Airdate: May 4th, 1961
Written by Harry Kronman
Directed by Paul Wendkos
Produced by Alan Armer
Director of Photography Charles Straumer
Special Guest Star Ricardo Montalban.
Co-starring Philip Pine, Kevin Hagen.
Featuring Trevor Bardette, Robert J. Wilke, Oscar Beregi, Burt Miller,
Adrienne Marden, Gene Roth, Frank Puglia.
“The Prohibition years wrote a dark page in our history. Americans who had once defied a king, refusing to pay a tax on tea, now paid a tax to the underworld on everything they drank or ate. From booze to bacon, from medicine to milk, racketeers poked their greedy fingers into every corner of the nation’s business. One little pig was going to market: The Fulton Fish Market in New York. A wholesale market, serving the entire east, shipping as far as Mississippi; a business of fantastic totals turning over $200 million a year, weighing out 700 million pounds of fish and one man’s thumb resting heavy on the scale.”
Eliot Ness is called in to investigate the stench in the Fulton Fish Market and gathers enough evidence on New York mobster Frank Makouris (Ricardo Montalban), to call in the grand jury. But thanks to Makouris’ reign of terror on the local fishermen, Ness cannot find anyone willing to testify. After his boat is destroyed, Joe McGonigle (Trevor Bardette) decides he has had enough and calls Ness. But the phone lines have been tapped by Makouris’ men, and the old fisherman is found murdered in his garage.
Fearful that the entire New York syndicate may now be threatened, Dutch Schultz (Robert J. Wilke), persuades Makouris to sacrifice Lenny Shaw (Philip Pine), one of his two closest men. But his other man, Swede Kelso (Kevin Hagen), reluctant to kill his buddy, shoots him in the arm at a distance enough to fool Makouris into believing him dead. Shaw fails to understand, and while recovering in protective secrecy, devises a plan to even the score with both men. He emerges at his own wake, an elaborate party thrown by Makouris to celebrate his departure, only to shock everyone, including Swede, who had little choice but to believe the falsified newspaper accounts of Shaw’s death. The first shots bring Swede down, but when Lenny turns to take out Makouris, Ness arrives to disarm him. In his dying breath, Swede, a man of few words, reveals his earlier plan to wing Shaw to “make it look right.”
“Lenny Shaw was sentenced to life imprisonment. Frank Makouris, convicted on Lenny’s testimony, was executed on March 25th, 1933. It made quite a difference at the Fulton Street Market. Within two days after Makouris’ execution, wholesale prices fell fifty-two percent.”
Ricardo Montalban guest stars in this well imagined vehicle that deals not only with the rackets fouling New York’s Fulton Fish Market, but adds a second element of interest seldom examined in the series: The relationship between the top mobster and his hired guns.
Usually thought of as simply mindless hoods, Philip Pine and Kevin Hagen portray two close friends who must face off in a struggle for survival when the mob boss tries to offer one up as a sacrificial lamb. Indeed, the two men are murderers, but have normal tendencies to form bonds between themselves like regular folks. It’s difficult to feel much compassion for killers, but Kronman was able to write the parts in such a way that permits a high degree of interest with a very small degree of sympathy.
Despite the grins and friendly banter, Shaw is a hired killer and his personality is the opposite of Swede, who doesn’t say much and appears to think even less. Showing almost no emotion, he is more the portrait of what one might expect in that line of work. But in the end, of course, he lights up briefly when he discovers that his buddy didn’t die, just before entertaining a couple of holes in his abdomen delivered in mistaken revenge.
Ricardo Montalban is a splendidly slimy Frank Makouris and plays him with the usual relish he brings to all his roles. Especially intense is a scene where Makouris confronts Swede with the prospect of being killed if he fails to bring down Lenny Shaw. Swede, appearing to be forced into thought well beyond his normal light duty, stares off confused and fearful while Makouris menaces him with bursting eyes and five prolonged turns of a telephone dial that would connect Swede to his own demise did he not interrupt it on the fifth digit.
Interestingly, Joe Kulak pops up for his second appearance. (“I’ve had some dealings with Ness before,” he utters dryly in an indirect reference to a shared history that has yet to be written.) While the time period of the year is fuzzy, it must occur in canon before the storyline of The Organization.
Much like Frank Nitti managed earlier the same season, Kulak gets bumped off only to come back for more. It does seem a little curious to place him at the head of the table with Dutch Schultz and Lepke Buchalter when his debut episode indicated he was from and resided in St. Louis. Screenwriter Kronman was probably delighted to reinsert what may have been his creation, but Kulak seems more like a plug-and-play-heavy than anything else. After ducking out of the way of Lenny’s gun during the party, Kulak is otherwise invisible to Ness – a missed opportunity.
SWEDE: Ask Makouris. I was with some friends.
NESS: Everybody says Lenny was your friend. You’d never know it.
LENNY: I’m dead, Frankie. I even had to come in this place the back way. A swell joint like this, they don’t let no ghosts in the lobby.
• Robert J. Wilke works his way through the quiet portrayal of Dutch Schultz, who had previously been portrayed by Lawrence Dobkin in three earlier episodes. Wilke will be back as a snarling George Bugs Moran in Arsenal and The Eddie O’Gara Story in the Third and Fourth Seasons respectively.
• Are Lenny and Swede just friends?
• Aside from the exploding debris never landing in the water, the bombing of the boat is a clever pairing of three separate shots – the “dock” set at the Forty Acres backlot, the model boat, and the water beneath it.
• The shot of the injured and deranged Lenny stepping across a newspaper featuring a photo of his own face is a delightful touch.