"The Untouchables" was one of my favorite shows as a kid. My parents frowned on it but I snuck into the basement to watch it on the TV set deemed too old for the living room.
Other reviewers here have done excellent jobs at capturing the main strengths. I'd like to add extra to two items.
The use of music was powerful. Nelson Riddle wrote loose jazz that was appropriate for the series era as well as the broadcast years. After a while I was as aware of the music as the storyline. 50's and 60's dramas had this trait but none better than "The Untouchables." It drew the viewer in with an iron grip.
The on-screen violence paled in comparison to the menace of the characters and their stories. The Santa Claus episode was one of the most harrowing of the series. No glamour in being a junkie. It did a job on a young mind. And it holds up even in these jaded times. Raw stuff.
It built on a rich history of crime drama and, as with "The Godfather," became a reference for what followed.
This 1959-63 crime drama based partially on the real life adventures of Eliot Ness, the real life Prohibition agent who helped to bring down Al Capone was a true television classic. In many ways ground breaking and in many ways shocking, it sparked controversy in its day and criticism from such diverse people as J. Edgar Hoover and Mae Capone, the widow of Al Capone. There were also moralists who claimed that the show was too violent and Italian-American groups who claimed that the show defamed them. Several sponsors withdrew from the show as a result of pressure but that couldn't stop The Untouchables from becoming a true television classic.
Some of the scenes in the show were shocking for their time and still disturb when viewed today. Among these are the bloody slaughter of nine Mexican prostitutes in Season One's The White Slavers, the brutal murders of the Torneks in Season Two's The Purple Gang, and the murder of "Santa Claus" in full view of two orphan kiddies in the show's Season Four premiere episode, The Night They Shot Santa Claus. Quite often the show was grim, violent, and uncompromising. It was something that had been unseen on television up to that point.
The acting was terrific. Robert Stack was the perfect choice to play the incorruptible lawman Eliot Ness. Stack was cast after the likes of Fred MacMurray, Van Heflin, and Van Johnson had turned down the part. The Eliot Ness of Stack's portrayal was a grim, somber, and dedicated crime fighter who at times seem to hold a greater hatred for his gangster foes than he did a regard for his own life and safety. The likes of Paul Picerni, Nick Georgiade, Jerry Paris, Anthony George, Abel Fernandez, and Steve London provided able support to Stack as Ness's subordinate agents. If there was one flaw in the show it was that these supporting actors weren't always used to the best of their abilities.
No review of the Untouchables would be complete without mentioning some of the great actors who portrayed the heavies on the show. Foremost of all was Bruce Gordon, a veteran New York stage actor, who appeared in 27 episodes as Frank "the Enforcer" Nitti. Nitti was the roughest, toughest, and most durable foe for the Untouchables. Not even death or the forces of political correctness could stop Nitti as the character proved to be nearly as popular with the show's viewers as hero Ness. Nitti was definitely television's first superstar villain almost two decades before J. R. Ewing arrived on the scene.
Besides Gordon there were other actors who were memorable Untouchables villains. Some later went on to become major stars in their own right. There was Lawrence Dobkin (Dutch Schultz), Nehemiah Persoff (Jake Guzik), Neville Brand (Al Capone), William Bendix (Wally Legenza), Peter Falk (Nate Selko), Robert Redford (Jackson Parker), and Lee Marvin (Victor Rait). The villains were usually the focal point of each episode with Ness and his men being counterpunchers who reacted to the blows of the lead heavies by landing punches of their own.
Sadly, the show ended after four seasons. The protests by various groups and the resulting watering down of the show during its final season took its toll on the ratings and Robert Stack was tired of the grind of doing a weekly series and wanted out. Without Stack everyone knew there could be no show and The Untouchables breathed its last in the spring of 1963. But fortunately for us lovers of classic television we still have 118 episodes of the best damn crime drama to ever air on the boob tube.
I've been kind of holding off on a general review of this show because there are so many reasons that I appreciate it, that its hard to put them all down. But today (Oct. 15) is the anniversary of its premiere, so I've been thinking about it a bit more. Is the show "accurate" in its telling of the actual history of criminals and law enforcement in the late 20s and depression-era America? Well, no. Are the characters deeply drawn? Not really. Are all the episodes strong? Can't say yes.
So why is this classic TV?
Grand scope -- excellent and memorable theme music and narration by Walter Winchell.
Memorable characters -- you may not know all the motivations, hopes and dreams of Ness and Nitti, for example, but you know what they stand for and you remember what they said.
Educational value -- when I was a kid, I'd ask my mother if Ness really took down Ma Barker or if the Purple Gang really tried to kidnap Nitti gang members. Even when these devices were made up soley for drama, you got the sense of organized crime, the business niches they tried to exploit, the difference between labor union graft and those who were just plain killers and bankrobbers because of the times. You traveled to New York, saw goons coming in from Detroit, saw what the Tri State Gang was up to, went to St. Louis, learned how decent alcohol came in from Canada, and saw Capone boarding a train for a cross country trip to Alcatraz. You even got a fairly good idea of how American lager beer was brewed.
A great opportunity to see the greats of the small screen -- early appearances by all sorts of actors that later made up the foundation of television drama, Victor Bono, Gavin Mcloud, Nehemiah Persoff, Elizabeth Montgomery, Jack Warden, Lee Marvin, Neville Brand, the list goes on and on. And of course, Bruce Gorden, one of the most menacing and and at the same time hilarious villains to ever grace the airwaves. Only Hawaii Five-O's Wo Fat comes close in my opinion.
Even the final season of episodes had some gems, and all-in-all, what a great piece of film noir for the living room. I love this series.
The Untouchables was a well-crafted (albeit violent) crime drama that featured the exploits of Eliot Ness & his fellow lawmen, The Untouchables.
Quinn Martin produced this series for ABC-TV from 1959 to 1963. Robert Stack played the stoic crime fighter Eliot Ness with such realism, that he at times was the embodiment of Ness. It also has the voice of Walter Winchell as the narrator for the series.
I first saw this show back in the late 1970's on Chicago TV late nights & ever since then i have been a fan of this show. It's no wonder that this classic has stood the test of time with its dramatic tales of the Federal agents combating the Chicago mob & coming out on top.
Anyone can be a fan of gimmicked-up crime shows like NCIS or Law & Order, but for me it's The Untouchables.
This was a show that was made like 32 years before I was born. My parents said they used to watch it and it was pretty funny. I kinda like it. My dad LOVES it. He like constantly talks about it. I'm kinda sick of it. Anyway, this show gets a 6.7. It's pretty decent. If my dad was reviewing this, he would wanna make it a 10. I've only seen a few episodes. My dad has seen all of them. He's probably the show's #1 fan. I would ike to see the show again, but I don't know when it's on. That's my review of "The Untouchables"
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