Thursday, March 20, 2008

Did you know Robert Stack did stuff before Unsolved Mysteries? Colour me surprised...The Untouchables, Season 2 Volume 1 - out now (*******7/10)

Yes, I did know that Robert Stack did something other than Unsolved Mysteries. I mean, I've seen Airplane! and all. (I have also, unfortunately, seen BASEketball and Caddyshack II.) But had I been aware of The Untouchables TV series, I would have been more upset when Stack died in 2003. In fact, had I been aware of The Untouchables, I might even have noticed when he died in 2003. This man was Elliot Ness. Of course I, like most of us I assume, am mostly familiar with the role of Elliot Ness as played by Kevin Costner in the movie version. Al Capone is Robert DeNiro, the other Untouchables are Sean Connery and Andy Garcia...sure. That movie was great, and it (thankfully) was not a remake of the old TV show. It was a movie unto itself, although it did borrow pretty heavily from other sources - this show was one of those sources. Another source was, amazingly, The Battleship Potemkin, for that baby-carriage-on-the-stairs sequence. By the way, those of you interested in silent movies, the Movie Network here in Canada is showing a bunch of great ones really late at night. I recently put a couple on my PVR, and Potemkin is one of them. I've also come across Metropolis, Nosferatu, and a few others.

But enough about stuff that isn't The Untouchables from the late 50s and early 60s. Normally when I get an old TV show to review (the Mod Squad, or Family Ties) I watch a full four episodes and then skim the rest. I don't normally have six hours to sit down and watch a TV show that may or may not entertain me solely for the purposes of writing a review. I get the gist quickly. But this was one of the first times I have sat down and watched the entire series. Which explains why I am late with the review. (This should have been posted on Tuesday, when it was released.) But I have just watched 16 one-hour episodes of The Untouchables, because it's cool enough to do that.

The Untouchables plays fast and loose with actual history, while remaining firmly grounded IN that history. Which seems odd at first, but it makes sense the more you watch. Al Capone figures in a few episodes, here and there, but we would assume that Eliot Ness spent some time hunting other bad guys, and not just Capone. There are two episodes on this set that involve Capone, and his attempted escape from a train en route to Alcatraz. Although Capone was in real life a bootlegger, and the series is set in the 30s, they never specify exactly what it is that Capone has done to warrant such attention. Other than murder, of course. No word on how he makes his money. Also, people are constantly drinking in the series, which seems odd given that Ness was a prohibition-era tough guy. Robert Stack is perfect as that tough guy, a cop with no sense of humour whatsoever and a single-minded purpose in bringing bad guys to justice. Shooting people actually kills them, good guys are sometimes killed, and bad guys are genuinely bad. Sometimes cartoonish bad, (like the neo-Nazi episode) which is perfect, because Ness is cartoon-good. When he busts up a ring of drug runners, he's not just arresting the bad guys. No, those arrests are always the final step to completely eradicating the drug trade in Chicago, and sometimes the entire U.S. Perhaps THE WORLD!

The narrator is terrific too. Talking in the voice one would expect of a narrator in the thirties, that quick stiff delivery that describes the action moments after we have seen that exact same action take place. Is the narrator superfluous? Usually. Redundant? Almost always. Awesome? Most definitely. Every second episode features a really hot woman who is either evil or needs to be rescued, and the other episodes feature less attractive women who, at the time, I suppose were considered really hot. But the main reason to watch the show is the "untouchables" themselves. Busting open doors, raiding criminal dens, beating criminals into confessions and following up leads with no regard for procedure or common decency - this is the way TV shows were meant to be, until they got sadly sanitzed and became The A-Team in the late 70s and throughout the 80s. The Untouchables, Season 2 Volume 1 came out Tuesday courtesy of Paramount.

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