drink heavily. Capone romances Maureen Flannery, the widow of one of Colosimo's murdered men, and although she at first rejects him, she eventually succumbs to his advances. In the meantime, Capone "kills like a crazy man," eliminating any underworld leaders who resist his plan to run the crime syndicate "like a business." When Chicago elects a reform mayor, one who accepts no bribes from Capone, the gangster moves his beer-brewing and other illegal operations to the nearby town of Cicero, and the money continues to roll in. Torrio is arrested for brewing beer, and Capone, believing O'Banion had him framed, kills the Irishman. Weiss and Moran then shoot Torrio. While in the hospital, Torrio, weary of the endless killing, agrees to serve a short prison sentence and afterward enters into a quiet retirement. Meanwhile, Capone has Weiss killed, while Schaefer, a police sergeant who for years bemoaned Capone's ownership of city hall, becomes captain of the force. Mac Keely, a dishonest reporter who works for Capone, attempts to bribe Schaefer, but the latter throws him out. Because Schaefer is unable to secure a single conviction against the criminals, however, a crooked mayor again assumes power, and Capone sets up shop in the center of Chicago's financial district. Capone now forces payments from every business owner in the South Side, terrorizing anyone who refuses to pay for his "protection." Worried about attempts by "the feds" to indict Capone, Keely suggests that the gangster leave town for a few months, and Capone settles into a comfortable home in Dade County, Florida. From there he orchestrates the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, in which many of Moran's men are killed. Although the crime rocks the nation, the police, as usual, are unable to unearth any evidence that implicates Capone. Moran and Capone finally negotiate a truce, but Keely learns that Moran intends to kill Capone, and the latter takes refuge in a Philadelphia jail for a year. Just before Capone's release, Moran persuades Keely to betray his old employer, and when Capone learns that the reporter now works for his enemy, he has Keely killed. The newspaperman's death sends Chicago into an uproar, and Schaefer publicly accuses Capone of having ordered the murders of many people, including Maureen's husband. Capone finally admits his guilt to Maureen, who hysterically begs him to kill her. Schaefer secures Capone's account books, and the evidence he finds in them leads to Capone's conviction on tax evasion charges and an eleven-year sentence at Alcatraz. While he is incarcerated, a mob of prisoners attack him mercilessly.
Joseph D. Sargent
Cindy Ames Salerno
Charles D. Campbell
Leonard J. Ackerman
John H. Burrows
John H. Burrows
Forrest T. Butler
Frank R. Lambers Jr.
Lindsley Parsons Jr.
Al Capone (1959), starring celebrated Method actor Rod Steiger as the most notorious mobster in gangland history, was the most ambitious entry in the genre. Produced by Allied Artists, a small but ambitious studio specializing in lurid, punchy low-budget genre pictures, and efficiently directed by Richard Wilson, a former assistant to Orson Welles, this B&W film is not lavish by the standards of the glossy Hollywood spectacles but it delivers period recreations and bustling scenes on a small budget. The visual approach owes as much to television and the semi-documentary style of the popular TV series The Untouchables (which also had a significant hand in the gangster revival) as to the old studio gangster pictures. The spectacle is not in the scope of the sets or locations, but in the brutal blasts of violence and the larger-than-life incarnation that Steiger brings to Capone on his rise from loyal, ambitious, opera-loving thug to the top dog in the Chicago syndicate, ruling the South Side with fear, intimidation and machine gun diplomacy.
The stocky, serious Steiger had a fortuitous resemblance to Capone but it's his volatile performance that defines the character. The real life Capone was a celebrity gangster, living and working openly, proclaiming himself "just a businessman," and was always in the media lens. Steiger plays him as a thug dictator, putting on a show of power and money and social ambition as if trying to prove himself to the world while resentment seethes beneath the tailored suits and mannered public front. "He was, to me, a showman, an actor," Steiger explained in an interview with New Yorker writer Helen Ross. Robert De Niro's Capone in The Untouchables (1987) has echoes of Steiger's performance.
Steiger brings an almost affable quality to Capone even as he coaxes his boss and mentor, Chicago gangster Johnny Torrio (Nehemiah Persoff), to knock off his avuncular boss and take control of the rackets as prohibition gives them the biggest money-making opportunity of their lives ("It's a big, thirsty town and I love it," he smiles). But his ferocious temper flares up whenever someone dares to make a play for his territory and he takes an attack personally, ready to lash out immediately until cooler heads, in particular the cheerfully corrupt newspaper reporter Mac Keely (Martin Balsam) who feeds Capone information and advice, talk him down. Along with his ego is an almost pathological need to be liked, or at least respected, notably when it comes to the widow (Fay Spain) of one of his victims. He puts almost as much effort into wooing this woman, immune to his animalistic charms, as he does to building his syndicate.
"I turned the picture down three times," Steiger told an interviewer during the production, and agreed to play the role only after the producers agreed to rewrites. Critics have noted the Shakespearean dimensions of Capone, from Iago-like figure pushing Johnny Torrio to take control of the rackets to an underworld Macbeth murdering his own boss to a kind of tragic king brought low by his own hubris. It may be no coincidence that director Richard Wilson worked on Welles' Macbeth (1948).
Al Capone is framed with narration by James Gregory, who plays the dedicated and honest Chicago cop Sgt. Schaefler, to provide the moral censure of the violent spectacle. Scenes of Capone murdering an inconvenient boss and his thugs gunning down competitors, including a tightly-constructed recreation of the Valentine's Day Massacre (intercut with Capone establishing his alibi in Florida with a society party), are accompanied by the official outrage at Capone's ruthless tactics and brutal violence. Most curiously, the role of Elliot Ness and the FBI is underplayed; it is little more than a mention in the narration, to make Chicago cop Schaefler the hero: the stalwart policeman whose patience and persistence finally beats Capone, sending him to Alcatraz and an inglorious death ("his mind half gone," describes the narration, which leaves out the detail that his illness was a complication of syphilis). Yet, despite the fictional characters played by Fay Spain and James Gregory, the broad strokes of the film are largely historically accurate, from the manipulation of municipal elections through brazen intimidation at the polls to the gang wars with North Side boss Bugs Moran (played by Murvyn Vye).
Capone's story has been told many times, from the veiled (and largely fictionalized) portrait in Howard Hawks' Scarface (1932) (which was Capone's nickname) to the TV series The Untouchables (1959) and Roger Corman's The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967) to Brian De Palma's 1987 feature version of The Untouchables (with Robert De Niro as Capone). Nevertheless, this is the most comprehensive film portrait of the notorious racketeer and mob boss who literally ruled Chicago for years.
Producer: Leonard J. Ackerman, John H. Burrows (producer)
Director: Richard Wilson
Screenplay: Malvin Wald, Henry F. Greenberg (writers)
Cinematography: Lucien Ballard
Music: David Raksin
Film Editing: Walter Hannemann
Cast: Rod Steiger (Al Capone), Fay Spain (Maureen Flannery), James Gregory (Schaefler, narrator), Martin Balsam (Mac Keeley, reporter), Nehemiah Persoff (Johnny Torrio), Murvyn Vye (George 'Bugs' Moran), Robert Gist (Dion O'Banion), Lewis Charles (Earl Weiss), Joe De Santis (Big Jim Colosimo), Sandy Kenyon (Bones Corelli).
by Sean Axmaker
TCM Remembers - Rod Steiger
ROD STEIGER, 1925 - 2002
From the docks of New York to the rural back roads of Mississippi to the war torn Russian steppes, Rod Steiger reveled in creating some of the most overpowering and difficult men on the screen. He could be a total scoundrel, embodying Machiavelli's idiom that "it's better to be feared than loved" in the movies. But as an actor he refused to be typecast and his wide range included characters who were secretly tormented (The Pawnbroker, 1965) or loners (Run of the Arrow, 1965) or eccentrics (The Loved One, 1965).
Along with Marlon Brando, Steiger helped bring the 'Method School' from the Group Theater and Actors Studio in New York to the screens of Hollywood. The Method technique, taught by Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg, insisted on complete immersion into the character's psyche and resulted in intense, dramatic performances and performers. Steiger made his first significant screen appearance as Brando's older brother in On the Waterfront (1954). Their climatic scene together in a taxicab is one of the great moments in American cinema.
It was a short leap from playing a crooked lawyer in On the Waterfront to playing the shady boxing promoter in The Harder They Fall (1956). Based on the tragic tale of true-life fighter Primo Carnera, The Harder They Fall details the corruption behind the scenes of professional boxing bouts. Steiger is a fight manager named Nick Benko who enlists newspaperman Eddie Willis (Humphrey Bogart in his final screen appearance) to drum up publicity for a fixed prizefight. While the boxing scenes were often brutally realistic, the most powerful dramatic moments took place between Steiger and Bogart on the sidelines.
As mob boss Al Capone (1959), Steiger got to play another man you loved to hate. He vividly depicted the criminal from his swaggering early days to his pathetic demise from syphilis. In Doctor Zhivago (1965), Steiger was the only American in the international cast, playing the hateful and perverse Komarovsky. During the production of Dr. Zhivago, Steiger often found himself at odds with director David Lean. Schooled in the British tradition, Lean valued the integrity of the script and demanded that actors remain faithful to the script. Steiger, on the other hand, relied on improvisation and spontaneity. When kissing the lovely Lara (played by Julie Christie), Steiger jammed his tongue into Christie's mouth to produce the desired reaction - disgust. It worked! While it might not have been Lean's approach, it brought a grittier edge to the prestige production and made Komarovsky is a detestable but truly memorable figure.
Steiger dared audiences to dislike him. As the smalltown southern Sheriff Gillespie in In The Heat of the Night (1967), Steiger embodied all the prejudices and suspicions of a racist. When a black northern lawyer, played by Sidney Poitier, arrives on the crime scene, Gillespie is forced to recognize his fellow man as an equal despite skin color. Here, Steiger's character started as a bigot and developed into a better man. He finally claimed a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance as Sheriff Gillespie.
Steiger was an actor's actor. A chameleon who didn't think twice about diving into challenging roles that others would shy away from. In the Private Screenings interview he did with host Robert Osborne he admitted that Paul Muni was one of his idols because of his total immersion into his roles. Steiger said, "I believe actors are supposed to create different human beings." And Steiger showed us a rich and diverse cross section of them.
by Jeremy Geltzer & Jeff Stafford
TCM Remembers - Rod Steiger
The working title of this film was The Al Capone Story. As noted in the film, Alphonse Capone was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1899, and began his career as a petty criminal there. He acquired the name "Scarface Al" because of a scar left by a razor slash. While still a young man, he moved to Chicago and worked his way up the crime syndicates, eventually taking over the bootleg liquor business. As depicted in the film, Capone facilitated his rise by murdering his rivals, including "Big Jim" Colosimo in 1920, and Dion O'Bannion in 1924. By the end of the 1920s, Capone was earning more than $20 million a year. On Valentine's Day, 1929, Capone's gunmen, dressed as policemen, shot and killed seven members of the rival "Bugs" Moran gang. Capone was convicted of income-tax evasion and sent to Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary in October 1931. He was released in November 1939, ill with syphilis. Capone died on his Florida estate on January 25, 1947 from complications of syphilis. For more information about Capone's life, see entry for Scarface in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40.
According to a November 1957 New York Times news item, Al Capone initially was to be made by independent producers John H. Burrows and Lindsley Parsons, and was to be financed as well as distributed by Allied Artists. Jack DeWitt was hired to write the screenplay at this time, but his contribution to the completed film has not been confirmed. Parsons later left the project and was replaced by Leonard J. Ackerman. According to a Daily Variety news item, second-unit photography was done in Chicago, and M-G-M's "Chicago Street" lot was used for a week of shooting. A Hollywood Reporter casting note adds Bobby Hall to the cast. The film had its premiere on February 25, 1959 in Miami as well as the surrounding areas of Miami Beach and Coral Gables.
Because of restrictions imposed during the 1930s and early 1940s by Will H. Hays, president of the MPPDA, and Joseph I. Breen, director of the PCA, screen biographies of notorious criminals like Capone and John Dillinger were impossible to make. By the mid-1940s, however, the restrictions were somewhat relaxed, and in 1945, Monogram released Dillinger, the first screen depiction of John Dillinger (see AFI Catalog of feature Films, 1941-50). In late 1947, Capone was announced as the subject of a proposed United Artists release, but, according to news items, Westbrook Pegler and Jack Moffitt's screenplay was rejected by the PCA.
According to information in the MPAA/PCA collection at the AMPAS Library, in July 1958, the PCA rejected the first draft of the script for Al Capone, deeming it "unacceptable" because it contained "too much glorification" of Capone, an "overemphasis on evil," a lack of "counterbalancing good" and an "overemphasis on violence and slaughter." A revised script was approved, with eliminations, in September 1958. According to a February 5, 1959 letter to the PCA from U.S. Senator John L. McClellan, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field had a special screening of Al Capone. McClellan declared that the "picture should be shown throughout the land. Every citizen of this country should have the opportunity to see it. In my judgment it will have a potent influence for the maintenance of law and order and for the preservation of decent society in our country."
Although Al Capone marked the first time that the real gangster was depicted in a film, many earlier pictures featured characters who were presumed based on him, including Columbia's 1931 picture The Guilty Generation, directed by Rowland V. Lee and starring Leo Carrillo; the 1932 United Artists release Scarface, directed by Howard Hawks and starring Paul Muni; and the 1949 Columbia film The Undercover Man, directed by Joseph H. Lewis and starring Glenn Ford (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). In April 1959, Phil Karlson directed Neville Brand as Capone in a Desilu Production The Scarface Mob, which led to the popular ABC television series The Untouchables. That series ran from October 1959 through September 1963, starred Robert Stack as FBI agent Eliot Ness and occasionally featured Brand as Capone. The teleplay was released theatrically in 1962. In 1967, Roger Corman directed Jason Robards, Jr. in the Twentieth Century-Fox Film release The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70). In 1987, Robert De Niro appeared as the gangster in Brian DePalma's The Untouchables, and in 1995, F. Murray Abraham portrayed Capone in Concorde-New Horizons' Dillinger and Capone.
Released in United States 1959
Released in United States 1959