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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I haven't seen this two-part "Untouchables" episode in many years, but I recall it as fascinating simply for the way it combined history and imaginative fiction (which, in a way, was a hallmark of the entire series, with Walter Winchell's narration adding the air of authenticity). Those who are interested in the Cermak-as-actual-assassination-target theory should seek out "The Five Weeks of Giuseppe Zangara," by Blaise Picchi (you can also read my review of it at Amazon.com), who largely discounts the suggestion that Zangara was actually gunning for Cermak instead of FDR. But don't let the facts stop you from enjoying this excellent "Untouchables" episode.
This is one of the major two-part efforts put forth by Quinn Martin during the first run of "The Untouchables" television program. They are all excellent pieces of solidly-scripted B/W film-making. This feature is a fictionalization of the events surrounding the assassination of Anton Cermak, powerful voting bloc organizer and mayor of Chicago during the World's Fair . Historians now believe Cermak was being targeted by Capone mobsters because of his pursuit of them and prevention of their infiltration of the 1933 Chicago World's Fair; and that Giuseppe Zangara, the murderer of Cermak, was one of theirs. Nevertheless the storyline here is equally diverting. Here Cermak is touted as an incorruptible man,whom Eliot Ness warns to be careful when he angers Capone by vowing publicly to keep the World's Fair clean of gangster subversion.The opportunity for an angry Capone to avenge himself on the Mayor comes when his trip to Miami to meet with President Franklin D, Roosevelt at a major event is announced in the papers. A murderer is recruited, a man who carries rifle parts in a golf bag; he rents a room in a hotel over looking the event site, and waits. The body of the film shows Ness and his men tracing a tip from one Jake Ryan given to try to get himself a lighter sentence after he attempts a crime. But knowing Capone men are after Cermak and stopping them are two different matters; and Cermak will not give up his meeting. Meanwhile, crazed Zangara, blaming the president for the world's ills sets out for Miami. So it happens that just as Ness's men nab the telescopic- sight-using rifleman, in time to prevent his carrying out his murder for hire, Zangara strikes and Cermak takes a bullet to protect the president. In the cast as Cermak are great actor Robert Middleton, Sterling Holloway as a befuddled desk clerk who rents the killer the room he requires, Percy Helton, Claude Akins as Ryan, and a host of fine supporting actors in small roles. The production is unusually strong, with music by Nelson Riddle, direction by Howard Koch, a clever script by William Speier, Sandy Grace's sets and very good cinematography by Charles Stradner. Joe Mantell's odyssey as Zangara is very well done; and the tension built in the movie is unusually strong. Highly recommended if not as documentary as an exciting and well-made cinematic adventure plus "mission" story.
On February 15, 1933 an assassination occurred in Miami that shook the
U.S., then in the midst of the Great Depression. In November of 1932
Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Democratic Candidate, defeated the President
Herbert Hoover. President - elect Roosevelt was the hope of most of the
country. He was going to deliver a speech in Miami, in company of his
friend Vincent Astor. Another person attending the speech (and there
for political discussions with F.D.R.) was Mayor Anton Cermak of
Chicago. During the speech shots were fired at Roosevelt in his open
touring car. The gunman (who was seized after shooting several people)
was one Giuseppi Zangara. He missed Roosevelt but injured several
others due to a woman pushing his arm when he raised his gun.
Unfortunately one of the people he hit was Mayor Cermak. Cermak died
about three weeks later. Zangara was executed after a trial at the end
of March. By then F.D.R. was inaugurated.
Cermak was not the first Chicago Mayor who was assassinated. Forty years before Mayor Carter Harrison Sr. (his son - Carter Harrison Jr. - would also be Mayor of Chicago years later), was shot and killed in his home by Patrick Eugene Prendergast, a madman who thought Harrison had reneged on making him Corporate Counsel. Prendergast was defended by Clarence Darrow at his trial, but found guilty and hanged in 1894.
There is no movie about Harrison and his assassination. Cermak was the subject of several films, as he was an example of the immigrant lad (Bohemian in his case) who made good. After the misrule of Big Bill Thompson, Al Capone's stooge mayor, Cermak managed to clean up the city a bit - though this was a matter of some dispute. Many insisted that Cermak only went after Capone's mob (then being run by Frank Nitti), but had made deals with Capone's rivals. However the overall effect was to improve the city's administration. So Cermak was enshrined in public opinion as a martyr for good government and for Roosevelt's New Deal (which he would have supported).
However, there is a second theory. I first heard of it in Law School. The theory is that Cermak was the target, not F.D.R.
The main support for the theory is Zangara's personality. He was a perfect example of a psychotic hot head. He claimed he had stomach pains, caused by the rich and powerful. He claimed he had planned to shoot the King of Italy (Victor Emmanuel II) and President Hoover, but then he turned towards Roosevelt. He said all powerful men were evil, and he wanted to kill them. Perfect psychotic - but was he just pretending this as a cover to a successful attack on Cermak?
The other part of the theory is what happened the previous month in Chicago.
Nitti was in his office (apparently doing nothing particularly evil - just some paperwork) when some Chicago police barged in. One shot Nitti, severely wounding him. But he survived. His gang and his lawyers started questioning what was the reason for the attack. It turned out that there was no reason, and the cop who shot Nitti apologized (Nitti actually accepted the apology - he knew who had ordered the hit). The result was that a poor immigrant, Zangara, was made an offer he did not mind taking. He would have a chance to gain some fame/infamy in trying to kill a big-shot (the President-elect) but would actually shoot Cermak. His family would be taken care of afterwards.
Which is the truth? Was it a combination of the two? We really don't know.
This film, based on two episodes of the popular UNTOUCHABLE series, is one of two television movies about the incident (the other is in a television film about the career of Frank Nitti). If you liked the series with Robert Stack you will enjoy this film. See it also to see that great movie villain, Robert Middleton, in a sympathetic performance as Cermak.
This TV Movie recalls facts concerning the actual attempted assassination of FDR in Miami. If you remember the Series The Untouchables with Robert Stack, then you will like this TV movie. This movie appeared long before Oliver Stone's JFK, but the combination of villains as seen in this movie calls to mind some issues regarding the JFK movie here. That being the Mob and a loner as highlighted in this movie. More then that, this movie was released several years before Kennedy's assassination.
This is TV drama and suspense at its best. We've got an all star cast
of main actors and supporting actors, each who own their respective
roles. This cast is a variety of characters that are believable,
honorable, terrifying, pedestrian, comical, pitiful and colorful. To
top it off, this a legendary Quinn Martin production who was brilliant
for staging a story line.
Did anyone else notice a creepy resemblance between the actor who played the "unhired" assassin Zangara, and Lee Harvey Oswald ? All I can say is that it is ironic, because this episode was aired almost 4 years prior to the JFK assassination.
I don't see any hope of Television ever getting back to the standard of excellence that was "The Untouchables", but I'm thankful we can have access to these classic episodes through the internet. Special thanks to those who generously took the time to upload these for our benefit.
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