The Untouchables (1959 TV series)
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's 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.
|Narrated by||Walter Winchell|
|Theme music composer||Nelson Riddle|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||4|
|No. of episodes||118 and two-part pilot (list of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||Alan A. Armer|
|Producer(s)||Alan A. Armer|
|Cinematography||Robert B. Hauser|
|Running time||50 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Desilu Productions|
|Picture format||Black and white|
|Original release||October 15, 1959 –|
May 21, 1963
The series originally focused on the efforts of a real-life squad of Prohibition agents employed by the United States Department of the Treasury and led by Eliot Ness (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 CBS's 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. In the first episode of the first season, the character of "Agent (Rico) Rossi", a person of Italian extraction who had witnessed a gangland murder, 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 it had bowed to intimidation, announced it would drop its sponsorship of The Untouchables, maintaining the 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 an unusually violent program for its time and its excessive violence and surprisingly frank depictions of drug abuse and prostitution were described by the National Association for Better Radio and Television as "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 castEdit
The series had 118 episodes which ran 50 minutes each. Though the book chronicled the experiences of Ness and his cohorts against Capone, and in reality the Untouchables disbanded soon after Capone's conviction, the series continued after the pilot and book ended, depicting the fictitious further exploits of the Untouchables against many, often real life, criminals over a span of time ranging from 1929 to 1935. 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"), and another episode "Canada Run" begins at Chicago Stadium at the NFL Playoff Game on December 18th 1932. 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 most prominent Untouchables were portrayed by:
- Robert Stack as Agent Eliot Ness
- Abel Fernandez as Agent William Youngfellow
- Nicholas Georgiade as Agent Enrico "Rico" Rossi
- Paul Picerni as Agent Lee Hobson, (second season on)
- Steve London as Agent Jack Rossman (portrayed in the pilot by Paul Dubov)
Other Untouchables members who were prominent at first, but didn't last past the pilot or the first season, were portrayed by :
- Jerry Paris as Agent Martin Flaherty, (first season only-portrayed in the pilot by Bill Williams)
- Chuck Hicks as Agent LaMarr Kane (first season only-portrayed in the pilot by Peter Leeds)
- Anthony George as Agent Cam Allison, (first season only)
- Keenan Wynn as Agent Joe Fuselli (pilot episode only)
- Eddie Firestone as Agent Eric Hansen (pilot episode only)
- Robert Osterloh as Agent Tom Kopka (pilot episode only)
In addition to the Untouchables themselves, there were several recurring allies in more than one episode:
- Frank Wilcox as Federal District Attorney Beecher Asbury
- Robert Bice as Police Capt. Johnson
- Jason Wingreen as Police Capt. Dorset
- Raymond Bailey as US Attorney for New York John Carvell
- Barbara Nichols as Brandy La France, showgirl and wife/widow of an informant, appearing in both the pilot and premiere
- Dane Clark as Dr. Victor Garr
- John Gabriel as Dr. Daniel Gilford
- Barbara Stanwyck as Lt. Agatha Stewart, head of the Missing Persons Bureau
- Ed Asner as Frank, one of Agatha Stewart's assistants
- Virginia Capers as June, one of Agatha Stewart's assistants
The show also had several recurrent gangsters, many of them loosely based on real life gangsters of the time period:
- Frank Nitti, Capone's enforcer who takes over the Chicago mob after Capone is imprisoned, portrayed by Bruce Gordon, and appearing in far more episodes than any other gangster
- Joe Kulak, portrayed by Oscar Beregi, Jr.
- Dutch Schultz, portrayed in different episodes by Lawrence Dobkin, Robert J. Wilke, and Warren J. Kemmerling
- Jake "Greasy Thumb" Guzik, portrayed in the pilot by Bern Hoffman, and in the series by Nehemiah Persoff
- George "Bugs" Moran, portrayed in different episodes by Lloyd Nolan, Robert J. Wilke, and Harry Morgan
- Louis Lepke Buchalter, portrayed in different episodes by Gene Roth, Robert Carricart, and Joseph Ruskin
- Lucky Luciano, portrayed by Robert Carricart
- Pete Konitz, portrayed by Carl Milletaire
- Frankie Resko, portrayed by Grant Richards
- Al Capone, portrayed by Neville Brand, and appearing only in the 2 hour pilot and a 2 part episode
- Louis Campagna, portrayed by Frank Dekova
- Augie Viale, portrayed by John Beradino
- Little Charlie Sebastino, portrayed by Henry Silva
- Louis Latito, portrayed by Joe De Santis
- Archie Devlin, Capone's attorney, portrayed by George N. Neise
- Lucky Quinn, portrayed by John Kellogg
- Joe Aiello portrayed in different episodes by H. M. Wynant and Grant Richards
- Phil D'Andrea, portrayed by Wally Cassell, and appearing only in the pilot and premiere
- "Fur" Sammons, portrayed by Richard Benedict, and appearing only in the pilot and premiere
- Tony "Mops" Volpe, portrayed by Herman Rudin, and appearing only in the pilot and premiere
Finally, heard in every episode, but never shown onscreen:
- 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.
* 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-one series episode, "The Empty Chair", not from season two on as is commonly reported.
The Untouchables was notable for the large number of past and future motion picture and television stars who appeared as guest stars on the show during its four-year run. These include: (S#=Season number, E#=Episode number)
- Luther Adler in S2E3 "Nicky", S2E22 "Murder Under Glass", S3E17 "Takeover"
- Richard Anderson in S1E28 "The Frank Nitti Story"
- Michael Ansara in S2E3 "Nicky" and S2E16 "The Jamaica Ginger Story"
- Edward Asner as Frank in two episodes, S4E8 "Elegy", S4E13 "Search for A Dead Man", also S3E16 "The Death Tree", S4E1 "The Night They Shot Santa Claus"
- Jim Backus in S1E15 "Star Witness"
- Martin Balsam in S3E3 "Tunnel of Horrors", S3E21 "Man in the Middle"
- William Bendix in S1E9 "The Tri State Gang"
- Whit Bissell in S1E11 "You Can't Pick the Number"
- Joan Blondell in S2E18 "The Underground Court"
- Charles Bronson in S3E16 "The Death Tree"
- Victor Buono as Melanthos Moon in S2E25 "Mr. Moon" and as Parnise Surigao in S3E13 "The Gang War"
- James Caan in S4E10 "A Fist of Five"
- Anthony Caruso in S1E13 "Syndicate Sanctuary"
- Phyllis Coates in S1E5 "Ain't We Got Fun", S1E28 "The Frank Nitti Story", and S4E10 "A Fist of Five"
- James Coburn in S2E16 "The Jamaica Ginger Story"
- Mike Connors in S4E7 "The Eddie O'Gara Story"
- Richard Conte in S2E15 "The Organization", S4E3 "The Chess Game"
- Robert Duvall in S4E17 "Blues for a Gone Goose"
- Peter Falk in S1E26 "The Underworld Bank", as Nate Selko in S3E1 "The Troubleshooter"
- Betty Field in S1E22 The White Slavers
- Louise Fletcher in S1E2 "Ma Barker and Her Boys" as a girlfriend to one of Ma's boys
- Anne Francis in S1E24 "The Doreen Maney Story"
- Harry Guardino in S1E17 "One-Armed Bandits", S2E19 "The Nick Moses Story", S3E25 "The Contract"
- Connie Hines in S1E24 "The Doreen Maney Story"
- Brian Keith in S2E16 "The Jamaica Ginger Story"
- George Kennedy as 'Birdie' the mute in S2E30 "The King of Champagne"
- Jack Klugman in S3E6 "Loophole", S4E19 "An Eye for an Eye"
- Gail Kobe in S1E13 "Syndicate Sanctuary", S4E28 "The Torpedo"
- Martin Landau in S1E7 "Mexican Stake-Out", S3E6 "Loophole"
- Cloris Leachman in S3E7 "Jigsaw", S3E21 "Man in the Middle"
- Jack Lord in S1E3 "The Jake Lingle Killing"
- Joe Mantell as George Ricci (Brandy LaFrance's husband) in the 2 hour pilot, and as Giuseppe Zangara in S1E20 "The Unhired Assassin" part 1, & S1E21 "The Unhired Assassin" part 2
- Lee Marvin in S2E31 "The Nick Acropolis Story", S3E19 "Element of Danger", S4E10 "A Fist of Five"
- Elizabeth Montgomery as Rusty Heller (received an Emmy Award nomination, 1960) S2E1 "The Rusty Heller Story"
- Harry Morgan as Bugs Moran in S4E12 "Doublecross"
- Vic Morrow in S2E11 "The Tommy Karpeles Story", S3E20 "The Maggie Storm Story"
- J. Carrol Naish in S1E14 "The Noise of Death"
- Patricia Neal in S3E20 "The Maggie Storm Story"
- Leslie Nielsen in S1E23 "Three Thousand Suspects"
- Leonard Nimoy in S3E17 "Takeover"
- Warren Oates in S3E26 "Pressure"
- Carroll O'Connor in S3E2 "Power Play", S4E6 "Bird in the Hand"
- Susan Oliver in S2E15 "The Organization"
- Nehemiah Persoff as Jake "Greasy Thumb" Guzik in three episodes, S1E1 "The Empty Chair", S2E29 "The Seventh Vote", S4E12 "Doublecross", also S1E27 "Head of Fire- Feet of Clay", S2E4 "The Waxey Gordon Story", S3E18 "The Stryker Brothers"
- Robert Redford in S4E15 "Snowball"
- Madlyn Rhue in S1E27 "Head of Fire- Feet of Clay", S2E11 "The Tommy Karpeles Story"
- Cliff Robertson in S1E12 "The Underground Railway"
- Telly Savalas in S2E20 "The Antidote", S3E5 "The Matt Bass Scheme", S4E14 "The Speculator"
- Henry Silva as Little Charlie Sebastino in two episodes, S1E14 "The Noise of Death", S2E5 "The Mark of Cain", also S3E15 "The Whitey Steele Story"
- Barbara Stanwyck as Lt. Agatha Stewart in S4E8 "Elegy", S4E13 "Search for a Dead Man"
- Rip Torn as aka "Pittsburgh Phil" in S2E14 "The Masterpiece", S4E23 "The Spoiler"
- Claire Trevor as Ma Barker in S1E2 "Ma Barker and her Boys"
- Lee Van Cleef in S1E20 & E21 "The Unhired Assassin" part 1 & 2
- Jack Warden in S1E3 "The George 'Bugs' Moran Story", S1E27 "Head of Fire-Feet of Clay", S2E10 "The Otto Frick Story"
- David White in S1E10 "The Dutch Schultz Story", and S2E1 "The Rusty Heller Story", in the latter, co-starring with his future Bewitched co-star Elizabeth Montgomery
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 10:30pm from 1959 to 1962, switching to Tuesday evenings from 9:30 to 10:30pm for its final season (1962-63).
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.
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 November 10, 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., 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 two 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 (with Kevin Costner), Gangster Squad, Mulholland Falls, and others.The Untouchables is one of two series from 1959, the other being The Detectives, together credited with the concept of depicting a group of crime fighters. Previously, most TV crime dramas had followed one of two formats: either a duo composed of a stalwart police officer or detective and his trusty sidekick/partner (Dragnet, The Lineup), or a lone-wolf private eye or police detective (Peter Gunn, Richard Diamond, M-Squad).
The series was spoofed in the 1963 Merrie Melodies cartoon short "The Unmentionables", with Bugs Bunny playing the role of Elegant Mess, a crime fighter who is assigned to infiltrate a black market ring operated by Rocky and Mugsy. The series was also spoofed on an episode of the 1961-62 ABC-TV/Hanna Barbara cartoon series Top Cat entitled "The Unscratchables". NBC's "Saturday Night Live" spoofed The Untouchables several times during the 1970s, with Dan Aykroyd playing Eliot Ness.
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 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 Home Entertainment) have released all four seasons of The Untouchables on DVD in region 1, all digitally remastered from the original negatives and presented uncut, unedited and in its original broadcast order. The first two seasons have also been released in region 4.
On May 10, 2016, CBS DVD released The Untouchables- The Complete Series on DVD 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|
|The Complete Series||118||May 10, 2016||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. The complete series (all 4 seasons) was released on DVD in the UK on May 29, 2017 by Medium Rare Entertainment.
|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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