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Monday, June 11, 2007

Speaking of bats, here's an 'Untouchable' scene

Speaking of baseball bats (see post below), I could not let a reference to a baseball bat go by without bringing up one of my favorite scenes from a gangster movie.

In the 1987 Brian De Palma film The Untouchables, Al Capone, played convincingly by Robert De Niro, is walking around a large table of his lieutenants delivering a speech while holding baseball bat. Like Chekov’s proverbial gun in the first act, you know somehow that bat will come into play before the end of the scene. As Capone speaks, his lieutenants, sitting around the table smoking cigars, smilingly mouth their agreement to what he is saying. From cuts to Capone’s face, you can see his expression is becoming increasingly menacing as he goes along.

Capone’s words, from the excellent David Mamet script, follow below:

A man becomes preeminent, he's expected to have enthusiasms. … What are mine? What draws my admiration? What is that which gives me joy? … Baseball! A man stands alone at the plate. This is the time for what? For individual achievement. There he stands alone. But in the field, what? Part of a team. Teamwork. ... Looks, throws, catches, hustles.Part of one big team. Bats himself the live-long day, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and so on. If his team don't field ... what is he? You follow me? No one. Sunny day, the stands are full of fans. What does he have to say? I'm goin' out there for myself. But … I get nowhere unless the team wins.

- Team!

- Team.

After the second lieutenant repeats, “team,” Capone, who has come up behind him with the baseball bat, starts whacking him repeatedly on the head, killing him, presumably for some sort of disloyalty. The scene ends with the lieutenant lying on the table, as blood from his head spreads out across the white table cloth.

While I could do without the shot of the blood, the dramatic tension of the scene leading up to it would be difficult to beat.


Peter said...

I believe that the lieutenant on the receiving end of the baseball bat was the rotund supervisor of the just-raided liquor warehouse.

After an unsuccessful raid (foiled by corruption in the Chicago PD) that turned out to be a shipment of umbrellas, the four Untouchables shut down a liquor operation existing practically out in the open. When asked for a search warrant by the warehouse supervisor, longtime beat cop Malone responds with a rifle butt to the stomach.

This scene is followed by a small celebration in a closed restaurant by the four Untouchables, which ends in a group photo "not for publication."

The still frame of the group photo dissolves into a shot of Al Capone standing up to make an after dinner speech at a white linen roundtable gathering of his lieutenants. There is a pregnant pause where the room is wondering what Capone will say after suffering his first successful liquor raid. He begins, "Life goes on." Then he launches into the baseball speech.

The scene is significant, not just for the brutality, but for the juxtoposition of the cop celebration and the mobster discipline. At first, you expect Capone to launch into a tirade. Then the dinner participants (and the audience) expect a funny and forgiving after dinner speech. Finally we learn that the mobster is not so elegant and engaging after all.

Mark Cohen, editor said...

Thanks, Peter --

I did not recall the gentleman killed was the one who was running the liquor operation in the post office. That's a nice touch. The lawyer in me always wondered whether the evidence was suppressed because Sean Connery gave that gentleman a rifle butt whack in response to his request to see a warrant.

Perhaps Capone should have waited to see how he did on the pretrial suppression motion before he killed his aide. Just a thought.