Created by: Desi Arnaz and Quinn Martin based on the book by Eliot Ness and Oscar Fraley
Starring: Robert Stack, Nicholas Georgiade, Paul Picerni, and Walter Winchell
Released by: Paramount
Anamorphic: N/A; presented in its original 1.33:1 format
My Advice: Catch It On Cable
Prohibition, intended to cleanse America of the demon of alcohol, instead fueled the criminal mobs to unprecedented wealth and power. Under the control of Chicago mobster Frank Nitti, the mob not only traffics in illegal booze, but also narcotics, bookmaking, and the protection racket. Standing in their way is Eliot Ness (Stack) and the Untouchables, federal agents who are relentless in their pursuit of justice. With a tommy gun in one hand and a badge in the other, The Untouchables are ready to bust some bad guys.
[ad#longpost]You can’t really judge The Untouchables by today’s standards. It’s a early 60s TV show about the early 30s. You have plenty of slapping around suspects, searching without a warrant, and shooting people without any consequences. So it makes sense for Stack to play Ness as a no nonsense law man without a hint of irony. Ness has no social life, no family life, and no mercy. He is almost a primal force that everyone else reacts to, like a hurricane. I can understand why some would find fault with this characterization. But the real focus of the show isn’t on Ness, it’s on the victims and the criminals. The show is really a showcase for character actors to eat up the scenery. You have recognizable names like Telly Savalas, Ricardo Montalban, and Lee Marvin playing mobsters who run up against Ness. You also have actors whose names aren’t well known but you’ll know as soon as you see them–like Joan Blondell as a female Bluebeard, Joseph Wiseman as an evil chemist, and Michael Constantine as a cabbie in over his head.
There are plenty of noir touches to give viewers the feeling of being in the underworld. The night scenes are particularly effective with plenty of shadows and the accent of muzzle flashes. There’s plenty of death going on in those dark alleyways. There is a surprising amount of violence, considering the time the show was aired. Of course, they cut away before anything truly gruesome happens. Still, plenty of people are poisoned, stabbed, and shot. Lots and lots of shooting. You also see how the mob was moving from alcohol to drugs, even people dying of overdoses. Not quite what you would expect for prime time in 1961. However, if you are looking for a more complex crime drama, The Untouchables isn’t it. The morality is in black and white and the stories are very straightforward. If that is to your taste, find this on cable since the DVD set has no extras to recommend a purchase or rental.