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Chicago On DVD: Organized Crime

By Scott Smith in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 15, 2005 5:29PM

Before a certain sports team and its star player made international headlines, most outsiders associated Chicago with tales of mythic gangland figures like Al Capone or Terrible Johnny Torrio. Chicagoist saw proof of this many years ago on a family vacation to San Francisco when we encountered a street performer dressed as a clown. While making a balloon animal, the clown asked us where we were from. When we said Chicago, he said “Oh? Gangsters, huh? Rat-a-tat-tat!”

People, nothing is scarier than a clown making machine gun noises while pointing a balloon-animal-dog gun at you. We still have nightmares.

2005_11_15_untouchables.jpgThanks to its history and its classic architecture, filmmakers often use Chicago’s streets and buildings to evoke just a little of that “made man” feel. Here are a few of those films:

The Untouchables (1987): While not as good as you remember it, the film is worth seeing for the use of Chicago landmarks and Sean Connery’s “The Chicago Way” speech. Union Station makes an appearance during a Battleship Potemkin homage while the Chicago Cultural Center doubles as an opera house and Roosevelt University is used to re-create the infamous Lexington Hotel at Michigan and 22nd St.

Road To Perdition (2002): Another Capone-era gangster film—but without Capone. Filmed entirely on location (interiors were filmed in the city’s Armory), the film showcases locations as far south as Kankakee and as far north as Saugatuck, Michigan. The reveal on the LaSalle Street bridge is a impressive mix of location shooting and special effects (though an anachronistic steel L car can be seen passing through the shot).

Hoodlum (1997): Rare is the film that’s set in New York but filmed in Chicago. Hoodlum tells the story of the 1930’s Harlem gang war between Dutch Schultz and Bumpy Johnson. Look for the old Post Office standing in for a hotel, the Aragon doubling as a brothel, and a block of warehouses between Cermak and 23rd St. that were transformed into a row of nightclubs, including the legendary Cotton Club.

Mad Dog and Glory (1993): Not so much about the mob as it is one man’s encounter with a mobster, Mad Dog and Glory is remembered for the DeNiro playing against type as a sad-sack cop. Bill Murray takes the role of the gangster in a film whose pre-production was rocky (it was originally to be filmed in New York) with an ending tacked on after unsuccessful test screenings. A good film for playing “Where’s That At?” as the film includes lots of shots of Bucktown and Lincoln Park.

Honorable mention also goes to the first season of Crime Story, Michael Mann’s 1960s-era crime drama set here for its first year before moving production to Las Vegas. Dishonorable mention goes to Oscar, a Sylvester Stallone “comedy” where he plays a mobster in the sunniest Chicago ever put to film thanks to its California location shooting.

Some research and anecdotes courtesy of Hollywood on Lake Michigan by Arnie Bernstein. Other research thanks to the glorious Internet.