THE JAMAICA GINGER STORY
Airdates: February 2nd, 1961 and March 15th, 1962
Written by Joseph Petracca
Directed by John Peyser
Produced by Josef Shaftel
Director of Photography Charles Straumer
Special Guest Star Brian Keith
Featuring Michael Ansara, James Coburn, Alfred Ryder, June Dayton, Jane Inness, Harry Holcomb, Jr., Clegg Hoyt, Hank Patterson, Byron Morrow.
“On the night of May 25th, 1931, two trucks rode into Kansas City with a million-dollar load of synthetic Jamaica Ginger, a deadly drink commonly known as Ginger Jake. The two trucks belonged to Rafael Torres, seemingly a gentleman sportsman and breeder of horses, a naturalized American since 1913. Because Ginger Jake was manufactured by cheap native labor, the profits to Rafael Torres from this insidious bootlegging racket, were enormous. And Jerry La Cava wanted those profits. With five of his hand-picked hoodlums, he made elaborate plans to hijack the smuggled shipment of lethal alcohol. To challenge Torres’s monopoly on the illicit Ginger Jake business, he had enlisted the services of the Rock brothers, two of the most notorious torpedoes in Kansas City. Andy Bellows, alias Louis Belmont, four years in Leavenworth for procuring and white slavery. Richie Peters, three-time loser, eleven years in Atlanta for mail fraud and armed robbery. And Wally Heilman, ex-welter weight Marine Corps champion, booked on suspicion of murder on three separate occasions – no convictions.”
A large shipment of Jamaica Ginger smuggled in from Santo Domingo by Rafael Torres is hijacked by rival mobster Jerry La Cava. Torres imports two gunmen to remove La Cava, but he gets more than he bargains for when one of them decides to marry and settle down.
“Concealed in the hay trucks and the silo, Eliot Ness found more than one million gallons of poisonous Jinger Jake. All of the lethal rotgut that had been smuggled into the country, and all of the criminals who had fought for control of this insidious traffic, were wiped out to the last man. “
Though full of fine actors and a few memorable moments, The Jamaica Ginger Story, isn’t credible. Personable Brian Keith plays personable Jim Martinsen, a hired killer, who, while on assignment, stumbles onto a timid and not particularly attractive school teacher, and suddenly decides to give up the killing business to settle down and raise a family. Pretty weird stuff, even for television.
What makes this edition interesting at all is the appearance of James Coburn, then only 32 years of age, before he became a box office favorite in much the same role he practices here with a gun and a wicked charm all his own.
What perhaps holds this episode back the most is John Peyser’s direction. The two action scenes are embarrassingly filmed and performed, with La Cava’s men stepping obliviously out of their car and right into Garrity’s very obvious shotgun blasts and clumsily slump to the sidewalk. The climactic shootout features Ness and his men getting themselves discovered behind the hedges at Torres’ farm and pinned down. While Robert Stack cuts a striking image anytime Eliot Ness cradles his Tommy-gun, Ness, his men, and the bad guys are all loathe to find cover as they blindly fire 20 feet away from each other.
While Peyser helped lay the foundation for the series in The Empty Chair, his distaste for filming action scenes had grown tiresome for executive producer Jerry Thorpe. Fresh from the languid climax of The Big Train, Thorpe had ordered Peyser’s contract dismissed and The Jamaica Ginger Story would be Peyser’s tenth and final episode.
TORRES: Jerry, you shoot me, I shoot you, who wins? The florist.
The exterior location where Louise Rainey’s body is found was filmed on the Los Angeles River, which hugged Desilu’s 40 Acre backlot where The Untouchables exteriors were filmed.