Producers of the movie "The Untouchables" had one distinct advantage over the people who turned out the popular television series almost 30 years ago: They didn't have J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI breathing down their necks.

Hoover died in 1972, and the FBI says it no longer reviews movies or TV shows. But in the late 1950s, the old curmudgeon took an intense, personal interest in the original "Untouchables." He was not pleased with what he saw.

Hoover and his alter ego, Clyde Tolson, repeatedly and strenuously protested to Desi Arnaz, head of Desilu Productions, whenever they detected a slur against the good name of the FBI. They even considered going public with their criticism and denouncing the TV series as a fictionalized fraud.

Correspondence and FBI reviews of each "Untouchables" episode were obtained from FBI files by our associate Stewart Harris. The documents make clear not only that Hoover was outraged by the series, but that the "Untouchables" scriptwriter took such liberties with the facts that Hoover's outrage was largely justified.

The wooden-faced hero of the TV series, Eliot Ness, was a Treasury agent. Hoover was incensed when Ness and his sidekicks were given credit for triumphs over the underworld that had actually been achieved by his own beloved bureau.

One episode in particular aroused the FBI's wrath. It gave Ness and his shoulder-holstered T-men credit for the bloody raid on the hide-out of Ma Barker and her gang. In fact, the G-men had coordinated the entire operation.

Tolson was furious. "I saw it and it was bad," he wrote. "We must find some way to prevent FBI cases from being used thru such subterfuge as in this instance. It is a fraud upon the public."

The chief target, Arnaz, tried to make amends by calling the Ma Barker episode "a terrible goof" and appending a disclaimer on that show noting that the FBI had also participated in the shootout.

But some G-men were after Arnaz's scalp. In an Oct. 17, 1959, memo to Tolson, a bureau official suggested that exposing "The Untouchables" would be highly effective, "particularly when the public is raising a hue and cry at this time against other networks for falseness {quiz programs}."

Tolson scrawled an order across the bottom of the memo: "Do it as an official protest to ABC. I see no reason for pulling our punches."

A chastened Arnaz promised to avoid any references to the FBI in future "Untouchables" episodes, and agreed to spike plans to link Ness and his men to such FBI targets as John Dillinger, "Baby Face" Nelson and "Pretty Boy" Floyd.

"Untouchables" star Robert Stack didn't help things any when he defended his freewheeling portrayal of Ness in a TV Guide interview by explaining: "It's not like this sophisticated day and age. A friend of mine is an FBI agent . . . . They've got so many rules and regulations in his outfit it's all he can do to blow his nose."

Hoover dashed off a complaint to Arnaz, who called to assure the FBI director that Stack had been misquoted.