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.