Al Capone: The name is as legendary, and infamous, as it ever was.
It’s an immediate go-to whenever the subject is mobsters, surely a reason for PBS’ new documentary about the Chicago-based underworld legend. Airing at 8 p.m. Tuesday, “Al Capone: Icon” traces his life … not only the better-known, law-breaking aspects, but more docile elements not necessarily expected.
Capone (1899-1947) was a leader in establishing soup kitchens in the United States, and milk cartons’ addition of expiration dates was due largely to his efforts. Even in prison, his softer side emerged as he penned love songs for wife Mae.
That said, the more famous Al Capone image remains, certainly for filmmakers who have made him a pivotal character in movies over the years. Capone’s established place in popular culture is considered in the special, so here’s a look at some of the films that have kept him in the general public’s consciousness.
• “Al Capone” (1959): Rod Steiger certainly had the snarl down pat in the title role, as a documentarylike approach held commendably to facts.
• “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” (1967): Another expert performer, Jason Robards, made a highly credible Capone in producer-director Roger Corman’s gritty dramatization of the famous assault on rival Bugs Moran’s gang on Feb. 14, 1929.
• “The Man With the Golden Gun” (1974): A Capone mannequin was shot up by a hit man (Marc Lawrence) stalking assassin Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) in a carnival-style fun house.
• “Capone” (1975): Ben Gazzara tackled the part of Capone in a script that followed the gangster into his prison years. Of note among the co-stars: a pre-”Rocky” Sylvester Stallone as Capone “enforcer” Frank Nitti.
• “The Untouchables” (1987): In the Brian De Palma-directed drama, Robert De Niro expectedly furnishes a vivid portrait of Capone as Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) pursues the mobster. In one scene, what Capone does to an associate with a baseball bat fuels one of the most memorable scenes in crime-movie history.
• “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” (2009): Though this sequel was played largely for laughs, Jon Bernthal (“The Walking Dead”) brought authority to the part of Capone, who confronted other famous figures of history.
• Neville Brand and William Forsythe also played Capone in the television incarnations of “The Untouchables,” as has Stephen Graham in the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire.” It may not happen as frequently now, but whatever the screen size, it seems there always will be a media home for the eternally colorful Al Capone.