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Untouchable Then and Now

January 10, 1993|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

History repeats itself.

"The Untouchables," Paramount's first-run syndicated series premiering this week, is based on the Emmy-winning 1959-63 series and on Brian De Palma's popular 1987 feature film--the story of the struggle between U.S. Treasury agent Eliot Ness and the notorious gangster Al Capone in Chicago 60 years ago.

Those involved with the crime drama say this incarnation is relevant for the '90s.

"It is a lot like what is going on now with the gangs and crack dealers," said Michael Horse, late of "Twin Peaks," who plays agent George Steelman. "The FBI was formed because the gangsters were better armed, better financed. I think if they are going to fight the drugs and crime together, they are going to have to do something like the FBI--form a big, powerful well-armed special police department."

Chicago stage actor Tom Amandes, who follows in the footsteps of Robert Stack and Kevin Costner as Ness, said he identifies with his small screen alter-ego. "I think as an actor you have to know when a role really suits you," Amandes said. "I read this and said 'OK.' This is about a young idealistic guy who lives in Chicago with his family and is concerned about the violence that is going on around him and feels like he has to do something."

Gangs have invaded Amandes' own Chicago neighborhood. "Every now and then (the gangs) really flare up," he said. "I remember teaching my oldest girl to ride her bicycle and the cops came out and cleared us off the playground because kids were shooting down the street."

Producer Tim Iacofano said today's audiences need a hero like Ness. "If you look at all the gangster movies of the '30s, none of them have a hero who is on the right side of the law," he said. "I think the reason for the popularity of 'The Untouchables' today is that we live in such a society now that is filled with so many gray areas. I think something like 'The Untouchables' comes along and there is a right side and there is wrong on the other side. It is very clear to the audience. I think Americans look forward to the simplification of things at times."

Iacofano said the new series, which is being shot in Chicago, will delve into the relationships of the Untouchables as well as Ness' personal life. "But it's not going to be 'Untouchablesomething,' " he said, laughing. "We are not going to have a lot of Angst in the Untouchables headquarters. You are going to learn more about the characters. I think far more than the old series. Anybody who remembers the series I think is restricted to people my parents' age and older."

Amandes, who was born the year the original series premiered, remembers seeing a few episodes of the show in reruns. "Of course," he added, "we really didn't watch it as kid. My TV was determined by my two older brothers. It lost out to 'Bullwinkle.' There wasn't any contest."

Horse said he's having a ball doing the series, despite the fact it is being shot in the dead of winter in the Windy City. "I am going down La Salle Street the other day and I am on the running board of this 1929 Packard with my Tommy gun," he said. "I have turned down soaps operas. I want to be outside and I want to have the gun. It is cowboys and Indians to me."

A two-hour premiere of "The Untouchables" airs on KCOP Tuesday at 8 p.m., which will also be the show's regular time slot.

The series also will premiere Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on XETV and air Monday at 9 p.m. and Saturday at 10 p.m. on KADY and Monday at 5 p.m. on WWOR. Reruns of the original "Untouchables" air Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. on XETV.

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