TUNNEL OF HORRORS
Airdates: October 26 and February 22nd, 1962
Written by John Mantley
Directed by Stuart Rosenberg
Produced by Lloyd Richards
Director of Photography Charles Straumer
Special Guest Star Martin Balsam
Co-starring Bruce Gordon, Don Gordon
Featuring Joseph Ruskin, Robert Bice, Harry Bartell, Barbara Pepper, Arnold Freeman
”August 28th, 1933, 9:15 p.m. Acting on an anonymous tip, Eliot Ness, and the Untouchables aided by plainclothesmen from the Chicago police, was staked out on an amusement pier along the Chicago lakefront. Weeks of intensive investigation had convinced Ness that Alexander Raeder, former European circus impresario and present owner of the giant Raeder Amusement Pier was the source of the narcotics that had begun to flood the city. Ness’ information stated that Raeder was delivering, to an unidentified syndicate contact, a shipment of pure heroin worth half a million dollars. Place of transaction: the Tunnel of Horrors. ”
Arnold Justin (Martin Balsam), once a Chicago detective now in the employ of the Capone Mob, discovers a stakeout at an amusement park where he was to take possession of a heroin shipment from park owner Alexander Raeder (Joseph Ruskin), earmarked for Frank Nitti. Johnny Selkirk (Don Gordon), a small-time hood who tipped Ness of the impending transaction, steals the shipment under virtually everyone’s nose and dives into the lake with it. This seriously compromises Justin’s mob connections and an enraged Nitti orders him to find Selkirk.
Justin discovers Selkirk alive, hiding in his own house and, wounded from a bullet fired from Ness’s gun in the raid on the Tunnel of Horrors, wishing to strike a deal that involves money, Raeder’s death, and passage to freedom.
Justin, still armed with Nitti’s cash, agrees to hide Selkirk in return for the stolen shipment and get him out of the country. A cautious, clever man and unwilling to commit murder, Justin arranges for Raeder’s death by providing the park owner with a gun and the information that he will find Selkirk under the amusement park’s lakefront pier, where he will likely trying to dig up the heroin shipment supposedly buried there. Selkirk then telephones Ness and tells him virtually the same story so the two will converge. They do, and Raeder, thinking he has the drop on Selkirk, fires at him several times. But instead, it’s Ness who returns the fire, killing Raeder. Ness soon discovers that Raeder’s gun had been loaded with blanks and determines that Justin may have set him up to be Raeder’s assassin.
Infuriated that he has been used, Ness sets out to return the favor. Determining that the heroin could not have been taken far by the wounded Selkirk, Ness discovers the shipment buried under the mud in a large storm drain. But instead of simply confiscating it, he replaces it with powdered sugar that Justin eventually attempts to pass off to Nitti. Confronting Ness with the fact that Nitti will have him killed for his failure, Justin seeks protective custody, but Ness refuses unless Justin signs a detailed confession revealing everything. Justin refuses and leaves Ness’s office scared to death and jumping at every noise.
”Arnold Justin, ex-chief of detectives, who thought he had all the answers, lived for twenty-seven days in a world where every shadow, every sudden movement, every strange face held a full measure of terror and the promise of sudden death. That death came in a hail of bullets at 11 p.m. on October 9th, 1933. The confession which might have saved his life was still on Ness’s desk – unsigned.”
An exceptionally engaging and richly developed hour, made so by director Stuart Rosenberg, Tunnel Of Horrors is truly another of John Mantley’s major works. Martin Balsam’s cocky, sure-footed Arnold Justin annoys Ness to a level of hostility seldom seen in the otherwise determined Treasury agent.
The two square off on several occasions in exchanges that bristle with contempt. In an early confrontation, Ness demands to know what the bag of money, temporarily confiscated from Justin in the amusement park raid, was intended for:
“I represent a group of men who want to buy Raeder’s Pier. Raeder is asking for too much money, so I thought the sight of all this cash might mellow him a bit,” fantasizes Justin.
“You’re a liar,” Ness fumes.
Justin leers back, “Of course I am, but you can’t prove it… ”
All the while, small room fans attempt to disperse the heat of a sweltering Chicago in late August, and the temper of a federal agent trying to fend off the nearly overwhelming desire to bring his fist into contact with the former chief of detectives’ nose.
The amusement park scenes are particularly well done. Busy, full of noise, music, and the drone of a carnival barker, it seems as though the entire thing was filmed on location at a real tum-of-the-century style amusement park.
The actual Tunnel of Horrors is nearly complete. Wooden boats appear to bump along a narrow, oily river, conveying patrons past various frights from fire-breathing dragons to lines of writhing, moaning skeletons, suspended in thunder and lightning. The central characters, there to conduct business, try their best to blend in.
When the original network trailer for this program aired after the end of Power Play a week earlier, the final scene depicted Ness being apparently gunned down from behind by Joseph Ruskin’s character, Alexander Raeder. This startling device left viewers aghast for an entire week wondering if Eliot Ness was actually going to get shot up for the first time. Not to worry. It was part of the elaborate if somewhat unlikely scheme in which Ness had been set up as Raeder’s assassin. In the trailer, of course, viewers saw Ness simply go down on three shots fired at close range. Ness of course, was never even so much as slightly wounded by gunfire throughout the entire series.
Writer John Mantley warmly recalls an occasion on the set during filming for this episode concerning Bob Stack’s personal charm. Stack had provided a comfortable chair next to the camera for Mantley’s mother, then in failing health, but wishing to visit the set on her last trip west from Florida. Mrs. Mantley, a former actress who met her husband on the stage, inadvertently ruined a take in a moment of enthusiasm when she recognized a member of the cast she had worked with many years earlier. Realizing they would have to do the scene again, Stack never let on and later allowed that it mattered not. What was most important was that John’s mother had got to visit the set while they were working on a story her son had written.
• As Raeder approaches Ness with guns blazing during the assassination attempt, you can see Robert Stack simulate that he’s pulling his .38 pistol from his shoulder holster, but he actually pulls it from his belt – obviously placed there to make it easier to wield for the action to play out.
• To date, we’ve never see the downstage portion of Ness’ office, but in a few camera angles, we do see a set extension designed to imply it’s much bigger than it is. Only in the Fourth Season does Ness’ office get remodeled and expanded in a peculiar attempt to vary up the proceedings.
JUSTIN: You’re scared. Deep down you know you’re no different than I am. Tough to be a cop, isn’t it Ness? Right now you want to hit me so bad you can taste it, can’t you?
NESS: For once in your life you’re right.