Once he’s jailed Al Capone, what does the nation’s foremost gangbuster do for an encore?
His rollicking, racket-smashing days in Chicago behind him, Eliot Ness, treasury agent extraordinaire, languishes in Cleveland, restless and underchallenged. When the city fathers suggest that he quit Uncle Sam and sign on as their safety director, he’s more than ready. The task? Clean up the police force, clean up the gangs and put a shine on Cleveland’s reputation as one of the worst-run cities in the United States. At first, things go well. Ness wastes no time reclaiming some 200 badges from crooked and/or gold-bricking cops. He deals serious blows to big-time gambling. He basks in the return of the glory that was his in Chicago. The press loves him. Kids ask for his autograph, and Ness does little to hide how highly he rates himself as a hero: “Right up there with Charles Lindbergh.” But the adulation and self-praise are stopped by the entrance of Andrew W. Andrassy, or rather his dismembered corpse, followed by a succession of dismembered corpses. Suddenly Ness is dodging brickbats. A terrified city demands that its heralded safety director keep it safe. Ness protests that he’s not a homicide detective. Too late: Hubris is hubris.
Sticking fairly close to the historical record, Bernhardt (Capitol Conspiracy, 2008, etc.) delivers an interesting rise-and-fall story that would have been more compelling if it were better written.