TV Show Draft – Round 10 – The Untouchables

We have reached the final round of the Hanspostcard TV Show Draft. I want to take a moment and thank Max from the Power Pop Blog for taking up the reigns and helping us continue this round in Hans’ absence. It truly has been a fun draft!

For my final pick, I have gone back to another classic – The Untouchables. The show ran from 1959 to 1963 and starred the great Robert Stack as Eliot Ness. It is hard to imagine anyone but Robert Stack in the role of Ness, but believe it or not, Desi Arnaz had originally offered the role to actor Van Johnson. Supposedly, he wanted double what they were offering to pay for the role, and it ultimately went to Stack.

When asked about the character some years later, Stack said, “Ness was a precursor of Dirty Harry. He was a hero, a vigilante in a time when breaking the law meant nothing because there was no law because Capone owned Chicago, he owned the police force.”

The show was based on the book of the same name written by Eliot Ness and Oscar Fraley. Brian De Palma would use the book as the basis for his 1987 film of the same name.

According to Wikipedia:

The series originally focused on the efforts of a real-life squad of Prohibition agents employed by the US Department of Justice 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 its courage and honesty; squad members 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, a two-part episode entitled “The Untouchables,” originally aired on CBS’s Westinghouse Desilu Placyhouse (and was introduced by Desi Arnaz) on April 20 and 27, 1959. Later re-titled “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. It was 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 dramatized 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, as usual for the series, contrary to fact). As the series continued, there developed a highly fictionalized portrayal of Ness and his crew as all-purpose, multi-agency crime fighters who went up against an array of 1930s-era gangsters and villains, including Ma Barker, Dutch Schultz, Bugs Moran, Lucky Luciano, and in one episode, Nazi agents. On many occasions during the series run, Ness would blatantly violate suspects’ Fourth Amendment rights with no legal ramifications.

The terse narration by gossip columnist Walter Winchell, in his distinctive New York accent, was a stylistic hallmark of the series, along with its ominous theme music by Nelson Riddle and its shadowy black-and-white photography, which was influenced by film noir.

The series produced 118 episodes which ran 50 minutes each. Though the book chronicled the experiences of Ness and his team 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 show came with some controversy. Italian-American groups protested over what they felt was an unfair presentation of their people as Mafia-types. “We are plagued with lawsuits after certain shows” one of the show’s producers Josef Shaftel explained, noting that the series was “heavily insured against libel.” With good reason – the first lawsuit against the show was instigated by Al Capone’s angry widow. She didn’t like the way her deceased husband was made into a running villain on the show and wanted a million dollars for unfair use of his image. (She lost.)

The FBI and J. Edgar Hoover were ticked off too. They were the ones who collared the famous names that Ness was supposedly busting each week on TV and they rightfully wanted credit for it. 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. Even the Bureau of Prisons took offense, complaining that the show made their treatment of Al Capone look soft.

The show itself was considered one of the most violent television shows of its time. Of course, by today’s standards it’s not that bad, but it was violent enough at the time to spark protests from parents who were worried about their children seeing this violence.

My Thoughts

This is one of those shows that I just love! Robert Stack’s delivery of almost every line as Ness is perfect. He won an Emmy in 1960 for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series for his portrayal of Ness.

Despite the fact that many of the stories are fictionalized to work the Untouchables into them, they are great! The show really was a forerunner to shows like The FBI, Crime Story, and even Hawaii 5-0. I love the film noir feel of it. Every episode plays like a good 50 minute movie.

The Lebanon Pennsylvania 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.” It really does hold up well.

As I have mentioned before, one of the things I love about these old shows is seeing big stars (who are not quite yet stars) show up. In regular roles throughout the series you could see Raymond Bailey (Mr. Drysdale on the Beverly Hillbillies), Barbara Stanwyck, Barbara Nichols, Ed Asner (Lou Grant), Harry Morgan (Col. Potter on MASH), and Henry Silva.

The list of guest star appearances is long and amazing. They include: Jack Elam, Paul Frees, Jim Backus, Sam Jaffe, Martin Balsam, John Dehner, William Bendix, Whitt Bissell, Charles Bronson, James Caan, James Coburn, Mike Conners, Robert Duvall, Peter Falk, Norman Fell, Alan Hale Jr., Brian Keith, Jack Klugman, Cloris Leachman, Jack Lord, Lee Marvin, Telly Savalas, Elizabeth Montgomery, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Redford, Ricardo Montalban, Rip Torn, Jack Warden, Dick York, Cliff Robertson and so many more!

“The Untouchables” Paul Picerni, Robert Stack circa 1961

You know, they play reruns of Law and Order on TV all the time. Many of the shows I have seen numerous times. I know what’s going to happen, yet I still watch (a lot like my previous picks – Perry Mason and Columbo). The Untouchables is a show that could very easily be rerun like a Law and Order. It is that good.

I love Walter Winchell’s narration

And I love the theme song!

It has been so much fun writing on some of my favorite shows. It’s been just as fun to read about the shows picked by other members of the TV Show Draft. I hope you have enjoyed my picks…

Thanks for reading!

Tune Tuesday – Time in a Bottle

One of the albums I picked up on vinyl to play on the record player my wife bought me for my birthday was Jim Croce Photographs and Memories – His Greatest Hits.

croce

This song hit #1 about 14 weeks after he died in a plane crash in 1973. He wrote this song on the night that he found out his wife was pregnant. They had been married 5 years and while visiting a fertility specialist, she found out she was pregnant. His wife said she will always remember the “mix of terror and delight” in his reaction when she told him. (Side note: They had a son named Adrian, who went on to achieve success as a songwriter. He was AJ Croce.)

The song appeared on his 1972 album – You Don’t Mess Around With Jim. The song was never intended to be released as a single. It was used in a TV movie about a woman with cancer entitled She Lives (starring Desi Arnaz Jr. and Season Hubley). The movie aired a few weeks before his death. TV stations were getting hundreds of calls wanting to know who sang the song and where they could buy it! The following day, the record label got orders for 50,000 copies of the album. The song became the 3rd posthumous #1 song of the rock era. The first was Otis Redding’s Dock of the Bay, and the second was Janis Joplin’s Me and Bobby McGee.

I always loved the simple guitar work in this song, as well as the use of a harpsichord. The harpsichord was kind of an experiment according to producer Tommy West in an article for Mixonline:

“The night before we were going to mix, I was watching a horror movie on TV, and something must have lodged in my brain because when I walked into the studio the next day, I saw this harpsichord sitting in a corner and got an idea. A jingle company had used it on a session and in walked a couple of guys from SIR [Studio Instruments Rental] to haul it away. I asked them to take a lunch break and told Bruce to put a couple of mics on it. He was whining that it was out of tune, but I asked him to let me try something. I added two tracks of harpsichord, told the movers they could remove it, walked into Jerry’s office and asked if I could borrow the electric bass that was sitting on his couch, played that on just the second verse and the outro, and that was that! Radio compression worked in our favor on that record. It made the harpsichord blend with the two guitars in an unusual way. But we thought this record would only be an album cut.”

I love the way it sounds and it really makes the song more haunting and lovely. For me personally, I completely understand how Jim feels. I want to bottle up every minute and spend it with my wife. Even when time is over, I want to have that extra bit bottled up to continue sharing special moments with her. She is the answer to my every wish, just like the song says. Yes, she is the one I want to go through time with – forever. This weekend, this song took on a whole new meaning to me … for reasons I will keep to myself for now.

“Time In A Bottle”

If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I’d like to do
Is to save every day till eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you

If I could make days last forever
If words could make wishes come true
I’d save every day like a treasure and then
Again, I would spend them with you

But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do, once you find them
I’ve looked around enough to know
That you’re the one I want to go through time with

If I had a box just for wishes
And dreams that had never come true
The box would be empty, except for the memory of how
They were answered by you

But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do, once you find them
I’ve looked around enough to know
That you’re the one I want to go through the time with