Wed, 03/10/2010

"The Untouchables" Aired a Potent Series Episode Fifty Years Ago Today

As so aptly noted by The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows: "With the chatter of machine-gun fire and the squeal of tires on Chicago streets, The Untouchables brought furious controversy— and big ratings— to ABC in the early 1960s." This was no more evident than in the March 10, 1960 episode "The White Slavers." Although one wouldn't think an episode about the abduction of young Mexican women for the purposes of prostitution to be a subject for 1960 prime time television, it was par for the course on The Untouchables. The show's Dragnet-esque good guys versus bad guys approach and "based on fact" defense (which was debatable, to the point that the show was even sued at one point by the estate of Al Capone) kept the series on the air from 1959-63.

"The White Slavers" is cited by Larry James Gianakos in Television Drama Series Programming: A Comprehensive Chronicle 1959-75 as the series "finest episode," furthering: "Betty Field was extraordinary as a former procuress for the mob.... [years later] the denouement [with a mafioso trapped in a cellar] still disturbs." The authoritative The Untouchables by Tise Vahimagi calls "The White Slavers" "chilling" and "perhaps, the first season's most uncomfortable and ugliest episode" and notes that "it also marked a peak in terms of the body-count."

Featuring future Bewitched co-star Dick York, others in the cast include: Betty Field, Mike Kellin, Theona Bryant, Mona Knox, and Jim Anderson; the episode was written by Leonard Kantor and directed by Walter Grauman.

Director Walter Grauman talks about one of the most brutally memorable scenes in "The White Slavers" in his Archive of American Television interview featured on the Archive's page for The Untouchables: "The White Slavers."