Airdates: November 16th, 1961
Written by Harry Kronman
Directed by Paul Wendkos
Produced by Lloyd Richards
Director of Photography Charles Straumer
Special Guest Star Jack Klugman
Co-starring Martin Landau, Gavin MacLeod, George Tobias
Featuring Vaughn Taylor, John Weingraf, Lorna Thayer, Wendell Holmes, Joe Turkel, Peter Brocco, Alexander Lockwood, Karen Verne, Alan Gilbert, Larkin Ford
“In the latter half of 1932, the Untouchables had been training their big guns on Mikahil “Red” Mike Probich who had hard-fisted his way from the docks to the top spot in Chicago’s hierarchy of crime. January 1933, they were ready to move.”
Unscrupulous attorney Mortan Halas (Jack Klugman) is a specialist at getting mobsters off various legal hooks. After successfully aborting a federal case against Mikahil Probich (George Tobias), Halas his hired by Capone strongman Larry Coombs (Martin Landau). Coombs becomes reckless assuming Halas can make miracles, but Ness finds a way to force both into fatal mistakes.
“Whitey Metz turned states evidence and was sentenced to life imprisonment. On his testimony, the entire Coombs organization was apprehended. On March 21st, 1933, Morton Halas was buried quietly without fanfare. There was only one mourner at the grave: Eliot Ness.”
Jack Klugman turns in a high-powered performance as an attorney well on his way to disbarment – and worse. Ness and Halas have a strange sort of respect for each other as champions from opposite corners. While it seems strange to see Ness on a first-name basis with a crooked lawyer, he cuts no deals with him, even when it means Halas could be killed by his boss if he loses the case that would send Coombs to the chair.
While Ness is steadfast in his standoff with Halas, the viewer can at least discern some degree of paternal disappointment in him early on. “A lawyer you could have been,” he Ness, setting Halas off.
While the lawyer vents to the visibly uncomfortable federal agent about his hardscrabble days as justification for his choices now, the lines between them are drawn and redrawn. Halas is making a commitment to make sure he never winds up in the gutter again. When this choice is clear to Ness, you can tell it almost brings him a pleasure to cut Halas no slack. “A man does what he has to do,” Halas fumes.
Thus far, any episode that deploys a familiar relationship between Ness and an antagonist is usually better for it, especially when the latter is enlivened by the best working character actors in the early 1960s, empowering the crackling dialogue of screenwriters like Harry Kronman. Previously, the series pitted Ness against a corrupt former police detective in Tunnel of Horrors and viewers previously saw Ness duped by a manipulative old friend in Head of Fire – Feet of Clay. Like the cordial ex-con Frank O’Dean in One-Armed Bandits, Klugman’s character also manages to save Ness’ life, but is otherwise as unlucky as the rest.
The program ends with a twist and an excuse for a brazen, daylight drive-by machine-gunning of a witness being carried to trial on a hospital gurney. Of course the witness is little more than stuffed blankets, but the Coombs mob blows it apart with gunfire just the same right in front of the courthouse. This bit of action is well done, despite the theft of the car crash scene made for The Frank Nitti Story.
• The Nazis are briefly referenced as the rationale for the sickly immigrant Gus Kleeber to take the fall for Coombs. Portraying Kleeber is Austrian matinee actor John Wengraf, who was compelled by the atrocities of the Nazis to escape Germany for the United States in the 1940s.
• The soundtrack cue heard during Halas and Ness’ final confrontation and later in their last conversation is “Tender Ness,” a rarely-used piece written for the series by Nelson Riddle – perhaps hinting at Ness’ pathos for Halas.
HALAS: “Some days you’re just lucky.”
NESS: “Some days you’re crooked.”
HALAS: “…You worried about me?”
NESS: “We got big plans for you..like 20 years to life.”
NESS: “There’s more dirty money than I thought.”
HALAS: “Dirty? Dirty! What do you know about dirt? What do you know about sleeping in alleys, what do you know about fighting a rat for an old piece of bread? There’s dirt for you, there’s dirt. Six summers working the ore boats. Tending the furnaces. Listen, I got dirt in here I can’t ever scrub it out. I can’t ever scrub it out! Never! What were you doing, Mr. Ness? Dusting off some dame’s chair at the junior prom?
NESS: “I was out in the kitchen washing dishes, nobody paid my way through.”
NESS: “You don’t know a trigger from a second baseman.”
NESS: “No deals.”
HALAS: “No deals. No deals! No feeling, no heart, like a talking machine. A man does what he has to do. And how would you know why? What do you know, what do you care? As long as you chalk up another wing, hang another scalp on your belt. What’s the difference if it happens to be mine? Who do you think you are, Mr. Ness? Who are you to decide who lives, who dies? For the record, I’m sorry.”
NESS: “So am I.”