The Untouchables

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The Untouchables is the name of a 1947 book by Eliot Ness and Oscar Fraley, and also of two television series and a motion picture that it inspired. They deal with the experiences of Eliot Ness, a United States Treasury agent, as he fought crime in Chicago in the 1930s with the help of a special team of agents handpicked for their incorruptibility, nicknamed the Untouchables. The stories often revolved around his enmity with reputed mob boss Al Capone, and many focused on crimes related to Prohibition.

The original television series aired from 1959 to 1963 on ABC, starred Robert Stack as Eliot Ness and Neville Brand as Al Capone, and was narrated by Walter Winchell. The show drew harsh criticism from some Italian-Americans, who felt it promoted negative stereotypes of them as mobsters and gangsters.


A movie based on the television series was adapted by David Mamet in 1987, directed by Brian de Palma and starring Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness, Sean Connery as Irish beat cop Jim Malone, and Robert de Niro as Al Capone. Sean Connery received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film.

There are some discrepancies in the movie that should be noted. Eliot Ness is portrayed as a newcomer to Chicago, and married with two children. Ness was actually a native Chicagoan and was single when he put together the legendary crime-fighting team.

At the beginning of the movie, Capone tries to portray himself as a nice man who is simply giving the thirsty people of Chicago what they want. He even says to a reporter "There is violence in Chicago, but not by me and not by anybody I employ. You know why? Because it's not good business." But Capone actually supplied poor quality liquor at high prices, and backed up his business with hired guns. While being interviewed, a ten-year-old girl in another part of the city is killed by a bomb planted in a speakeasy.

Ness is put in charge of leading the crusade against Capone and his empire. His first task is to infiltrate a warehouse suspected of carrying crates of Canadian whiskey, but it turns out that the crates are full of Japanese umbrellas. Obviously members of Ness's squad have informed the mob. A photographer snaps a picture of the embarassing moment, turning Ness into a laughing stock in the newspaper.

A veteran beat cop named Jim Malone takes Ness under his wing and becomes his mentor, teaching him never to trust anyone in the corrupt police department. He tells Ness that he knows where to find the honest men who are just as determined to see Capone put out of business.

After hiring an Italian sharpshooter named George Stone and an accountant named Oscar Wallace, the Untouchables are complete.

Their first raid takes place in a post office whose storeroom is being used to store crates of illegal liquor. They manage to infiltrate the post office and nab all the workers without firing a single shot.

Ness soon becomes a formidable opponent to Capone's empire, angering the crimelord. After receiving a death threat from Capone's hitman Frank Nitti, Ness sends his wife and two children into hiding while he and the Untouchables continue the battle against Capone.

The team's greatest success comes when they intercept a shipment of liquor being smuggled across the U.S.-Canadian border. They also capture Capone's bagman George, who can testify against Capone and have him put away for 28 years.

An enraged Capone realizes he has no choice but to have George killed, a task he leaves to Nitti. Disguised as an elevator operator, Nitti kills both George and Oscar Wallace. With George dead, Ness thinks the case against Capone is lost, because the district attorney will not prosecute Capone without a witness. Malone convinces Ness to stall the D.A. from dropping the case and thinks that the corrupt police chief knows where the next best witness is.

The other witness is Capone's bookkeeper Walter Payne. But Capone plans on keeping Payne out of Ness's hands, and assigns his sideman Bowtie the task of escorting Payne out of Chicago.

After a fistfight, the corrupt police chief tells Malone that he knows where Payne is. Capone is determined to silence the Untouchables once and for all, and orders Malone killed. Nitti machine-guns Malone in the alley behind his house.

Ness and Stone arrive in time to find Malone mortally wounded and near death. Malone manages to give Ness the piece of paper that gives the time and train that Payne is travelling to Florida on. He demands of Ness "What are you prepared to do?" before he dies.

Ness and Stone find Payne at Chicago's Union Station, and also encounter several armed Capone hoods. A shootout occurs in which several innocent bystanders and all the Capone hoods are killed. Ness and Stone finally manage to apprehend Payne.

Capone is finally brought to trial. During the trial, Ness realizes that Nitti is carrying a gun in court and orders the bailiff to take him outside. Nitti empties the contents of his pockets onto a table. Ness takes Nitti's matchbook when he wants to smoke a cigarette, but when he lights the match he sees Malone's address written on the inside of the matchbook. Ness realizes that he is confronting his mentor's killer.

Nitti pulls his gun, shooting and wounding the bailiff. Ness pursues Nitti to the roof of the court building. Foolishly, Nitti attempts to escape by using a rope and tackle to climb down the side of the court building. The rope isn't long enough to get him to the street, and Nitti winds up taunting Ness to save him. Ness originally considers shooting Nitti to avenge Malone's murder, but common sense prevails and he saves the hitman.

But Nitti makes a smirking remark that Malone "died screaming like a stuck Irish pig". An enraged Ness seizes Nitti and throws him off the court building roof to his death. In real life, Nitti committed suicide in 1943 when it became apparent that he might go to prison.

Stone finds a piece of paper in Nitti's coat that lists the names of the jurors. It turns out they've all been bribed. At first, the judge, who is also probably on Capone's payroll, is hesitant to do anything. Ness uses the lessons he had learned from Malone to convince the judge to switch the juries, and Capone is convicted of income tax evasion and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Television series

The series had 118 episodes of 50 minutes. Though the book chronicled the experiences of Ness and his cohorts over a span of time ranging from 1929 to 1939, the overwhelming majority of episodes were set in the early 1930s (for example, one episode, You Can't Play This Number, begins with Winchell's words, "October 1932 ... the depths of the Depression"). A few episodes were set primarily in a locale other than Chicago (such as the one dealing with the shootout involving Ma Barker and her gang).

Other recurrent actors were Jerry Paris as Agent Martin Flaherty, Abel Fernandez as Ag. William Youngfellow, Nick Georgiade as Ag. Enrico Rossi, Anthony George as Ag. Cam Allison, Paul Picerni as Ag. Lee Hobson, Steve London as Ag. Rossman and Bruce Gordon as Frank Nitti.

Famous guest-stars in selected episodes:

Episode summaries of 1959-63 series

The Empty Chair 
Frank Nitti and Jake Guzik square off to see who will sit in Capone's seat of power with the crimelord behind bars. Meanwhile, Eliot Ness hires a new Untouchable, a barber named Enrico Rossi, who witnessed a hit by Nitti.
Ma Barker & Her Boys 
Ness and his men trace the notorious Ma Barker and two of her sons to their Florida hideaway, which results in a long and bloody gun battle.
The Jake Lingle Story 
After an ace reporter is murdered, a bounty hunter offers to give Ness information about mobster Barney Bershe as long as Ness gives him information on all that the Untouchables know about the reporter's murder. But Ness is suspicious of the bounty hunter's motives.
The George "Bugs" Moran Story 
Capone's archrival Bugs Moran decides to enter labor racketeering and tries to take over a truck drivers' union. In order to do so, he kidnaps the son of labor leader Larry Halloran, then illegally pressures the Patterson firm to sign a contract.
Ain't We Got Fun 
With the demise of Prohibition in the offing, Big Jim Harrington concocts a plan to get rid of his immense supply of whiskey.
The Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll Story 
Maverick gangster "Mad Dog" Coll stirs up the New York underworld and his arch rival Dutch Schultz by openly defying them. He decides to wreak havoc on underworld betting by shooting the Kentucky Derby favorite with a high-powered rifle during the famous race.
Mexican Stake Out 
A mobster facing testimony that could convict him kidnaps the witness and hides him away somewhere in Mexico. Ness and a special agent team up to rescue the witness. But then the agent is also kidnapped and Ness must find both the witness and the agent before the mobster's hitmen do.
The Artichoke King 
Mobster Ciro Terranova, known as "The Artichoke King", makes a gambit to shake down New York's fruit and vegetable dealers, and Ness must travel to the Big Apple to thwart this underworld plot.
The Tri-State Gang 
Ness declares war on a gang terrorizing Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. The gang leader not only hijacks trucks but also shoots their drivers. When the Untouchables manage to drive the gang apart, the leader kidnaps a bookie and holds him for ransom.
The Dutch Schultz Story 
Ness wants to prosecute Schultz for fraud. Schultz manages to get the trial moved to a small town, where he hopes to win the townspeople over to his side with promises of money and power. With Schultz temporarily out of the way, Lucky Luciano plots to take over New York.
You Can't Pick The Number 
A friend of one of the Untouchables gets mixed up in the numbers racket. When he gets in trouble with the syndicate leaders, the Untouchable tries to convince his friend and his son to turn evidence over to Ness. They refuse. The father is killed, and the son decides to lead Ness to the headquarters of the numbers racket.
Underground Railway 
A gangster escapes prison and uses a syndicated escape route to travel across the U.S. in the company of a woman pretending to be his wife. The gangster undergoes plastic surgery and dental alterations so that neither the Untouchables nor his underworld rivals can recognize him.
Syndicate Sanctuary 
When Judge Zabo, the reform candidate for mayor of a small Illinois city, is gunned down by the mob, Ness steps in to prevent Guido Morelli from turning the town into a wide-open sanctuary where gambling and vice proliferate.
The Noise of Death 
An aging mob boss squares off against a younger gangster, who has the support of Chicago's top bosses. Ness uses the elder gangster's predicament to his advantage and tries to convince him to confess before the mob kills him.
Star Witness 
An accountant retires from mob employment but is soon set up for a hit by his former boss because of his inside information. He agrees to testify and Ness and his men must guard the accountant and his family.
The Saint Louis Story 
A nightclub owner tries to take over that city's rival gangs by hijacking a U.S. mail truck and stealing over a million dollars. Ness must work with a corrupt police lieutenant who could be a key to stopping the nightclub owner.
One-Armed Bandit 
A former mobster sent to prison by Ness is released and vows to go straight. But another mobster blackmails him into an illegal gambling racket and then orders him to kill Ness.
Little Egypt 
A southern Illinois town is dominated by a mobster and his thugs. A new Untouchable manages to infiltrate the gang but is soon discovered sending messages via carrier pigeons.
The Big Squeeze 
Ness crosses swords with a crafty bank robber who refuses the company of women, saying they would ruin his business. But during a trip to Florida he meets a woman whom he falls in love with.
The Unhired Assassin 
Frank Nitti plans to assassinate Chicago's mayor, Anton Cermak. Cermak is shot and killed in Miami Beach while appearing alongside President Franklin Roosevelt, but it's not Nitti who fires the fatal bullets.
The White Slavers 
A Capone lieutenant in charge of prostitution recruits young girls from Mexico with promises of a better life in the U.S. When a truck carrying the girls is stopped, the women are ordered massacred. Ness joins forces with a local madam to battle the gangster, and soon the girls themselves organize a union to battle their evil employer.
Three Thousand Suspects 
A mobster is murdered in prison and Ness orders another convict to flush out the killers.
The Doreen Maney Story 
Loosely based on the story of Bonnie and Clyde, a man and a woman lead a notorious gang of bank robbers. Ness and his men capture and woman and take her cross country to jail.
Portrait of a Thief 
Despite the Depression, the illegal alcohol traffic in Chicago thrives, thanks in large part to Capone's mentor, Johnny Torrio, and two mysterious men who are not all that they seem.
The Underworld Bank 
The underworld sets up its own bank to finance illegal activities. A petty crook falls in love with the niece of a mob boss and plans to marry her. When he doesn't get the full cut of a heist, he decides upon revenge.
Head of Fire, Feet of Clay 
Ness attempts to put a boxing racketeer out of business. He recruits an old high school friend for assistance, but Ness's buddy may not be as honest as Ness thought.
The Frank Nitti Story 
Prohibition is coming to an end, and Nitti tries to shake down the motion picture industry. Threats and violence are used to keep theater owners at bay. When a fellow Untouchable is killed, Ness becomes more determined to end Nitti's career.

TV show trivia

  • Series created by Quinn Martin and produced by Quinn Martin, Jerry Thorpe, Leonard Freeman and Desilu.
  • The telephone number of Elliot Ness' office was STAte 1096, while Frank Nitti (who took over the Chicago mob after Capone went to federal prison for tax evasion) could be reached at WABash 1098 (in pre-World War II Chicago, phone numbers consisted of a name, the first three letters of which were actually dialled, along with the four numbers that followed). Most of the characters could be seen talking on candlestick-style telephones — an anachronism since during the time period in which virtually all of the episodes were set, the Model 202 telephone was in standard use.
  • The series is mentioned as a must-see show in the 1960 movie The Apartment.

Episode summaries of 1993-94 series

A short-lived revival television series aired in 1993-94, starring Tom Amandes as Eliot Ness and William Forsythe as Al Capone.

Episode One 
This pilot episode concentrates on the early years of the careers of both Eliot Ness and Al Capone. Ness becomes a federal agent and organizes the Untouchables after the son of one of his best friends is killed in a mob hit. Meanwhile, Capone takes over Chicago's underworld after Johnny Torrio's retirement and becomes the most powerful crimelord in the city.
Episode Two 
The struggle between Ness and Capone begins. One of Ness's men is killed and Ness arranges a surprise for Capone, to show him just how determined he is to drive him out of Chicago.
Episode Three 
Flashbacks detailing the early years of Ness and Capone.
Episode Five & Six 
Newspaper reporter Jake Lingle tries to accompany the Untouchables on their brewery raids but the team doesn't trust him because of his alleged ties to the underworld. When Lingle is killed by an underworld assassin, finding out who pulled the trigger becomes a case that even the Untouchables cannot solve.
Episode Seven 
Capone and his rival Bugs Moran compete to take over Chicago's labor fronts. Ness tries to convince one labor leader to remain neutral from the battle.
Episode Eight 
A young Untouchable infiltrates Capone's mob and falls in love with Capone's secretary. But soon she starts to suspect that he's a rival gangster and Capone thugs kidnap him. Ness and the others must rescue him.
Episode Nine & Ten 
A homicidal maniac is abducting and slaying Chicago's children. Ness and Capone, who are both fathers, become unlikely allies in finding out the killer's identity. Ness explores the world of college fraternities and Capone rounds up legions of Chicago vagrants, which brings misguided and dangerous results.
Episode Eleven 
Capone falls in love with a Chinese immigrant waitress named Song Wo and buys her from her father, making her a mob mistress. When she witnesses Capone killing rivals in a gun battle, Bugs Moran kidnaps her and turns her over to the police as a witness against Capone. Capone then feels he must order her death.
Episode Twelve 
Frank Nitti promotes a rookie boxer named Tommy Dolan to championship status by fixing his fights. Nitti also falls in love with the boxer's wife. Tommy realizes he is being used and enlists Ness as his ringside counsellor.
Episode Thirteen 
Ness and Capone battle for the soul of young Mikey Martelli, who is friends with both men. Mikey finds himself drawn more and more into Capone's world, and a rival mobster tricks Mikey into luring Ness into a deathtrap.
Episode Fourteen 
Zelda Sassoon, a friend of the Nesses who has been released from a psychiatric hospital, has a one-night stand with Capone. Thinking the crimelord loves her, she begins harassing him with phone calls and accosting his wife Mae. When these tactics don't work, she decides to kidnap Capone's boy Sonny.
Episode Fifteen 
Gina, sister of Untouchable Tony Pagano, comes to Chicago looking for work. A perverted pornographer named Krick kidnaps Gina, subjects her to drugs and forces her into prostitution. Pagano leaves the Untouchables to embark on a private search to rescue his sister.
Episode Sixteen 
Mike Malone wakes up one morning in a drunken haze and finds out he's the prime suspect in the murder of Bomber Belcastro, the mobster he suspects of killing his wife. Malone becomes a fugitive and hides from his fellow Untouchables.
Episode Seventeen 
Capone decides to muscle in on the numbers racket in Chicago's black neighbourhoods and Ness teams up with a prominent Negro community leader to stop him.
Episode Eighteen 
Capone does battle with a "moonshine whiskey" hillbilly family from Kentucky. When the three sons in the family are all killed, the father organizes a group of mountaineers and drives to Chicago to declare war on Capone.
Episode Nineteen 
Capone has Frankie Yale bumped off in New York and also executes traitorous henchmen Scalise and Anselmi. He receives a hostile reception from fellow gangsters in Atlantic City and agrees to be arrested on a minor charge in Philadelphia so that he can receive a light sentence until the heat dies down. But Ness hastens to the courtroom in hopes of giving his enemy an extended sentence.
Episode Twenty 
Capone does battle with a prison warden who is determined to make his stay in the big house as uncomfortable as possible. Capone gains the sympathy of the outside world by complaining about prison conditions and earns the respect of his fellow convicts. Ness meanwhile tries to bring down the remains of Capone's empire and attempts to stop Big Bill Thompson from getting another term as Chicago's mayor.
Episode 21 
The Capone mob makes an unsuccessful hit attempt on Ness and Catherine at a park during a peaceful Sunday. Ness strikes back and intercepts a shipment of whiskey at the Canadian border. Ness then agrees to fight with Capone in a prison boxing match.
Episode 22 
Nitti orders Snake, a killer from the Louisiana bayou, to assassinate Ness. Meanwhile, Capone dickers with a corrupt prison official in order to gain an early parole.
Episode 23 
Newspaper reporter Dorrie Greene, who has been accompanying Ness on his brewery raids, is bumped off by Capone hoods. Ness gets revenge by trying to convince Nitti and Capone that each of them are turning on each other. Ness and Catherine are happy when Anton Cermak wins the mayoral election.
Episodes 24 & 25 
Capone decides to spread his empire into Cuba by striking up a deal with a dictator. Ness and Malone journey there to thwart his plans and become mixed up with revolutionaries.
Episode 26 
Capone comes to New York to get revenge on Lucky Luciano and Dutch Schultz, who tried to muscle in on his rackets while he was in prison. Ness follows his nemesis to the Big Apple and encounters a glory-crazed Thomas Dewey, who fears that the Chicago agent will cost him publicity.
Episode 27 
Anton Cermak's determination to drive the gangsters from Chicago angers Capone and the crimelord decides to assassinate him. A gunman is sent to Miami, where Cermak will appear with President Roosevelt. Ness foils the hit, but a loner named Giuseppe Zangara fires his pistol, killing Cermak.
Episode 28 
Ness learns that a second Capone gunman and not Zangara was responsible for killing Cermak. Martial law is declared in Chicago and Ness confronts a maniacal general who is determined to take the law into his own hands.
Episode 29 
Ness is kidnapped, taken to a clinic, drugged and told that he has been in a coma for ten months. Capone is behind this plot, hoping that Ness will reveal where a vital witness against the mob is being held.
Episode 30 
A girlfriend of one of the Untouchables goes to Capone for aid to keep her father's delivery trucks from being hijacked. Part of Capone's price is enjoying her in bed and using the company's trucks to haul booze.
Episode 31 
A young boy and his two friends sneak into the Lexington Hotel, Capone's headquarters, in order to take Frank Nitti and Frankie Rio prisoner and get revenge on the hood who murdered the boy's father.
Episode 32 
Capone takes over a radio station and manages the career of a nightclub singer. When she witnesses a killing, he decides to have her taken out, forcing Ness to take her into protective custody.
Episode 33 
Malone pursues a German assassin named Stadt, who butchered his men during World War I. Stadt is determined to establish Nazism in Chicago.
Episode 34 
Malone goes on a rampage when mobsters massacre several boys at a communion breakfast. He meets an Italian widow and decides to marry her. He also announces his intention to leave the Untouchables, but he is gunned down on his wedding day and Ness has several suspects. The tension and pressure prove too much for Catherine Ness, and she seeks a separation.
Episode 35 
Ness escorts Cornelius Tucker, a young naive prisoner, to the penitentiary in Indianapolis in order to throw off the mob who think Ness is transporting a thug that Capone wants killed. Frankie Rio and his cohorts search for Ness, Quinlan and Tucker.
Episode 36 
When the Genna brothers move against Capone, Frankie Rio's kid brother, a college student, imitates his brother and opens fire on the Gennas, killing a restaurant waiter who is also married with a child. Ness arrests the younger Rio, and Capone seeks ways for the young man to go free.
Episode 37 
Catherine files for divorce, and Ness falls in love with a Capone call girl he's staking out.
Episode 38 
An old friend of Capone's is killed in a mob hit, and his boy Sonny is in a New York clinic with a serious illness. Capone visits his old neighbourhood, sees familiar faces and revisits an old flame. He wonders if life would have been different if he had made better choices and ponders if he can change his lifestyle.
Episode 39 
Tony Pagano is wounded by a Capone hitman, and Robbins, another Untouchable, pursues the fugitive killer and locates him in a small Kansas town, where he is held in the local jail. Frankie Rio and others arrive to free their friend, and Robbins must seek aid from an old style western gunman.
Episode 40 
Nitti goes behind Capone's back to attempt to muscle in on the railroad union. Meanwhile, coerced by higher ups, Robbins begins investigating on the sly the railroad racketeering. Both Ness and Capone begin to question the loyalties of their right-hand men.
Episode 41 
Indians raid a Capone-owned bank to get funds for their tribe. While investigating the robbery, Ness is kidnapped by John Little Horse and learns how the mob has been harassing native Americans.
Episodes 42 & 43 
Nitti breaks with Capone and tries to take over the mob. Meanwhile, Ness and the Untouchables try to convict Capone for income tax evasion. Nitti and Ness become unlikely allies, but then Nitti changes sides and tries to kill the bookkeeper Ness must locate in order to convict Capone.


Today in North America, an Untouchable is a slang noun for an incorruptible police officer.

External links

de:Die Unbestechlichen (1987) es:Los intocables de Eliot Ness fr:Les Incorruptibles (film, 1987) it:Gli Intoccabili ja:アンタッチャブル (映画)