The Untouchables | 1987
The Untouchables recreates Prohibition Era Chicago on real locations in a terrific return to form for Brian de Palma, with deserved Oscar nominations for production design and costumes. Ennio Morricone’s sweeping score complements the David Mamet script, which eschews historical accuracy in favour of an epic struggle between good and evil.
The café blown up by the protection racketeers’ bomb at the opening is now the Houndstooth Saloon, 3369 North Clark Street, under the ‘el’ (elevated train) in Wrigleyville, way north of the Loop at the junction of West Roscoe and North Clark Streets (CTA: Belmont or Addison Stations; Red Line to Howard)
Just a couple of blocks south of Wrigley Field, the same location can be seen as John Candy’s home in the John Hughes-Chris Columbus comedy Only The Lonely (in fact, you can see John Candy's house from the movie – at 930 West Roscoe Street – in the background of the shot). More recently, nerdy Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) lived at the same junction in Wanted.
The police HQ of upright Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) is the Rookery Building, 209 South La Salle Street at West Adams Street. Built in 1886, its lobby was remodelled in 1907 by Frank Lloyd Wright. After years of neglect, the building was renovated in 1992. Oddly, it also served as the ‘New York’ toy store in Home Alone 2: Lost In New York.
South La Salle Street, with its vista leading down to the Chicago Board of Trade Building, is prominently featured, and is the image used on the movie poster – the same striking spot is used for the confrontation between Batman and the Joker in The Dark Knight, as well as seeing serious action in both Transformers: Dark Of The Moon and Transformers: Age Of Extinction (CTA: Quincy Station; Pink, Brown, Orange and Purple Lines in the Loop).
After his first liquor raid goes parasol-shaped, a despondent Ness gets a free lesson in basic police procedure when he meets incorruptible Irish cop Malone (Sean Connery) on the lower pedestrian deck of the Michigan Avenue Bridge.
The bridge, at the foot of the Magnificent Mile shopping district, is a familiar location you can also see in Rent A Cop and The Package.
With the advice of Malone, Ness leads a successful liquor raid, on the ‘US Post Office’, which is directly opposite the Rookery, the City National Bank and Trust Company Building, 208 South La Salle Street at Quincy Street.
Malone’s apartment was an in unchanged block of terraced houses on South Racine Avenue at West Harrison Street. Changed it is now, though, replaced by UIC (University of Illinois at Chicago) buildings.
The ‘Lexington Hotel’, where the real Al Capone kept a suite, is no longer in its original state. The exterior seen in the film is Roosevelt University, 430 South Michigan Avenue (CTA: Harrison or Jackson Stations; Red Line), while the interior is a conflation of two different locations.
The first view of the ‘Lexington’, with the newspaper being delivered to Capone (Robert de Niro) in bed, is the upper foyer of the Chicago Theater, 175 North State Street at East Lake Street. The exterior of this movie house, with its convenient ‘Chicago’ sign, is the ubiquitous scene-setting shot for countless Windy City movies – it’s briefly glimpsed in Oscar-winning musical Chicago (which was filmed entirely in Toronto) and it’s the theatre outside which Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes discover the ballet has been cancelled in The Dark Knight, but The Untouchables utilises its lavish Baroque interior.
The ‘Lexington’s’ lower lobby is the foyer of Roosevelt University – you can peek inside at the grand staircase, where Ness confronts Capone after the murder of his fellow Untouchables.
The banquet, where Capone gives his henchmen a bracing pep talk on teamwork before bloodily braining a freelancer with a baseball bat, was filmed in the Crystal Ballroom of the 1910 Blackstone Hotel, 636 South Michigan Avenue at East Balbo Drive overlooking Grant Park. The same ballroom was used for the charity ball in the Joel and Ethan Coen’s Chicago-set The Hudsucker Proxy, and the Blackstone became the ‘Atlantic City’ hotel in Martin Scorsese’s The Color Of Money.
In the most quoted scene of the movie, Malone explains to Ness the way 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.” It was Sean Connery’s idea for the pair to meet up in a church. The striking, barrel-vaulted location is Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, 3121 West Jackson Boulevard at Kedzie Street (CTA: Kedzie-Homan Station on the Blue Line to Forest Park. Exit Kedzie Street)
As he returns home to his daughter’s birthday party, Eliot Ness is threatened by a sinister Frank Nitti outside his house, 2030 22nd Place at Hoyne Avenue.
The ‘opera house’ lobby, in which Capone pleads his innocence to the press, is the Grand Staircase of the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 East Washington Street (CTA: Washington Station; Blue Line). The staircase, of white Carrara marble inlaid with multi-coloured glass mosaic work, can be seen inside the main southern entrance on Washington Street.
It leads up to the Preston Bradley Hall on the third floor, with its spectacular 38-foot glass dome – supposedly the largest Tiffany dome in the world, renovated in the 1970s and worth an estimated $35 million. This is the spot where Capone tearfully toasts Pagliacci after the murder of Malone. The Hall was also used as the interior of 'The White House' in Transformers: Age Of Extinction.
The Center houses another grand glass dome, in the Grand Army of the Republic Rotunda, located on the second floor of the northern entrance on Randolph Street. The Rotunda walls are of Knoxville Pink Marble from Tennessee, the dome Renaissance-style stained glass. This is the courtroom lobby where Ness finds Malone’s address in Frank Nitti’s matchbook.
The subsequent chase leads up to the Cultural Center’s roof, from which Nitti is finally thrown – after making the fatal mistake of taunting Ness about the killing of Malone. You can see the Center again in Oliver Stone’s film of the Quentin Tarantino-scripted Natural Born Killers.
The set-piece shootout, with Brian de Palma paying homage to the Odessa Steps sequence from Sergei Eisenstein's silent classic Battleship Potemkin, was staged in Chicago’s imposing Chicago Union Station, 210 South Canal Street,(CTA: Quincy Station; Pink, Brown, Orange and Purple Lines in the Loop). The station has been seen in plenty of films, including Man Of Steel, My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Sting and The Package.
The real Eliot Ness, by the way, operated out of Room 308 in the Transportation Building, 608 South Dearborn Street, still standing but now converted into stores and apartments.