The Untouchables chronicles the campaign of Eliot Ness (Robert Stack), the young U.S. Prohibition Bureau agent, to smash the beer and booze empire of Al Capone in 1920s Chicago.
Prohibition is over. Al Capone is in jail. "Are we gonna be out of work?" one of Eliot Ness's Untouchables asks in "The Unhired Assassin," one of the 14 episodes that completes this vintage series' killer first season. Not to worry; from armored car heists and assassination attempts to bank robberies and extortion rackets, there is plenty to keep Ness (Robert Stack) and his elite mob-busting squad busy. Ness and company are the heroes of this series, but it's the criminals (and the great character actors who portray them) who maintain as tight a grip on our imagination as the mob had on the city of Chicago in the 1930s, when these episodes take place. Bruce Gordon's Frank Nitti, Capone's impulsive enforcer, is a particular piece of work, as witness his ordered hit on incorruptible Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak in the two-part "The Unhired Assassin," and the season-finale, "The Frank Nitti Story," which chronicles Nitti's own finale. A homina-homina Anne Francis guest stars in "The Doreen Maney Story" as Maney, a Tennessee girl gone bad as one half of "The Lovebirds," responsible for a series of deadly armored car heists. We don't get as up close and personal with Ness or his Untouchables, although we do learn that he is 35 and has a son. And the straight-arrow Fed is not above double-crossing a mob goon for information, or, in "Head of Fire, Feet of Clay," refusing to call an ambulance as one lies bleeding ("You got no damn heart!" he screams). Nearly five decades later, these episodes still play like gangbusters, with Walter Winchell's rat-a-tat narration, gritty language, blunt violence, and great hard-boiled dialogue ("Everybody's yellow except Johnny Fortunata"). The Untouchables was produced by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball's Desilu Studios. A fun extra on this four-disc set is "Lucy the Gun Moll," an episode from The Lucy Show, featuring Stack, very much in character, as a federal agent who recruits Lucy to impersonate a gangster's girlfriend. "You know who you look like?" Lucy asks him. "They kid me about it all the time down at headquarters," he replies. --Donald Liebenson