Thursday, January 12, 2017

Television Review: HONDO: "Hondo and The War Hawks" (1967)

 




"Your lives are meaningless compared to HONDO!"







HONDO: "Hondo and The War Hawks"  (1967 ABC-TV/MGM/Batjac Productions) Episode 7; Original Air Date: October 20, 1967.  Starring Ralph Taeger as Hondo Lane, Noah Beery Jr. as Buffalo Baker, Kathie Browne as Angie Dow, Gary Clarke as Captain Richards, Michael Pate as Chief Vittoro, Buddy Foster as Johnny Dow, William Bryant as Colonel Crook, Glenn Langan as Victor Tribolet.  Guest Stars John Carroll as Colonel "Buckeye" Jack Smith, Jim Davis as Krantz, Lawrence Montaigne as Soldado, Ed McCready as the Sergeant.  Written by Donn Mullally.  Directed by Michael D. (Mickey) Moore.


Series Overview for HONDO: TV's Unlikeliest Cult Hit at this link  


Hondo is giving the Apaches marksmanship lessons on order from Colonel Crook.  The purpose is twofold: to strengthen their hunting skills and Chief Vittoro's tribal leadership by discouraging any insurgency.  It's a controversial order within the confines of the Fort, though.  Captain Richards is none too pleased with it after he finds the entire Holbrook family dead, massacred by renegades led by Vittoro's would-be usurper Saldado.   Richards grows warier when Crook is summoned to Washington, D.C. and flamboyant "Buckeye" Jack Smith is his temporary replacement, an assignment arranged by well connected freighting magnate Victor Tribolet.


With his hand-picked commander on the way, Tribolet plots to engineer a full-scale war.  Relaying inside information on ammunition deliveries (via henchman Krantz) to the ambitious Soldado, Tribolet plans to freight firepower to both sides once hotter heads prevail.  After Smith imperils months of meticulously managed trust by ordering all Apaches to surrender their arms, Hondo disobeys the new Colonel's directive and rides to Tucson to retrieve Crook.  This insubordination lands Lane in the guardhouse just as Soldado sets a trap for Smith and Richards by volunteering to be the first to turn in all of his people's weapons.


An arrogant but accomplished senior officer arrives to threaten the uneasy peace in Arizona territory.  On the surface, it's the same setup presented in Hondo and the Savage, but Donn Mullally's lone HONDO offers a much more nuanced script, realizing richer possibilities while offering effective (and timeless) political commentary.  Like General Rutledge, "Buckeye Jack" shows ignorance of the territory, but the relentless self-promoter (as Buffalo derisively details) Smith is the less humble--and therefore, more dangerous--of the two.  Rutledge arrived at Fort Lowell having "never fought" Native Americans before.  Smith, fresh off a successful campaign against the Sioux, is much more assured that he can bend any Apache to his will coming in.  Even moreso after Soldado's quick response to the Colonel's directive.


By bringing Vittoro (absent from Savage) back to the forefront, Mullally is able to present wide ranging points of view from both sides.  When Richards expresses displeasure with Crook's plan, the Chief points out to the skeptical Captain that his braves are also training to support Richards.  In the wake of back-to-back wagon attacks, Smith's order certainly seems understandable to an outsider (if not to Crook).  And given the history between the army and the Apache, even mutineer Soldado isn't entirely unjustified in his distrust of any reliance on the "white man". 


While Soldado's following isn't insignificant (note the braves who depart with the renegade when he's ordered away by Vittoro), he lacks the numbers to overthrow his Chief.  Nevertheless, Soldado is a more formidable challenger than Silva--emboldened enough by his successes to brazenly call the Chief an "old woman" twice in front of Hondo and other tribal leaders.  It is arguable whose methods are less admirable (both kill unarmed settlers) but Soldado, who uses Buckeye's arrogance against him, clearly appears to be tactically superior to Silva.  Little surprise that his coup d'├ętat comes closer to succeeding.


For all the shades of grey Mullaly provides, there's still a couple of one-dimensional villains in Hondo and the War Hawks. Victor Tribolet, making his first appearance as the brother of the freighting tycoon played in the pilot by Michael Rennie.  With Rennie unavailable for the series, a well-cast Glenn Langan (THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN) made the first of his five appearances, during which he would become a major thorn in Hondo's side, albeit one defined mainly by greed.  Tribolet was Langan's last television role, but he returned for a minor role in Fenady's feature CHISUM in 1970.


Jim Davis returns from the two-part pilot as henchman Krantz, mainly to ask the questions answered by Tribolet's expository lines.  Krantz doesn't fare any better with his fists here than he did previously, though, remaining winless in the HONDO ring. Whether he faced former mining boss Gallagher, Buffalo or Lane, the result was always the same on this series--the future Jock Ewing got his ass kicked.  No wonder he didn't return after this third go-round.


Finally, Mullaly's ironic closing note is a perfect capper, keeping our true heroes unsung.  Proving that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, it's blustery Buckeye Jack who ends up with full credit for "diffusing a volatile situation" back in D.C., stealing Colonel Crook's medal out from under him in the process.  Arrogant myopia resulting in top honors and a cushy desk job in the nation's capital after royally screwing up and almost getting everyone killed--gee, good thing that could never really happen....


WHO'S THE REAL HERO HERE?

Chief of the Chircahua and Apache Nation Vittoro, makes his sixth appearance in the first seven shows (he would appear in only three of the remaining ten) and gets to ride to the rescue again--for the third time, after Hondo and the Eagle Claw and Hondo and the War Cry



HOW MANY CANS OF WHOOPASS?

Hondo gets the better of Saldado twice, needing only one punch the first time.  He also gets into a tag team battle against Tribolet's henchman, in which Lane knocks henchman Krantz into a watering trough before the fight is quelled.  And as usual, the battle royale was hosted by Fort Lowell's favorite thirst quencher.  Speaking of.....


IS THE CANTINA STILL STANDING?

Yes, but the front window was shattered during that donnybrook, which saw Hondo and Buffalo on one side and Tribolet's minions on the other.  A smashed window is always flashy, but all in all, there was less property damage than usual in the end.  Several tables and chairs were overturned but still intact.


A DOG'S LIFE:

Sam is present throughout, but for once he's just an observer.  He does get to hang back with Buffalo during Lane's trip to Tucson, and for once, the canine's presence in the watering hole doesn't start a fight. 


THE BOTTOM LINE:

A very well developed entry, probably the best illustrating the precarity of the Vittoro/Crook alliance.  Also commendably introducing another challenging obstacle to maintaining it in Tribolet.  Another of Fenady's intriguimg supporting casts: Langan's hissable villain became a frequent foil and Carroll's TV debut was also his first appearance onscreen in eight long years.  Social commentary has aged as well as the bitterly ironic coda.  (***1/2 out of four)



HONDO currently airs every Sunday morning at 6:30 AM Central on getTV. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Film Review: POP ALWAYS PAYS (1940)







Why the Hell isn't this on DVD yet?--Number 99










POP ALWAYS PAYS (1940 RKO Radio Pictures) Starring Leon Errol, Dennis O'Keefe, Adele Pearce, Walter Catlett, Marjorie Gatesman, Robert Middlemass, Tom Kennedy, Effie Anderson, Erskine Sanford.  Written by Charles E. Roberts.  Directed by Leslie Goodwins.


Businessman Errol isn't wild about daughter Pearce's chosen mate, profligate O'Keefe.  To stop them from marrying, Leon lays down the law: he won't approve of the wedding until O'Keefe has one thousand dollars in a savings account (approximately $17,600 in today's dollars).  Underestimating the suitor's determination, "Pop" confidently offers to match the sum once O'Keefe reaches his goal. 


As you might guess, ol' Rubberlegs soon regrets that decision.  With Pearce's prodding, O'Keefe sells his overpriced car and frugally begins fattening his savings account.  Meanwhile, Errol experiences a severe financial slump.  Rejected for a bank loan and facing a forced merger with rival Middlemass, Leon resorts to a desperate measure--the attempted robbery of his own home.


Along with Edgar Kennedy, Errol was a go-to guy for RKO short subjects for two decades, and the prolific comedian also frequently headlined "B" movies for the studio.  On its surface, POP ALWAYS PAYS appears to be a padded two-reeler sans the London Bridge theme song (sort of: Errol sings it briefly at once point).  But look deeper, and fans of the flexibly limbed star will find several atypical elements this time around.

No, there's no vodka in it!!!
For starters, you won't see that wobbling walk of the inebriated: Leon drinks nothing stronger than orange juice.  Philandering?  The only thing Errol is trying to hide from Gatesman is his face-saving attempt to pawn her jewelry.  Is she mad at him for that?  No, the Mrs. subtly and quietly nudges the supposed master of the house into the directions she desires (i.e. in favor of their daughter's marriage), playing chess to Leon's checkers.  The nominal head of the Errol household fares no better with maid Anderson, multiple firings and re-hirings notwithstanding.  Add in mooching next door neighbor Catlett, who--reminiscent of Jack Rice's brother-in-law in the Average Man shorts--essentially manages to stock his kitchen at Leon's expense, and POP ALWAYS PAYS more than lives up to its title, playing more like an extended version of a Kennedy two-reeler than one of Errol's. 



While a change of pace, POP ALWAYS PAYS is still a decent display of the man's genius even without Leon's regular shtick, providing him plenty of opportunities for impeccably timed comic denials and double takes as he weaves an increasingly tangled web of deception.  In another new wrinkle, it isn't Elisabeth Risdon or Dorothy Grainger playing Mrs. Errol this time.  Marjorie Gateson does the honors instead, with chemistry strong enough to make you wish they'd worked together more often.



Next door neighbor Catlett manages a seemingly impossible task: stealing a scene from Errol.  To be fair, Walter is playing a truly hilarious freeloader who doesn't even have a car and has been bumming rides from Errol for a decadeCatlett invites himself over for breakfast, "borrows" sugar and two cans of coffee, and takes full advantage of a household distraction by making off with Leon's pot roast and noodles dinner--all in the first 15 minutes.   These two old pros went way back: Catlett teamed with Errol onstage in Ziegfield's SALLY (1924) and they later reunited for the RKO vehicles HAT CHECK HONEY (1944) and RIVERBOAT RHYTHM (1946).

Tom Kennedy
Catlett stays a step ahead of his old vaudeville pal, but that isn't the only running battle to maintain amusement.  Spendthrift O'Keefe also gets to indulge in double talk, usually directed at nemesis Tom Kennedy, a repo man who almost manages to seize the young man's vehicle multiple times.  Almost, but not quite--which leaves Tom sputtering and fuming nearly as much as his slow-burning namesake Edgar. 

O'Keefe and Pearce...at the time, anyway
The former Bud Flanagan was three years into his career as O'Keefe, but Adele Pearce would become much better known after changing her screen name to Pamela Blake a year later.  They're fine, but no match for the vaudeville vets.  Mercury player Erskine Sanford was making only his second film appearance at age 55; the next year, he appeared in the first of his five films for Orson Welles, CITIZEN KANE.  Frank Faylen (DOBIE GILLIS), Walter Sande, Vivien Oakland and Lester Dorr are among those who pop up uncredited.

He won't have to kill that boy for another twenty years
Speaking of uncredited contributions, writer Roberts reportedly relieved Goodwins in the director's chair when the latter fell ill during filming.  Both collaborated with Errol dozens of times during the star's RKO run and the three men were responsible for numerous two-reelers that provided several solidly funny moments in eighteen minutes.  With POP ALWAYS PAYS, they manage to sustain a similar ratio of laughs per minute for just under quadruple the running time.

SO...WHY ISN'T THIS ON DVD?

There's plenty of "B" movies just over an hour long from the 1930's and 1940's that aren't out on home video, so this RKO quickie isn't unique.


WHY IT SHOULD BE ON DVD:

As mentioned, we need all the Leon Errol we can get on home video.  His 98 RKO shorts (rarely aired these days) sadly lack a proper release, with only about a dozen available courtesy VCI.  While we did get the MEXICAN SPITFIRE collection out a few years back from Warner Archive, that still leaves plenty of Leon's best in limbo. 

Without the customary boozing and marital misunderstandings, POP ALWAYS PAYS avoids the repetition that plagued the Errol shorts from time to time.  While no classic, it is a fun way to spend an hour.  It aired on TCM in November and is worth a DVR'ing if and when it returns.

The introduction to our Leon Errol Salute series is at this link.

Friday, December 23, 2016

F TROOP Fridays: "Play, Gypsy, Play" (1966)








F TROOP Fridays: Episode 14







F TROOP: "Play, Gypsy, Play" (1966 ABC-TV/Warner Brothers) Season One, Episode 24: Original Air Date March 1, 1966.  Starring Forrest Tucker as Sergeant Morgan O'Rourke, Larry Storch as Corporal Randolph Agarn, Ken Berry as Captain Wilton Parmenter, Melody Patterson as Wrangler Jane, Frank deKova as Chief Wild Eagle, Bob Steele as Duffy, James Hampton as Bugler Dobbs, Don Diamond as Crazy Cat.  Guest Stars Zsa Zsa Gabor as Marika, Jackie Loughery as Tanya, Angela Korens as Sonya. Lee Meriwether as Lily O'Reilly.  Directed by Gene Reynolds.  Written by Arthur Julian.


This week's F TROOP Fridays entry is in memory of the episode's Special Guest Star: the late Zsa Zsa Gabor, who passed away from a heart attack last Sunday at age 99.  R.I.P.


Captain Parmenter receives word that a wagon has been separated from its train in hostile Indian territory.  Sgt. O'Rourke is ordered to take a four man detail to search for it, leaving Vice President Agarn temporarily in charge of O'Rourke Enterprises.  With added incentive from the new "employee profit-sharing program", Agarn goes to talk business with Wild Eagle and Crazy Cat.


During the ensuing powwow, that missing wagon turns up at the Hekawi camp, carrying three singing Gypsy sisters: Marika, Tanya and Sonya.  Eager to make his mark as acting President, Agarn arranges Fort Courage protection for the Hungarian ladies and negotiates a 50/50 split with leader Marika on sales of souvenirs, palm readings and goulash. 


The Captain soon regrets this decision, with Hoffenmueller soon sporting earrings on sentry duty and Dobbs playing Reveille on the mandolin.  Once Parmenter informs him that the ladies have worn out their welcome, Agarn settles up--and finds himself identified by Marika as Prince Igor: the long lost successor to Laszlo, King of Hungary.  Since that's a higher rank than Corporal or Vice President, Agarn is ready to leave the fort behind.  Then Janie receives new information via telegraph indicating the "lost wagon" wasn't lost after all.


What if Corporal Randolph Agarn were running his own business?  Play, Gypsy, Play explores this hypothetical for the first time, and much like a backup quarterback who is exposed after the league gets some tape on him, Randolph gets off to a solid start but can't sustain it. 


For awhile, though, Agarn sure does his due diligence: seeing the possibilities of business with the gypsies, negotiating a fair deal, adeptly getting the Captain's approval and carefully tracking all sales to ensure that shifty Marika doesn't cheat him.  Entering Act Two, it's as if the Sarge never left.  The first crack in the Corporal's armor is his inability to prevent Parmenter from ordering the gravy train to leave, but Agarn nevertheless collects $22 in profits before the policy change.  All in all, we still appear to have a strong depth chart at O'Rourke Enterprises.

And then......


The Corporal unravels.  Surprisingly,he's done in not so much by Marika's charm, but from his own greed.  The thought of receiving his weight in gold seems to have even more sway than the power of a kingdom ("Mine, you hear?  All mine!") with the marriage to a beautiful Romani girl appearing to be a distant third.  Agarn is so preoccupied with his impending riches, he even lets Parmenter snooker him out of his earnings before Marika can!   If Wilton Parmenter is putting one over on you, well---hey, some guys are VICE President for a reason.



Once her fair complexion and blonde hair is properly lampshaded ("We're from the northern part of Hungary, dahling!"), Zsa Zsa Gabor's Marika proves to be quite a formidable conwoman.  She doesn't even split with her sisters, and both are puzzled at her willingness to accept a 50/50 division with Agarn.  But Marika is thinking ahead, and she ends up having the last laugh, getting away from Fort Courage with her half of the profits intact.  It's the sisters' fourth consecutive success story at a military outpost.


So, does Zsa Zsa's Marika surpass Lily O'Reilly and happy go lucky widow Hermoine Gooderly as the best female adversary to visit Fort Courage?  Maybe, maybe not.  Despite her success here, it's undeniable that her task (facing the second stringer) was easier.  Since O'Rourke was immune to the charms of the other two, it seems likely the Sarge could have resisted Maygarian wiles also.


Then again, O'Rourke re-emerges in the tag with a "new" line of souvenirs he found on his travels that had already saturated the Fort Courage market in his absence.  Better hope for some tourists who have yet to encounter that nomadic wagon, Sergeant!


Forrest Tucker has barely a minute of screen time in Play, Gypsy, Play.  The reason for Tuck's extremely limited participation?  Filming took place during the Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach (January 20-23, 1966), a tournament that the longtime Lakeside member (and 1947 Frank Borzage champ) had his own furlough approved for.  (Trivia: Texan Don Massengale was the winner, his first PGA title.)

L to R: Angela Korens, Jackie Loughery, Zsa Zsa Gabor
Speaking of champions, two former beauty pageant winners are visiting Fort Courage this segment, with glamorous Miss Hungary of 1936 Gabor overshadowing 1952 Miss USA Jackie Loughery.  Play, Gypsy, Play was Loughery's penultimate performance: after a 1969 guest appearance on MARCUS WELBY, M.D. she retired from the screen.  Ms. Loughery only has a few lines here: for much more her (she turns 87 next April), check out these two appearances of hers on LOVE THAT BOB).  Third sister Sonya is played by Hungarian immigrant Angela Korens, who also appeared on TEMPLE HOUSTON and I SPY during her brief acting career in the mid-1960's. 


THINGS YOU LEARNED:

The Tuwatsi tribe is a neighbor to the Hekawis.  "Always dancing" per Chief Wild Eagle.  Despite that annoyance I'd assume they are better neighbors than the Shugs.

Agarn weighs a svelte 155 lbs., but has been up to 200 before.

Continuing to demonstrate that he is a talented musician, Dobbs sounds pretty good on the mandolin.  So Private Dobbs can effectively play the flute, drums and mandolin--but not the bugle.


HOW'S BUSINESS AT O'ROURKE ENTERPRISES?

Agarn earned about two months' pay in just a few days under the profit-sharing plan before it all slipped away from him. 

WISE OLD HEKAWI SAYING?

Not this time, all of the wisdom is Hungarian.  And plentiful, since Marika ends up doing 28 palm readings that we know of.

NUMBER OF TIMES O'ROURKE COULD HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH TREASON:

Zero, partly because he was barely around.   In fact, this entry was largely free of violations, though we did temporarily face a potential war with Hungary over the release of Prince Agarn/Igor from the U.S. Army.


PC OR NOT PC?

Well....I'll just present this exchange without further comment:

MARIKA: Chief, dahling, you want your palm read?
WILD EAGLE: (looking at it) It already is.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

I guess I could nitpick and point out that the immigration of Hungarian Slovak Gypsies to the United States didn't start until about 20 years after the Civil War, but why bother?  Play, Gypsy, Play is a very amusing and sometimes surprising look at Randolph in charge, with Zsa Zsa Gabor's larger than life persona fitting in perfectly for a Fort Courage visit.  Arthur Julian's sharp lines help Storch and Berry capably shoulder the comedic load in Forrest Tucker's absence.   (***1/2 out of four)

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Horn Section Salutes: LEON ERROL (1881?-1951)

Marion Martin, Leon Errol and Lupe Velez, L to R

No, it isn't his birthday this month, nor his death anniversary.  Just a realization that 65 years after his passing, Leon Errol has become criminally underappreciated.  I'd certainly say that with Warner Archive now giving DVD availability to most of the Wheeler and Woolsey RKO features, Errol is without question the most undeservedly obscure comedy great of the twentieth century.


Errol's entertainment career spanned more than half a century.  He originally planned to be a surgeon, studying at Sydney University, but the pre-med student enjoyed unexpected success penning and performing in a vaudeville revue circa 1896.  The original intent was to help put himself through medical school, but the lure of the stage finally won out as Errol displayed a real flair for physical comedy as a performer, writer and director.   Incidentally, Errol's oft-cited birth year of 1881 is at odds with this timing, as noted previously by author Frank Cullen in Vaudeville Old and New--Cullen reports that a birth year of 1876 is a more likely for Mr. Errol. 


Leon Errol emigrated to the United States around 1904 along with dance partner Stella Chatelaine (they married in 1906) and initially performed on the West Coast.  Leon's physical comedy with often inebriated characters and wobbly-legged walking made him an immediate hit onstage.  Off it, he was a jack of all trades, not only starring and producing but also writing music, lyrics and librettos.  While managing Orpheum Theatre in Portland, Leon hired an 18-year old Roscoe Arbuckle for one company tour. 

Leon with Lupe Velez

The Errols eventually landed in New York for Leon's (and Stella's) Broadway debut on June 26, 1911: The Ziegfield Follies of 1911 also marked the debut of a truly groundbreaking comedy team when Errol collaborated with African-American comedy legend Bert Williams.  Whether they were the first black-and-white comedy team in the U.S.A. is uncertain, but Cullen confirms they were the very first to perform on Broadway.  Sketches with Williams as the service provider and Errol as his tipsy customer were judged the hit of the show in 1911 and the teaming continued for the next four years of Follies. 


Thus began Leon Errol's long association with Broadway.  Over the next eighteen years, he appeared in 21 shows on the Great White Way, also directing and choreographing many, including the 1914 edition of the Follies.  While Leon was respected for his varied talents and impeccable with dialogue, it was his aforementioned drunk act that continued to attract the most attention, earning him the enduring nickname "Rubberlegs".  Staggering and tottering while wrinkling his beak-like nose, the balding Errol could also get laughs effortlessly without a single word.


The ability to do so without great material would serve him well after he made the full-time jump to motion pictures.  Leon's prime years were spent on the stage.  By the time he starred in his first sound feature (1930's ONLY SAPS WORK) he was nearly fifty (maybe even over it, as noted above)--older than all of his comedy contemporaries save W.C. Fields.  By then, Errol's distinctive features had grown almost as rubbery as those legs, which still wobbled as unsteadily as ever.  Errol transitioned comfortably into both features and two-reelers.


If his age was the first reason that Errol didn't quite get the push to stardom that younger comedians received in the next two decades (i.e. the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, the Three Stooges), the second might be repetitive material--more on that we go move through his filmography in future posts. 

A typical Errol moment, with Claire Carleton

As was the case with Fields, age didn't really soften Errol's onscreen image, which belied his faithful forty-year marriage off screen.  Philandering, lying, sneaky and lecherous, the stock "Leon Errol" character of the RKO shorts is pretty refreshing to modern eyes.  No wonder the series lasted eighteen years (after a brief stint with Columbia's shorts department).  Leon was more avuncular as Uncle Matt in the MEXICAN SPITFIRE film series (1939-1943) opposite equally underrated Lupe Velez, but still got to play his besotted, toffee-nosed alter ego Lord Epping in seven of the eight films in that very popular RKO series.  Dual roles were always a specialty: he had well over a dozen in his filmography. 

As Lord Epping in MEXICAN SPITFIRE'S BABY (1941)
Despite his late start in Hollywood, Leon Errol was remarkably durable.  He kept right on working after Stella Errol's sudden death from a brain hemorrhage in 1946, landing another film series as Knobby Walsh in the JOE PALOOKA series while continuing to churn out shorts for RKO.

There was some concern that Leon was nearing the end of the line in 1950 when an illness forced his exit from the PALOOKA series after eight entries and limited him to three new shorts, but the septuagenarian comic came roaring back the following year. 

With W.C. Fields: great minds drink alike!

Errol completed six new two-reelers in 1951, playing a dual role in two and reprising his most famous alter ego in Lord Epping Returns, which sadly would be the last released in his lifetime.  Just three weeks after its release, Errol suffered a fatal heart attack on October 12.  And if two-reelers were slowing down, Errol hadn't been intending to: he was in negotiations to bring his character to television in 1952 with long-time screen wife Dorothy Grainger co-starring.  A trouper to the end.


Leon Errol could make even a weak script hold some interest with his considerable and well-honed talents.  As the Leon Errol Salute Series commences, we will review some of those now-forgotten--but surprisingly entertaining--shorts and feature films that Mr. Errol left for us during the last two decades of his fifty years in show business.

Friday, November 25, 2016

F TROOP Fridays: "O'Rourke vs. O'Reilly" (1965)









F TROOP Fridays: Number 13










F TROOP: "O'Rourke vs. O'Reilly" (1965 ABC-TV/Warner Brothers) Season One, Episode One: Original Air Date December 7, 1965.  Starring Forrest Tucker as Sergeant Morgan O'Rourke, Larry Storch as Corporal Randolph Agarn, Ken Berry as Captain Wilton Parmenter, Melody Patterson as Wrangler Jane, Frank deKova as Chief Wild Eagle, Benny Baker as Pete, James Hampton as Bugler Dobbs.  Guest Star Lee Meriwether as Lily O'Reilly.  Directed by Les Goodwins.  Written by Arthur Julian.


On a sunny day in Fort Courage, Sergeant O'Rourke and Corporal Agarn are hard at work inside their saloon with bartender Pete.  No, the thriving cornerstone business of O'Rourke Enterprises isn't open for the day just yet--before they can, there's whiskey that still needs to be watered down. 


The slightest noise from outside makes good old Pete nervous, with some good reason: "Nobody knows you own this saloon!  Everybody thinks I own it!"  Corporal Agarn reassures the public face of the Fort Courage Saloon that they're doing nothing wrong--just "puttin' the chaser in the bottle!"  Easy to get away with, when your business is unchallenged for a hot and thirsty 109-mile radius.  Oh, and that ruckus outside?   The noon stage from Dodge City just arrived with pretty young newcomer Lily O'Reilly.



Agarn's reaction to her is fair representative of every other lovesick horndog Fort Courage male, but the more reserved O'Rourke proves to be as sharp an operator outside the saloon as in it, immediately catchin' on that she's a "daughter of the old sod".  Aye, but shrewd Miss O'Reilly pegs him as a "chip off the old blarney stone".  A promisin' beginnin', mind ya, but there's soon troublin' signs....


Lily plans to give the town a second female entrepreneur to go with general store proprietor Wrangler Jane.  And a rather progressive one, since she plans to open up a competing saloon to share that 109 mile radius with O'Rourke's.  That is, until she learns that a soldier on active duty is her competitor: a revelation that has her taking over the Sarge's lease with nary a struggle.   With 99 years (and an option for 99 more) secured, O'Reilly begins making successful changes, while seething O'Rourke watches helplessly as his business contacts and partners desert him one by one for the enchanting "new management" his saloon is under.


For the second week in a row after Honest Injun, well established O'Rourke Enterprises faces a challenge to the old master's throne.   For all of the Sarge's business sense, Ms. O'Reilly can match him in that category.  It's Lily's feminine wiles that give her a leg up, allowing her to simply blast through every roadblock the Sergeant can throw out: a lease, a liquor permit from the military governor (watch out, Jane!)...

How soon do you want that permit?
..and even O'Rourke's heretofore iron-clad agreement with the area's only whiskey producer.  No one can look into her smilin' Irish eyes and say no.

Ninety-nine years, with an option for ninety-nine more!
The last of five installments helmed by comedy veteran Leslie Goodwins (the MEXICAN SPITFIRE series, countless Leon Errol RKO shorts), O'Rourke vs. O'Reilly moves merrily along while you're watching it.  By this time only two years from retiring (he died in 1969), Goodwins remains a maestro of visual gags, milking props (a cookie jar, the Captain's portrait of General Grant) for all they're worth and getting just enough mileage out of the distraction created by Lily.  Goodwins also knows when to quit, ending that recurring slapstick gag (featuring men falling off roofs and into water troughs) early in the second act.  One quibble, though: the director should have allowed this show-stopping visual to be the closer:


The underlying subtext in O'Rourke vs. O'Reilly: complacency created by O'Rourke's monopoly left him vulnerable to a hostile takeover.  After being served whiskey that is watered down and subpar (with "just a touch of moccasin"), the Sarge's customers wildly approve of the new owner's changes, creating a nine hour wait for entrance.  (To be fair, it's only "six to get to the bar" once you're in.)  A lesson is learned once everything is back to normal: for the grand re-opening, O'Rourke declares that they will "serve whiskey in our whiskey'"!


1955's Miss America, Meriwether is solid casting for the eye-pleasing business rival who causes even the Vice President of O'Rourke Enterprises to consider shifting loyalty ("I was a spy, Sarge!" he insists).  Speaking of Agarn, Larry Storch gets his usual chance to shine here, reprising his drunk act from CAR 54 in an effort to keep Fort Courage a "one sin town" and providing the outpost's new Temperance League with its tambourine as well as the urgency that drives this installment to its climax.


Said finale is the biggest flaw with O'Rourke vs. O'Reilly.  The donnybrook inadvertently started by preachy Agarn is "the Battle of Bull Run all over again", resulting in the demolition of the saloon and Lily O'Reilly's abrupt decision to go back to Dodge.


But it's a more awkward journey back to the status quo than usual.  Lily O'Reilly has every man in town wrapped around her finger (sans O'Rourke, that is), so why shouldn't she just move her saloon back to its original, unharmed building across the street?  The Sergeant is in no position to stop her, since she still has plenty of blackmail material to hang over his head.  (Strangely she only mentions his saloon ownership while on active duty, bypassing the much more serious infraction: a business partnership with the Hekawis!).  When she shows a romantic interest in her rival in the end--and that does make sense, as he's the only man who challenges her--she still seems to give up her budding empire way too easily. 


Wrangler Jane has only a cameo--strangely, no fireworks from Wilton's lovesick reaction to the new gal in town.  Crazy Cat and Trooper Vanderbilt are both missing from O'Rourke vs. O'Reilly, but Benny Baker makes the second of his five appearances as bartender/frontman Pete. 


THINGS WE LEARNED:

Clem Witherspoon is Fort Courage's never-seen man to see for building permit, and the first of many to disappoint the town's most prominent businessman.

There isn't a rattlesnake within fifty miles of the Fort--according to O'Rourke, it's because the clever creatures know there's a saloon there.

This segment must have taken place after 1874, when Bringing in the Sheaves was written.

Dobbs is pretty hopeless on the bugle, but he's as competent as Don Brewer on drums.   He would later prove to be a talented flutist in What Are You Doing After the Massacre? and That's Show Biz.  Enough to make you think the army should consider a switch from brass instrument to woodwind, just this once.


NUMBER OF TIMES O'ROURKE COULD HAVE BEEN TRIED FOR TREASON:

Once. As mentioned above, Lily O'Reilly certainly could have hung that business agreement with Wild Eagle over his head had she wanted to.  She must have really taken a shine to the Sarge.  Maybe she heard the rumors....

WARNER BROTHERS' RECYCLING, PART 1,570:

The ever-cheap studio found a way to re-use the barroom brawl footage from DODGE CITY (1939) yet again.  While the fit isn't seamless, it works better here than in A Fort's Best Friend is Not a Mother.


PC, OR NOT PC?

One string of comments to offend everyone, with Wild Eagle giving us the most sexist words of all--before he's face to face with Lily O'Reilly--that is.  The Chief laughs off warnings with the cringe-worthy declaration that "squaw is squaw"!  She quickly renders him speechless, so we get no words of wisdom from the wise one this time.


BOTTOM LINE:

I overrated this one a little bit initially: the ending is way too pat and some comic potential goes unrealized.  That said, I don't want to knock it down too far.  Until that shakier-than-usual journey back to Fort Courage's existing state of affairs, O'Rourke vs. O'Reilly provides plenty of great laughs and one of the titular Sergeant's most formidable foes.  It's too bad Meriwether never reprised her role: Lily O'Reilly could have been to F TROOP what Samantha Crawford was to MAVERICK.  (***1/2 out of four)