A tough, ruthless and generally unsentimental account of the most notorious gangster of the prohibition-repeal era, Al Capone is also a very well-made picture. There isn’t much ‘motivation’ given for Capone, at least not in the usual sense. But the screenplay does supply reasons and they are more logical than the usual once-over-lightly on the warped youth bit.
Capone, played by Rod Steiger, is shown as an amoral personality with a native genius for leadership and organization. He became rich and famous in a way that seemed to him dandy. Nobody was more genuinely surprised than Capone when the revulsion his acts caused finally overwhelmed him.
The story picks up when Steiger is brought to Chicago as a low-grade torpedo by a fellow countryman (Nehemiah Persoff) to act as bouncer in his gambling establishment. Capone begins his rise when he murders the local political boss (Joe DeSantis), and eventually takes over Persoff’s territory, on the latter’s retirement. He teams with Bugs Moran and Dion O’Banion, to divide Chicago into territories.
Steiger’s performance is mostly free of obvious technique, getting inside the character both physically and emotionally. Fay Spain has a role, that of the romantic attachment of Capone’s life, that is probably more distracting than helpful. But she plays well. James Gregory as the honest cop, Martin Balsam as the dishonest reporter and Persoff as Capone’s mentor, give skillful performances.