Join us on The Untouchables Retrospective us as we head to Desilu Studios to explore an overlooked chapter in film and television history and examine the cultural and artistic impact on what was the most violent, expensive and acclaimed television show of its time.
In the 1950s, television was the new kid on the block. Today, we’d call it an emerging technology. Radio, but with pictures. Movies, but in your home. Newspapers, but with narrators.
For such a novel concept, the technology behind television largely outpaced ideas on how to use it. Radio dramas became picture shows and the nightly televised newscast was born.
The medium took its cues largely from the theater – with big sets, dazzling displays, song and dance numbers, but escapist entertainment was no longer bound to novels or movie houses. By the end of the decade, television had ridden the prairies of countless Westerns like Gunsmoke and The Lone Ranger, cozied up to the sitcom, puzzled at game shows and relaxed to variety hours. This was the original Golden Age of Television where I Love Lucy had quickly become the most popular show in the country, The Twilight Zone was barely a twinkle, Sheriff Andy Griffith Show hadn’t yet wandered into Mayberry and Star Trek was still light-years away.
Television was a safe space in which Americans could nestle in and collectively enjoy the American Dream.
Until the night of October 15th, 1959.
Hi, I’m Kelly Lynch, and I’m a 34-year-old filmmaker from Indiana and in 2019, I’m reaching back 60 years to celebrate the life, death and cultural impact of a significant and often overlooked milestone in the history of American television, a show called The Untouchables.
In 1959, audiences were rocked out of the suburbs and into Chicago’s Prohibition streets by a program that brought to life the battle of Eliot Ness and his incorruptible agents against the criminal forces of Al Capone and Chicago’s underworld. Long before he helped solve crime on Unsolved Mysteries, actor Robert Stack became world-famous in his role as crimefrighter Eliot Ness. With narration by famed columnist Walter Winchell, the godfather of tabloid journalism, nearly everything about the show was larger-than-life.
In no time, The Untouchables became one of the most acclaimed, controversial and expensive television shows ever made. In the tame broadcasting landscape of the era, its violence, drama, writing, acting and directing horrified and captivated audiences. In addition to critical acclaim, it courted controversy and attention from the Congress, the Italian Defamation League, Parent Teacher Associations, Psychologists weighed in and even the FBI had an open case file on a television show.
Imagine this, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, so beloved as America’s television sweethearts, burgeoning comedy legends and now owners of their very own television studio – but one of their first successes is a violent gangster drama that showed for the first time on television bodies being ripped apart by gunfire; it openly brought the existence of the Mafia into living rooms, and it even showed television’s first male-on-male kiss. Safe-to-say, The Untouchables was a culture shock.
And it won a few Emmys along the way.
What began as a made-for-TV film in April of the same year, The Untouchables was quickly adapted into a film noir anthology series, creating a cinematic universe of moral rights and colorful wrongs and became an origin story for everything we know about the genre in TV and film – from Bonnie & Clyde, The Godfather, and The Sopranos and others.
You’ve probably heard of The Untouchables thanks to the 1987 film by Brian DePalma, but it bears very little resemblance to the original series – we’ll get into that, too.
As a kid, I grew up enamored by The Untouchables – even though it premiered 26 years before I was born. It was the show’s incredible drama and signature style that introduced me to the world of filmmaking and instilled in me a love for story-telling.
But, most importantly, I loved The Untouchables because of my dad.
Dan Lynch was barely a teenager when The Untouchables premiered and the show had an immediate impact. Just as it did for thousands of other fathers-and-sons, enjoyment of the show became a weekly ritual with his father, Lawrence.
In the ensuing years, Dan became an expert on the program — so much so that in the 1990s he nearly completed a detailed manuscript that provided an exhaustive history and analysis of The Untouchables. My dad conducted interviews, collected hundreds of hours of research, articles and more, but never finished the project before a stroke sidelined him in 2001. He passed away in 2014 after a long illness.
While there have been two books published detailing the existence of the show throughout the years – not to mention numerous worthwhile publications on the real-life story of Eliot Ness and Al Capone – nothing has come close to the level of detail and passion inherent in my dad’s work.
In 2019, 25 years after work on my dad’s book was halted and 60 years after The Untouchables exploded into television, I’m heading to the backlot of Desilu’s Culver Studios to research how the show was made, retrace some of its most outstanding hours and explore cultural impact of both its true and fictional stories. You can join us for The Untouchables Retrospective at theuntouchablespodcast.com or theuntouchables.co, where I’ll be releasing chapters from my dad’s book, extensive episode reviews, and exclusive interviews as we explore the making of all four seasons of the show. Sign up to our newsletter, join the conversation on Twitter or on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube Channel and wherever you get your podcasts.
Join me as we revisit and celebrate The Untouchables!