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'The Untouchables': The Fourth Season

Let's hear it for the gangsters and the little people.

The Untouchables

Distributor: CBS/Paramount
Cast: Robert Stack
Network: ABC
US release date: 2012-07-24

Walter Winchell's mechanical, high-pitched narration might run as follows: "It was a glorious run for Eliot Ness and his untouchable band of crime-busting T-men. They burst upon a thrill-seeking public in 1959 and blazed a rat-a-tat trail up the TV ratings with factually-challenged yet cinematically thrilling gangster tales of 1930s Chicago. It hit its dizzy heyday in the second season, when it was only Top Ten drama that wasn't a western. Sure, they pacified the Italian-Americans who protested the mobster stereotype. Sure, they weathered other nit-picking fault-finders. Sure, they aroused the ire of critics who were appalled by the supposedly gratuitous violence, although violent times called for violent stories. To quote the notorious Al Capone, accurately or not, a hit was a hit."

1962 brought the fourth and final season, now finally on DVD--30 episodes packaged into two volumes. By now the show had dropped out of the top 40 and no longer picked up Emmy nods. The handwriting was on the blood-spattered brick wall that symbolized the personality of Ness (Robert Stack) and his essentially interchangeable band of agents: William Youngfellow (Abel Fernandez), Enrico Rossi (Nick Georgiade, there to prove Italians weren't all criminals), Lee Hobson (Paul Picerni), and Jack Rossman (Steve London). Bruce Gordon often appeared as recurring ganglord Frank Nitti. Expanding the show's territory, Barbara Stanwyck appeared twice as Lt. Agatha Stewart of the Missing Persons Bureau. Dane Clark showed up twice as Dr. Victor Garr of the Public Health Service.

The show's strength in characterization always lay in the gangsters and the "little people" who get caught up in crime, and that's still what it does best in Season Four. If it's no longer quite the same trail-blazing burst of energy and cruelty that shocked and invigorated the prime time schedule, any season that kicks off with a tale called "The Night They Shot Santa Claus", about the machine-gunning of a department store Santa with unsavory secrets, hasn't quite lost its touch. The show may extoll justice, but it's a subversive and cynical ride.

Truly every episode is a festival of famous faces, including Harry Morgan (replacing Lloyd Nolan as Bugs Moran), Nehemiah Persoff (his recurring role as Jake Guzik), Lee Marvin, James Caan, Dan Daily, Dorothy Malone, Mike Connors, Carroll O'Connor, Edward Asner, Telly Savalas, Robert Duvall, Jack Klugman, Rip Torn, Robert Vaughn, Charles McGraw, Robert Redford, Michael Constantine, Pat Hingle, Claude Akins, Joyce Van Patten, Jeanne Cooper, Richard Conte, Harold J. Stone, and Ed Nelson. Directors include Walter Grauman, Paul Wendkos, Robert Butler, and Ida Lupino. Readers who crave more are directed to Tise Vahimagi's study The Untouchables (BFI Publishing, 1998) and of course to the now-complete series on disc.


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