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Chicago, 1930, time of the prohibition. And it is the great time for the organized crime, the so called Mafia. One of the big bosses is Al Capone. He is the best know but at least, he was only one in a dirty game of sex, crime and corruption. People are willing to pay any price to drink alcohol, and sometimes it is their life they have to pay with. Special agent Eliot Ness and his team are trying to defeat the alcohol Mafia, but in this job, you don't have any friends. Written by
Florian Baumann <firstname.lastname@example.org>
An outstanding series where the bad guys are really bad
Although the reputation of The Untouchables is that it is about prohibition, there are more stories about murder and extortion than about the alcohol trade, which is a background in many stories, but central to only a handful.
These bad guys are really bad. Not only are there the commonplace shootings, but people have their cars blown up. They are knifed in the back. They are strangled in the back seats of cars. They are blinded when acid is thrown in their faces. They are hanged. They are set on fire. Good friends and reliable employees have their lives snuffed out with the villain employing less thought than he would spend on selecting the right tie to wear. As Frank Nitti (exquisitely played by actor Bruce Gordon) put it, while plotting the murder of a young man who worked tirelessly to make Nitti's enterprises succeed, "It's a matter of economics. Two of these (displaying bullets) cost 15 cents." While Frank Nitti is the best known of the criminals in this outstanding series, he appears in a tiny minority of the stories, about 25 of 118. Other actors with different personalities but equivalent levels of viciousness terrorize the innocent and not-so-innocent with levels of violence that are shocking even today, and were surely even more shocking in the 50s and early 60s.
While Bruce Gordon as Frank Nitti is the best remembered portrayer of gangsters from this show, in other episodes, veteran actors like William Bendix and Nehemiah Persoff, and then-young actors like Martin Landau and Robert Redford, put on entertaining and gritty performances that rarely disappoint. All the while, the newsreel style announcing of Walter Winchell adds enormously to the sensation of reality.
Today's viewer has the fun, not available to the viewers back then, of frequently spotting future stars in the cast, like Alan Hale Jr.(Skipper on Gilligan's Island), Elizabeth Montgomery (Samantha on Bewitched), Carroll O'Connor (Archie Bunker on All In The Family), Gavin McLeod (Capt. Steubing on The Love Boat), Jack Warden (veteran of countless movies and TV shows), Lee Van Cleef (perennial star and costar of westerns), Peter Falk (Columbo), Raymond Bailey (Mr. Drysdale on The Beverly Hillbillies -- without his toupee). The list goes on and on.
Two often-made criticisms of the show are justified, but to my mind, unimportant. First, it is true that in real life Eliot Ness never met most of the notorious criminals that he and his men defeat on the show. However, the show is admitted to be fictional. Second, it is true that the characters of the good guys, Ness and crew, are not particularly colorful. However, the gangsters and their victims provide ample color, and the solid steadfastness of Robert Stack as Eliot Ness and the rest of his crew gives viewers an anchor of emotional security in the face of the omnipresent evil portrayed on the show. Without this, the helplessness of the victims in the face of the ruthlessness, treachery and cold-heartedness of the villains that dominate the show episode after episode might be difficult to bear.
Everyone will benefit when the operators of networks that play reruns of old series finally decide to put real quality before the viewers and begin to regularly show The Untouchables, The Fugitive, Rawhide, and the other real classics of years past.
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