The Lawless Years

NBC (ended 1961)



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The Lawless Years

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Barney Ruditsky was a real-life New York City cop busting bootleggers and gangsters during their heyday in the 1920s and '30s. The Lawless Years, which dramatized his exploits, was based on his memoir, and employed him as technical adviser of the series.

Episodes opened with Ruditsky in a grungy office recalling the facts of a certain case he'd worked during the days of crime bosses and rampant corruption. He used a slide projector to illustrate details and show the criminals involved in the story which then unfolded as a flashback drama. As played by whiskey-voiced James Gregory, Ruditsky was a short-tempered, hard-boiled, crime fighter who wanted nothing more than to crack the heads of lawbreakers. He lived, breathed, and slept "cop".

The Lawless Years hit the air some six months before the debut of that other famous 20's cop show, yet somehow failed to become the phonomenon that The Untouchables did. It was was taken off the air in December of 1959, but returned for a second go-around in 1961, lasting just half a season.

This series lead to James Gregory's best-known role, Detective Frank Lugar, on the police comedyBarney Miller. Except for the fact that Miller had a studio audience, the two characters are practically the same--both so serious they're funny. Series creator Danny Arnold, who knew the real Ruditsky, remembered The Lawless Years and thought Gregory was perfect for the part.

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  • A poor man's Untouchables

    The Lawless Years was a cop show set in the Roaring Twenties of New York City that detailed one honest lawman's struggle against the gangster element. Sound familiar? It ought to since The Untouchables had the exact same theme albeit a different locale. The Lawless Years ran on NBC for parts of three seasons from 1959 to 1961 and was based on the memoirs of Barney Ruditsky, a real life New York detective of that period who also served as a technical advisor for the show.

    One of the reasons The Lawless Years didn't last was that it got overshadowed almost completely by The Untouchables. It's easy to see why when viewing episodes of the two shows. The Untouchables was better produced, had better scripts and more action, and ran for 60 minutes instead of the more compressed 30 of The Lawless Years. Watching The Lawless Years one gets the feeling that he's getting some sort of Reader's Digest condensed version of The Untouchables especially since there were many actors who appeared on both shows.

    Now this isn't to say that The Lawless Years was a bad series. It was decent most of the time and star James Gregory had the acting ability and presence if not the charisma of Untouchables counterpart Robert Stack. The series also did an okay job of capturing the flavor of the Prohibition Era. Since it's out on DVD, you might want to give it a look. Or maybe not.moreless