Eliot Ness An Untouchable Life
Written and directed by Max Allan Collins
VCI Entertainment 2007
Eliot Ness An Untouchable Life DVD goes beyond the Untouchables / Capone era of the Eliot Ness story to the darker, less heroic Cleveland Torso Murderer days and therein lies a lot of the interest. If you like crime stories and stories about Ness, Capone and the prohibition era, and dirty city politics Eliot Ness An Untouchable Life is an original and interesting take on the period. Max Allan Collins has Ness in his fifties tell his story a few days before his death and just after receiving the galley of The Untouchables book he co-authored with Oscar Fraley. The as told to feel of this DVD is another reason why it stands out.
Eliot Ness An Untouchable Life is a filmed one man show stage production starring Michael Cornelius as Eliot Ness. Mystery novelist and, it seems, jack of all trades Max Allan Collins wrote and directed this venture. The set consists of the Ness family kitchen in the fifties, a dark alley, Ness' office in the thirties, and a restaurant table; all of this gives visual variety to the story.
Usually stage productions do not translate well on film or TV. A couple of exceptions are Paul Newman's version of Our Town and the PBS version of Twelfth Night starring Helen Hunt. Even then, there is a certain static quality to the picture, probably due to limited camera placements and stage lighting limitations, that sort of gets in the way. What makes Eliot Ness An Untouchable Life a cut above the best filmed stage shows is director Max Allan Collins took out the whole audience point of view aspect of the play so you get many different angles and some really cool lighting while still keeping the feel of the one man show with the set and pace of the production. Collins also uses some nifty touches such as the picture of the President on the wall changing between two scenes to mark time for the viewer, something he could not have done by simply filming a stage production.
Even though he looks more like the second baddie on the left in a mystery movie or The Sopranos, Michael Cornelius is very good as a much older than we usually see on screen Eliot Ness. He is obviously comfortable in the part and keeps the viewer believing he is Ness. He also plays Ness as a pretty normal and decent guy and not the American hero the media first made him out to be. Cornelius is not as good when he tries to recreate the other character (Capone, Frank Nitti) in a conversation Ness had. He is much better when he expresses Ness' frustration with the Torso Murderer case.
There are a couple of howlers in the Max Allan Collins play such as "I am not a swearing man so I didn't say what the heck. So what the hell." Or "Our bust was … a bust." that kind of distracts for a bit but otherwise this is a well written and well told story. I am much less impressed with the use of background generic action type music from time to time since it only distracts. I understand the idea was to make Eliot Ness An Untouchable Life feel less of a play but this device does not work, especially as the music itself is awful.
The ending to this one man show is definitely overly dramatic and cheapens the otherwise very interesting production.
Eliot Ness An Untouchable Life is not a perfect production and may be a bit too long but crime story and Ness fans will be entertained.