THE TOMMY KARPELES STORY
Airdate: December 29th, 1960 and April 6th, 1961
Written by George Bellak
Directed by Stuart Rosenberg
Produced by Herman Hoffman
Director of Photography Charles Straumer
Special Guest Star Joseph Wiseman
Co-starring Harold J. Stone, Murray Hamilton, Madlyn Rhue. Featuring Vic Morrow, Vladimir Sokoloff, Gage Clark, William Newel, Herman Rudin.
“May 8th, 1931. The Fast Mail Special of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, running out of Rock Island, was stopped by emergency signal flares near Hillsdale, Illinois. The Hillsdale mail robbery netted the gas-masked criminals almost a million dollars in negotiable securities. The murder of Nelson Grenhoff, postal clerk, was a dividend.
Arrested for a robbery he didn’t commit, former big-time mobster Tough Tommy Karpeles (Harold J. Stone) is swiftly brought to justice and sentenced to life imprisonment. His accomplice, Arnie Mendoza (Joseph Wiseman) remains at large, unable to move the stolen securities and under pressure from his underlings to pay up.
Dubious of Karpeles’ guilt, Eliot Ness is unable to crack the case because Karpeles is desperate to protect his estranged daughter Sally (Madlyn Rhue). Sally’s lover George Varsey (Murray Hamilton) eyes an opportunity for a quick buck and offers Mendoza superficial information on Sally and errantly leads Mendoza’s enforcer Collier (Vic Morrow) to kidnap her.
With Ness bearing down and Sally’s life in danger, Ness finally convinces Karpeles to lead them to an old haunt on the Lakeshore that Mendoza and Karpeles once shared. Freed from prison, Karpeles escapes his police escort and attempts to save to his daughter.
In an exchange of gunfire, Karpeles and Collier are killed. Mendoza tries to use Sally as a shield for his escape but ultimately gives up and the securities are apprehended.
“Tough Tommy Karpeles – gangster, hoodlum, racketeer – died as he had lived; violently, but not before he had proved a strange paradox: that one man, in his life, may play many parts, not the least of which is that of a father.”
Lynn Stalmaster Casting must have been pleased with itself when this episode aired, as it features one of the busiest guest star listings on the series:
– Joseph Wiseman, a year before he’d become James Bond’s first villain in Dr. No (1962).
– Vic Morrow appears in a bit part two years before he’d become the star of Combat!
– Murray Hamilton appears light years before he’d play the Mayor in Jaws (1975).
–Madelyn Rhue, carving out a reputation as a versatile character actress, returns for another round after Head of Fire – Feet of Clay.
Wiseman, Morrow, and Hamilton will continue to loan their characteristic styles, gravitas, and personality to the series in later episodes, creating dynamic characters for Eliot Ness to underplay against.
Of course, one can’t mention the guest star line up without Harold J. Stone, another Untouchables alum who himself will appear in six episodes total after appearing in The Rusty Heller Story. This hour clearly demonstrates the type of talent the show was readily attracting.
Madelyn Rhue is a talented and beautiful actress, but here she is once again pigeon-holed as a complicated floozy with poor taste in men. It’s not her performance that is stylistically at odds with the episode, but her character, the lonely-hearted daughter of an absentee criminal father. (In real life, Rhue’s father left when she was just a child.) Rhue’s East Coast informed acting style would have helped make a compelling antagonist had she a stronger character to work with and her scene with Hobson shows it.
Both Rhue and Wiseman’s careers had been influenced early on by the same pulp and film noir wells that The Untouchables drew upon each week. Rhue posed for comic book and pulp artists to make ends meet early on in her career and Wiseman’s first big-screen debut came in Detective Story (1951) where he held his own against William Bendix (of The Tri-State Gang) and Kirk Douglas. While Wiseman’s work in this episode only hints at his range, he’ll ultimately shine in the glorious Third Season episode The Antidote.
With all of this talent afoot, The Tommy Karpeles Story happens to be a good little melodrama, with colorful, fast-paced dialogue, unique settings, and circumstances, and Ness flagrantly breaking the law to inspect a bad guy’s office is still somehow charmingly in character.
It’s helped a great deal by the fact that Ness gets lots to do in this hour. Instead of keeping him on the sidelines while multiple story-lines churn about, he squares off with a state’s attorney, needles Karpeles in his jail cell, pursues Karpeles’ daughter for help, breaks into Mendoza’s office without a warrant, and needles Karpeles again.
In the ensuing standoff, Ness closes in on Mendoza in a bluff that he won’t shoot his hostage. “I don’t think you’ve got the stomach for it,” he presses. When Mendoza surrenders, he’s clearly relieved.
It won’t be the last time Ness steps out in front of the gun.
HOBSON: I’m was hoping to find a friend of mine here.
SALLY: Blonde or brunette?
HOBSON: A man.
SALLY: What’s the matter? Don’t like girls?
• The opening shot of the train, engine crew, and robbers is a clever matte shot, with the locomotive and train at screen left being from an entirely separate source. The steam itself is a special practical effect to blend the two shots together.
• This is George Bellak’s only script for The Untouchables but the talent on display in this episode would later be recognized in a Writers Guild of America Award and he would be nominated for an Emmy for a script in 1969.