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Ghost Canyon

'Al Capone: Icon'
(DVD / NR / 2014 / PBS)

Overview: Was Al Capone the quintessential self-made American man, a ruthless killer or both? His name sparks images of pin-stripe suits and bloody violence, but why do Americans continue to be fascinated by this man?

DVD Verdict: Alphonse Gabriel "Al" Capone was an American gangster who attained fame during the Prohibition era. His seven-year reign as crime boss ended when he was just 33 years old. Here in 'Al Capone: Icon,' we get several commenting "experts," most who were quite unfamiliar to me, in truth. But their given facts offered seemed rather accurate, given what we knew of him, as a nation.

The closest this show comes to a celebrity is Al's grandniece, who says she once sat on his lap. Anyway, in this era of revisionist history, the role of Elliot Ness in finally laying low the notorious "Scarface" is downplayed, as expected. It's surprising however that none of Al's associates, not even Frank Nitti, are given even a passing mention, nor are the many crimes Capone was allegedly responsible for committing or ordering discussed. The concentration is on the man's fame and how he lost it.

We are told he was a celebrity in the Roaring 20's, that he integrated his nightclubs with star black musicians and vocalists, like Satchmo and Lady Day, and that he was an occasional humanitarian. Capone is cited as opening a Chicago soup kitchen during the darkest days of the Great Depression, but this act of public largesse is negated by adding that the operation apparently didn't last long.

The turning point for this impeccable dresser who craved the spotlight and freely talked with ink- stained members of the Fourth Estate came with the Feb. 14, 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Gory photos of the aftermath of this machine gun slaying of seven mobsters were widely published, and Capone's South Side Gang was, with good reason, believed responsible for this "hit" on "Bugs" Moran's North Side boys. Even though one victim survived his 14 bullet wounds, he never revealed who he thought (or knew) was responsible, thus Al's culpability has never been definitively proved. But the damage to his image was immediate and considerable, especially after the Wall St. collapse of the following October. Now, fabulously wealthy mobsters like Capone were no longer admired by Americans, many of whom were unemployed and struggling just to eat regularly.

More bad luck for Al was the November 1928 election to the presidency of Herbert Hoover, for the new Chief Executive made Capone target #1. The resources of the Treasury Dept., plus its Chicago Bureau of Prohibition subdivision, were employed to prove Capone was in violation of the Volstead Act, and that he had paid no Federal income taxes. Ultimately the latter was Scarface's undoing. Although the prosecution's case was circumstantial and hung on the undeniable fact that Al showed zero income for years but spent money like Farouk, that was enough for a jury of honest citizens to convict him.

He received a heavy 11 year sentence, was bounced from one Federal cooler to another, including the recently opened Alcatraz, and when Capone emerged after about 8 years, syphilis had eaten away at his brain and he had the intellectual capacity of a 12-year-old. He retired to his Palm Island, FL. mansion, and was a recluse until a 1947 stroke, pneumonia and heart attack felled him at age 48. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.

www.PBS.org





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