LITTLE EGYPT

Airdate: Feb. 11,1960
Written by Joseph Petracca
Directed by John H. Peyser
Produced by Josef Shatlel
Director of Photography Charles Straumer
Special Guest Star Fred Clark
Co-starring Susan Cummings, Anthony George Featuring John Marley, Sam Gilman, Bartlett Robinson, Norm Alden, Miriam Goldina, James McCallion, Frank Bella

“Election night, 1931, in the City of Moraine, the heart of the gangster ­infested area of downstate Illinois, known as Little Egypt. Marcus Stone, the new mayor., was thanking the people for sweeping his entire reform ticket into office.”

War veteran Charlie Byron (Fred Clark), known as The Major, and given to wearing parts of his doughboy uniform, is mayor without a portfolio of a coal mining town that Gov. Strong wishes to clean up. After the Byron gang murders the entire reform ticket, the mayor-elect, his wife and the sheriff-elect, Ness is called in to put a man on the inside. Ness recruits Cam Allison (Anthony George), and Enrico Rossi provides him with a couple of homing pigeons for communicating with the Untouchables in Chicago.

Allison soon arrives in Moraine, finds work in a coal mine and makes himself visible to the Byron gang by picking a fight with deputy sheriff Parker (Sam Gilman). After the brawl, the Major offers Allison a job, but his right­hand man, Ed Carlton (John Marley), grows increasingly suspicious of the new recruit when the sheriff begins raiding the Major’s illicit operations with some regularity.

In an attempt to verify Allison’s authenticity, Carlton arranges a date for Allison with seductive Hazel Stanley (Susan Cummings). She manages to go through Allison’s pockets but finds only a receipt for birdseed, which she dutifully reports back to Carlton.

Unconvinced that Allison is on the level, Ed and his brother, Barry (Norm Alden), pay a clandestine visit to Allison’s quarters in a rooming house run by Mrs. Lazio (Miriam Goldina), who willingly obliges the pair in return for a token bribe. Once inside, they discover the pigeons hidden away on the roof and report their findings to the Major, who ignores their warnings and instead, decides to go after Sheriff Parker. Allison quickly clues all parties in advance and the plan is thwarted. Again, Carlton suspects Allison. To put an end to the suspicion, the gang arranges for another attempt on the sheriff. When Allison learns of the plan through Hazel instead of the Major, he fails to realize that it may be a trap and wrestles himself away to warn the sheriff.

Drunk and fawning over Allison, Hazel attempts to head him off by phoning the sheriff. As she does, the Carlton brothers arrive and Hazel is murdered. His cover blown, Allison is soon cornered in his room preparing to launch his message. While the gang works him over, Ness races to the scene having been alerted by Hazel’s midnight call to the sheriff’s office. In a blazing gun battle, Allison crawls to safety as the Major’s gang is routed.

“Governor Strong’s wish to wipe out Major Charlie Byron’s gang was now accomplished. The last surviving member, Barry Carlton, was executed on November 25th, 1931, on evidence supplied by Cameron Allison. Despite his gaudy trappings and flashy style, Major Charlie Byron was a dirty man – much dirtier than the mud of Little Egypt he died in.”

REVIEW

Cam Allison goes undercover.

An episode rich in gratuitous violence and campy performances, Little Egypt is, nonetheless, one of the first season’s more memorable entries.

Fred Clark, known best at the time as Harry Morton, George Bums and Gracie Allen’s goofy neighbor, Clark seems more to play with the notion of his character than actually portray one. Making up for that is a fierce John Marley, an outstanding character actor, who would eventually go on to find a horse’s head in his bed in The Godfather (1970). An interesting and very subtle feature of Marley’s Ed Carlton is a paralyzed right arm, unexplained, which he keeps suspended by a thumb in his coat pocket. Marley will return to cause Ness trouble in the Second Season’s Testimony of Evil.

The Carlton brothers, portrayed by John Marley and Norman Alden, are two of the hour’s more idiosyncratic characters.

While Little Egypt has survived remarkably well in spite of itself and is still horrifying in at least one scene, the feature of the carrier pigeons seems hopelessly cliched. While Anthony George is only a few episodes away from being released from his contract, he does decent work as Allison, even warranting a co-star billing in the main title screen as he did in The St. Louis Story.

Anthony George carries the hour with physicality and desperation, though his “over-eager” characterization can be a bit much given the actor’s age. Allison’s moderately suggestive scene with Hazel Stanley is also the closest the series will ever come to a love scene. There is a brief mention of Allison’s father and this author suspects that Allison was a creation of Producer Josef Shaftel and screenwriter Joseph Petracca who also worked behind-the-scenes on Allison’s introductory episode, The St. Louis Story.

An exceptionally vicious moment is Hazel’s execution with three shots to the head. Contemporary television might have little trouble portraying such a gruesome event to the degree of being able to see daylight through a character’s skull. But this is 1960, and the whole scene is handled in a sort of bloodless, Hitchock-like manner with much more compelling results. Still, the scene conveys a gruesomeness that will not be repeated. Barry holds Hazel, prone on her bed, by the throat, as Ed fires his pistol at point-blank range. The shot is composed to leave Hazel mercifully out of the picture but remains the nastiest murder of them all.

Three technical notes for this episode and two of them are musical:

There were two slightly different versions of the soundtrack made for this episode. The long love scene between Hazel and Allison was completely devoid of background music for broadcast. The network rerun edition featured the same scene with a couple of minutes of Nelson Riddle’s work added, significantly improving the mood.

This somber, saxophone-driven piece relays the primary Untouchables theme and would commonly come to accompany Eliot Ness, so its use in this scene is unusual if not still thematically appropriate. Different variations of this presentation would be made for stingers and act curtains. This particular use of the composition is also one in which we get to hear nearly all of the queue itself.

Additionally, the ten-second theme music used for the last two lead-in commercial bumpers in this – a variation on the closing commercial bumper theme used at virtually every break for some three years – is never heard again except for in The Big Squeeze a few weeks later.

Little Egypt episode also has an intriguing number of well-executed moving master shots wherein the camera and the actor move from one mark to another around the set (sometimes starting from a tight shot and then moving to a wide shot or vice-versa), which allows the cinematographer to change the composition without cutting away to other shots. Charlie Straumer’s penchant for arranging crowds of characters in aesthetically pleasing geometric positions is also on full display.

In a rapid-paced production schedule of a weekly series, not only are these choices both economical and artful, but help insert some cinematic variety when the crew is faced with filming in the same handful of sound stages every week. Charlie Straumer’s efforts here are much appreciated.

OBSERVATIONS

• In reality, the Illinois coal fields begin not all that far from the southwestern tip of Chicago, some 50 miles or so from the Loop. But downstate Illinois, where Winchell places the action, would lead viewers to believe the story takes place somewhere near Springfield, or Decatur, a good four hours or more by car in the 1930s, and distant enough to keep Ness from rescuing Allison in television’s eternal nick of time.

• Ness and Rossi take cover behind bushes in the climatic shootout, as if bushes would provide adequate cover against bullets. Ness also runs out of ammunition in this episode, forcing him to grab a nearby Thompson submachine gun to stop Charlie Byron.

• In The Twilight Zone, Susan Cummings is the actor who famously revealed that the visiting alien’s book “To Serve Man” is actually a cookbook – for humanity.

• This is Norman Alden’s biggest role on The Untouchables after appearing briefly in The Empty Chair and later on in Head of Fire, Feet of Clay.

Dan Lynch

Dan Lynch

Dan Lynch (1946-2014) was an award-winning editorial cartoonist and writer whose appreciation for The Untouchables began in childhood in 1959. Dan spent years collecting research and information for a book on the series, which forms the foundation for this website. Where possible, his original works and commentary have been left unaltered. He is deeply missed.

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