Saturday, August 19, 2017

Television Review: CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Motor Homicide" (1985)

CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Motor Homicide" (CBS-TV/Sony 1985) Original Air Date: February 3, 1985.  Starring Jack Warden as Harry Fox, John Rubenstein as Harrison Fox, Penny Peyser as Gail Fox, Robby Kiger as Josh Fox.  Guest Stars:  Bo Svenson as Chuck Dobson, Patrice Chanel as Saleswoman, Paul Koslo as Maggot, Ed Bakey as Earl Stanton, Susan Bjurman as Evelyn Blaine, Al Ruscio as Manager.  Written by John Baskin, Frank Cardea, George Schenck and Roger Shulman.  Directed by William Asher. 

Introduction to the 1984-86 CBS series CRAZY LIKE A FOX is at this link.

En route to a Fox family camping vacation, Harry swears he's witnessed a murder in a neighboring R.V.  Eschewing their existing reservation, Harry follows the culprit to the not-so-aptly named Heavenly Hideaway, a campground that young Josh accurately describes as a "dump".  Meanwhile, Harry waits for the body to drop.

After an unauthorized search of the RV lands Harry in hot water, the "corpse" turns up alive, well, and very shapely.  After the senior Fox's suspect turns out to be a physically imposing twenty-five year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department, one has to ask: have Harry's instincts finally failed him?  That lifeless arm we see dangling from the ceiling window has to belong to someone.

The first ingredient of the comedy/mystery hybrid is crisply executed in Motor Homicide.  Harrison Fox has rarely been more reluctantly involved than he is here.  First, a two week family vacation is shot to Hell before it even begins, with prime reservations lost while dead fish, poison ivy and bee stings are found--along with a murderer, and a (thankfully friendly) motorcycle gang. 

The sabbatical truncated, Harrison then hopes to enjoy a San Francisco Giants game with his father--only to have the investigation trail heat up again, costing the junior Fox a chance to see a once in a lifetime event at the old Candlestick.  John Rubenstein rarely got more opportunities at priceless reactions.

It's no surprise that the humor is so deftly handled by sitcom vet William Asher (BEWITCHED), but the director had been absent from the detective genre for a quarter century (since 1958's THE THIN MAN) and unfortunately doesn't deliver the second key component of the FOX formula as smoothly. To be fair, the script from the series' creators is problematic also.

You'd think that a long-time cop would know enough to keep his RV locked when he's away, knowing there's a corpse inside.  Certainly you'd think that he'd know not to behave in a way that arouses suspicion: when Harry takes advantage of the first error, Sgt. Dobson is far less outraged than one would expect--and it's that curious inaction that keeps Fox hot on his trail for the rest of Motor Homicide.   As physically menacing as Dobson is (played by Bo Svenson), he's never the truly worthy adversary that his experience should create.

The show's usual charms can go a long way even when the tension is lacking.  In addition to Svenson, Ed Bakey brings his long face and perpetual crooked smile for one of his final TV roles as the failing campground proprietor; Paul Koslo is unusually sympathetic as another of Harry's oddball allies; DAYS OF OUR LIVES co-star Patrice Chanel makes offers that are hard to refuse as a guns and ammo dealer; and the ubiquitous Al Ruscio turns up as yet again, as Bjurman's former landlord.

Asher's only FOX ended up also being his last episodic TV assignment; he closed out his career with the RETURN TO GREEN ACRES reunion movie five years later.  Motor Homicide continued the show's first-season winning streak, scoring a 20.7 rating and outgunning the television premieres of FIREFOX and THE VERDICT to win the 9 PM ET timeslot.  The episode might not fully work but Asher's deft touch for comedy is very much in evidence.  (**1/2 out of four)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Television Review: CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Some Day My Prints Will Come" (1985)

CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Some Day My Prints Will Come" (Sony/CBS-TV 1985)  Original Air Date: December 1, 1985.  Starring Jack Warden as Harry Fox, John Rubenstein as Harrison Fox, Penny Peyser as Gail Fox, Robby Kiger as Josh Fox.  Guest Stars: Norman Fell as Vern, Russ Marin as Jerry Clouser, Ja'net DuBois as Idee, Theodore Wilson as Eddie, Harry Moses as Donald Woodley, Al Ruscio as Tony, Barrie Ingham as Crime Boss, Herman Poppe as Henchman, Joe Renteria as Mendez, Joe E. Tata as Ralph Moss, Sandra Gould as the Landlord.  Written by Sid Dorfman, Philip Saltzman, Harvey Weitzman and David R. Toddman.  Directed by Paul Krasny.

Introduction to the 1984-86 CBS series CRAZY LIKE A FOX is at this link.

Working for his son on his latest case, Harry Fox hits the jackpot when he captures photographic proof of insurance scammer Moss not only out of his wheelchair, but running.  Unfortunately his pictures are mixed up with another customer's at Idee's Photo Shop.  Stuck with snapshots of the docked Wanderer at the pier, Harry asks questions to find the owner that he presumes is the holder of his needed evidence.

Unfortunately for the senior Fox, the shutterbug was Mendez, who is investigating drug traffickers tied to the vessel and the disappearance of its original possessors.  Harry's questioning leads the crime boss to surmise that the two investigators are working together, making both of them targets--along with their perceived co-conspirator: the con artist in Harry's prized photographs.

One simple mixup turns a refreshingly mundane (and realistic) case into one more worthy of Harry Fox's talents.  While the twists that follow in Some Day My Prints Will Come might not be all that surprising for veteran FOX watchers, the story goes into slightly grittier territory than usual once drug lords are involved.  Even comedically nimble Norman Fell keeps a tight jaw and a stone face, no matter how annoyed his cop is to learn that there's a Fox on his case.

Not that the humor suffers: on the contrary, Harry's street savvy serves him well in solving the overall puzzle (as even Detective Vern grudgingly admits),  but his smaller hunches hilariously fail him at some crucial moments (famous almost last words: "They'll never know where the shots are coming from!"). 

Harrison and Harry Fox are both on the same case, and both are in their respective day jobs for once--at the outset.  But of course, the junior Fox is forced into the real action, yet again ending up in the middle of gunfire and a wild car chase.  With his father behind the wheel, it's a tossup as to which experience is more harrowing.

It's always great watching the verbal sparring of old pros Warden and Fell, but there are other delights in a guest cast that's deeper than usual.   Joe E. Tata is at his weaselly best as the fraudster (though it is hard to believe he falls for such an venerable trick in the open), and in another surprise, Al Ruscio isn't part of the mob in an episode revolving around it.  Ja'net Dubois' prime time appearances were sporadic in the mid-1980's, so it's a shame she only has two scenes as the harried Idee.

The fate of Some Day My Prints Will Come was a microcosm of the show's sophomore season.  After being pre-empted on consecutive weeks, CRAZY LIKE A FOX returned to its 9 PM time slot on December 1st--the same night and time that NBC premiered the highly anticipated Perry Mason Returns, the week's top-rated program.  The ensuing 15.2 Nielsen rating was the series' lowest to date.  Too bad: those who opted for Raymond Burr and friends (27.2 and a 39 share) missed another fun ride with the Foxes.  (*** out of four)

CRAZY LIKE A FOX airs Monday through Thursday at 9 A.M. Central on getTV.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Leon Errol Series: ONE WILD NIGHT (1951)

ONE WILD NIGHT (1951 RKO Pictures Short) Starring Leon Errol as Leon, Dorothy Granger as Mrs. Dorothy Errol, Jack Kirkwood as Jack, Perry Sheehan as Peggy, Karen Randle as Gloria, Judith Allen as Harriet.  Written and Directed by Hal Yates.

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

Mrs. Errol wakes up after midnight on Friday morning to find that Leon hasn't come home yet.  Her husband finally staggers home after 3 AM, wearing two stockings, spilling poker chips and slurring his words.  Confronting her husband about this weekly ritual hasn't done any good in the past oh, ninety two reelers, so Dorothy tries another tack: she decides to dress up and go out on her own the following week.  Come next Thursday, Leon can go his way, and she'll go hers.

A week passes, and Leon suddenly isn't so thrilled with this 'agreement' once he hears that the Mrs. isn't committed to limiting herself to female company for the evening.  He even offers to pass up his night at the club and take Mrs. Errol out!  To no avail---Mrs. Errol leaves, upsetting Leon so much that he decides to stay home, passing up the Insulation Officers' Stag Party!  Best friend Jack 'isn't fooled' by Leon's insistence that he "isn't up to" going out, and brings the party to Leon--with Judith and Karen coming along to the Errol home to cheer the boys up.  It works, as Leon gets into the spirit of things.  And of course, the foursome is still partying strong when Mrs. Errol returns.

One has to marvel at Hal Yates' ability to mine so many variations on the theme of Leon's carousing.  One Wild Night allows the forever foiling Dorothy Granger the opportunity to be enticing for once, as the dresses to the nines for her evening out.  She milks the opportunity to make the Mr. jealous, seductively showing him her ankle bracelet (and the shapely calf above it) before brushing him off for their "no questions asked" evening.  Of course, it's all a bluff--Dorothy Errol spends the evening playing cards with her friend Harriet--but its a welcome change to see the tables turned on Leon for once.  Too upset to go to the men's club?  Now that's what I call a twist.

While that new wrinkle adds a bit of intrigue, the best laugh comes from the most familiar source: inebriated Leon Errol.  Opening the proceedings, he stumbles home in the wee wee hours, first staggering out of Jack's car, then wobbling up the steps to the building.  From there Leon loses direction in the hallway twice, occasionally holds on to the wall for dear life and finally rips his pants before slurring spoonerisms under Mrs. Errol's questioning.   For my money, Leon Errol had the finest drunk act in the history of show business, and it's quite a marvel to behold after being honed for nearly a half century by 1951.  Never gets old, trust me.

At Harriet's urging, Dorothy tries her hand at acting tipsy upon her return to the apartment, but finally drops the ball near the goal line once she smells liquor on Leon's breath.  After seventeen minutes of taking the high road, and even feeling guilty about leaving her poor worried husband behind, the Mrs. loses her temper with the Mister anyway.  When Leon overplays his hand, Jack's ill-timed return to the apartment reveals what the evening was really like.  See, Leon?  Stay home on Thursday night like a good boy, and you still end up with an angry wife smashing a bottle smashed over your head.  Might as well gamble, drink, dance and ogle to your heart's content at the stag parties--or at least, quit while your ahead when the wife is offering to let you go out every Thursday with no questions asked.

Jack Kirkwood, Leon's wingman 
A longtime fixture on radio, Jack Kirkwood made a belated start in feature films at age 53 in 1947.  The Irish comedian was most familiar to filmland as Wally Brown's wingman in a series of RKO shorts that started up in 1949 (the year after Edgar Kennedy's death ended that long running series) but two-reelers were on the way out at the troubled studio and the series lasted only two years.  Errol's death was pretty much the end of the department.

The opportunity to see a second unsung comedy great is an added attraction, and Kirkwood does a fine job as the devil on Leon's shoulder here: driving Errol to and fro' every week, bringing two very attractive young ladies over, going to the liquor store to add bourbon to beautiful Peggy's concoction.  And just when it looks like Leon is in the clear, Jack blows his cover and sets off Dorothy Errol's long-awaited explosion.  Talk about a pied piper....  Kirkwood and Errol also worked together in Humphrey Takes a Chance (1950), Errol's final entry in the JOE PALOOKA series.

Perry Sheehan

Beautiful blonde Perry Sheehan was most notable for her striking resemblence to Betty Grable.  After three years as a Powers model, One Wild Night was Sheehan's Hollywood debut, and she had the showcase role here, leading Leon off the straight and narrow.  It's a lively debut: she dances a spirited jitterbug with our star and comes up with spirit concoctions that have to be overproof.

Sheehan worked only sporadically after her 1956 marriage to Dunes casino owner J. Carlton Adair, and passed away in March 2017 at age 95.  As Jack's "date", Karen Randle had to play second fiddle to the much publicized newcomer, though she does get to harmonize (badly) with Kirkwood while providing the backing music for the rug cutting stars.   The stunning native of Lone Wolf, Oklahoma had her most notable role in HURRICANE ISLAND the same year, but her career was nevertheless winding down.  Randle's final film was only a year away. 

Karen Randle, Granger and Errol
Pretty Judith Allen was also near the end of her career.  A De Mille discovery who had her greatest success in the 1930's, Allen had her last credited film appearance in One Wild Night as Granger's confidant.   Some very familiar but solidly executed laughs in the first half, with Errol's conscience once again fading away in the presence of a pretty blonde and Dorothy Granger getting to break out of wet blanket territory.  While Jack Kirkwood isn't utilized quite as well as he could be, One Wild Night is still an agreeable entry in a reliably amusing series.  (*** out of four)

Monday, July 03, 2017

Television Review: CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Turn of the Century Fox" (1985)

CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Turn of the Century Fox" (CBS-TV/Sony 1985) Original Air Date: January 6, 1985.  Starring Jack Warden as Harry Fox, John Rubenstein as Harrison Fox, Penny Peyser as Gail Fox, Robby Kiger as Josh Fox.  Guest Stars: Rue McClanahan as Angie Chambers, Charles Aidman as Randolph Lehrman, DeAnna Robbins as Miss Watley, Kenneth Tigar as Dr. Benoli.  Written by Thomas A. Chehak.  Directed by Paul Krasny. 

Introduction to the 1984-86 CBS series CRAZY LIKE A FOX is at this link.

Co-created by two sitcom vets (John Basham, Roger Shulman) and two action specialists (Frank Cardea and George Schenck), CRAZY LIKE A FOX was conceived as a blend of the two when it appeared that the traditional sitcom was slowly fading away (that is, until Bill Cosby proved that theory false just months before FOX finally hit the air in midseason).  

The show's second installment Turn of the Century Fox showed this concept hitting its stride quickly.  Detective Harry Fox is invited to the reading of old friend Tony Chambers' will, of which son Harrison is the executor.  After seeing real estate, automobiles and Giants season tickets bequeathed elsewhere, Harry is disappointed to find that he's inherited a sealed cigar box.  However, Harry's dismay turns to intrigue when wealthy Randolph Lehrman offers him $1600 for the box--with the stipulation that the contents (which Chambers said revealed "the secret to my success") must remain sealed

Two years before SLEDGE HAMMER! and four before Frank Drebin acquired the trait for the NAKED GUN films, Harry Fox shows right away he's a contender for Worst Driving Detective ever. Fox's ever battered 1975 Coupe de Ville sputters to the Chambers home, almost losing a mirror on the driver's side before the opening credits are over.  Later, a ramming contest with a pursuer ends up with a few more dings in both vehicles and one destroyed Speedy Mat...too bad, the film processor offered one hour nitrate-to-VHS service.

And poor put-upon Harrison ends up with crashing a restaurant's patio dining, getting food spilled on him (likely ruining two nice suits) and, of course, having Harry bum a ride to the Chambers estate.  Rubenstein immediately makes a wonderful straight man for Warden, and surmises why Harry Fox retains such lovability no matter how many times he destroys a vehicle or puts a cigar out on a stucco wall: when Harry ponders why Mr. Chambers gifted him with a secret that he even kept from the Mrs., Harrison knows.  "Because he trusted you to do the right thing."  Even if it meant passing up ever-increasing offers before solving the mystery.

Like lead-in MURDER, SHE WROTE, CRAZY LIKE A FOX always provided guest casts stocked with familiar faces.  The biggest name in Turn of the Century Fox is Rue McClanahan, months away from starting her signature role as Blanche on THE GOLDEN GIRLS.  As the widow of a similarly disheveled detective who was one of Harry's closest friends, she's no stranger to the senior Fox's free spirited ways or the exasperation that is often part of the bargain.  She thankfully takes the wheel from Harry during the third and final chase sequence, proving that Chambers was apparently quite an effective trailer--with her help.

The rest of Mr. Fox's inheritance?  A lone cigar in the box, and some obviously creased baseball cards of the 1942 Washington Senators (62-89, 7th place in the A.L.), likely not too valuable unless one of them was Early Wynn's.  (Grandson Josh informs us that Harry's own collection from the 1930's includes a DiMaggio.)  The comedy always outshined the mystery on this series, which isn't an indictment of the not-bad plotting.  While Turn of the Century Fox offers fewer of the oddballs who always seemed to owe Harry a much-needed favor, there's plenty of laughs to be had in Fox's Clouseau-like ability to create chaos effortlessly and Jack Warden's flawlessly timed one-liners. (*** out of four)

CRAZY LIKE A FOX airs Monday through Thursday at 9 AM Central time on getTV.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Television Review: LOVE THAT BOB: "Bob and the Ravishing Realtor" (1958)

LOVE THAT BOB (a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW): "Bob and the Ravishing Realtor" (Original Air Date: October 14, 1958) Starring Bob Cummings as Bob Collins, Rosemary deCamp as Margaret Collins MacDonald, Elena Verdugo as Janice Tuttle, King Donovan as Harvey Helm, Kevin Burke as Mr. Drucker and Mimi Walters as Maime Drucker.  Written by Paul Henning and Dick Wesson.  Directed by Bob Cummings.

This installment of the LOVE THAT BOB episode guide is presented in tribute to the late Elena Verdugo.  The pioneering actress passed away on May 30 at age 92.

Series overview of LOVE THAT BOB a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW at this link. 

With nephew Chuck away at college and Bob out of the house every night, Margaret MacDonald is ready to consider an offer on the house and downsize.  While Margaret's playboy brother spends a lot of his evenings inside apartments, he has no desire to make one his permanent residence--"thin walls, neighbors complaining when you dance at night".  The Collins house will bring four times what it cost?  "So will the home they sell us!"  Bob has an answer for everything, but changes his tune once he sees this realtor's figure:

You guessed it: the shutterbug lothario isn't interested in actually selling the house, just agent Janice Tuttle--on himself.   Planning to use champagne to seal his deal, Bob runs afoul of his own scheme--and wakes up the next morning to a hangover and an "open house", learning he's signed exclusive rights to market the Collins residence over to the enterprising Ms. Tuttle!

Bob Collins had himself quite a unique situation for a playboy: he had all of the comforts of marriage (a two story house, cooked meal waiting for him every night) without being tied down.  The prospect of losing the ability to have his cake and eat it too had to be a factor in his opposition to Margaret's proposed downsizing.  Probably the factor, since he brought that (and not financial concerns) up first--for Bob, maintaining his current address is crucial to keeping his footloose and fancy-free status quo.

As usual, some time with henpecked Harvey Helm gives a guy plenty of sympathy for Bob's position.  At the outset, Bob's former Air Force co-pilot is planning to use his bowling ball--Bob's gift at his wedding twelve years prior--for the first time.  Harv admits "a married man like me doesn't get out too often" but thinks his athletic skills might have improved in the interim--after all, "housework can toughen a man up".  A beta male?  No doubt--Harv even ruins his brand new suede jacket to pose as an exterminator in Bobby's house-saving scheme.

Bob and the Ravishing Realtor has the usual surfeit of witty double entendres, but this fifth season entry shows signs of tiring minds at the typewriters, noticeably succumbing to silliness in its plotting.  As dulled as his edge might be after a dozen years out of "circulation", even Helm surmises that Bob's scheme to spike the root beer with champagne will be easily detected.  In addition to being lame, the plan seems unbecoming of a suave, sophisticated man about town (similar to the lack of finesse our hero displayed in The Wolf Sitter).   Bob is much funnier and more effective when he's misleading while technically being honest.  An additional reason this particular idea is half-baked is the unforeseen side effect of costing Bob his air of refinement with multiple hiccups in front of the lady (hey, belches weren't allowed on prime time yet!).

Even harder to swallow is the idea that Collins can convince the buyers that the home is riddled with termites with some sawdust and an electric razor.  All in all, not a shining moment for the team of Henning and Wesson, and with its sketchily written leading lady, a prime instance of LOVE THAT BOB really missing the contribution of Shirl Gordon during the 1958-59 season.  The show's lone female writer, Gordon left after the fourth season finale (Bob's Forgotten Fiancee).  Henning and Wesson ended up writing the subsequent year of shows (38 in all!) with virtually no outside help. 

The saving grace of Bob and the Ravishing Realtor is special guest star Elena Verdugo, well known to TV audiences after starring in MEET MILLIE for four seasons.  While she is most familiar to modern audiences for her supporting role in MARCUS WELBY, M.D. (due to the sad unavailability of her earlier hit series), Verdugo was a leading lady in numerous "B" movies before gaining her greatest visibility on the small screen--her other series included REDIGO and MANY HAPPY RETURNS.

"You can look the world over and you won't find a man like this!"

Taken at face value, Bob's description of Verdugo's titular character is apt, but praise that is way too faint.  The PANAMA SAL star was still at the height of her appeal, with some rather priceless reactions to our photo-snapping protagonist as he attempts to make their dealings a "howling" success.  She references his pointed ears, rebuffs him consistently, is wise to him from the get-go, and consistently about three steps ahead of the indomitable wolf.  And yet, she chooses to go out with him anyway.  That might be the biggest stretch in an episode chock full of them.  At least Cummings and Verdugo are very funny together: she returned later in the season for Bob Helps Von Zell, which (you guessed it) also had a special guest star, with producer George Burns' long-time announcer playing himself.


Schultzy was missing from this office-free outing, but sister Margaret attempts to pick up the slack.  Twice she warns the realtor of her brother's wolf status, and also blows the cover on his last-dtich attempt to regain the homestead.  But it's all to no avail.....

DID BOB SCORE? Janice Tuttle decides to go up to Mulholland Drive with him after all, under the guise of "scouting" for a house for her new customer, Bob.   If she likes you after all the preceding chicanery that she was wise to, well---I'd say you have a shot here, Bobby!

The series starts looking at bit long in the tooth at times during the fifth season, and this is one of those times.  The champagne and termites are hard enough to swallow, but Janice Tuttle going up to Mulholland with a man who tried to get her under the influence the first time she was alone with him?  Gotta think Shirl Gordon could have helped this one--Bob was usually a lot more charming in his deviousness than he is here.  Funny in spots, but generally below par despite Verdugo's efforts.    (** out of four)

Friday, June 02, 2017

F TROOP Fridays: "The Return of Bald Eagle" (1965)

F TROOP Fridays: Episode 15

F TROOP: "The Return of Bald Eagle" (1965 ABC-TV/Warner Brothers) Season One, Episode 5: Original Air Date October 12, 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, Bob Steele as Duffy, James Hampton as Bugler Dobbs.  Guest Star: Don Rickles as Bald Eagle.  Directed by Leslie Goodwins.  Written by Arthur Julian.

Yes, I'm a few weeks behind the times in saluting the late Don Rickles, who left us on April 6 at age 90.  Rest in peace, ya hockey puck!

Private Hannibal Shirley Dobbs is having a crisis of confidence at Fort Courage, with his "fat upper lip" giving him the idea that the bugle isn't right for him.  With encouragement from Agarn and the Captain, F Troop retains its Bugler, who soldiers on with renewed confidence that he'll learn a second song to go with "Yankee Doodle".  Calamity avoided--but it isn't the only one facing Parmenter this morning: Bald Eagle has been spotted in the area.

No, not the national bird of the United States.  This Bald Eagle is Chief Wild Eagle's long-estranged and bloodthirsty son, out to prove himself a brave warrior by conquering Fort Courage and collecting seventeen new scalps.   The Chief isn't the least bit interested, especially not when O'Rourke Enterprises' big end of the month sale is looming.  Undeterred, the obnoxious youngster vows to attack Fort Courage all by himself at the same time Captain Parmenter gets a new order from headquarters: seek peace at all costs, through Operation Bury the Hatchet.

The Return of Bald Eagle was included in both the Columbia House VHS and TV Favorites DVD releases, likely due to the lunacy of casting Don Rickles as the titular renegade, but for yours truly, this is one of the lesser lights from the stellar first season.  A talk show and celebrity roast fixture for decades, Rickles was consistently effective as a dramatic performer (THE RAT RACE, CASINO) but a little of him often went a long way in the sitcom format.

Rickles' relentlessness made him a perfect guest star, though, and Mr. Warmth is hilariously manic for a while as the would-be warrior who (understandably) just can't get anyone to follow him.    Unfortunately, his best moment, the gleefully goofy "Happy Birthday!" as he departs with his hostage, gets a quick edit the one time it would be funnier to linger--a rare muffed gag by old pro Goodwins (POP ALWAYS PAYS). 

After three home runs in succession out of the gate,  F TROOP experienced some growing pains with the next two installments.  The problem here?  After a riotous first act that sees the maniacal Rickles turning everyone else (even Storch) into a reactor, writer Julian grounds the momentum to a halt with a too-soft second half that reveals the bloodthirsty Baldy is really a poor, misunderstood kid at heart underneath all that murderous rage.

Yeah, the producers of Rickles' later sitcoms (i.e. C.P.O. SHARKEY) always softened his character, thinking that week after week of unrestrained Donnie would be too much of a good thing.  But this isn't a weekly dose of the Merchant of Venom--it's his lone F TROOP, and this series excelled during the first season keeping it real all the way to the closing credits.  Installments like The New I.G., The 86 Proof Spring and The Day the Indians Won ended just as hilariously as they began, completely devoid of lessons, hugs or retribution for the schemers at the fade-out.  (The tired "character change as resolution" gimmick rarely showed itself either.) Suffice to say that sentimentality isn't a strong point for this show or for Rickles.

For the second episode in a row, Captain Wilton Parmenter gets to display competence on his own without orchestration from his NCO's.  After bringing the Colton Brothers to justice in Corporal Agarn's Farewell to the Troops, the Captain makes Operation Bury the Hatchet a success by doggedly (if rather obliviously) appealing to the "good" side in Fort Courage's attacker. It's here that we learn that Baldy's supposed idolatry of Geronimo contains more than a little resentment, a rather abrupt revelation.  While ultimately disappointing, The Return of Bald Eagle is a very well remembered episode for Rickles' presence alone.  He's perhaps the only performer who can come across like a bull in a china shop on F TROOP--even Milton Berle (The Great Troop Robbery) couldn't pull that one off.


While the Captain has a thin upper lip, he's no better suited to the bugle than Dobbs is, owing his inability to a "fat tongue".  (On the bright side, that's good news for Wrangler Jane!   Oops, sorry...)

Chief Wild Eagle has two sons by a prior marriage: Bald Eagle and Boy Deer.  The latter is a "Dear Boy" per his father, but he must have fallen out of favor later on.  He's never in the running to be Wild Eagle's heir, with Crazy Cat surpassing him despite constantly, blatantly yearning for Wild Eagle's demise.

Wild Eagle is a very progressive employer, implementing the Berry Juice Break at least two decades before the coffee break became an accepted practice in the workplace.


Fort Courage is a treason-free zone, with the men of F Troop even successfully repelling an honest attack--albeit a single-handed one.


Well, Don Rickles is playing a native American, need I say more?


No wisdom this time from the Chief, just a lot of wincing at his least favorite son.  No wonder: not only is he peaceful, but he has no motivation whatsoever to contribute to the family business!


I was a little harsh on this one the first time around.   The first act of The Return of Bald Eagle is hilariously goofy, as is Rickles himself, but the abrupt change to mawkishness in Act Two just doesn't work for this show or its guest star.  But it's still half of a good episode.  No disaster--just too conventionally average in the end, which makes it one of the lesser lights of a stellar first season.    (**1/2 out of four)