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.