THE MATT BASS SCHEME
Airdates: November 9th, 1961, and April 23rd, 1963
Written by David Z. Goodman
Directed by Stuart Rosenberg
Produced by Lloyd Richards
Director of Photography Charles Straumer
Special Guest Star Telly Savalas
Co-starring Bruce Gordon, Milton Seltzer, Michael Constantine
Featuring Carl Milletaire (uncredited), Joseph Bernard, Toni Tucci, John Harmon, Grant Richards, Herman Rudin
“In mid-June, 1932, Eliot Ness, having compiled a list of Frank Nitti’s breweries and distilleries, began a series of raids designed to break the back of the Capone empire, which was being run by his trusted lieutenant.”
Ex-con Matt Bass (Telly Savalas) has teamed up with fellow parolee Jason Fiddler (Milton Selzer), formerly a mechanical engineer, has recently designed a plumbing-intensive and hopefully foolproof method of bringing booze into Chicago. They propose to lay a pipeline into the city sewer system that would masquerade as any one of dozens of legitimate lines.
Bass would like to sell his plan to Frank Nitti, but Nitti has invested heavily in a phony dairy plant and isn’t interested. When Bass begins secretly tipping Ness, the Enforcer lends a more sympathetic ear to the Matt Bass scheme.
Financed by one of Nitti’s speakeasy owners, the plan is well underway by the time Nitti warms up to the idea and before long, it is ready for testing. All works well, but Ness, having been alerted to Bass’s involvement with Nitti, stumbles across the blueprints in Fiddler’s apartment and, on opening night, he arrives to plug up the works.
”At 10:40 p.m. on August 16th, 1932, Matt Bass’s pipe dream came to an end.”
Any program with Telly Savalas can be enjoyable, even if it’s rather weak. The Matt Bass Scheme is among the weakest installments of the Third Season, and even with Savalas at his sleaziest, the story stretches the imagination a bit much and fails to make sense of Chicago with its bustling underground, especially in the first half of the century when more commercial activity was confined below street level than in recent times. The idea of laying a pipe for any distance under any street in Chicago virtually undetected is pretty ludicrous, even for television which can stretch any premise far beyond a reasonable doubt.
While the story might be weak, the characters are not. Matt Bass is a colorful creep, willing to cross his partners at any opportunity. Seizer’s Jason Fiddler is the perfect 1930s nerd, but he takes up with a dance hall girl, the perfect flapper, played memorably by Toni Tucci in only a few brief scenes. And, as always, tempestuous Nitti, stubborn and dumb, and, in the face of defeat, threatens: “I’ll give you fifteen minutes. If booze doesn’t come outa them three holes, Pete’s gonna put three holes in each of you!”
An interesting coincidence lurks in the Bass tale. At one point, Frank Nitti has a character named Seth Otis “bumped off’ for annoying him, as Nitti is so often won’t. But it’s the second time for Seth Otis, the poor fellow. He was killed off in another Goodman teleplay, principally The King Of Champagne, a year earlier by different parties under different circumstances.