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Series / The Untouchables

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The heroes of the original series. Left to right: Eliot Ness (Robert Stack), Lee Hobson (Paul Picerni), Jack Rossman (Steve London), William Youngfellow (Abel Fernandez), Rico Rossi (Nicholas Georgiade).

A live-action crime series, produced by Desilu Studios and airing on ABC from 195963, based on the exploits of (Real Life) 1920s Chicago Prohibition agent Eliot Ness and his group of loyal agents, nicknamed "The Untouchables" because of their refusal to be bribed or intimidated by the Mob as many others were at the time. Most notable for pursuing bootleggers and gangster Al Capone (and eventually arresting him — on tax evasion charges).

Later adapted as a 1987 feature film, which itself inspired a second television series in 1993, starring Tom Amandes as Ness.

The original TV show contains examples of:

  • All for Nothing: The two-part "The Unhired Assassin" ends with the man Ness was protecting being murdered anyway, only minutes after stopping another assassin from killing him. What rubs it in more is that he wasn't the intended target, because the second shooter was aiming for Roosevelt and missed.
  • Anachronic Order: Each episode jumps around back and forth between the years 1929 through 1934, as explained by Narrator Walter Winchell. The best example is Dragon-in-Chief Frank Nitti who appeared in 28 episodes through all 4 seasons despite being Killed Off for Real near the end of the first season in an episode set in 1934. In all his remaining episodes, the date is set before his death.
  • Ascended Extra: Frank Nitti. He appeared infrequently in the first season and was presented as a Big Bad Wannabe who had very little actual influence or power compared to those above him (notably in the season finale, where he's marked for death and then killed off). Later seasons have him appear far more often, and he's seemingly in charge and the decision maker above everyone else in Chicago.
  • Big Bad: Capone, even after he is incarcerated, remains the puppet master.
  • Black-and-White Morality: The brave, heroic Untouchables vs. the murderous mobsters.
  • Bond One-Liner: Delivered in typical hardboiled fashion, Ness uses these with enough subtlety to avoid narm.
  • By-the-Book Cop: No antiheroes here.
  • Chiaroscuro
  • Chicago: The Windy City at its windiest.
  • Clean Up the Town
  • Cop Show
  • Disc-One Final Boss: Al Capone in the two-part pilot "The Scarface Mob".
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Nitti, who runs The Syndicate in Capone's absence and appears in way more episodes than his boss. (28 total, while Capone is only in 2 two-part episodes.)
  • Dramatization: Several episodes would, in their credits, run the (dis)claimer: Tonight's Episode was based on the book by Elliot Ness & Oscar Fraley, although some events were fictionalized.
  • The Family That Slays Together: "Ma Barker and Her Boys" pits Federal Agent Eliot Ness against the Barker clan, and depicts Ness as leading the assault on Ma Barker and her sons at their Florida hide-out. In this version, Lloyd, Fred and Doc are all present at the final shootout.
  • The Fettered: Ness.
  • Film Noir: Or television noir, more accurately.
  • Framing Device: Winchell's narration often gives the impression of watching a visual interpretation of a printed newspaper article.
  • The Great Depression
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Cam dies saving Ness in "The Frank Nitti Story".
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Naturally. Played totally without irony in the series. Doesn't stop the criminals from making routine offers, though.
  • Made of Explodium: If there is a car crash, it's going to explode. No exceptions, no matter how minor the accident is.
  • Misplaced Accent: Capone speaks in a heavy Italian accent, despite the fact that the real Capone was born in Brooklyn and spent his entire life in the United States.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: The Tri-State Gang kills everyone they hijack to keep anyone from identifying them. What's cruel is that they trick the drivers into thinking they'll let them live by covering their faces with a hood and chaining them to a tree, only to shoot them dead before they leave. What eventually leads to their downfall is that, in one case, they were too quick to leave the scene to check whether the driver was actually dead so he was able to give the license plate of the gang's truck later.
  • Narrator: Each episode is narrated by gossip columnist Walter Winchell.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: In "The Unhired Assassin", the husband and owner of a dry cleaning shop gives a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown to the hoodlum responsible for collecting protection money in that area (at that time he was just bothering his wife, though). Said hoodlum doesn't go away but just comes back a few days later and murders him, and by using a kid to do so at that. The only saving grace is that he's immediately caught and will more than likely be sentenced to death in one way or another, whether by prison or Nitti.
  • No Sense of Humor: "Don't you ever smile, Mr. Ness?"
  • Police Procedural: Somewhere between this and Cop Show.
  • Pretty in Mink: One episode involves a stolen sable coat.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Mobsters who betray or sell out who they work for tend to be paid off in this way by their new employers, because if they turned so easily against their former bosses then it's likely they'd eventually do so with them as soon as a better offer came along.
  • The Roaring '20s
  • The Show of the Book: Based on Ness's semi-fictional memoir.
  • So Once Again, the Day Is Saved: the basic gist of Winchell's voiceover, although done rather cleverly.
  • Starter Villain: The Pilot Movie was about Al Capone's arrest.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: An interesting reverse case in "Arsenal". A mobster comes to feel for his captives after they treat him as more than an animal, going so far later on as to try and save them when he's ordered by Nitti to execute them. He very quickly dies in the attempt, at the hand of the Untouchables no less.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Most of the episodes do involve Real Life criminals and crimes of the period...the overwhelming majority of which Ness had nothing to do with.
  • Vigilante Execution: Averted, because the plots of many episodes would be resolved in a matter of minutes if anyone had the nerve to just wipe out whatever set of gangsters is causing problems. It's generally always Ness and Co. that take them down, but not before they've caused a lot of damage.
  • Workaholic: Implied. Although we see the criminal of the week's personal lives, the show never follows the Untouchables home. Judging by the late-night hours Ness pulls, he certainly is one (not to mention the real Ness).
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Done by several gangsters against each other (usually to not have to share), but most often Nitti's favorite way to pay off people. Unsurprisingly, Nitti himself falls victim to this in "The Frank Nitti Story".
  • You Look Familiar: typically of the era.

The 1990s TV show contains examples of:

  • Guns Akimbo: Subverted when the senior member confronts a villain who framed him. The villain tries to resist with twin tommy guns. However, the idiot doesn't realize that given how heavy the gun type is, he can't even keep them level and so doesn't do much more than shoot up the floor in front of him with a lot of noise. For his part, the Untouchable simply shoots the villain with two carefully aimed pistol shots.
  • Meek Townsman: An episode in which the Untouchables and some of Capone's men go to Kansas, and the mayor is the Meek Townsman. He makes a speech, talking as if he's saying something noble, but he's telling his townspeople not to help Eliot Ness and co. fight the gangsters: "live to farm another day. To father, another day."
  • Even Evil Has Standards: "A Tale of Two Fathers" sees Ness searching for a Serial Killer who targets children. This is also beyond the pale for Capone, who promptly sends his boys out on the street to hunt the man down.