Season four was the end of the line for the once popular The Untouchables, and while the show tried to mix things up a bit in what turned out to be its last season in the hopes of extending its ABC network run, the changes (more human-centered stories, a little less overt violence, big stars playing roles other than gangsters, a new night on the schedule) didn’t increase the size of the audience. The Untouchables proved to be one of those fluke hits that burns white hot for a short time and then fades relatively quickly.
The Untouchables: Season 4, Volume 1
Directed by Alex March et al
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 700 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English
Release Date: July 24, 2012
Review Date: July 22, 2012
As in the previous three seasons, Robert Stack plays Eliot Ness, clean-cut head of an incorruptible federal task force known as “The Untouchables,” and Paul Picerni plays his second-in-command Lee Hobson. Nicholas Georgiade as Agent Enrico Rossi also figures solidly in each week’s stories. For most of the episodes, the formula remains the same: criminal bosses controlling some lucrative portion of the Chicago crime scene have early success against the cops and feds. When the Untouchables spring into action, the momentum shifts and the underworld gets desperate leading to a bringing down of the operation that was the focus for the week’s program. Whether it’s heroin, illegal gambling, kidnapping, bootleg whiskey, champagne, and beer, or book making, Ness’ no-nonsense approach to arrest or (very often) elimination keeps the streets safe for law-abiding citizens for another day. Covering the years 1929-1933 (though the stories do not occur in chronological order), many of the episodes from the first half of this final season center on bootlegging with a number of references made to Franklin Roosevelt’s intention to repeal Prohibition if elected, thus costing the mob a great percentage of their revenues.
Robert Stack earned an Emmy for his performance during the show’s first season, and though he was nominated for his second season work, he received no nominations for the show during either its third or fourth seasons though he gave his same reliable if humorless performance in every episode. The guest stars for this first half of the season, however, rank among the most celebrated and awarded of any dramatic series of the period with some of the greatest character actors in the business turning up as star crooks or victims: Ruth White, Nita Talbot, Edward Asner, J.D. Cannon, Anne Jackson, Murray Hamilton, Barbara Barrie, Michael Constantine, Richard Conte, Ned Glass, Frank Gorshin, Albert Paulsen, Dane Clark, Elizabeth MacRae, Carroll O’Connor, Hershel Bernardi, Harvey Korman, Elisha Cook Jr., John Gabriel, Mike Connors, Peggy Ann Garner, John Larch, Hope Summers, Dan Dailey, Lee Marvin, Phyllis Coates, James Caan, Roy Thinnes, Stuart Erwin, Joseph Campanella, Dorothy Malone, Scott Brady, Harry Morgan, Nehemiah Persoff, Hank Patterson, Sheree North, Telly Savalas, Frank Sutton, and Bruce Gordon (as Frank Nitti). In two separate episodes, Barbara Stanwyck guest stars as the head of the bureau of missing persons whose cases tie in with Ness’s cases. In each, Edward Asner guest stars as her assistant (after playing a bad guy earlier in the season) and Virginia Capers guests as her secretary. One wonders if possibly this wasn’t some kind of backdoor pilot for Stanwyck since her first TV series had ended two seasons prior to this one.
Here is the list of the first fourteen episodes from season four contained on four DVDs in the set:
1 – The Night They Shot Santa Claus (a rare stumble for Ness and company)
2 – The Cooker in the Sky
3 – The Chess Game
4 – The Economist
5 – The Pea
6 – Bird in the Hand
7 – The Eddie O’Gara Story
8 – Elegy
9 – Come and Kill Me
10 – A Fist of Five
11 – The Floyd Gibbons Story
12 – Doublecross (an elaborate mob workaround makes a tough puzzle for Ness and the best of this set’s episodes)
13 – Search for a Dead Man
14 – The Speculator
These fifty year-old programs are framed in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, but you’d swear they were newer than that with the snappy black and white picture that is offered with most of the episodes. Blacks are richly, impressively deep, and whites never bloom. Yes, there are some occasional white specks, but sharpness and contrast are very impressive. There is moiré present in some of the patterned suits the men wear (less than you might think and the tweed and herringbone coats never flash), but the minor moiré doesn’t diminish image quality to any great degree. Of course, when vault footage is cut into an episode, it’s usually of noticeably poor quality compared to the pristine quality of the (then) newly shot scenes. Each episode has been divided into 7 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio track is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. Sound is clear and dialogue easily understandable for the most part though you may find you want to increase the volume level slightly especially for certain episodes like “The Eddie O’Gara Story.” Walter Winchell's rat-a-tat narration is always discernible. The sound quality is very typical of the era of the series’ original production with decent fidelity in the midrange but nothing very distinguishing in the high and low ends of the sound pool.
Apart from some promo trailers for Perry Mason: 50th Anniversary Edition, Barnaby Jones, Cannon, and Mannix, there are no bonus features.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Fans of The Untouchables will anticipate adding another box to their collection with only one additional half season set left (released concurrently with this box set). Video quality is generally impressive and is sure to be welcomed by the show’s many admirers.