Blu-ray Review: The Scarface Mob

Blu-ray Reviews, Reviews, Top Story

The Untouchables was a show that dad watched religiously in the ’70s when the reruns were on TV. Each episode featured Eliot Ness (Robert Stack) and his crew of lawmen busting the mob in Chicago and other parts of the country. During its original run from 1959-1963, the series had a lot of critics. This was a rather violent show and featured more gunshots per episode until SWAT arrived in the mid-70s. What’s interesting is the people responsible for this Tommy Gun of entertainment. Desilu production was behind The Untouchables. That’s the company owned by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball for their I Love Lucy series. Desi Arnaz optioned Eliot Ness’ autobiography to create a TV movie that would air as part of Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. The anthology show was best known for airing 13-hour long episodes of I Love Lucy. But for two nights in April of 1959, instead of Lucy getting into trouble, America saw Al Capone in The Scarface Mob. The film was such a hit that it became a regular series that Fall with the title The Untouchables.

During the era of Prohibition, the cops had to shut down all booze manufacturing operations. Many citizens of America weren’t ready to stop drinking beer, wine and spirits. People set up stills in the woods and basement breweries to stay drunk. Organized crime discovered manufacturing and distribution of alcohol fit nicely with their other vice rackets. While certain cities were easy to clean up, The Bureau of Prohibition in the Treasury Department was having no luck in Chicago. The big problem was all the local cops and justice officials were on the payroll of Al Capone (Tin Star‘s Neville Brand). When Eliot Ness (Unsolved Mysteries‘ Robert Stack) gets assigned to bust up Chi-Town, he starts with the hard task of finding seven honest men in the Bureau of Prohibition. Because his carefully selected men aren’t willing to be bribed, they quickly get the nickname “The Untouchables.” Ness and his associates aren’t playing nice. They create an armored truck for smashing into the various breweries and distilleries around town. Ness gets even closer to Capone when one of his employees wants to turn stoolie. He’s not liking how Capone is eyeing his Buresque queen wife Brandy La France (Sweet Smell of Success‘ Barbara Nichols). Is this guy really going to turn in his boss or is he part of Capone’s game to ruin Ness and his team?

Perhaps the smartest thing Desi Arnaz did was double up the budget of The Scarface Mob than what Westinghouse would cover. Instead of getting a flimsy soundstage production, the TV movie plays like a gangster flick that ran at your local theater in the Golden Age of Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney. Director Phil Karlson’s The Phenix City Story was already legendary as a movie about a town taken over by mobsters. He understood how to make show a city under siege by the underworld. This level of production allowed the film to look great when it ran in Europe as a feature film. Halfway through The Untouchables run on TV, Desilu released The Scarface Mob to movie theaters so they could see Eliot Ness bigger than life instead of 9 inches tall on their TV set. Desi’s financial risk paid off royally from himself and viewers.

The Scarface Mob is such a rush to watch as Ness puts together his original team that includes Keenan Wynn (Dr. Strangelove) as a variation of the character Sean Connery (From Russia With Love) played in Brian De Palma’s remake. Neville Brand is so imposing and menacing as Capone. You don’t want to mess with the guy. Most importantly is Robert Stack as Ness. He’s completely “Mr. Law and Order.” He doesn’t allow us to think for a minute that he’s going to take an envelope from a mobster. He might doubt he can destroy the underworld empire, but he won’t allow himself to be destroyed. You know that at the end of The Scarface Mob, only Ness or Capone is walking away a free man. There will be no compromise.

Image 5

The Video is 1.33:1 Full Frame. The black and white transfer glistens when the booze barrels get hacked away by Ness and his men. The Audio is LPCM 2.0 Mono. You get to hear all the bullets and mobster talk clearly. The movie is subtitled in English.

Gang Busters (23:10) is a video essay about the career of director Philip Karlson by critic David Cairns. He was a great choice to direct since he’d made the gangster and Film Noir classics Kansas City Confidential, 5 Against the House, The Phenix City Story and The Brothers Rico. He understood crime in Chicago during the Roaring ’20s. He once heard saw a mobster gun downed in front of him. He wasn’t operating for other crime movies when he set up the hits on screen. Karlson would go on to direct Dean Martin in The Silencers and Joe Don Baker in Walking Tall.

Philip Kemp on The Scarface Mob (19:05) lets the critic get into the history of Eliot Ness from reality to the theatrical version. When prohibition hit America, Al Capone and other underworld figures rose up with their illegal booze trade. Capone also had a lot of other vices. He thrived because the Chicago police and others were on his payroll. Eliot Ness and a group of lawmen who weren’t on the take were sent to Chicago to clean up the town and smash Capone’s operation. After Capone was sent away to Alcatraz on Tax Evasion charges, Ness went to Cleveland where he couldn’t catch a serial killer. As his career waned, Ness worked with Oscar Fraley on a book about his days pursuing Capone. He died in obscurity. When The Untouchables book was released, it sold over a million copies. The TV show proved to be a hit.

Theatrical Trailer (1:37) opens with bullets flying and a special squad coming to town to tackle Capone.

Image Galleries includes numerous posters from around the world, stills, lobby cards and publicity photos. There’s a bit more to Barbara Nichols’ burlesque routine.

Arrow Videos presents The Scarface Mob. Directed by Phil Karlson. Screenplay by Paul Monash. Starring Robert Stack, Keenan Wynn, Bruce Gordon, Neville Brand and Walter Winchell. Running Time: 99 Minutes. Rated: Unrated. Release Date: April 23, 2024.

Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.