THE UNDERWORLD BANK
Airdate: April 14th and August 18th, 1960
Written by Aben Kandel
Directed by Stuart Rosenberg
Produced by Josef Sbaftel
Director of Photography Charles Straumer
Special Guest Star Thomas Mitchell
Co-starring Virginia Vincent, Peter Falk
Featuring Val Avery, Ernest Sanacino, Penny Santon, Raymond Bailey, Frank Gerstle, Bernard Kates, Vince Barbi, Lennie Bremen
“On the afternoon of September 23rd, 1933, at a fashionable midtown hotel in New York City, a secret meeting of financial giants was scheduled to take place. The six men gathering at this secret meet were modest in their speech and very circumspect in their behavior, but a sharp-eyed detective with a memory for mug shots could have named them all: Harold Vishman, behind the scenes operator and political power in the State of Louisiana; Ralph Louchey, old-time rum-runner, once a leader of Detroit’s Purple Gang; Big Augie Epstein, Kansas kingpin of Miami gambling; Dino Matero, pinball and slot machines, Kansas City; Art Martin, jukeboxes, numbers, prostitution, Seattle and the northwest. And Milo Sullivan, retired hoodlum. His shrewd manipulations had made him business consultant for the nation’s underworld. These six men were meeting to organize the underworld bank. At their control were the lush profits acquired during the Prohibition days. Now with Prohibition and its illicit offspring, bootlegging, nearing their dismal finish, they sought other profitable fields of investment for their illegal millions.”
The underworld organizes to back its operations with sufficient capital to create a substantial return on investment. The plan works well enough to provide working capital for several major robberies and phony fronts. Following a fur heist, Ness zeroes in on Tony Zagano and Duke Mullen (Peter Falk.) Insulted by his lowly compensation of $5,000 from the million-dollar heist, Mullen uses his relationship with Milo Sullivan’s niece Louise O’Hara (Virginia Vincent) to force his way into the location of the underworld’s secret bank.
“Milo Sullivan’s precious ledger furnished names, address and the activities of top professional criminals in the New York area. It also supplied the evidence to send Milo and his bookkeeper Davie to federal prison, Atlanta, Georgia. For her testimony in the case, and at the request of Eliot Ness, no charges were filed against Louise O’Hara. The smashing of the underworld bank by the Untouchables broke the back of Milo Sullivan’s scheme to finance crime, but Eliot Ness knew that this was only the beginning of the fight against organized crime financiers.”
Following Portrait of a Thief a week earlier, this episode demonstrates once again that white-collar crime doesn’t really make for compelling Untouchables fare. Stuart Rosenberg’s first directorial entry in the series is only passively interesting thanks to the appearance of Thomas Mitchell and Peter Falk. Thankfully, it is the last Untouchables episode to suffer from meandering – until the Fourth Season.
In this hour, white-collar criminals hem and haw about losing money, dames get slapped, widows get strangled, and Virginia Vincent mews over her abusive, alley-cat boyfriend. Having only just left New York seven days before to take on Johnny Torrio, Ness is back in New York to chase down the mob’s accountants. This is screenwriter Aben Kandel’s only contribution to the Desilu series and his television career was short-lived.
Veteran actor Thomas Mitchell is remembered for a long illustrious film career, and more recently for his splendid performance as Uncle Billy in Frank Capra’s eternal It’s A Wonderful Life (1949). Robert Stack recalls Mitchell’s appearance on the episode, coming as it did near the end of his career, as a special occasion with everyone affording him a measure of deep respect. His numerous outtakes were handled with more patience than might have been afforded lesser stars.
The colorfully versatile Peter Falk will return again later in his most celebrated Untouchables role as Nate Selco in The Troubleshooter. In this installment, Falk portrays sarcastic Duke Mullin, a major annoyance for Eliot Ness with his smart remarks and cocky attitude. When Ness raids the bank’s headquarters, a wounded Duke, having only just been taken prisoner and beaten up by the bank’s henchman, foolishly grabs a gun and starts blasting as his girlfriend hunkers outside. “He won’t be coming out,” Ness tells her.
• For no particular narrative reason, Rossi gets winged by a bullet in this episode.