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The Real Untouchables (2001) – DVD Review

real untouchables dvd cover


Written and Directed by: John Fothergill
Narrated by: James Woods


  • 3-episode series on 1 disc
  • Additional historical notes
  • Production Notes and Profiles

Released by: Goldhil Home Media
Region: 1
Rating: NR
Anamorphic: No.

My Advice: Rent it.

G-Men, Feds, the Untouchables. During the first half of the 20th century, the special agents of the FBI were seen as the pinnacle of law enforcement. They were seen as smart, patriotic, and incorruptible. Three agents in particular, Eliot Ness, Melvin Purvis, and Thomas E. Dewey, were famous for hunting down famous criminals like Capone, Dillinger, and Luciano. Of course, like the FBI itself, the truth about these men is less lustrous than the legends suggest. The reality behind this myth is explored in The Real Untouchables.


These three documentaries seem more like Greek tragedies than history. Each Untouchable rises to prominence only to be brought low for one reason or another. With all the effort Ness put into getting Capone, it was the IRS, not the FBI, who succeeded. Jealous of all the publicity Purvis got by taking out the notorious bank robber Dillinger, J. Edgar Hoover destroyed his career and wrote him out of FBI history. And of course everyone knows the famous picture of President Truman holding a paper with the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman”. Dewey was a former G-Man whose efforts against the Mob got him nominated. All this makes you wonder if it was worth it.

We get the usual talking heads, archival footage, and “reenactments” that make up the bulk of historical documentaries. The reenactments really suffer from having actors that have very little resemblance to the people they are portraying. While the subject is interesting and occasionally surprising, the presentation isnit. Obviously, not every docu can as innovative as Crusades or Heritage: Civilization and the Jews, but a little more attention to style would be nice. Woods does a good job with narration, but he’d have to work to do a bad job. It’s a pity that the presentation couldn’t as engaging as the material.

real untouchables tommy gun

The features aren’t much. There are brief profiles of the cops and criminals featured in the series, but why have this as a feature when you go over this in the actual show? And there are profiles of James Woods and the production staff. While having the director, producers, and others involved is nice, all the bios suffer from being too brief. I would liked reading about how the production team felt about learning about this history, how they traced down the still-living witnesses, or anything on how they put this information together. Something.

real untouchables corpse

If the history of crime and law enforcement interests you, rent The Real Untouchables. Otherwise, wait for it on cable.

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