Paramount // 1961 // 805 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // August 26th, 2008
"Eliot Ness. You're the man who spills Al Capone's beer."
Forget bootleggers. The new evil is drug lords. That prescient thought turns up in a couple of episodes in The Untouchables: Season 2, Volume 2 as the end of Prohibition is discussed.
Since The Untouchables skips back and forth in time, there's still some smashing of bottles, but Eliot Ness and his Untouchables go upscale to stop shipments of champagne and cognac instead of just the usual hooch.
The Untouchables is breaking away from strict adherence to Ness' famous book and going for drama.
The Untouchables: Season 2, Volume 2 features 16 episodes on four discs:
* "Augie 'The Banker' Ciamino": After Eliot Ness asks a citizenship class to help him stop a ring of "home cookers," the booze boss sends thugs to work over the teacher.
* "The Underground Court": A gangster fleeing both Ness and the mob links up with an eccentric widow (Joan Blondell) who has a "spooky game" of her own in mind.
* "The Nick Moses Story": After Nick's gunman hits a kid by mistake, Frank Nitti has a proposal for him: kill Ness or be killed himself.
* "The Antidote": A mob boss (Telly Savalas) is dying to find a renaturing agent to neutralize the chemicals the government's putting in alcohol. The chemist who finds it is killed, too.
* "The Lily Dallas Story": Mastermind Lily has the millionaire her gang snatched from a party murdered over her hubby's objections. That could cost Lily her child.
* "Murder Under Glass": A New Orleans businessman has a plan to drive up the price of heroin -- if the bulletproof glass in his car can get him past both Frank Nitti and Eliot Ness alive.
* "Testimony of Evil": Ness is trying to stop the O'Malley machine; the murders of a state's attorney candidate and a witness in Brian O'Malley's criminal trial don't help.
* "Ring of Terror": After a boxer's death in the ring, a blood test that shows morphine was slowing the pugilist down doesn't turn up in the report. Ness gets suspicious.
* "Mr. Moon": The hijacking of a truck carrying currency paper and an engraver's breakout from prison put Ness on the trail of the perfect counterfeiter currency -- and its distributor (Victor Buono).
* "Death for Sale": An opium dealer (James MacArthur) may be "just a kid," but his toys filled with the deadly drug show he's not playing around.
* "Stranglehold": What's a gangster to do when the seafood kingpin (Ricardo Montalban) orders a hit on his buddy?
* "The Nero Rankin Story": New mob boss Nero Rankin's secretary is concerned for his safety, but she should look out for herself after talking to Ness. The public's safety is also in doubt as Rankin's war on Ness rages on.
* "The Seventh Vote": Capone calls in a friend from abroad to settle a dispute between Frank Nitti and Jake Guzik (Nehemiah Persoff), but Ness is trying to keep the man out of the country.
* "The King of Champagne": As New Years' Eve approaches, a bottler (Michael Constantine) with a bright idea steps in to help keep the champagne flowing after a raid.
* "The Nick Acropolis Story": Nick (Lee Marvin) is tough enough to haggle with Frank Nitti, but his cowardly brother-in-law could bring him down by shooting a bookie.
* "90-Proof Dame": She's a burlesque queen turned countess, and she's married to a French cognac king who wants to keep his high-class liquor flowing into Chicago.
"Your laws don't mean as much as a bullet in my husband's leg," a woman tells Eliot Ness in "The Nero Rankin Story." It's an episode that sees Nero Rankin (Will Kuluva) having innocents gunned down in the streets of Chicago in a bid to put pressure from officials and the public on Ness. "Nero Rankin" is a standout because it focuses on the human toll of Ness' fight.
While strong guest acting will get your attention in most of these Untouchables episodes, this set of shows from 1961 has a few that marry that acting to strong writing for some really gripping hours. "Augie 'The Banker' Ciamino" ends with a thrilling chase as a witness (also Will Kuluva, interestingly enough) carries Ciamino's books through the street, trying to find Ness before the mob finds him. Michael Constantine (who also does double duty this season) shines as one of three plotters trying to become "The King of Champagne." James MacArthur (Danno on Hawaii Five-O) is memorable as a vicious yet childlike opium dealer in "Death for Sale." The battle between Nitti and Guzik electrifies "The Seventh Vote."
Two episodes have good lead performances but let minor characters steal the show. In "Mr. Moon," an engraver with an unusual addiction -- to classical music -- grabs attention, while "Stranglehold" gives some strong scenes to two little guys in the mob, one of whom is ordered to rub out the other.
While the writing's not quite up to some of these others, Joan Blondell's performance in "The Underground Court" is hard to forget. I also was impressed by Luther Adler's turn as a businessman who thinks he's safe from the mob -- until Ness puts a scare into him -- in "Murder Under Glass" and Lee Marvin, who followed up some tender romantic scenes with a classic tough guy showdown in "The Nick Acropolis Story."
I reviewed the two first-season sets, and I've noticed a change in the second season. Instead of going by the book, the writers concentrate on making a dramatic impact. While they keep hitting the same themes, like the lack of honor among thieves, they get to play with ideas a little more. It makes The Untouchables stronger dramatically.
While the show may have been tweaked, Ness is still the same singleminded lawman, a tough guy playing mind games with both gangsters and witnesses. There's still lots of machine gun fire, although I think there were more explosions in this set than in previous editions. While lots of people fall, it all looks bloodless, as usual.
The picture was grainy in places, with flecks and spots. Still, the cinematography was cool, using shadows and fog to make those backlot sets look varied and fresh. The sound was good, and Nelson Riddle's score is as exciting as ever.
No extras here. It might be nice to read, see, or hear about whatever real-life situations may have inspired the episodes, but it's lacking.
The Untouchables may have moved up to stopping champagne and cognac from flowing, but they're still smashing bottles. Some of you may think, "You've seen one booze raid, you've seen 'em all."
Others might be distracted by trying to figure out which sets are reused from the episodes before (or which actors are reused).
With more than half of the episodes in the set leaving a lasting impression, The Untouchables: Season 2, Volume 2 will definitely please fans of the series and could grab the attention of new ones, especially if, like me, you're looking for a 24-style fix of action.
Guilty of taking a lot of liberties with Eliot Ness' life story, but acquitted on grounds of good drama.
Review content copyright © 2008 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 805 Minutes
Release Year: 1961
MPAA Rating: Not Rated