Eliot Ness was an agent of Chicago’s Prohibition Bureau, working to put a stop to the illegal sale of alcohol. At the time, alcohol had been outlawed by the Eighteenth Amendment, but bootleggers saw this as an opportunity to illegally sell alcohol for a huge profit. One of the most notorious bootleggers of Prohibition was mobster Al Capone, whose rivalry with Ness is now legendary.
Ness found Capone’s ability to evade justice infuriating and developed a personal vendetta against him. Ness would intentionally antagonize Capone; he once repossessed all of Capone’s expensive cars and parading them down the street for all of Chicago to see. This only angered Capone. It is said that Capone attempted to have Ness killed several times. Although Capone was eventually arrested, it was for tax evasion, not bootlegging. But Ness still got what he wanted – the tax evasion charges were enough to keep Capone behind bars for the rest of his life.
During his relentless pursuit of Al Capone, Eliot Ness assembled a squad of agents known to the public as The Untouchables. The name came from the Chicago Tribune article. It said that Capone had attempted to bribe Ness’ men into letting his crimes slide, but they’d refused. After that, the group devoted themselves to uncovering Capone’s operations and sabotaging his plans. They located one of his most important breweries and shut it down, cutting deeply into his profits. The Untouchables always talked to the press after making progress against Al Capone, so before long the country became captivated by The Untouchables and their quest to bring down Capone.
With all the publicity The Untouchables got, it’s no wonder the media latched on to their story. The film The Untouchables was released in 1987 to mostly positive reviews. The film’s cast contained some of Hollywood’s most popular actors, including Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness, Robert De Niro as Al Capone, and Sean Connory as Ness’s partner Jimmy Malone. Though the film may be excellent from an entertainment perspective, it contains numerous historical inaccuracies. Sean Connery’s character Jimmy Malone did not actually exist. Capone’s tax evasion trial is also much more dramatic in the film; in reality Ness did not chase Al Capone’s associate Frank Nitti onto the courthouse roof and then push him off. Despite these deviations from history, the film was very popular, and it succeeded in bringing Eliot Ness back into the focus of the American public decades after his death.