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I just watched The Untouchables and found it to be a great movie, but one scene just seemed strange to me and did not fit in with the overall atmosphere.

While Ness is covering the main entrance of the train station to catch the bookmaker, he notices a woman that is trying to get her bags and child up the stairs. The scene goes on for quite some time and he finally leaves his post to help the lady. Just then the thugs come in and it all ends up in a firefight, where he accidentally lets the the baby buggy roll down the stairs just to save it in the last second while killing several men on his way down.

So whats the deal with this scene? I really don't liked it, because

  • It was overly long. (6 minutes of waiting until the bookmaker shows up)
  • It had a very strange atmosphere that did not fit into the situation.
  • It was totally unreasonable for Ness to leave his post, especially after it was made sure how important it was for him to get this guy.
  • The whole shooting and saving scene was just ridiculous, cliché and way over the top.

What was the purpose of it? Why did de Palma put it in? Just to add some dramatic effect to the scene? Or is there some major character development going on?

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

First of all, for me this scene is actually the best of the movie. I think it is really intense and exciting and especially the long waiting time builds much tension. So much for the subjective part.

Like said, the long waiting time is especially to build up tension, so you know what is going on, learn to know the different people walking this nighty station. And with each clock-tick you start to both fear and await more of what's to happen. Now especially the woman with the baby helped again to build up tension, because well, we all love babies, don't we? At least we don't want to see them get into a gun-fight.

On the other hand it showed both Eliot Ness's kindness, when helping the woman, which may also have been a bit of impatience for her to leave the scene. Of course he doesn't just help her and leave his post because he's so nice and loves babies. He just knows that it won't do her and her baby any good to be still around when the bad guys arrive, because they won't let the book-keeper go with him freely.

But I think it also helps to show his single-mindedness/purposefulness on getting the bad guys, when he let's loose the baby carriage and actually pushes the woman away as she wants to grasp the carriage and cries for help, just to get a good shot. This could somehow relate to the church scene earlier, when Malone asks him how far he would go to get Capone. This question is actually a general theme of the whole movie, I think.

And well, a bit of cliché and over-dramatization doesn't hurt, especially in this scene, I think, considering the many Western motives seen in the rest of the movie. By the way there is a nice parody of this scene in The Naked Gun 33 1/3, which especially spoofs the extreme dramatization and suspense of this scene.

EDIT: I found out that this scene is actually an homage to the famous Odessa steps scene in Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin, which I myself haven't seen yet.

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+1 for the edit. The Odessa Steps sequence is one of the most famous sequences of the history of cinema. The woman and the baby are an essential part of the scene and the editing is simply brilliant. –  nmat Dec 15 '11 at 1:55
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Why add it to the scene?

  • to demonstrate the "bystander effect" of both the people within the station and Eliot.
  • an excellent plot device to raise the tension and suspense
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