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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Gangster > Crime > FBI > Police > The Untouchables – Season One, Volume One

The Untouchables – Season One, Volume One

 

Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C-     Episodes/Film: B

 

 

When Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball took over RKO Pictures and turned it into their personal TV production company Desilu, many were unhappy despite the sad state of the studio at the time.  Their I Love Lucy was a huge hit and their Westinghouse-sponsored Desilu Playhouse was one of the top anthology series on the air, still legendary by even today’s standards.  From that series came their first dramatic hit, and the Gangster Drama The Untouchables put Desilu further on the map.

 

Even though other hit shows were being made there, this was Desi’s project and it went off spectacularly well.  Robert Stack became a huge star playing Eliot Ness, the man who eventually brought Al Capone down, but the series shows that it was not his only case and added a new chapter to the big picture each week.  Debuting the year after Film Noir ended in 1959, the show was modeled on the early semi-documentary police procedurals that informed with their “voice of God” stance and also served as propaganda.

 

To make their show stand out, instead of an unknown or police/official voice, Desilu struck a coup by getting the great journalist Walter Winchell to narrate each show.  It made the show more energetic and gave it more possibilities as a result.  Set in 1930s Chicago, the hour-long series was a hit immediately and this Season One, Volume One 4-DVD set offers the following episodes:

 

1)     The Scarface Mob (two-part episode/was theatrical film release too)

2)     The Empty Chair

3)     Ma Barker and Her Boys

4)     The George "Bugs" Moran Story

5)     The Jake Lingle Killing

6)     Ain't We Got Fun?

7)     The Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll Story

8)     Mexican Stakeout

9)     The Artichoke King

10)  Tri-State Gang

11)  The Dutch Schultz Story

12)  You Can't Pick the Number

13)  Underground Railway

14)  Syndicate Sanctuary

15)  The Noise of Death

 

 

Considering how far Gangster tales have gone all the way up to The Sopranos, these shows hold up incredibly well, are well cast, written and directed.  That would be a high hallmark of all Desilu Productions and this is only the first half of that landmark season.  Stack was better here than this critic remembered, having long since sent up his image in movies, voicing the Beavis & Butt-Head film and becoming one of the first icons of reality TV with Unsolved Mysteries.  In real life, he could act.

 

Then there are these new 1.33 X 1 black and white transfers, which are some of the best black and white we have seen to date with nice depth and detail.  They never looked this good and there is even an old Happy Days episode where the Cunninghams are watching a show on their TV.  That was optically printed.  Sure, there are soft moments and the prints are not 100% perfect, but they are fart more impressive for their age than you would expect.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is also decent for its age, cleaner than expected as well.  All extend to The Scarface Mob, the two-parter given a theatrical release and looking good here.

 

Although there are no formal extras, the Arnaz introductions on the Desilu Playhouse broadcasts of those first shows are in tact on the prints here.  That suggest that there has to be more in the vault on these shows and they will hopefully surface on future volumes of the series.  I wonder if the Gangster fandom that now exists will catch on to these shows.  There’s enough to be impressed with here.

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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