The Untouchables (1959 TV series)

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The Untouchables
Untouchables 1959.jpg
Genre Crime drama
Starring Robert Stack
Abel Fernandez
Nicholas Georgiade
Paul Picerni
Steve London
Bruce Gordon
Neville Brand
Theme music composer Nelson Riddle
Composer(s) Bill Loose
Jack Cookerly
Nelson Riddle
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 4
No. of episodes 118 & 2-part pilot (List of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Alan A. Armer
Desi Arnaz
Leonard Freeman
Quinn Martin
Jerry Thorpe
Producer(s) Alan A. Armer
Alvin Cooperman
Walter Grauman
Bert Granet
Paul Harrison
Herman Hoffman
Sidney Marshall
Vincent McEveety
Del Reisman
Norman Retchin
Lloyd Richards
Stuart Rosenberg
Charles Russell
Josef Shaftel
Cinematography Robert B. Hauser
Glen MacWilliams
Charles Straumer
Camera setup Single-camera
Running time 50 minutes
Production company(s) Desilu Productions
Langford Productions
Distributor Paramount Domestic Television
CBS Paramount Domestic Television (2006-2007)
CBS Television Distribution (2007-)
Original channel ABC
Picture format Black-and-white
Audio format Monaural
Original run October 15, 1959 (1959-10-15) – May 21, 1963 (1963-05-21)

The Untouchables is an American crime drama that ran from 1959 to 1963 on the ABC Television Network, produced by Desilu Productions. Based on the memoir of the same name by Eliot Ness and Oscar Fraley, it fictionalized Ness' experiences as a Prohibition agent, fighting crime in Chicago in the 1930s with the help of a special team of agents handpicked for their courage, moral character and incorruptibility, nicknamed the Untouchables. The book was later made into a film in 1987 (also called The Untouchables) by Brian De Palma, with a script by David Mamet, and a second less successful TV series in 1993.

A powerful, hard-hitting crime drama, and a landmark police series,[1] The Untouchables won series star Robert Stack an Emmy Award for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series in 1960.[2]

Series overview[edit]

Stack as Eliot Ness with Gloria Talbott, 1962.

The stories often revolved around Ness' enmity with the criminal empire of Chicago mob boss Al Capone, and many focused on crimes related to Prohibition. The show stars Robert Stack as Eliot Ness and was narrated by Walter Winchell. Neville Brand played Al Capone in the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse episodes, and in a few episodes of the regular series.

This series focused on the efforts of the real-life Federal Special Squad, led by Eliot Ness, that destroyed the bootleg empire of "Scarface" Al Capone.This squad was nicknamed "The Untouchables", because of their courage and honesty; they could not be bribed or intimidated by the Mob.[3][4][5]

The pilot for the series—a feature length TV movie later marketed as The Scarface Mob—was first broadcast on January 22, 1959 on CBS. It dealt with Ness's crusade to put Al Capone in prison. The weekly series first aired in October 1959, with the premise derived from the power struggle to establish the new boss in Capone's absence (for the purpose of the TV series, the new boss was Frank Nitti, although this was contrary to fact). In the pilot movie the mobsters generally spoke with unrealistic pseudo-Italian accents, but this idiosyncratic pronunciation was dropped when the series debuted. CBS, which had broadcast most of Desilu's television output since 1951 beginning with I Love Lucy, was offered the new series following the success of the pilot film. Chairman William S. Paley rejected it on the advice of network vice president Hubbell Robinson. ABC agreed to air the series, and The Untouchables premiered in the Fall of 1959.[6]


The show drew harsh criticism from some Italian-Americans including Frank Sinatra,[7] who felt it promoted negative stereotypes of them as mobsters and gangsters. The Capone family unsuccessfully sued the Columbia Broadcasting System,(CBS), Desilu Productions and Westinghouse Electric Corporation for its depiction of the Capone family. Early in the first season, the character of "Agent Rossi", a person of Italian extraction, was added to Ness's team.

On March 9, 1961, Anthony Anastasio, chief of the Brooklyn waterfront and its International Longshoremen's Association, marched in line with a picket group who identified themselves as “The Federation of Italian-American Democratic Organizations.” In protest formation outside the American Broadcasting Company, (ABC) New York headquarters, they had come together to urge the public boycott of Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company (L&M) products including Chesterfield King cigarettes, which sponsored The Untouchables. They expressed displeasure with the program, which to them vilified Italian-Americans, stereotyping them as the singular criminal element. The boycott and the attendant firestorm of publicity had the effect Anastasio and his confederates wanted. Four days after the picket of ABC, L&M, denying that they had bowed to intimidation, announced it would drop its sponsorship of The Untouchables, maintaining their decision was based on network-scheduling conflicts. The following week, the head of Desilu, Desi Arnaz (who had attended high school with Capone's son Albert), in concert with ABC and the “Italian-American League to Combat Defamation”, issued a formal three-point manifesto:

  • There will be no more fictional hoodlums with Italian names in future productions.
  • There will be more stress on the law-enforcement role of “Rico Rossi”, Ness’s right-hand man on the show.
  • There will be an emphasis on the “formidable influence” of Italian-American officials in reducing crime and an emphasis on the “great contributions” made to American culture by Americans of Italian descent.[8]

The series also incurred the displeasure of the powerful director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover, when the fictionalized scripts depicted Ness and his Treasury agents involved in operations that were actually the province of the FBI. The second episode of the series, for example, depicted Ness and has crew involved in the capture of the Ma Barker gang, an incident in which the real-life Ness played no part. The producers agreed to insert a spoken disclaimer on future broadcasts of the episode stating that the FBI had primary responsibility for the Barker case.

The Untouchables was considered one of the most violent television shows when it aired and was described by the National Association for Better Radio and Television "not fit for the television screen".[9]

In an article titled "The New Enemies of 'The Untouchables'"[10] Ayn Rand argued that the persistent, superficial attacks received by The Untouchables were due to its appeal and its virtues: its moral conflict and moral purpose.

Episodes and cast[edit]

The cast from left: Abel Fernandez, Nicholas Georgiade, Paul Picerni, (seated) Robert Stack. (not shown: Steve London)
Neville Brand as Al Capone.

The series had 118 episodes which ran 50 minutes each. Though the book chronicled the experiences of Ness and his cohorts over a span of time ranging from 1929 to 1935, the overwhelming majority of the television episodes were broadcast in no chronological timeline, but were set mostly in the early 1930s (for example, one episode, "You Can't Pick the Number", begins with Winchell's words, "October 1932: the depth of the Depression"). A few episodes were set primarily in a locale other than Chicago (such as the one dealing with the shootout involving Ma Barker and her gang.) Characters and "facts" in the majority of the episodes were more often than not entirely fictitious or loosely-based composites of true-life criminals of that era. The gripping theme music was by Nelson Riddle.

Quinn Martin produced the show's first season, which contained elements that could be found in future TV series produced by Martin.[11]

The Untouchables were portrayed by:

Other "Untouchables" members were portrayed by :

Other recurrent actors were:

Paul Picerni and Nicholas Georgiade were cast as gangsters in Capone and Nitti's mob in the 1959 pilot before being cast in the series.

Guest stars[edit]

A significant number of guest-stars on The Untouchables had been or became major motion picture and television stars, including the following:

  • Luther Adler in S2,E3 "Nicky", S2,E22 "Murder Under Glass", S3,E17 "Takeover"
  • Edward Asner in S3,E16 "The Death Tree" S4,E1 "The Night They Shot Santa Claus", S4,E8 "Elegy", S4,E13 "Search for A Dead Man"
  • Charles Bronson in S3,E16 "The Death Tree"
  • Victor Buono as Melanthos Moon S2,E25 "Mr. Moon" and as Parnise Surigao S3,E13 "The Gang War"
  • James Caan in S4,E10 "A Fist of Five"
  • James Coburn in S2,E16 "The Jamaica Ginger Story"
  • Richard Conte in S2,E15 "The Organization",S4,E3 "The Chess Game"
  • Dan Dailey in S4,E9 "Come and Kill Me"
  • Robert Duvall in S4,E17 "Blues for a Gone Goose"
  • Peter Falk in S1,E26 "The Underworld Bank", as Nate Selko in S3,E1 "The Troubleshooter"
  • Louise Fletcher in S1,E2 "Ma Barker and her Boys"
  • Don Gordon in S3,E3 "Tunnel of Horrors" , S3,E12 "Fall Guy" ,S3,E24 "The Ginnie Littlesmith Story", S4,E24 "One Last Killing"
  • Pat Hingle in S3,E23 "The Case Against Eliot Ness" , S4,E20 "Junkman"
  • Brian Keith in S2,E16 "The Jamaica Ginger Story"
  • George Kennedy as Birdie the Mute in S2,E30 "The King of Champagne"
  • Jack Klugman in S3,E6 "Loophole", S4,E19 "An Eye for an Eye"
  • Robert Loggia in S3,E17 "Takeover"
  • Jack Lord in S1,E3 "The Jake Lingle Killing"
  • Lee Marvin in S2,E31 "The Nick Acropolis Story", S3,E19 "Element of Danger", S4,E10 "A Fist of Five"
  • Charles McGraw in S1,E3 "The Jake Lingle killing", S1,E25 "Portrait of a Thief", S3,E14 "Silent Partner", S4,E28 "The Torpedo"
  • Elizabeth Montgomery as Rusty Heller (received an Emmy Award nomination) (1960) S2,E1 "The Rusty Heller Story"
  • Leslie Nielsen in S1,E23 "Three Thousand Suspects"
  • Leonard Nimoy in S3,E17 "Takeover"
  • Simon Oakland as Mr. Pal in S3,E11 "The Canada Run", S3,E22 "Downfall", S4,E27,"The Jazz Man"
  • Carroll O'Connor in S3,E2 "Power Play", S4,E6 "Bird in the Hand"
  • Nehemiah Persoff as Jake "Greasy Thumb" Guzik in three episodes, S1,E1 "The Empty Chair", S2,E29 "The Seventh Vote", S4,E12 "Doublecross", also S1,E27 "Head of Fire, Feet of Clay", S2,E4 "The Waxey Gordon Story", S3,E18 "The Stryker Brothers"
  • Robert Redford in S4,E15 "Snowball"
  • Cliff Robertson in S1,E12 "The Underground Railway"
  • Ruth Roman in S3,E8 "Mankiller"
  • Telly Savalas in S2,E20 "The Antidote", S3,E5 "The Matt Bass Scheme", S4,E14 "The Speculator"
  • Henry Silva in S1,E14 "The Noise of Death" , S2,E5 "The Mark of Cain",S3,E15 "The Whitey Steele Story"
  • Harry Dean Stanton in S1,E14 "The Noise of Death, S2,E14 Augie"The Banker" Ciamino, S2,E32 "90-Proof Dame"
  • Barbara Stanwyck in S4,E8 "Elegy", S4,E13 "Search for a Dead Man"
  • Rip Torn in S2,E14 "The Masterpiece", S4,E23 "The Spoiler"
  • Claire Trevor as Ma Barker in S1,E2 "Ma Barker and her Boys"
  • Lee Van Cleef in S1,E20 "The Unhired Assassin"
  • Robert Vaughn in S4,E26 "The Charlie Argos Story"
  • Jack Warden in S1,E3 "The George 'Bugs' Moran Story", S1,E27" Head of Fire,Feet of Clay", S2,E10 "The Otto Frick Story"

Broadcast history[edit]

The Untouchables originally aired as a segment of the anthology series Desilu Playhouse in 1959. It was picked up as a regular series by ABC for the 1959 season and was aired on Thursdays from 9:30-10:30 pm from 1959-1962, switching to Tuesday evenings from 10:00-11:00 pm for its final season (1962-1963) to replace the cancelled sitcom Margie.

Desilu Productions president Desi Arnaz had originally offered the role of Ness to Van Johnson. Johnson's wife and manager rejected the deal, and demanded double the salary offer. Arnaz refused and signed Stack instead. Arnaz had had a long business relationship with CBS, which had aired many Desilu programs including I Love Lucy and The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. When CBS refused to buy the program, Arnaz sold it to ABC, his first major sale to that network.[12]

In 1961, Neville Brand reprised his role as Al Capone in the movie The George Raft Story.

Some segments were released to theaters as movies: The Scarface Mob (from the two-part pilot), The Alcatraz Express (from "The Big Train"), and The Gun of Zangara (from "Unhired Assassin").

On 10 November 1991, NBC ran the 2-hour movie The Return of Eliot Ness, with Robert Stack as Ness. It was set in 1947, after Capone's death, and depicted Ness investigating the death of an Untouchables agent named Labine.


The Untouchables was a landmark television series that has spawned numerous imitators, such as S.W.A.T., The F.B.I., Crime Story,[13] the original Hawaii Five-O (Five-O's creator and executive producer, Leonard Freeman, served as executive producer on The Untouchables '​ final season), Robert Stack's own later series, Strike Force and Most Wanted, The Hat Squad, and the 1993 The Untouchables syndicated TV series.

It also inspired the big-budget motion pictures Al Capone starring Rod Steiger, The Untouchables, Gangster Squad, Mulholland Falls, and others.[citation needed]

Most TV crime dramas of the period featured a pair of stalwart police officers, as in Dragnet and The Lineup, or a lone private detective as in Peter Gunn or Richard Diamond, Private Detective. The Untouchables introduced the concept of a team of crime fighters with varied skill sets.[citation needed]

In their 1988 book, The Critics' Choice—The Best of Crime and Detective TV, authors Max Allan Collins and John Javna chose The Untouchables as one of the "Top 10 Best Police TV Series (Police Procedurals) of All Time".[14][15]

The Lebanon (Pa.) Daily News said of The Untouchables: "Between the hard-nosed approach, sharp dialogue and a commendably crisp pace (something rare in dramatic TV at the time), this series is one of the few that remains fresh and vibrant. Only the monochrome (black and white) presentation betrays its age. The Untouchables is one of the few Golden Age TV shows that deserves being called a classic."[16]


In 1997, the episode "The Rusty Heller Story" was ranked #99 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.[17]

DVD releases[edit]

DVD releases[edit]

CBS DVD (distributed by Paramount) have released all four seasons of The Untouchables on DVD in Region 1. The first two seasons have also been released in Region 4. Season 4 volumes 1 & 2 were released on July 24, 2012 in Region 1.[18]

DVD Name Ep # Release dates
Region 1 Region 4
Season 1- Volume 1 14 + pilot April 10, 2007[19] September 30, 2009[20]
Season 1- Volume 2 14 September 25, 2007[21] September 30, 2009[22]
Season 2- Volume 1 16 March 18, 2008[23] September 30, 2009[24]
Season 2- Volume 2 16 August 26, 2008[25] September 30, 2009[26]
Season 3- Volume 1 16 August 25, 2009[27] N/A
Season 3- Volume 2 12 November 10, 2009[28] N/A
Season 4- Volume 1 15 July 24, 2012 N/A
Season 4- Volume 2 15 July 24, 2012 N/A

Region 2[edit]

Paramount Home Entertainment has released the first three seasons of The Untouchables on DVD in the UK. These releases are full season sets as opposed to Region 1 and 4 where each season has been split into two volumes.

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
Season 1 28 August 18, 2008[29]
Season 2 32 September 14, 2009[30]
Season 3 28 September 20, 2010[31]
Season 4 30 TBA

Further reading[edit]

  • Tucker, Kenneth. Eliot Ness and the Untouchables: The Historical Reality and the Film and Television Depictions. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2000. ISBN 0-7864-0772-7
  • Vahimagi, Tise. "The Untouchables" London, England: BFI Publishing, 1998. ISBN 0-85170-563-4 (Detailed study of the series and episode guide)


  1. ^
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  7. ^ Talese, Gay: "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold", page 27. Esquire, April 1966
  8. ^ Harris, Jay S., in association with the editors of TV Guide, “TV Guide: The First 25 Years,” Simon & Schuster, 1978, p. 52-53, ISBN 0-671-23065-4
  9. ^ The Palm Beach Post - Jul 16, 1961, pg 5,,2668583&dq=
  10. ^ "The New Enemies of 'The Untouchables'",
  11. ^ Etter, Jonathan. Quinn Martin, Producer. Jefferson: McFarland, 2003.
  12. ^ Warren G. Harris 'Lucy & Desi'
  13. ^
  14. ^ ISBN 0-517-57055-6 Crown Publishers, Inc.
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  17. ^ "Special Collectors' Issue". TV Guide (June 28-July 4). 1997. 
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External links[edit]