THE UNDERGROUND RAILWAY
Airdate: December 31st, 1959
Teleplay by Leonard Kantor
Directed by Walter Grauman
Produced by Josef Shaftel
Director of Photography Charles Straumer
Special Guest Star Cliff Roberston
Featuring Virginia Vincent and Joe De Santis
“Outside the walls of Lewisberg Federal Prison, in the State of Pennsylvania, August 3rd, 1933. After serving two years and 17 days of the life sentence in a four man holdup of a Federal Reserve Bank shipment, three-time loser Frank Holloway, was on his way out again. The jail break was only step one toward the half-million dollar haul that had never been recovered. Now there were only two ways to cut the mellon: Half to Ed Johnson, custodian of the for tune who had never been caught, and half to Frank Holloway.”
Ness and the Untouchables pursue a ruthless criminal who breaks from prison and heads west to recover a cache of stolen money hidden in California. The trail runs cold when Frank Holloway (Cliff Robertson), undergoes plastic surgery to change his appearance. His traveling companion, Mona Valentine (Virginia Vincent), who had previously found him utterly repulsive, falls for him as soon as he becomes presentable, but she becomes a liability as the only one who knows his true identity.
After disposing of her, Holloway arrives to pick up his prize, but his partner refuses to believe its really him. After a brief struggle, Holloway escapes with the loot, but gets only as far as the parking lot where Ness and an army of policemen perforate his car – and him – with gunfire.
”After nearly three years, Ness was able to mark ‘paid’ the debt to his late friend, Untouchable George Dayton, early victim of Frank Holloway. All that was left to say about Holloway was – he died good-looking.”
No matter where Virginia Vincent appears, it seems always to be as the girl who picks up on the wrong boy friend and winds up spurned or worse. This time she finds herself murdered by recently-made-handsome Frank Halloway who goes from the ugliest, meanest man on earth to just the meanest. Plastic surgery couldn’t fix his extremely bad attitude, or this story, which is neither marvelous nor credible. It’s screenwriter Lenoard Kantor’s only near-lemon in what will become his otherwise outstanding body of work in the series.
Cliff Roberston, an especially busy television actor during the period, was perhaps too occupied to revisit The Untouchables again in another role and the makeup used to transform his good features would probably be more at home in a werewolf movie. It’s a blessing that the series only goes this route once.
This troubled, difficult to believe hour is capped off with one of those massive gratuitous shootouts that would make Bonnie & Clyde famous a decade later. Absent is the George Dayton story, mentioned only briefly to provide Ness with some sort of vendetta. Given Kantor’s future of writing powerful female characters in the show, it’s worth wondering if Virginia Vincent’s character didn’t stick around longer to ultimately be Holloway’s undoing in an earlier draft, but was replaced by thin Dayton subplot and Holloway’s escape attempt.
This episode is notable as it marks Director Walter Grauman’s first episode in the series to air, despite it actually being his second time directing on The Untouchables. His debut was initially The Noise of Death, which was originally going to be the third episode of the series. The New York State’s Attorney General requested that Desilu postpone the episode out of fear that its script, featuring a sympathetic Mafia boss, would influence jurors who were hearing the real-life cases of real-life Mafia criminals after their arrests following an incident known as the Apalachin Meeting in Apalachin, New York.
After the Senate hearings concluded, The Noise of Death would finally find the Tuesday night time slot on January 14th, 1960.
Cliff Robertson reminisces on his experience with The Untouchables.
TOMASO FELLINI: Mr. Capone runs the best collection agency in the world.
• Two people get run over by automobiles in this episode, though only one is shown on screen.
• Ness shatters a breakaway bottle on the corner of a desk to make a point, then awkwardly picks it back up to hand to Joe De Santis’ character.
• Joe De Santis is another delightful character actor who will return to the series twice as the hard-of-hearing gangster Louis Latito in the Second Season and again as two other characters in the Fourth Season.
• For having major reconstructive surgery, Holloway seems to heal pretty fast as the episode gives the impression that it occurs over the span of maybe 2-3 weeks at most.
• Winchell’s narrations occasionally include off the names of characters we see only briefly through the course of an episode and here he names the “fingerprint expert,” which is a nice creative touch to suggest what we’re seeing is actually real.
• Attributing the death of a former Untouchable is a weak way to have Ness invested in catching Halloway and having Ness carry around the slug that killed him is dopey. This element was either left over from an early draft or added in to punch up Ness’ pursuit.
• While the Underground Railroad was certainly a historical reality for African American slaves to escape to free states, the idea of an underground network for escaping fugitives is more interesting than this episode allows.