Robert Stack's back as jutty-jawed crime fighter Eliot Ness

November 08, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Sunday is Robert Stack and Eliot Ness night on NBC.

At 8 p.m., Stack hosts "Unsolved Mysteries" and one of the mysteries featured is about the real-life Ness and a case the FBI agent worked in 1930. Then at 9, Stack stars as the mythic Ness of TV's "The Untouchables" fame in "The Return of Eliot Ness." Both shows air on WMAR-TV (Channel 2).

L Call me a sap, but I'm a pushover for these nostalgia-ramas.

The film is set in 1947, just after Al Capone's death. The premise has a now-retired Ness attending the funeral of a former Treasury agent, a close friend, who was killed in the gang war over Capone's turf. As Ness makes his entrance, emerging from a cab at the cemetery, the camera closes in on his face, the music swells and it kind of gets you.

Everybody in Chicago thinks that Ness' old friend was on the take, but Ness knows better and sets out to clear the dead man's name.

At first, it's all hard going with young punks telling Ness he's an old man who should leave town and mind his own business.

But he teams up with the dead man's son, a police officer, and soon he's turning Chicago upside down. When Ness and his crimebusters raid the mob's gambling joints, it kind of gets to you again -- just like when the Untouchables used to take apart all those speakeasies with their axes and machine guns on ABC in the early 1960s.

It's violent -- though not nearly as violent as the original series which was continually being protested. It's sexist, and you've seen every character and situation depicted here a thousand time before in other gangster movies.

Still, when Stack sticks that jaw in the face of a crook and starts talking about "decency," it kind of gets to you.

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