Monday, October 6, 2008

Tommy guns, bootleggers and G-Men


I don't deal with TV that often on this blog, but if you jump back far enough, you can find shows worth talking about.

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One such show was The Untouchables, which ran on ABC from 1959 to 1963. The original pilot was very loosely based on the real-life activities of Treasury agent Eliot Ness, who battled Capone's illegal booze operations in Chicago in the early 1930s. Ness put together a small team of agents who were known to be honest--hence their collective nick-name.
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In later episodes, the TV show largely ignored reality, sending the Untouchables against both historical and fictional criminals in a series of violent, melodramtic stories. With good writing, beautiful black-and-white photography and a succession of skilled character actors guest-starring as the various gangsters, witnesses and victims, The Untouchables earned its status as a classic TV series.
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The series jumped almost hapharzardly back and forth through time, without paying attention to internal continuity. For instance, the character of reoccuring villain Frank Nitti (played by Bruce Gordon) was killed off near the end of the first season. But Gordon was back playing Nitti in the second season, through the simple method of having particular episodes set earlier in the 1930s.
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This caused some minor continuity glitches on occasion--a newer member of the Untouchables, for instance, might inexplicably appear in an episode set before he had actually joined the team. But for the most part, the lack of internal continuity was a strength rather than a weakness. It allowed the producers and writers to craft single-episode stories that can each stand on its own.
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And, of course, aside from good writing and characterizations, there were those really cool gun battles. I think I mentioned this a few months ago when talking about the Cagney movie G-Men, but it's worth saying again. There are few things more entertaining to watch than black-and-white movies or TV shows featuring 1930s-era tough guys blasting away at each other with tommy guns and revolvers.

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