“There are nothing BUT murderers in this room. . .” — John Rooney (Paul Newman) explaining just who they are in the world to Michael ‘The Angel’ Sullivan (Tom Hanks) The Road to Perdition
There was a lot wrong with The Road to Perdition, the movie, but not a damn thing wrong with Road to Perdition, the graphic novel by Max Allan Collins. t is a moody and lovely story of the love between father and son and the primacy of revenge among the Irish (and we are some vengeful mother-fuckers) and the unforgiving nature of the Irish mob.
The movie was over-long but Jesus, was it beautiful to look at. Shot all over Chicago and Illinois and bordering states, the Midwest has never looked more bucolic and heavenly than it does through the late, great Conrad Hall’s lens. Sadly, this was to be the great Mr. Hall’s last film. It was a noble effort by Sam Mendes and Tom Hanks who, at his best in this film, made you believe he could be a remorseless murderer for hire. To say the very leas, he was cast against type. Paul Newman gives what is to be his last film performance, and it is a gem; a study in charm and stillness and Irish melancholy. The film is worth watching for his work alone.The thing it really has going for it is Max Allan Collins’ graphic novel. Mr. Collins has written many. many novels, mostly in the crime genre. He also wrote Dick Tracy, the comic strip, for a time which was how I became familiar with him. He is witty–knows his history and is an incredibly canny and natural story teller who is often filed under the crime or pulp ghetto, which is a damn shame. The guy is just a terrific writer.There is no shortage of murder in this story. In the rackets in the 1920s, life was cheap. Irish mobsters would receive communion in the morning and kill competitors in the afternoon before sitting down for dinner with the family and saying grace.
Chicago is a city of killers. Until Michael Jordan appeared in the 1980s and ’90s, our most celebrated personage was Al Capone. I’d love visiting foreign countries and upon hearing I was from Chicago people would form a finger-gun and yell, “Chicago. . .Al Capone. . .Bang-bang!”To which I’d usually reply, “Fucking-A right, Pierre. . .now grab my luggage.”The local lore of killers and murderers is thick. From my own childhood, I remember the stories of Tony Spilotro, Billy Dauber, Felix “Milwaukee Phil” Alderisio, Harry Aleman, the Calabreses, the Toccos. In the ’60s and ’70s the Chicago outfit was a free-for-all with many reports of torture and killing. The press ate it up. To this day in Chicago, anything mob-related sells newspapers. One look no further than the recent “Family Secrets” trial which laid bare whatever remaining mysteries were left in the lore of the Chicago Outfit.
With the 1980s came the RICO act which, while barely meeting the definition of being constitutional, allowed the Feds to string all manner of mob activity together under a couple of very broad definitions of conspiracy in order that America be able to rid itself of the Mafia and organized crime. What you never hear about out loud is how many of the cases are overturned –mostly for being unconstitutional– Feds have manufactured evidence to prove the connective tissue of on criminal enterprise to another–often breaking the law they swore to uphold in order to do so.
When I was still on the radio –once in a while I’d interview Bill Roemer–the Author of ‘Man against the Mob’. Roemer was a former FBI agent here in Chicago during the 50’s and 60’s and he told very funny stories about the local mobsters. Roemer was accused of embroidering a bit when relating these tales –by competing writers– but the stories he’d tell me were things I heard other places as well and I felt like he was on the up and up. This one floored me:
In the early 1960’s there was a neanderthal of homicidal temperament named Sam DeStefano–he was better known as ‘Mad Sam DeStefano’–he was a torturer and sadist — he was the one fingered for the murder of a Bookie named william ‘Action’ Jackson. Mr. Jackson’s burnt and beaten body was found in the trunk of a car on lower Wacker drive in 1961. DeStafano had tortured Jackson with a blowtorch as he hung from a meat-hook in a packing plant.
Sam DeStefano once suspected his wife of having an affair . He pulled on his coat and drove off one morning — he pulled his car over to where an African-American man was walking to work . At gun-point he ordered the man into his car and proceeded to his own house . He led the man into his home –where is wife was hand-cuffed to the furnace– –where-upon he ordered his wife to perform oral sex on the man. The wife shakily complied. The guy was scared out of his wits. When the hum-job was over –DeStafano released him — he promptly went to the police station fearing that a different narrative would be manufactured and he’s be arrested somehow.
The cops went to Mad Sam’s house and the wife denied it –as did Sam — but they did notice burn marks around her wrists. Of course she didn’t press charges– or want to — wisely , she was more afraid of Mad Sam than she was of the Cops.
One of the revelations of the ‘Family Secrets’ trial –was the complicity of the Chicago Police department with the Mob going back decades. The Mob had free reign because they owned the Cops. It is one of the ongoing dramas of this city–The Killers. Now they come as 15 year-olds blasting away with 9 millimeter pistols they can barely lift as an outgrowth of the Drug trade and our ongoing and fruitless War on Drugs.
Then, like now, the City gets just as many Killers as it deserves.