The Untouchables (1959 TV series)
|Narrated by||Walter Winchell|
|Theme music composer||Nelson Riddle|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||4|
|No. of episodes||118 & two-part pilot (list of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||Alan A. Armer
|Producer(s)||Alan A. Armer
|Cinematography||Robert B. Hauser
|Running time||60 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Desilu Productions
|Distributor||Desilu Sales (until 1967)
Paramount Domestic Television (1967–2006)
CBS Paramount Domestic Television (2006–2007)
CBS Television Distribution (2007– )
|Original release||October 15, 1959– May 21, 1963|
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.
The series originally focused on the efforts of a real-life squad of Prohibition agents employed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and led by Eliot Ness (Robert Stack), that helped bring down the bootleg empire of "Scarface" Al Capone, as described in Ness's bestselling 1957 memoir. This squad was nicknamed "The Untouchables", because of their courage and honesty; they could not be bribed or intimidated by the Mob. Eliot Ness himself had died suddenly in May, 1957, shortly before his memoir and the subsequent TV adaptation were to bring him fame beyond any he experienced in his lifetime.
The pilot for the series was a two-part episode entitled "The Untouchables" originally aired on Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse on April 20 and 27, 1959. Later retitled "The Scarface Mob", these episodes, which featured Neville Brand as Al Capone, were the only episodes in the series to be more-or-less directly based on Ness's memoir, and ended with the conviction and imprisonment of Capone. 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 on October 15, 1959. In the pilot movie, the mobsters generally spoke with unrealistic pseudo-Italian accents, but this idiosyncratic pronunciation was dropped when the series debuted.
The weekly series first followed the premise of a power struggle to establish a 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). As the series continued, there developed a highly fictionalized portrayal of Ness and his crew as all-purpose crime fighters who went up against an array of gangsters and villains of the 1930s, including Ma Barker, Dutch Schultz, Bugs Moran, Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll, Legs Diamond, Lucky Luciano, and in one episode, Nazi agents.
The terse narration by gossip columnist Walter Winchell, in his distinctive New York accent, was a stylistic hallmark of the series, along with its melancholy theme music by Nelson Riddle and its shadowy black-and-white photography, influenced by film noir.
The show drew harsh criticism from some Italian-Americans including Frank Sinatra, who felt it promoted negative stereotypes of them as mobsters and gangsters. The Capone family unsuccessfully sued CBS, Desilu Productions, and Westinghouse Electric Corporation for their depiction of the Capone family. Early in the first season, the character of "Agent (Rico) 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 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, the lead sponsor of 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.
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 his 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".
In an article titled "The New Enemies of 'The Untouchables'" 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
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.
The Untouchables were portrayed by:
- Robert Stack as Agent Eliot Ness
- Abel Fernandez as Agent William Youngfellow
- Nick Georgiade as Agent Enrico "Rico" Rossi
- Paul Picerni as Agent Lee Hobson, (second season on)
- Steve London as Agent Jack Rossman
Other Untouchables members were portrayed by :
- Jerry Paris as Agent Martin Flaherty, (first season only)
- Chuck Mitchell Hicks as Agent LaMarr Kane (first season only)
- Anthony George as Agent Cam Allison, (first season only)
- Keenan Wynn as Agent Joe Fuselli (pilot episode only)
Other recurrent actors were:
- Bruce Gordon as Frank Nitti
- Frank Dekova as Jimmy Napoli
- Neville Brand as Al Capone
- Frank Wilcox as Federal District Attorney Beecher Asbury
- Raymond Bailey as US Attorney for New York John Carvell
- Robert Bice as Police Capt. Johnson
- Announcer: Les Lampson
- Narrator: Walter Winchell
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.
* Contrary to popular belief, Steve London's character of Untouchable Jack Rossman (played in the "Scarface Mob" pilot by Paul Dubov), was in the series since the original season 1 series episode, "The Empty Chair", not from season 2 on as is commonly reported.
The Untouchables was notable for the large number of past and future motion picture and television stars, and cult actors, who appeared as guest stars on the show during its four-year run. These include:
- 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"
- Timothy Carey in S1,E6 "Ain't We Got Fun"
- James Coburn in S2,E16 "The Jamaica Ginger Story"
- Richard Conte in S2,E15 "The Organization",S4,E3 "The Chess Game"
- Elisha Cook, Jr. in S4,E6 "Bird in the Hand"
- Dan Dailey in S4,E9 "Come and Kill Me"
- Robert Duvall in S4,E17 "Blues for a Gone Goose"
- Betty Field in S1,E22 "The White Slavers"
- 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"
- Michael Constantine in S2, E2 "The King of Champagne" as Edmund Wald, S2, E19 "The Nick Moses Story" as Gino Carabello, S3, E5 "The Matt Bass Scheme" as Seth Otis, S4, E3 "The Chess Game" as Marty Baltin, and S4, E20 "Junk Man" as Max Frivol
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 to 10:30 pm from 1959 to 1962, switching to Tuesday evenings from 10:00 to 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.
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 two-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 over the decades, such as S.W.A.T. (TV series), The F.B.I., Crime Story, 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.
In the 1950s, most TV crime dramas followed one of two formats: Either that of stalwart police officer or detective and his trusty sidekick/partner, (Dragnet, The Lineup), or the lone wolf private eye/or police detective (Peter Gunn, Richard Diamond, M-Squad) . The Untouchables (along with its then-concurrent ABC series The Detectives (starring Robert Taylor)), introduced the concept of a 'group' of crime fighters.
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".
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."
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 and 2 were released on July 24, 2012, in region 1.
|DVD Name||Ep #||Release dates|
|Region 1||Region 4|
|Season 1- Volume 1||14 + pilot||April 10, 2007||September 30, 2009|
|Season 1- Volume 2||14||September 25, 2007||September 30, 2009|
|Season 2- Volume 1||16||March 18, 2008||September 30, 2009|
|Season 2- Volume 2||16||August 26, 2008||September 30, 2009|
|Season 3- Volume 1||16||August 25, 2009||N/A|
|Season 3- Volume 2||12||November 10, 2009||N/A|
|Season 4- Volume 1||15||July 24, 2012||N/A|
|Season 4- Volume 2||15||July 24, 2012||N/A|
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|
|Season 2||32||September 14, 2009|
|Season 3||28||September 20, 2010|
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Untouchables (1959 TV series).|
- The Untouchables at the Internet Movie Database
- The Untouchables at TV.com
- Encyclopedia of Television
- Episode Broadcast Dates