Airdates: April 20th, 1961 and August 24, 1961
Written by Charles O’Neal and John Mantley
Directed by Paul Wendkos
Produced by Josef Shanel
Director of Photography Charles Straumer
Co-starring Victor Buono, Bruce Gordon, Karl Svenson.
Featuring Ellen Madison, Robert Osterloh, Russ Conway, Tommy Nello, Stewart Bradley, Byron Morrow
“On a dark night in the fall of 1934, an armored truck carrying the special paper used in the printing of United States currency was speeding towards Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Its ultimate destination was the Bureau of Engraving in Washington, D. C. Waiting at a crossroads a mile ahead was a group of men about to make the first overt move in the greatest counterfeiting swindle in the history of the world. The execution of this ingenious plan had been in preparation for over two years.
In less than two minutes, the first step in a plan to defraud the people of the United States of $100 million dollars was completed and three men lay dead. Within 48 hours, Eliot Ness and five other top crime experts of the federal government had been flown to Washington, and were in conference with the men whose job it was to protect the nation against the economic cancer of counterfeiting.”
Hoping to continue with his scam untroubled, Moon heads for Chicago to strike a deal with Nitti for distribution and presents Dreiser’s efforts in the form of crisp $100 dollar bills. Fascinated, Nitti agrees to handle Moon’s phony money, but the visit, monitored by Rossi, firmly establishes Moon as the prime suspect.
Back in San Francisco, meanwhile, Moon’s henchman, Monk (Stewart Bradley), has put up with Dreiser and his music long enough. Losing his temper, Monk smashes Dreiser’s phonograph and abandons his charge for a change of pace. Dreiser seizes the opportunity and leaves to attend a live performance of his favorite opera. Penniless except for one of his fake bills, Dreiser uses it to buy a ticket.
When Mr. Moon returns, he quickly spots the newspaper ad for the opera and heads downtown where he intercepts his engraver. Forgiving his daring break and hoping to smooth over the rift, Moon soon becomes enraged upon learning that Dreiser spent one of the bills. Furious, Mr. Moon kills Dreiser in the back seat of his car and dumps the body in an alley. Desperate to recover the bill, Moon returns to the opera house, but the manager, advised to be on the lookout for counterfeit $100 bills, contacts federal authorities, and refuses to give it back.
His cover blown, Moon races back to his store, gathers up his cash, and prepares to flee when the Untouchables arrive. Escaping into a warehouse filled with fireworks, Moon exchanges shots with Ness. Before long, the warehouse is ablaze and Moon lies amid the inferno.
“Mr. Moon, who had lived such an extraordinary life, died proving the truth of his own observation, that if you live long enough in Chinatown, almost everything will happen to you sooner or later.”
Large enough to generate his own gravitational pull, elephantine Victor Buono is one of the more eccentrically colorful actors to visit the series in the person of Melanthos Moon, an elegant, effeminate bad boy, whose tastes run extravagant from antiquities to classical music. In 1961, the 23-year-old Buono is just a year away from being nominated for an Academy Award for his work in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Buono and co-writer Mantley (in a rare instance where he shares billing with another screenwriter, perhaps to punch up an otherwise under-performing script) go long way toward redeeming an hour that fumbles twice early on with bad special effects in the armored truck wreck, and transmission tower explosion, both executed with uncharacteristic shoddiness.
After that, Mr. Moon becomes extraordinarily memorable, despite Stack’s unhappiness with the “No More Italians” mandate, citing the episode as an example of wandering focus, once remarking that “the closest the real Ness ever got to Chinatown was for supper.”
Issues aside, Moon is simply fun to watch – and much like a dancing hippo in Disney’s Fantasia when he moves about, Moon is a sinister ballet of culture, charm, and greed. When he loses his composure and bludgeons his hapless engraver to death in the back seat of his car with a metal liquor flask, he transforms into an elegant monster, making it one of the most darkly funny moments in the series.
Mr. Moon is also an unusual glimpse into the direction The Untouchables could have gone early on (to less satisfying results) with Eliot Ness squaring off one-on-one with openly Machiavellian villains. It’s a fitting comparison that Buono also portrayed a recurring enemy of Batman in the late 60s television series and in a campy (and failed) attempt to revive Dick Tracy as a television series in 1967. Buono will return to connive against Frank Nitti in The Gang War in the Third Season.
An immensely talented actor with a love for Shakespeare and a poet himself, Buono passed away at the age of 43 in 1982.
NITTI: Why don’t some of you boys come up with ideas like this?
• The first of only four Untouchables episodes in which it rains.
• The episode’s climax features one of the longest durations of Nelson Riddle’s “Reckless-Ness” theme, though it’s roughly edited to match the action in the scene.
• Speaking of the climax, a degree of the sparks and fireworks are optical effects laid over the image. Moreover, Ness’ use of the firecrackers to distract Moon is a little out-of-character. It would have been far more fitting for an errant bullet to cause a fire, or for Moon to have panicked and lit the fireworks himself.