ONE ARMED BANDITS
Airdate: February 4th, 1960
Written by E. Jack Neuman
Directed by Walter E. Grauman
Produced by Sidney Marshall
Director of Photography Charles Straumer
Special Guest Star Harry Guardino. Co-starring Larry Gates, John Beradioo. Featuring Theodore Marcuse, Wolf Barzell, Paul Comi, Ken Becker, Theodora Bryant
“Chicago, February, 1932. Crime was a big business that was spreading from the dark alleys of Cicero, across town to the gentler, social atmosphere of the Gold Coast. Times were changing and crime was changing with them. Like any big business, it had to change, but it still required the services of hoodlums and gunmen, like Al Barberry and George Colleoni; the courtroom techniques of unscrupulous attorneys such as Paul Curtiz, and the guiding hands of the man at the top, the man who had come up from the ranks and had made the transition from gangster to big businessman: Augie Viale.”
Augie Viale had never made in inner circle of the Capone syndicate; he had never tried, not even after Capone was sent to Atlanta for tax evasion. With the help of men in public office willing to look the other way, Viale was too busy making a place for himself with narcotics and hot cars, and a new enterprise.”
When Ness learns that a man he had sent to prison some years earlier is about to be released, he arranges to meet up with him in Joliet. Sensing an indebtedness to ex-con Frank O’Dean (Harry Guardino) for passing up a chance to shoot during a raid, Ness hopes that O’Dean will go straight.
O’Dean would like nothing more than to avoid trouble, but his old boss Augie Viale (John Beradino) hopes to recruit him back into his organization and encourages him with a little blackmail. Through pressure applied to his close friend and lawyer Julian Glass (Larry Gates), O’Dean reluctantly agrees to go back to work for Viale’s new slot machine racket.
Glass has revealed the existence and identity of O’Deans daughter, now grown, engaged to be married, and well placed in Evanston society, believing her father is a dead war hero instead of a notorious gangster. Desperate to protect his daughter, O’Dean relents and helps Viale flood Chicago and Cook County with slot machines.
Disapointed, Ness watches O’Dean take command, but is powerless without federal jurisdiction until one of the mob’s reluctant clients reveals that slot machiens are being stored in the same warehouse with a cache of bootleg whiskey. Ness raids Viale’s warehouse and Viale orders O’Dean to kill the federal agent.
Cornering Ness in his office, O’Dean is shamed by Ness for being a soulless hoodlum, devoid of attachments to friends or family. O’Dean retreats and decides the only way he can protect his daughter is to murder Viale. Before he can, Viale’s hoods move to rub out O’Dean for failing to complete the job.
The attempt on O’Dean’s life is interrupted by Ness, but not before O’Dean is critically wounded. Escaping the hospital and police, O’Dean attacks Viale at his apartment.
Near dawn, O’Dean arrives at Ness’ home, still armed and offering to strike a deal. If Ness will drive him to Evanston where his daughter is to be wed, he will hand over Viale’s mob. Ness agrees and the two arrive just as O’Dean’s daughter, who has never seen her father, is preparing to depart.
“There goes my daughter, fed. No one has to know, right?” asks O’Dean.
“No one does, Frank,” Ness replies.
O’Dean thanks Ness, slumps over, and dies.
One-Armed Bandits is a tough, precise and absorbing drama and hot on the heels of Noise of Death, it too, stands out as one of the series’ best.
An engrossing, action-packed hour filled with great performances by Stack and Guardino, One-Armed Bandits is also one the program’s most successful endeavors at humanizing Ness and adding shades of gray to its heavies. O’Dean is remorseful and conflicted and Ness is charitable and compassionate without losing his edge. The sense of history between Ness and O’Dean is well characterized and supporting characters like Julian Glass add pathos to the proceedings.
In a rare monologue from the otherwise taciturn Ness, he dresses O’Dean down despite being held at gunpoint.
One Armed Bandits is also notable for its emotionally subdued ending, completely devoid of a closing Walter Winchell narration. Ness’ look as O’Dean dies in his arms is contemplative, suggesting that perhaps even our brooding, unflappable hero has been touched.
Harry Guardino is certainly one of the finest actors to appear in the series. An earnest, intense and rugged individual, Guardino brings strength to any role from hoodlum to cop. While his television appearances and work as supporting leads in features are numerous, he is best recalled as Clint Eastwood’s superior in Dirty Harry.
While nearly everything about One-Armed Bandits is memorable, a single line tossed off in a peaceful moment reflects the period charm of The Untouchables better than anything else. Commenting on a Floyd Gibbons radio broadcast he had heard earlier, Allison sparks Ness’ imagination: “One day they’re going to put radios in cars and when they do, I’m going to be the first to buy one.”
All-in-all, this episode has everything, including a generous helping of action scenes, a warehouse raid where Ness borrows his brewery-smashing truck (and some footage from the Desilu Playhouse), great cinematography, and compelling performances.
As a television series and an art form, The Untouchables was just beginning to hit its stride.
NESS: You know, for some reason, I don’t know why I thought there was something more to you. There isn’t You’re just like every other hoodlum in those files over there. All they want out of life is a $100 dollar suit and a roll of bills in their pocket. You give any of them something longer than a menu to read and they’d be lost. You talk to them about God or country, friendship, love family. They don’t even know what you’re talking about. All they got is their guns. No hearts, no guts, just guns. If they had anything else, anything, they’d know that whatever you get from that roll of bills in your pocket, you give 20 times as much, right down to your soul. Did you ever have a family, Frank? A wife? Child? Maybe that’s what it takes to have a soul. Or maybe you haven’t got a soul. Maybe you never had one.
• A moment of praise for Charlie Straumer. While he would win an Emmy for his work on the Desilu Playhouse in 1960, his craft only sharpened as the series went on. Consider in the gallery below the wonderfully blocked and composed shots of Ness interrogating hoods in the warehouse, holding a press conference and framed by reporters in a shot that tracks left-to-right, Ness leaning far left of the frame while on the phone in Viale’s apartment, the wonderful chiaroscuro lighting on Frank O’Dean’s face as he avoids a police patrol, the way the camera slowly presses in on Ness in the last scene…These are perfectly framed moments that couldn’t be any better if you drew them.
• The main titles for One-Armed Bandits features a ten second variation of Nelson Riddle’s theme that had not been used previously and unfortunately will never be heard again. This was actually an early experiment that would later give rise to the program’s most familiar main titles theme used for the series’ second year and all of its third. The main titles had yet to get music of its own, borrowing an abbreviated version of the score composed exclusively for the billboard.
• Throughout its run, episodes of the show take place during different times of the year. Winter episodes usually sees characters wearing long coats, except here where it appears to be a particularly balmy February.
• Frank O’Dean has been in prison for eight years, which means the raid that sent him to jail took place in 1924. Even in this timeline, it’s doubtful Ness would have been a Prohibition agent for this long!
• In the late 1920s, Edward Vogel was hand-selected by Al Capone to supervise the distribution of the slot machines in Cook County and worked alongside Frank Nitti and Sam Giacana, the latter of whom would come to hate The Untouchables. Though he died in 1977, some of Vogel’s businesses existed through the mid-1980s. According to the Chicago Tribune, these business were denied licenses for being operated by “people of questionable character.”
The Chicago Tribune also has a wonderful gallery dedicated to law-enforcement’s crack-down on slot machines.