DEATH FOR SALE
Airdate: April 27th, 1961
Written by David Z. Goodman
Directed by Stuart Rosenberg
Produced by Lloyd Richards
Director of Photography Charles Straumer
Special Guest Star James MacArthur
Co-starring Ned Glass, Carole Eastman, Lou Polan
Featuring Mario Gallo, Jon Lonner, Michael Fox, Neil Rosso.
“On June 14th, 1930, the establishment of a bureau of narcotics signaled the beginning of an all-out effort by the government against an alarming rise in opium addiction. The bureau’s vigorous action, coupled with the complete cooperation of the Chinese government, sharply reduced the flow of illegal opium into the United States, and by 1932, the smuggling of opium from China to this country had virtually come to an end.
“During the last week in April of 1933, Frank Nitti, who had ascended to Al Capone’s throne following Capone’s conviction, was offered a huge quantity of Chinese opium. And on May the 4th, 1933, Nitti sent Ed Getty, one of his top lieutenants, to rendezvous with agents of the man who claimed he could supply the opium. There were two additional men at the rendezvous; uninvited guests.”
Eliot Ness and Lee Hobson arrive to seize a sample of opium from Nitti’s emissary, but the delivery man, Art Reel (Ned Glass), escapes. The paper the opium was wrapped in takes federal agents to New York and the company that manufactured it, where it is ultimately traced to the George Dodd Toy Company headed up by mobster Phil Melnik, the reputed ‘king of opium”. Unable to prove anything, Ness remains in New York suspecting that Melnik will attempt another sale. Before long Melnik has struck a deal with a young entrepreneur, Johnny Lubin (James MacArthur), who plans to use his numerous waterfront dives as distribution points for Melnik’s wares.
The partnership proceeds until Lubin discovers where Melnik has the entire supply stored. Lubin kills him and steals the horde. Alerted to Lubin’s involvement with an opium-related death, Ness attempts to implicate him in the drug trade. But Lubin takes the attention as an opportunity to play games and he hides his supply in one of the Panda bears he frequently brings for his new girlfriend, Sondra Wiley (Carole Eastman). Ness, much more seasoned in the cat and mouse scenario, locates the supply but confronts Lubin as though he had not. When Lubin attempts to make off with one of the bears, Ness considers it the confession he needed. In a brief gunfight on the roof of Ms. Wiley’s apartment house, Lubin is deposed.
”Johnny Lubin, who had envisioned himself as the king of a multi-million dollar opium empire, died a pauper on a lonely rooftop in the heart of the city.”
A troublesome hour. Unfortunately, there are few things to redeem this episode from its early display of gratuitous violence. Ambitious Johnny Lubin, guns down Art Reel (Ned Glass), in front of Phil Melnik’s office early on. Melnik is only momentarily troubled by having his Number One man dispatched on his very doorstep and goes on to pursue a business deal with Lubin, who throws up all sorts of red flags that a wise old gangster would easily read as serious trouble. MacArthur’s character is morbid, but not particularly fascinating and takes far too many chances to be credible.
The final scene where Eliot Ness repeatedly stabs open stuffed panda toys to force a confession out of Lubin is darkly comedic. Shot and edited in a highly dramatic fashion, the viewer would more be invested if it didn’t all seem a little silly. One wonders how many re-writes this script was given, as screenwriter David Z. Goodman is no slouch, having previously written otherwise outstanding episodes like The Masterpiece and The Antidote. Death of Sale is a rare Second Season misfire and James MacArthur will have better luck as Danny Williams a few years later in 1968’s Hawaii Five-O.
NESS: Did you see him last night?
NESS: Where’d you go?
SONDRA: We went to dinner. And a movie.
Ness: Did he stop anywhere?
SONDRA: Yes. At every red light.
• Only the second episode in the series where it rains.
• The time lapse optical effect is another rarity in the series.