The infamous Al Capone begins as a bodyguard in Chicago and uses violence and intimidation to become a gang leader during Prohibition.
In 1919 Al Capone (Rod Steiger) comes into a gambling parlor in Chicago and meets with Johnny Torrio (Nehemiah Persoff) who has hired him to be his bodyguard. Torrio says that the coming of Prohibition is going to help them make a lot of money. Reporter Mac Keely (Martin Balsam) asks Capone how he likes Torrio’s gambling emporium. Capone plays craps. Torrio introduces Capone to the political leader Big Jim Colosimo (Joe De Santis) who is leaving with a pretty blonde to see Rigoletto. Al Capone says he likes opera too. Jim shows him a signed picture from Enrico Caruso.
Capone throws a man out of Torrio’s place, and in the street the man fights him. Keely watches it as the police intervene. At the station the police officer Schaefler (James Gregory) tells Capone that after he is in jail, he will send him back to Brooklyn. Keely comes in and tells Schaefler his superior wants to talk with him. Schaefler comes back and reluctantly lets Capone go. Keely tells him Capone may be a man of the future.
Schaefler narrates the rise of crimes stemming from selling bootleg liquor. He describes the strong north-side gang led by Dion O’Banion (Robert Gist) who was alleged to have killed 25 men with bank-robber Bugs Moran (Murvyn Vye) and trigger-man Earl Weiss (Lewis Charles). Torrio tells this gang that Big Jim is the boss. O’Banion disagrees and leaves with his men. Capone warns Torrio they could take over the whole town, and they argue. Capone suggests he get rid of Big Jim, but Torrio slaps him and says he is his uncle. Capone says this has to be run like a business. Capone agrees with O’Banion that Jim is getting old and soft. He urges Torrio to be in charge.
Capone calls on Big Jim, and they appreciate opera together. Two men in work uniforms come in, and one shoots Jim. Capone goes out with them. In the hall they see a waiter, and the man with the gun shoots him too as they leave.
Schaefler and another officer are questioning Torrio and Capone who says they have witnesses they were somewhere else. A lawyer hands the officer an order from a judge releasing his clients, and they leave.
Capone orders lavish flowers for Jim’s funeral. The florist tells Capone about the waiter Flannery who was killed and his family.
Many people attend the grand funeral. Torrio and other gangsters carry the coffin. Afterward they meet in Torrio’s office, and he shows them their plan. Torrio assigns territory and draws a line on the map. Capone warns them, and Bugs calls him Scarface. Capone tells him never to call him that. The North-side gang leaves. Capone talks with Torrio as he pours himself a drink. Torrio says he did not want to knock off Big Jim. Capone says there is no evidence or witnesses. Torrio says he did a good job. Capone says he sent a wreath to the waiter’s family. Torrio says the organization has to take care of the family. Capone says he will take care of it. Torrio asks how much he will take in this year. Capone says about $100,000. Torrio was paying him $75 a week, and now he makes Capone a partner for life insurance.
Capone calls on Mrs. Maureen Flannery (Fay Spain), who has a baby, with flowers and a check. She asks if he killed her husband. She says he had it done, and he denies it. He explains that Pete was his friend, and he had no need to kill him. She refuses to take the money and tells him to get out. He refuses to leave, and she threatens to call the police. He asks if there is a law against being nice to a person. She yells at him, and he throws her on the bed before leaving.
Capone and his men establish order with machine guns. The North-side gang reads news about Capone denying his part in murders. Bugs suggests they get him now, but O’Banion tells them to wait until he has built the organization the way they want it.
Capone is being fitted in a new suit. He hands the tailor money to have it ready by six. Keely talks with Capone, and Torrio says they are moving. They talk about a dinner O’Banion gave for big politicians. Torrio says he is a reform mayor. Torrio says they are moving to the suburb Cicero where an election is coming up.
They bribe officials, pick the candidates, and terrorize voters. They take over the town and sell beer. Capone tries a coat and argues with women and buys a Labrador mink for a blonde woman who hugs him in thanks. Capone talks with Mrs. Flannery who works there. He says she is beautiful, and she turns away. He grabs her and offers her one of those coats. She does not want anything from him.
Capone calls on Mrs. Flannery with two men holding a man who confesses that he killed her husband. Capone makes him tell her his name. He sends the three men out, and she asks him to leave her alone. He asks if she is lonely there. He says her child should have a mother during the day. He warns her about the streets, and she calls him a gangster. He says he is a businessman of booze, broads, and gambling. She says he could be a politician. He believes in himself, but he was born on the wrong side of the tracks. She says he can’t buy her. He likes that and says she makes him feel like a kid. He apologizes for bothering her, and she says he does not. He appreciates her first positive comment and says he respects her. He touches her face, and she says he should go. He grabs her and kisses her, calling her an angel. He says that is what he needs in his life, and he wants her. He kisses her again.
Torrio in a bottling plant is told by Capone that O’Banion took advantage of him on the deal. Capone says he is taking her and her girl to the zoo.
In an alley three men run away, and one makes a call. Schaefler and police arrest Torrio in the bottling plant.
Torrio is out on bail. He and Capone are angry at the lawyer and want him to get him out of that. Keely says they cannot when it is the federal government. Capone says it was a set-up. Keely says it was a florist. Torrio wants to talk about it.
After the death of a gangster three men go to the florist shop and kill the florist.
Torrio is carrying packages into his house when the North-side gang arrives in a car and shoots him.
Capone is visiting the wounded Torrio in a hospital. Capone says he will get well. Capone swears he will get them, but Torrio says no more killings. He plans to leave that town. Capone says he is his partner. Torrio says he is 45, and he wants to live. Capone says when Big Bill Thompson gets back in office, they will be the landlords.
Capone buys a bullet-proof car. Torrio spent a year in jail and left town, leaving Capone the top man. Capone goes into a coffee-shop, and a man sees him. Soon several cars arrive, and gangsters shoot machine guns at the coffee-shop. Capone is laying on the floor and is not hit.
At night on the street Weiss buys a hot dog and is shot by the vendor.
Reporters ask Schaefler when the gang murders will stop. There has been 130 gang killings. Keely asks why there has not been one conviction. Schaefler takes a call from Capone who asks if he wants him to come in for questioning. Capone says he was in Cicero, and Weiss was his friend. Schaefler says he brings in killers, and then they leave town.
Keely gives Schaefler a cigar and asks him if he knows of a man moving beer through the city who would like to make about $1,500 a week. Schaefler calls Keely a parasite living off people like Capone. He calls him a disgrace to decent newspapermen. Keely asks for his answer, and Schaefler asks him to tell Capone they will get him.
In the election Thompson wins to become mayor of Chicago. Capone celebrates with his friends and says they are moving into the financial district.
Downtown in 1927 the gangsters invade the business world. Capone tells men around a table they are moving into all the legitimate businesses. If anyone gives them trouble, send them to him. O’Banion comes in, and Capone says they have two floors. They shake hands, and Capone asks about the north-side. O’Banion asks if Capone is going to move across the line into the north, but Capone says no. He says businesses are going to pay them for protection from themselves.
Gangsters shoot up a business, beat up men, and damage clothes. A man tells Capone that his shops were bombed. He says America has become like his village in Europe. The man offers Capone a partnership in his business. Capone says that includes the company.
Keely has a hand-grenade that is called an “Al Capone pineapple.” Capone tells him not to put in on the Christmas tree. Capone gives him a gift, and Keely gives him tickets to leave town for a while. Capone gets angry, and Keely says it is until the elections are over. Keely says they are forming secret organizations, and they are trying to bring in the federal government. Capone asks about the organization, and Keely says it will go on. He refuses to run away. Keely says if he leaves town, they will win the election. Capone angrily throws a package.
At home Maureen asks Capone what is wrong, and he says nothing. She gives him a Christmas present from her daughter at the convent. He opens it and finds it is a beanbag. She is not coming home for Christmas. He wonders why he has to go out of town so they can stay in office. He lays down, and she sits next to him. He asks if she would like to visit California. She says she can’t leave her daughter. He says they could take her with them and wonders if she does not want her around him. She says she is in school. He says he is paying many people he never sees. He gets angry at her for refusing to go with him and stalks out.
Capone takes a train to Los Angeles, where detectives usher him out of town. Capone is also thrown out of New Orleans and other cities. In spring 1928 on an island near Miami he finds a way to go around the law. Bob Buell comes in for the district attorney who wants him to leave, or they will arrest him. Capone gives him money to count. He has broken no laws there. Capone says the Constitution protects him.
Chicago votes during the rain, and in an honest election Thompson loses. Gangsters also attack Capone’s organization.
Capone asks Keely why they killed Bones Corelli. Keely wants to take a picture of Capone because he sells newspapers. Capone sits for the picture by the pool. Capone tells three men to get Moran. Capone explains the plan and decides to do it on Valentine’s Day.
Moran makes an appointment on February 14 at ten and says he is going out. Capone gets a call from Cleveland and tells them no direct calls to him. Capone hosts a meeting at ten with a respectable man and puts on opera music.
Moran and his gang have gathered in a garage. Men in police uniforms come in, followed by two men with machine guns. They shoot the men holding up their hands, hand the guns to the cops, raise their hands, and walk out. They get in a police car and drive away.
Capone gets a call and is informed what happened. He says it is good news from his broker and laughs he made a killing in the market.
Chicago papers report the Valentine’s Day massacre. Capone goes to Chicago to identify two bodies. While he is calling on Maureen, the man with Capone is shot dead.
Capone calls a meeting with Moran who has killed men close to him. Torrio mediates an agreement, and the two bosses sign and shake hands. Moran leaves, and Keely comes in and asks how it went. He asks if they signed a peace treaty, and Capone asks how he knew. Keely calls it a scrap of paper. He says one man always tries to take over. Keely says Moran is offering $50,000 to the killer of Capone. Torrio advises Capone to go away and cool off while the heat is on.
Capone is questioned by the police in Philadelphia. He and another man admit they are guilty of carrying concealed weapons.
Keely is playing poker, and Moran breaks up the game to talk with him. Keely says Capone is getting out of jail in three weeks. Moran says Keely is a lousy gambler and owes $85,000. Moran has his IOUs and asks for the $85,000. Moran wants his services he did for Capone. Moran says the federal government is going over his business records to check for income tax evasion. Moran says Keely could go to jail too because he owes taxes also.
Keely loses another bet on the horses. He goes into a backroom and meets with Capone and his men. Capone asks what he studied in college. Keely says history, journalism, English literature and other subjects. Capone asks if they taught him to lie and double-cross his best friend. Capone says he learned he made a deal with Moran. Keely swears he would not do that. Capone slaps him around. Keely admits he took the deal because Capone is through. Keely tells him not to kill him because killing a newspaperman would be bad. Capone lets him go.
Keely buys a newspaper and a train ticket. Two men follow him, and two more men grab him and stab him. Newspapers report the murder.
Schaefler is dining out and learns Capone paid his bill. Schaefler asks how much it was. Four men sing to him, “He’s a jolly good fellow.” He tells Capone that he pays his own bills, but Capone refuses to accept money. Schaefler calls him scum. Capone says it is his town, and he never did anything wrong. Schaefler asks about the Valentine’s Day massacre. Capone is sitting at a table with Maureen. Capone gets angry and challenges him to arrest him. He says they never convicted him once. Schaefler tells how his own men were killed too to cover up crimes.
At home Maureen asks Capone to answer her questions. He shouts that he will get him. She asks if he killed her husband, and he finally admits he did. She asks who he is and tells him to stay away from her. He says she took what he gave her. She says she is leaving him, and he hits her to keep her there. She asks him to kill her. He tells her to shut up and walks away. She goes out.
The Keely scandal is reported, and Schaefler is made inspector with a free hand. Members of Capone’s organization make deals to save themselves. Federal authorities move in to help.
Schaefler calls on Capone with a subpoena, and his men begin to search his office. His lawyer says Schaefler is right.
In court the lawyer Brancato tells Capone he does not like the judge. He sentences Capone to pay a fine of $57,000 plus $30,000 in court costs and gives him eleven years in prison.
Capone is put in Alcatraz where he has many enemies. During a rest break a guard is mugged as Capone sits down. Several inmates surround him and beat him up. Guards eventually break it up.
Capone was released after seven years with an incurable disease. His mind deteriorated, and he died in 1947. Schaefler says they still are fighting the organization he built.
This drama fairly accurately portrays the gangster who ordered many murders and took advantage of Prohibition to build up a criminal organization.