The Scarface Mob (Phil Karlson / U.S., 1959):

Walter Winchell’s narration lays it out: "Chicago, 1929. By law, the country was dry. Through connivance with Al Capone, the city was wet." Phil Karlson films the rise of the Untouchables in swift strokes unmistakably reminiscent of Preston Foster rounding up the hoods in Kansas City Confidential, and there rests his theme: Order is only achieved when the law outdoes the underworld’s brutality, and then is it order? Elliott Ness (Robert Stack) is the Prohibition crusader, chief among his incorruptible agents is an ex-con turned informer and, eventually, martyr (Keenan Wynn); Al Capone (Neville Brand) is a hooch Mussolini, with cigar rammed between teeth as he presides over a tableful of wide-angled cohorts out of Dick Tracy. "You cops get more dough out of this than we do." "So become a cop." The two-part pilot for the series is a Desilu production, yet, as with Siegel’s The Killers, its acerbic ferocity stretches the TV studios to their breaking point. Ness takes a hatchet to Capone’s breweries, a high-angled shot ponders the mix of corpses and white foam on the floor. Wolfe Barzell and Sig Ruman are the immigrant casualties of gangland warfare, il capo di tutti capi sends his most leathery henchmen to visit his nemesis’s fiancée (Pat Crawley). Karlson’s violence is startling, his seedy pathos even more so: The camera curves along with a speeding car as a slaughtered stoolie (Joe Mantell) is dropped on the curb (it tilts up on a shrieking passerby), his half-dressed wife (Barbara Nichols) is next seen weeping before a burlesque house mirror. The courthouse denouement was expanded by De Palma, who understood it for the punchline it is. With Bill Williams, Bruce Gordon, Peter Leeds, Eddie Firestone, Paul Dubov, and Frank DeKova. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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