THE NICK MOSES STORY
Airdates: February 23rd, 1961 and August 10th, 1961
Written by John Mantley
Directed by Herman Hoffman
Produced by Josef Shaftel
Director of Photography Charles Straumer
Special Guest Star Harry Guardino
Co-starring Bruce Gordon, Michael Constantine, and Joe DeSantis
Featuring Richard Bakalyan, Herman Rudin, Peter Mamakos, and Rick Marcelli
“Three weeks after the conviction of Al Capone on the ironic charge of income tax evasion, the Justice Department of the United States had called its leading law enforcers from every major city to fly to Washington to testify on behalf of an anti-racketeering bill, which would widen the jurisdiction of federal law enforcement officers, and put teeth in their fight against the underworld.”
Eager to expand his operations, bootlegging kingpin Nick Moses (Frank Guardino) muscles into territory controlled by fellow mobster Vinnie Orcell (Jack Reitzen). Ordered by Frank Nitti (Bruce Gordon) to solve their differences amicably, Moses instead moves to rub Orcell out. The hit is successful, but newsboy Tommy Carabello (Riki Marcelli) is injured and hospitalized amid the killing.
Moses is summoned to Frank Nitti by Louis Latito (Joe De Santis), where Moses proposes that instead of killing him, he can guarantee a trip to the cemetery for Eliot Ness and use the anti-racketeering bill as cover. Moses muses that passage of the bill means it’ll be hard to pin the murder on the Capone mob, as it means the business interests of gamblers and drug runners will be threatened by the Untouchables too. Nitti accepts the proposition but gives Moses six days from the passage of the law to hit Ness.
Moses persuades Tommy’s father Dino to be his driver, claiming that his son took a bullet meant for him. As Moses takes over the late Orcell’s operations, he tasks hitman Rosie (Herman Rudin) to take the contract on Ness’ life. Moses continues to expand his operations, taking over the largest club in his new territory and rubbing out the owner in the process.
Burdened by guilt over the club owner’s murder, Carabello reveals to Ness that his son did see Nick Moses the night Orcell was shot. Later, as the hit on Ness proceeds, Carabello is caught surveilling Rosie. As Ness is lured into the street by one of Moses’ men, he gives away Rosie’s position in time for Ness to use his body as a human shield. Desperate at the bungled assassination attempt and with time running out, Moses pressures Carabello to lure Ness and his men to a brewery.
Sneaking into the brewery, the Untouchables overpower the hoodlums and Moses makes his escape. As he runs from the brewery, he’s cornered by Latito, where a hoodlum cuts him down.
“Nick Moses, hoodlum racketeer, big-time gambler who dealt murder and violence from a marked deck. He had never held a losing hand – until the stakes were sudden death.“
The Nick Moses Story gives series screenwriter John Mantley his second chance to throw colorful, dastardly characters into the mix against a relentless Eliot Ness – just as he did in his blazing series entry, The Purple Gang. This is a dynamic in which the series always thrives and it is made all the more enjoyable by Mantley’s dark (and often comedic) dialogue, as well as his penchant for writing serious drama.
In his 12 contributions to the Untouchables canon, Mantley’s antagonists are always a sordid lot. His script manages to not only feature a newsboy getting shot on-screen, but features Moses swearing an oath to Carabello that his son will die if he doesn’t play along. “It’s either Ness or your son, Carabello. Which is it gonna be?”
For context, remember the series was almost constantly under fire for its violence and bloodshed. Even Sam Peckinpah, a filmmaker known for delirious violence and bloodshed in films like Straw Dogs and The Wild Bunch, couldn’t get away with shooting a kid on-screen. In an interview from 1969, Peckinpah joked he was “constitutionally unable to show a child in jeopardy.” Clearly, The Untouchables was ahead of its time.
Nick Moses is a gambler, angling to expand his territory with reckless enthusiasm and haughty bets. Character actor Harry Guardino plays him with delightful smugness and swagger – a departure from his tortured Frank O’Dine in the equally stellar One-Armed Bandits.
This episode does yeoman’s work with the memorable Louis Latito returning to taunt Moses with his peculiar brand of messenger service and his second appearance here after Nicky also provides a nice bit of series continuity. The hour also cameos Bruce Gordon’s impatient Frank Nitti holding court amidst his warring factions, and Michael Constantine as Gino Carabello, the beleaguered father of the son injured in the gangland hit.
Moses almost gets Ness, too. In a cleverly staged action scene, the gunsel Sully lures Ness out into the street in view of Rosie’s sniper rifle. When Sully nervously glances skyward toward the assassin’s perch, Ness spins him around, using his body to intercept Rosie’s shots. The third round from the rifle pierces Ness’ jacket, marking this the closest our fictional Eliot Ness ever comes to eating lead and the only time Robert Stack was ever wired for squibs in the entire series. When Rosie is cornered and gunned down, Ness’ breathless but restrained exasperation at nearly losing his life is palatable.
MANTLEY, THE FIXER
After several years of film work in Canada and Italy in the 1950s, The Untouchables became John Mantley’s proving ground for what would quickly become a successful career in the United States.
From playing bit parts as an actor, directing Italian films and dubbing them for English audiences, writing obscure novels, and later rising through the ranks of Gunsmoke (the longest-running dramatic show in television history) Mantley would reinvigorate the western classic by personally overseeing the production of over 200 episodes for over ten years as executive director. Owing to his insights and penchant for good story, he earned the nickname “The Fixer” and would be hired to consult and address script and storyline problems in other shows.
Mantley’s instincts and acumen were distinctly sharpened in some of the best episodes of The Untouchables – including this one. Within one year of his last script for Desilu, he’d be writing and consulting for Gunsmoke, providing yet another link between Desilu, The Untouchables, and their ripples throughout television history.
NESS: “Get off my back, stay out of my life or I’ll break you in half.”
MOSES: “Frank said six days, that gives me until 10 o’clock tomorrow morning.”
LATITO: “Frank changed his mind. He don’t believe in killing on Sundays.”
• Vehicles in the rear projection of Carabello’s taxi change from the 1930s to 1940s vintage.
• Rosie may be one of the most inept hit-men around – he largely misses both of his targets.
• Robert Stack’s characterization is often described as humorless and unflappable. While this is mostly true, Stack’s Ness is clearly pissed at being tailed by Moses’ men.
• When Ness is pinned down by Rosie, an extra bullet hole appears in the car window where Ness takes cover.
• The actual Anti-Racketeering Act was passed in 1934 after the conclusion of Prohibition. Today, through various amendments, we know it as the the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations or RICO.