“MEXICAN STAKE-OUT”

Airdates: November 26th, 1959, August 11th, 1960
Teleplay by Robert C. Dennis and Alvin Sapinsley
Story by Alvin Sapinsley
Directed by Tay Garnett
Produced by Charles Russell
Director of Photography Charles Straumer
Co-starring Martin Landau, Vince Edwards
Featuring Barbara Luna, Ken Lynch, Byron Foulger, David Renard, Joseph Ruskin, Frank Wilcox, Alex Montoya, Richard Norris, Roy Engle, Rudolfo Hoyos

“Chicago, Illinois, October 1st, 1932. In thirty two hours in closed session, Judge McGinnis would consider evidence against a racketeer named Theodore Newberry, the owner of gambling parlors, speakeasies and houses of prostitution. Justice was finally able to catch up with this man. The key witness in the case against Newberry was an obscure clerk at city hall named Julius Imbry. To protect this witness, police guarded his home twenty-four hours a day.”

A key witness against mobster Theodore Newberry (Ken Lynch), Julius Imbry (Byron Foulger) is abducted by two men posing as detectives. Rumors circulate that Imbry was kidnapped by “city hall boys” who feared that his testimony would implicate them if the case came to trial.

Soon afterwards, Ness is confronted in a restaurant by a polite man posing as an acquaintance. Before departing, the man drops his portfolio and Ness leans over to help retrieve it. As he does, the man thrusts an envelope stuffed with cash at Ness, literally under the table. A photographer suddenly appears, snaps a picture and rushes off. Furious, Ness slaps the man silly and launches an aggressive campaign to find Imbry.

Newberry orders gunsel Jerry Fanning (Martin Landau) to reveal that Imbry was taken to Mexico where a hired killer would be sent to dispatch him. Ness then contacts federal agent Nick Delgado (Vince Edwards) to accompany him to Mexico. En route, they intercept the hitman (Joseph Ruskin) on the train, who willingly reveals his contacts and itinerary. Ness assumes his identity and proceeds to Mexico.

Escaping an attempt on his life by another of Newberrys contacts, this time a wealthy Mexican businessman named Guzman (Rudolfo Hoyos), Ness loses track of everyone until he runs across spurned girlfriend, Luchita (Barbara Luna) who reveals enough to point Ness in the direction of Max Charcas. Emerging long enough to buy gasoline for the boat that will take Imbry and Delgado out to sea for disposal, Ness intercepts Charcas and returns to save the pair and capture Fanning.

Before returning to Chicago, Ness sends Newberry a brief telegram intending to mislead the gangster into believing his plan had worked. On the day of the hearing, Newberry is stunned to find Ness enter the courtroom with Imbry. Ness spots the telegram on the table and apologizes to Newberry for having forgotten to sign it.

“On October 14th, 1932, the grand jury heard the evidence against Theodore Newberry and handed up a true bill. Largely due to the testimony of Julius Imbry, the witness prvided by the Untouchables, Newberry was indicted and ordered to stand trial, and subsequently found guilty of all charges.”

REVIEW

Before he rose to greater fame in Mission: Impossible, Martin Landau played nervous gangster Jerry Fanning. Landau will return in another role in the Third Season.

“Mexican Stake-Out” is a peculiarly interesting installment featuring Martin Landau and Vince Edwards moments before Mission:Impossible and Ben Casey, respectively. The hour tends toward ponderous, but entertaining. Jerry Fanning, a stuttering, worried nail-biting gunsel, clearly displays Martin Landau’s talent as a character actor. That, together with the spectre of Eliot Ness in stereotypical Mexico, astronomically distant from his urban setting, riding in old buses with chickens cackling at him, trying to convey a sense of urgency to the sleepy locals, is not only unusual, but often hilarious.

One of the several highly entertaining moments comes on early in a bribery attempt. Realizing that he has been set up, Ness loses his temper and slaps the stuffing out of Newberry’s man. He demolishes a restaurant’s subdued setting in the process. The notion that Ness cannot be bought is hammered home.

Rossman (Steve London), Flaherty (Jerry Paris) and Bill Youngfellow (Abel Fernandez) are incredulous at Ness’ plan to cross the border. Perhaps we are too.

There were two 30-second teasers used for this episode, both taken from the network trailer. The first featured a scene between Ness and Guzman seated at a table. Guzman’s man seems to have he drop on the federal agent with a knife to his back. Ness then declares he has had his gun trained on Guzman under the table, and calmly advises him that in the U.S., the position is known as a “Mexican Standoff.” The network rerun featured the bribery attempt. Both worked well as teasers, but it is unknown why the change was made, though the length of the bribery scene may be the reason it was later replaced.

QUOTES

FLAHERTY: (after the bribery attempt on Ness) Just one question, Eliot. What made you mad?

PORTER: (on his way into a gangster’s compartment) Excuse me sir, coming through.
DELGADO: (displaying his badge) He changed his mind.
PORTER: He sure did.

GUZMAN:  The trip takes nine hours. It is an extraordinary uncomfortable journey. It frequently breaks down along the way. And you will not discover among your fellow passengers, anyone you would welcome into your drawing room.

NESS: In the states we call this a Mexican Standoff. What do you call it in Mexico?
GUZMAN: The moment of truth.

OBSERVATIONS

• “Mexican Stake-Out” (originally titled Mexican Standoff) is the better of one of the two “talkies” that ABC President Thomas Moore decried in his memo to Quinn Martin days after this episode aired. It’s tighter pacing early on and the unusual setting help, as weird as this episode is.
• The bribery trap is so good and angry Stack is great. His indignation at the Untouchables being anything but is a reoccurring theme in the episode as Ness chews through a newspaper article which asks “What was in the envelope, Mr. Ness?”
Newberry is a pretty harmless, inoffensive bad guy, one the series will rely on all too often in the Fourth Season in an attempt to make the series harmless and inoffensive.
• By Untouchables standards, this episode is pretty bloodless with zero body count.
• The editing in the interrogation on the train is pretty good.
• This is the first time Ness, a figure who is basically world-renown in the series mythology, tries to impersonate someone, a ploy even more ridiculous because his picture was in the newspaper in the same week.
• Joseph Ruskin is pretty wasted here in his brief and uncredited role, but he’ll bring gravitas to later Untouchables episodes.
• The date and time on Ness’ telegram is 12:30PM on October 13th. Winchell says the grand jury heard evidence on the 14th, which implies that Ness and company made it back to Chicago within a day, which would have been impossible at the time.

HISTORICAL NOTES

•  From Chicago, you could reach El Paso, Texas via the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad.

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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