90-PROOF DAME

Airdates: June 8th, 1961, April 12th, 1962, March 19th, 1963
Written by Harry Kronman
Directed by Walter E. Grauman
Produced by Alan Armer
Director of Photography Charles Straumer
Special Guest Star Steve Cochran
Co-starring Joanna Barnes, Steven Geray
Featuring Warren Stevens, Harry Dean Stanton, Gilbert Green, Norman Burton

”April 1932. Chicago ruled by its underworld czars. One of the strongest: Nate Kestor, former henchman of Capone and still a very big noise with the mob. He maintained a pretense of legality by owning and running the Odeon Burlesque. Kestor’s shows were notoriously underdressed. His girls wore just enough to cover his real operation.”

Former Capone gunsel Nate Kestor (Steve Cochran), is bottling French brandy and attempting to pass it off as the original de Bouverais, smuggled in from Canada. When one of de Bouverais’ contacts is murdered, the old Frenchman (Stephen Geray), arrives in Chicago to set up a new deal, but de Bouverais’ wife is recognized immediately as one-time stripper Marcie McKuen (Joanna Barnes), who had worked in Kester’s chorus line before being fleeing Chicago. Kestor has her picked up, succeeds in nauseating her with his evil charm, and sends her back to her French husband with a warning: no more imported brandy in Chicago.

When word that de Bouverais has set up a new contact gets back to Kestor, he arranges to have him run over by a truck in a telephone booth outside his hotel. Ness breaks the bad news to Marcie, who appears to have expected it and shows little emotion. Ness asks her for help in busting Kestor, but she has other plans. Ness departs convinced that she had a hand in her husband’s murder.

After winning Kestor’s confidence by offering him a regular supply of real brandy to use as a base for his swill, strange things begin to happen to his business. First, a truck and cargo are lost in an accident, then a costly fire at the theater, and finally two Kansas City policemen arrive to take one of his lieutenants into custody on an old murder charge. Kestor grows suspicious and hires Marcie’s hairdresser to find out what she’s up to when she’s not with him.

Arranging a clandestine meeting with Ness at the beauty parlor, Marcie offers to set Kestor up for him, but, having had her under surveillance in which she seems to have become Kestor’s business partner and girlfriend, he refuses to believe it’s anything but a trap. Word of the meeting gets back to Kestor immediately and he sets about to even the score.

Having written Marcie off, Ness then receives word that Kansas City police were tipped by an anonymous note that analysts said may have been written by a woman – on plain paper with a French watermark. Springing into action, the Untouchables intercept the shipment of de Bouverais earmarked for Kestor, and he and his gang are wiped out.

“Two days later the Marquis de Bouverais left for France. Eliot Ness had no further word from her. But one month after repeal, he received a case of imported brandy. It had no card. But Ness didn’t need any; it was de Bouverais – and it was 90-proof.”

REVIEW

If any episode could be considered representative of the entire series, 90-Proof Dame would be it. All of the ingredients are there: Expensive imported French brandy, a beautiful woman, a ruthless, cunning mobster who operates a sleazy strip joint in concert with his penchant for blackmail and murder, and an intriguing connection between Ness and a would-be femme fatale.

An engaging story with an excellent script with crackling exchanges and fine casting combine to make one of 90-Proof Dame of the series top ten episodes. Steve Cochran (returning after The Purple Gang), is the sleazy Nate Kestor, his finger “in a lot of dirty pies” and portrays the quintessential Untouchables mobster, gnarly and dastardly enough to incite a slightly more incensed Eliot Ness.

Joanna Barnes exhibits exceptional class in her role of a one-time showgirl-turned international debutante, having found a nice old sugar daddy whom she genuinely loves. Of course, the sugar daddy, nice old De Bouverais, gets run down in a phone booth by the Kestor boys while visiting Chicago from Paris. Ness, meanwhile, assumes she’s the same tramp who fled Chicago some years earlier and really doesn’t believe she’s about to set Kestor up for him. He’s wrong, as Ness so often isn’t. Marcie even manages to save Ness’ life in the climactic shoot-out.

While claustrophobically staged, the three-minute firefight has a bit of chaotic energy with the Untouchables ramming through the barn doors and being met with machine gunfire. A record number of Untouchables are injured in the stand-off, with Rossman getting winged before he can even get a shot off and Rossi taking an armful of shotgun lead. We also get to enjoy a rare and lengthy-phrase of Nelson Riddle’s “Reckless-Ness” during the scene. Described as a “theme with motion” by Riddle himself, this original action queue continues to be used sparingly in the series. Additionally, the sound effects editing is spot on – each one of the rounds that Kester fires at Ness has a distinct and separate pitch than the one previous to it.

Winchell’s closing narration is a satisfying coda not only to the story itself but a perfect bookend for the most successful and controversial season of The Untouchables.

OBSERVATIONS

• A Frenchman knowing who Eliot Ness is is a nice bit of world-building.
• Steve Cochran is seen attempting to bite down on his blood capsule when his character is shot by Ness.

QUOTES

NESS: I’ve had to tell other women their husbands were dead and mean it or not they had the decency to cry.
MARCIE:
 You have a nice shoulder, Mr. Ness. I’m sure it would be wonderful to cry on. But no thanks, I am fresh out of tears.

GALLERY

Kelly Lynch

Kelly Lynch

Kelly Lynch is a filmmaker and marketing professional whose award-winning work and love for cinema were largely influenced by his early exposure to The Untouchables, thanks to his father’s own fascination with the series. In addition to recompiling his father's book and research on the program, Lynch has also spent years researching, watching, collecting and studying the artistic and cultural impact of the program.

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