Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Untouchables

"The Untouchables" is one of the few television shows I really missed on DVD. I loved watching it when I was younger and would eat up every single episode of Eliot Ness fighting the Chicago Mob. Accordingly my excitement was high when Paramount Home Entertainment finally announced a DVD version of the series and dropped this little package in my lap.

"The Untouchables" tells the relentless fight of Eliot Ness and his special squad of policemen against the Chicago mob during the Prohibition era in the 1930s. In the one corner was Ness and in the other corner was mobster legend Al Capone and their countless battles have been well documented by history. Ness and his squad of incorruptible agents managed to infiltrate Capone's corporations and damage its illegal operations of alcohol distribution on countless occasions making him the number one enemy of the mob. But despite all efforts, Capone was never able to buy off any of the "Untouchables" or to kill Eliot Ness. But the focus of Ness' work was not only Capone - in fact his antics are covered in the pilot episodes - but also many other infamous mobsters, all of which make appearances in this television series, adding to the breadth of the show.

"The Untouchables" was running from 1959 until 1963 and made for some great entertainment that was pretty gritty given its subject matter. Borrowing heavily from the film noir genre that was popular in the days the series has an ominous and dark look to it and doesn't go easy on the violence or bullet-count. The acting is also in line with some of the best noir classics where men were portrayed as super-tough guys without too many words and always ready to pull an automatic gun out of their overcoats. Robert Stack plays Eliot Ness and he plays the character to the hilt and he is supported by a great cast, including guest stars such as Peter Falk, Telly Savalas, Lee Van Cleef, Lee Marvin and many others over the years.

As a cool extra the release actually contains the seamless theatrical version of the show's two pilot episodes. While initially broadcast separately these episodes were later spliced together without their TV introductions and shown in theaters. That is the version you will find here. The original TV introductions are also included, both now running in front of the pilot.

Here now we have the first 14 episodes of the show on DVD as Paramount release "The Untouchables: Season 1 Volume 1." I am not quite sure why Paramount decided to split the season in half – my guess would be to keep the retail price per DVD set down and more attractive as opposed to trying and sell a DVD set at twice the price. Be that as it may the quality of the presentation on this DVD set is "untouchable" – excuse the pun. I was truly amazed at the quality of this show that is almost 60 years old. Paramount cleaned up the transfer and you will be hard pressed to find any blemishes, scratches or other defects in the presentation. What's more, there's not even a hint of grain. I found myself staring at the screen unable to believe that what I was watching was really created in 1959! The black and white presentation is rich and runs the entire gamut of contrast with bright highlights and solid, deep blacks. Grays are balanced and fall off nicely creating a balanced picture that never looks harsh or dated. Without compression artifacts or edge-enhancement, this is truly a classic TV presentation to behold.

The audio presentation has also been cleaned up and is free of hiss or defects. However, given the age, the frequency response is limited giving the presentation a harsh-sounding edge. On top of that the dialogue elements are in varying states of quality and thus the audio presentation can change quite a bit from scene to scene. Still, to me it adds to the vintage feel of the show and I wouldn't want it any other way.

Paramount Home Entertainment blew me away with the quality of this release. It is simply amazing what modern technology and a little TLC can do to something like a 60-year old television show. I know that for the next couple of nights I will be glued to the screen watching episode for episode of this great TV series and then eagerly expecting the second volume and other season box sets. Let's just hope Paramount's won't be taking too long to bring them on.

Thanks to DVD Review

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