SYNDICATE SANCTUARY

Airdate: January 7th, 1959
Written by George F. Slavin
Produced and Directed by Paul Harrison
Director of Photography Charles Straumer
Featuring Anthony Caruso, Robert F. Simon, Gale Kobe

“Calum City, thirty miles from Chicago, population, 10,000. A city fighting for its life, divided over an election that could mean honest government, or a return to the jungle law of the underworld. ”

A prominent politician is killed in what appears to be an accident, but the inquest reveals that a local mob may have been behind his death in order to eliminate him from cleaning up this Chicago suburb. His daughter continues his campaign, but does so at her own peril.

” Judge Leon Sabo had not died in vain. The revelation of the syndicate’s involvement in corruption, murder and narcotics moved the citizens into voting for the reform government candidates. Calum City was destroyed as a sanctuary for sin. As he looked at the fruits of his victory, Eliot Ness knew how easy it was for men to forget, how insidiously indifference and apathy creep back, how quickly men like Morelli can regain their hold on society. He hoped Calum City would never forget Morelli’s mob rule. It was up to the people now.”

REVIEW

This is the dubious story of the bad folks inhabiting Calum City, as in Calumet City, Illinois, which became something of a legendary Sodom and Gommorah during prohibition thanks to some poorly chosen public officials. The local gang kills off the one straight man running for office and then proceeds to set up shop in the police station where they are completely in control. Every manner of evil runs amok.

Syndicate Sanctuary doesn’t work. The problem here is not the story, but the acting. The worst of which is offered by Caruso, who in attempting a Nitti-like persona camps it up far beyond that which is reasonable all the way down to the white carnation and pinstriped suit.

Anthony Caruso as a low-rent Frank Nitti.

Curiously, he gets the chance to do it all again years later as a central character in an episode from, of all things a Star Trek episode titled A Piece of the Action, in which the principle characters of that television show find themselves on a planet inhabited by Capone-era, Chicago style gangsters. It’s truly one of the goofiest, absurdly silly stories ever written much less exposed to film, but then, that was the general premise for Star Trek – seven rather decent characters exploring the universe in search of a single, decent script. (Notably, a shoot-out in the Star Trek episode uses the same gun-fire sound effects that were such a part of The Untouchables‘ soundscape. Several other Trek episodes also made judiscuious use of Desilu’s Forty Acres backlot set before it was torn down, which is largely where The Untouchables exteriors were filmed.)

What should have been an interesting hour touching on Calumet City’s checkered history – without abusing the honorable Native American Chiefs name – is an utter failure. It vies for the title of worst episode with The Torpedo near the end of the series. Curiously, Gail Kobe, an attractive actress, finds herself in both bottom dwellers.

This is the one of two episode that producer Paul Harrison was involved with and the only one he directed. Perhaps Harrison, like one-time Untouchables screenwriter George Slavin, were simply filling in. Ness’ characterization in an condemned mine as he corners two gangsters is a John Wayne rip-off  (“Drop that gun or I blast you both,” he says, in a mine where he can’t use his gun or else it will collapse.)

The Sin Strip, portrayed in Desilu’s backlot, actually existed existed until the 1980s.

While The Untouchables has often been favorably compared to a hard-boiled comic book, this episode demonstrates what it could have been if it was downright cartoony. As evidence: the gangsters are literally doing business in the back room of the police department. It doesn’t get sillier than that.

QUOTES

NESS: (after a mine collapses with two gangsters trapped inside) Guess we don’t have to come back for them.

OBSERVATIONS

• The poorly staged gun battle at the end does little to save this hour.
• Rossi and Youngfellow get a lot to do in this hour. Youngfellow guards the judge’s daughter and recalls his football career, with Flaherty commenting that he saw him play once. While Ness’ men were often treated like little more than Federally-armed furniture, the reference reminds us what a chronological show would do with its characters.
• Jack Elam shows his characteristic face for the first time in the series and he’ll return in Testimony of Evil and Pressure. He appears alongside Frank Wolff and both will make cameos in 1968’s Once Upon a Time in the West.
Before the final commercial break, the music editor uses one of Nelson Riddle’s original themes which are typically used to conclude an episode, giving a sense of a false finish.
While a map shows Calum City just northeast of Joliet, the real Calumet City was just across the state line from Hammond, Indiana.

HISTORICAL NOTES

• Calumet City’s reputation as a haven for crime was so severe in the 1920s that the town had originally tried to remake its image once by changing its name from West Hammond to Calumet. The city apparently rivaled Las Vegas in bars, gambling and prostitution, which were concentrated along State Street’s “Sin Strip” (and is featured in the episode) up until the 1980s which makes Winchell’s closing narration is a condemning prophecy.
• A 1954 book from the Chicago Crime Commission named Calumet “Syndicate City,” which is perhaps where the episode’s title originated.
• Calumet City can’t be all bad, as it’s where the Blues Brothers hail from.

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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