Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Gangster Night: Al Capone—Icon
Capone did not leave a lot of evidence lying around—particularly not in his
vault, right Geraldo? Elliott Ness could also confirm the scarcity of Capone’s
paper trail. Almost overnight, he became the original archetype of the sharp
dressed gangster, but his glory days were relatively short-lived. Chicago’s
most famous resident gets the biographical and sociological treatment in Al Capone: Icon (promo here), which airs this
Tuesday during PBS’s “Gangster Night.”
was Brooklyn’s native son, but he found his fame and fortune in the Windy City.
It was a precipitous rise from a street barker hustling speakeasy customers to
the boss of the Chicago Outfit. Prohibition made all the difference. As you
might have heard, it never really took. In fact, it led to widespread
acceptance of criminal behavior. Capone had a good run riding that wave. Unlike
his gangster contemporaries, Scarface Al cultivated the media, who gave him
rockstar coverage for a while. However, the carnage of the St. Valentine’s Day
Massacre turned opinion against Capone, even though he was never directly
implicated in the killings.
course, most everyone should know Capone was never convicted for his gangster
business (aside from a relatively minor weapons charge). Nevertheless, Capone
sought to embody the gangster age, so he took the brunt of the public’s
Valentine’s Day outrage. Frankly, most of Icon’s
expert commentary is more concerned with Capone as a media figure and a
model for countless gangster movie protagonists.
viewers will probably want to hear more about Capone’s operations, but frankly
the Feds probably still do too. Regardless, there is an interesting cast
assembled to discuss Capone as a cultural phenomenon, including a veteran
Chicago Commander of Detectives Thomas Reppetto, Capone’s grand niece Deirdre,
very former mobster Frank Calabrese, Jr., and several academics. Rather
surprisingly, the great vocalist Cassandra Wilson also appears (quite
stylishly), discussing Capone’s role as an early patron of jazz as the king of
the Chicago’s nightlife.
While the talking heads are a bit uneven, Icon is still consistently informative
in an entertaining, non-taxing sort of way. Arguably, there is better quality
control for PBS’s lower profile one-off specials like this than some of their
bigger marquee events. Recommended for those who enjoy gangster-watching, Al Capone: Icon premieres this Tuesday
(7/22) as part of “Gangster Night,” along with the History Detectives’ investigation of the Jimmy Hoffa disappearance
(which presumably fails since no indictments have been issued).
Labels: Al Capone, PBS