The Untouchables (1959)

The Untouchables (1959) Information

The Untouchables is an American crime drama that ran from 1959 to 1963 on ABC. Based on the memoir of the same name by Eliot Ness and Oscar Fraley, it fictionalized Ness' 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 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.

Series overview

The stories often revolved around Ness' enmity with the criminal empire of Chicago mob boss Al Capone, and many focused on crimes related to Prohibition. The show stars Robert Stack as Eliot Ness and was narrated by Walter Winchell. Neville Brand played Al Capone in The Desilu Playhouse episodes, and in a few episodes of the regular series.

The pilot for the series - a feature length TV movie later marketed as "The Scarface Mob""?was first broadcast on January 22, 1959. It dealt with Ness's crusade to put Al Capone in prison. The weekly series first began broadcasting on October 1959, with the plotline commencing from the power struggle within the mob to establish the new mob boss in Capone's absence (for the purpose of the TV series, the new boss was Frank Nitti, although this was contrary to fact). In the pilot movie the mobsters generally spoke with a Chico Marx-style Italian accent, but this idiosyncratic pronunciation was dropped when the series itself debuted. Early in the first season of the series, perhaps also in response to some public criticism, the character of "Agent Rossi", identified as a person of Italian extraction, was added to Ness's team as a driver and later became a full agent, despite Rossi having no previous training or experience in law enforcement. Rossi was given a back-story "? that of a barber who was deeply traumatized when one of his customers (a mobster) and a young co-worker (a manicurist named Tessie DiGiovanna) were machine-gunned by mobsters sent by Frank Nitti; before one of the mobsters could escape, Enrico attacked and killed him by slashing him with a straight razor; he later testified against Nitti.


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 sued the show for $1,000,000 for its unauthorized use of Al Capone's likeness for a profit.

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 American Broadcasting Company, (ABC) New York headquarters, they had come together to urge the public boycott of L&M, (Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company) products, and its Chesterfield King cigarettes, which sponsored "The Untouchables". They expressed displeasure with the program, which to them vilified Italian-Americans, stereotyping them as the singular criminal element. [2] 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 that they had bowed to intimidation, announced it would drop its sponsorship of "The Untouchables", maintaining their decision was based on network-scheduling conflicts. The following week, the head of the production studio 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 Untouchables was considered one of the most violent television shows when it aired and was described by the National Association for Better Radio and Television "not fit for the television screen".

Episodes and cast

The series had 118 episodes which ran 50 minutes each. Though the book it was based upon chronicled the experiences of Ness and his cohorts over a span of time ranging from 1929 to 1935, the overwhelming majority of the television episodes were broadcast in no chronological timeline, but were set 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"). 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.

Quinn Martin produced the show's first season, which contained elements that could be found in future TV series produced by Martin.

The other Untouchables were played by:

  • Keenan Wynn as Agt. Joe Fuselli (pilot episode only)
  • Abel Fernandez as Agt. William Youngfellow (not "Youngblood")
  • Nick Georgiade as Agt. Enrico "Rico" Rossi
  • Paul Picerni as Agt. Lee Hobson, (2nd season on)
  • Steve London as Agt. Jack Rossman*
  • Jerry Paris as Agt. Martin Flaherty, (1st season only)
  • Chuck Mitchell Hicks as Agt. LaMarr Kane (1st season only)
  • Anthony George as Agt. Cam Allison, (1st season only)
Other recurrent actors were:

  • Bruce Gordon as Frank Nitti
  • Frank Dekova as Jimmy Napoli
  • Neville Brand as Al Capone
  • Announcer: Les Lampson - Very distinctive dramatic voice.
  • Narrator: Walter Winchell
* Contrary to popular belief, 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 1 series episode, "The Empty Chair", not from Season 2 on as is commonly reported.

Guest stars

A significant number of guest-stars from The Untouchables were and became major motion picture and television stars:

  • Luther Adler in episodes 2.3 "Nicky" 2.22 "Murder Under Glass" 3.17 "Takeover"
  • Claude Akins in episodes 1.20 "The Unhired Assassin" part I 3.28 "The Monkey Wrench" 4.23 "The Spoiler"
  • Edward Asner in episodes 3.16 "The Death Tree" 4.1 "The Night They Shot Santa Claus" 4.8 "Elegy" 4.13 "Search for A Dead Man"
  • Martin Balsam in episodes 3.3 "Tunnel of Horrors" and 3.21 "Man in the Middle"
  • John Banner as Franz Koenig in episode 3.17 "Takeover"
  • William Bendix as Wally Legenza in episode 1.9 "The Tri-State Gang"
  • Scott Brady as Floyd Gibbons in episode 4.11 "The Floyd Gibbons Story" (1963)
  • Charles Bronson in episode 3.16 "The Death Tree"
  • Victor Buono as Melanthos Moon in episode 2.25 "Mr. Moon" and as Parnise Surigao in episode 3.13 "The Gang War"
  • James Caan as Keir Brannon in episode 4.10 "A Fist of Five"
  • James T. Callahan as Miles Henning episode 4.4 "The Economist"
  • Dyan Cannon as Mavis Carroll in episode 3.14 "Silent Partner"
  • James Coburn in episode 2.16 "The Jamaica Ginger Story"
  • Steve Cochran in episodes 2.7 "The Purple Gang", and 2.32 "90- Proof Dame"
  • Mike Connors in episode 4.7 "The Eddie O'Gara Story"
  • Richard Conte in episodes 2.15 "The Organization" and 4.3 "The Chess Game"
  • Russ Conway in episodes 2.12 and 2.13 "The Big Train", 2.25 "Mr. Moon"
  • Dan Dailey as Dexter Bayless in episode 4.9 "Come and Kill Me"
  • Francis De Sales in episodes 1.23 "Three Thousand Suspects" and 2.9 "The Larry Fay Story"
  • Robert Duvall in episode 4.17 "Blues for a Gone Goose"
  • Peter Falk in episode 1.26 "The Underworld Bank" and as Nate Selko in episode 3.1 "The Troubleshooter"
  • Herbie Faye in episode 3.12 as Lefty in "Fall Guy"
  • Anne Francis as Doreen Maney in episode 1.24 "The Doreen Maney Story"
  • James Gregory as Walter Trager in episode 3.7 "Jigsaw"
  • Harry Guardino in episodes 1.17 "One Armed Bandits" and 2.19 "The Nick Moses Story" and 3.25 "The Contract"
  • Clu Gulager as Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll episode 1.6
  • Murray Hamilton in episodes 2.11 "The Tommy Karpeles Story" 3.1 "The Troubleshooter" 3.15 "The Whitey Steele Story" 4.3 "The Chess Game"
  • Darryl Hickman episodes 1.11 "You Can't Pick the Number" 3.26 "Pressure"
  • Steven Hill as Jack 'Legs' Diamond in episode 2.2 and as Joseph December Jr. in episode 3.22 "Downfall"
  • Richard Jaeckel as Hans Eberhardt in episode 2.10 "The Otto Frick Story"
  • Conrad Janis as Sticks in episode 2.5 "The Mark of Cain"
  • I. Stanford Jolley as Pete Laffey in episode 4.21 "The Man in the Cooler"
  • Robert Karnes (also a co-star of The Lawless Years) in episodes 2.9 "The Larry Fay Story" and 4.15 "Snowball"
  • Brian Keith in episode 2.16 "The Jamaica Ginger Story"
  • George Kennedy as Birdie the Mute in episode 2.30 "The King of Champagne"
  • Jack Klugman as Morton Halas in episode 3.6 "Loophole" and as Solly Girsch in episode 4.19 "An Eye for an Eye"
  • Will Kuluva in episodes 2.5 "The Mark of Cain" 2.17 "Augie the Banker Ciamino"
  • Martin Landau as Larry Coombs in episode 3.6 "Loophole" and as Jerry Fanning in episode 1.7 "Mexican Stake-Out"
  • Cloris Leachman as Mrs. Mailer in episode 3.7 "Jigsaw" and episode 3.21 "Man in the Middle"
  • Robert Loggia as Leo Mencken in episode 3.17 "Takeover"
  • Jack Lord in episode 1.3 "The Jake Lingle Killing"
  • Lee Marvin in episodes 2.31 "The Nick Acropolis Story" and 3.19 "Element of Danger" and 4.10 "A Fist of Five"
  • Gavin MacLeod in episodes 1.9 "The Tri State Gang" 2.12- 2.13 "The Big Train" 3.6 "Loophole" and as William "Porker" Davis 3.21 "Man in the Middle"
  • Ricardo Montalbán as Frank Makouris in episode 2.27 "Stranglehold"
  • Elizabeth Montgomery as Rusty Heller (for which she received an Emmy Award nomination) (1960) episode 2.1
  • Vic Morrow as Vince Shirer in episode 3.20 "The Maggie Storm Story"
  • Barry Morse as Michel Viton in episode 2.30 "The King Of Champagne" and as Larry Bass in episode 4.18 "Globe Of Death"
  • Patricia Neal as Maggie Storm in episode 3.20 "The Maggie Storm Story"
  • Leslie Nielsen as Tom Sebring in episode 1.23 "Three Thousand Suspects"
  • Leonard Nimoy as Packy in episode 3.17 "Takeover"
  • Lloyd Nolan as Bugs Moran in episode 1.4 "The George 'Bugs' Moran Story"
  • Simon Oakland in episodes 3.11 "The Canada Run" and 3.22 "Downfall" and 4.27 "The Jazz Man"
  • Carroll O'Connor in episodes 3.2 "Power Play" and episode 4.6 "Bird in the Hand"
  • Nehemiah Persoff as Jake Guzik in three episodes, episode 1.1 "The Empty Chair", episode 2.29 "The Seventh Vote" & episode 4.12 "Doublecross" also episodes 1.27 "Head of Fire, Feet of Clay" and 2.4 "The Waxey Gordon Story" and 3.18 "The Stryker Brothers"
  • Gregg Palmer as Paul Di Marco in episode 2.12 "The Big Train: Part 1"
  • Robert Redford as Jack Parker in episode 4.15 "Snowball"
  • Cliff Robertson as Frank Halloway in episode 1.12 "The Underground Railway"
  • Bing Russell in episodes 1.15 "Star Witness"
  • Telly Savalas in episodes 2.20 "The Antidote", 3.5 "The Matt Bass Scheme" and 4.14 "The Speculator"
  • Henry Silva as "Little Charlie Sebastino" in episodes 1.14 "The Noise of Death" 2.5 "The Mark of Cain" and as Joker in episode 3.15 "The Whitey Steele Story"
  • Barbara Stanwyck in episodes 4.8 "Elegy" and 4.13 "Search for a Dead Man"
  • Jan Sterling as Francie McKay in episode 2.8 "Kiss of Death Girl"
  • Harold J. Stone in episodes 2.1 "The Rusty Heller Story" 2.11 "The Tommy Karpeles Story" 2.24 "Ring of Terror" 3.10 "Hammerlock" 3.26 "Pressure" 4.24 "One Last Killing"
  • Suzanne Storrs in "Jack "Legs" Diamond" and "Vincent 'Mad Dog' Coll"
  • Frank Sutton in episodes 3.18 "The Stryker Brothers" 3.25 "The Contract" 4.14 "The Speculator" 4.22 "The Butchers Boy"
  • Roy Thinnes as Denny Brannon in episode 4.10 "A Fist of Five" and as Red Thomas in episode 4.19 "An Eye for an Eye"
  • Rip Torn as Harry Strauss aka "Pittsburgh Phil" in episode 2.14 "The Masterpiece" and 4.23 "The Spoiler"
  • Claire Trevor as Ma Barker in episode 1.2 "Ma Barker and Her Boys"
  • Lee Van Cleef in episode 1.20 "The Unhired Assassin"
  • Jack Warden in episodes 1.3 "The George 'Bugs' Moran Story and 1.27 Head of Fire, Feet of Clay and 2.10 "The Otto Frick Story"
  • Jack Weston as Ciro Terranova in episode 1.8 "The Artichoke King"

Broadcast history

The series aired on Thursdays during its first three seasons and was switched to Tuesday evenings for its final season. It aired at 9:30 Eastern each season except for the third season, when it was placed at the 10 p.m. slot after the failed sitcom Margie, starring Cynthia Pepper.


Main article: List of The Untouchables (1959 TV series) episodes
In 1997, the episode "The Rusty Heller Story" was ranked #99 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.

DVD releases

DVD releases

CBS DVD (distributed by Paramount) have released the first three seasons of The Untouchables on DVD in Region 1. The first two seasons have also been released in Region 4. Season 4 volumes 1 & 2 were released on July 24, 2012 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

Region 2

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.

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
Season 1 28 August 18, 2008
Season 2 32 September 14, 2009
Season 3 28 September 20, 2010
Season 4 30 July 24, 2012

Further reading

  • Tucker, Kenneth. Eliot Ness and the Untouchables: The Historical Reality and the Film and Television Depictions. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2000. ISBN 0-7864-0772-7
  • Vahimagi, Tise. "The Untouchables" London, England: BFI Publishing, 1998. ISBN 0-85170-563-4 (Detailed study of the series and episode guide)

This webpage uses material from the Wikipedia article "The_Untouchables_%281959_TV_series%29" and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reality TV World is not responsible for any errors or omissions the Wikipedia article may contain.



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