Monday, March 02, 2015

MAVERICK Mondays: "Greenbacks, Unlimited" (1960)





MAVERICK Mondays: Number 14






MAVERICK: "Greenbacks Unlimited" (1960 Warner Brothers/ABC-TV) Starring James Garner as Bret Maverick, John Dehner as Big Ed Murphy, Gage Clarke as Foursquare Farley, Wendell Holmes as Colonel Dutton, Roy Engel as the Marshal, Jonathan Hole as Fred, Robert Nichols as Driscoll, John Holland as Terence Tamblyn, Patrick Westwood as London Louie.  Directed by Arthur Lubin.  Written by Robert Vincent Wright.


After Tamblyn "borrows" Bret's horse and the territorial Marshal wires a request for help, Maverick finds himself going back to Denver instead of his intended trip to Kansas City.  Once Bret arrives, he learns the reason his assistance is sought.  An expert safecracker from the East (who we will later learn is Murphy) is on his way to rob the Denver State Bank with two accomplices, and president Dutton is offering Bret a $1,000 reward plus expenses to sniff out the criminals: names and appearances both unknown.  The only known fact about the cracksman: he's also an avid poker player.


Before Bret can scour the casino, he bumps into his old Texas friend Farley, a jack of all trades who mastered none.  That is, until he took up bricklaying, and completed his work for the Denver State Bank.  This job resulted in an unlimited bankroll for blackjack, thanks to a secret passageway to the vault that only Farley (who created it) knows about.  Naturally, a successful robbery by Murphy would end the successful side venture and likely lead to those charges falling on Foursquare, so he too needs Bret's help.



It's a little contrived for Foursquare's house to be adjacent to the bank, but if you can get past that, Greenbacks, Unlimited is a frequently hilarious cat-and-mouse game concocted by Robert Vincent Wright (The People's Friend).  By this time (the final episode of Coles Trapnell's debut season and the show's 79th overall), surprising veteran MAVERICK viewers was becoming a challenge for the new producer's creative team.  Wright was up to the task.


Wright gives us immediate misdirection with the loss of Bret's horse being a minor inconvenience instead of the expected focus of his trip.  Wright then takes his time, methodically unraveling of the true plot.  Nearly half of the episode has passed before we actually meet "Big Ed" Murphy and his partners.  In a real rarity for the series' middle years, there's nary a femme fatale to be found: in fact, Greenbacks, Unlimited doesn't have one credited actress.  Just this lady who wordlessly strolls through the casino once:


In addition to Wright and Lubin (who directed ten of Season Three's 27 installments), Garner was joined one last time by a couple of MAVERICK veterans in front of the camera.  Gage Clarke (Gun-Shy) appeared at least once in all five seasons, and his nervous demeanor is a perfect fit here.  Clarke's Foursquare Farley is that perpetual loser who has finally found a way to win. Farley is smart enough to keep his mouth shut to the locals, but he just can't resist telling the old Texas friend who remembers him as a barber.  Experienced gambler Bret points out that Farley chose a game (blackjack) that will clean him out eventually and encourages him to quit while he's ahead.


Legendary character actor John Dehner returns for a second con after Shady Deal at Sunny Acres, and gets a justifiably memorable entrance in an inspired moment from Lubin.  Dehner has several priceless reactions to the constantly moving millions that he is helpless to corral.  His Murphy resourcefully moves from robbery, to blackmail, to robbery again, and finally seeking a reward--but he's one step behind Bret at every turn.


Frequently side-splittingly funny, Greenbacks, Unlimited nevertheless leaves a bittersweet taste if you're familiar with the fireworks that were transpiring off-screen at the time.  Three days before this third season finale aired (on March 13, 1960), Garner informed Warner Brothers that he was treating his contract as terminated after Warner refused to pay Garner's salary during a "causality period" during the 1960 WGA strike (which began January 16).  Garner refused to return to MAVERICK while the case was pending, and the 1959-1960 season would be the show's last in the Nielsen Top Twenty. 


Warner Bros. Inc vs. Bumgarner was resolved in the actor's favor in November 1961, terminating his contact retroactively to March 10, 1960.  One last Garner episode remained (The Maverick Line had been held back as the intended fourth season opener), but it seems best to treat the sublime Greenbacks, Unlimited as the more suitable sendoff--it's by far the better installment.  


HOW'D BRET DO AT POKER?

Bret loses a dime--literally ten cents--playing penny-ante as he waits for his horse, and that's it.  Even though he's looking for a poker player, this opening hand ends up being the only one we see him play.  His planned game in Denver doesn't materialize as Big Ed leaves the table as soon as Maverick arrives.


WISDOM FROM PAPPY?

"He who fights and runs away will live to run away another day."  F Troop's Corporal Randolph Agarn would later co-opt this one, actually improving the wording (changing "fights" to "quits") but the Maverick original gets Pappy's point across effectively.

TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE:

This episode takes place no earlier than 1885.  Why?  Because both volumes of The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant can be clearly seen in Farley's bookcase.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Robert Vincent Wright was probably the best writer to join the series after Roy Huggins' departure; he's certainly one of the few to come up with outstanding vehicles for Bret, Bart and Beau (The Bold Fenian Men).  This one isn't quite perfect: the settling of Bret's score with Tamblyn is a little rushed as it bookends the main story.  But Greenbacks, Unlimited is still a smoothly executed farce that mines some terrific laughs from the constant movement of money and a very smart foil who just doesn't have the one bit of knowledge he needs.   (***1/2 out of four)

MAVERICK currently airs Monday through Friday at 1 PM Central/2 PM Eastern without commercial interruption on Encore Westerns, and every Sunday at 10 AM Central/11 AM Eastern on COZI TV.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"She's a Cop. Oh Yeah!": Get CHRISTIE LOVE



Welcome to The Horn Section's contribution to The Classic TV Detectives Blogathon, hosted by our friends over at the Classic TV Blog Association!  Be sure to check out all the posts here on some of television's all time greatest sleuths, both private eyes and police.

The investigator we're spotlighting belongs to the latter category.  She's a cop.  (Oh yeah!)  A true prime time pioneer, played by a beautiful star who charmed us and then walked away from it all at age 27.  Without further ado--GET CHRISTIE LOVE!

Teresa Graves as Detective Christie Love
With the twin successes of Pam Grier's COFFY and Tamara Dobson's CLEOPATRA JONES at the box office in the summer of 1973, the time seemed ripe to bring an African-American heroine to network television.  The source material for David L. Wolper's pilot was provided by former New York City detective turned bestselling novelist Dorothy Uhnak. After 14 years on the force, Uhnak found success with a trilogy of novels about Detective Second Grade Christie Opara.  George Kirgo (DON'T MAKE WAVES) adapted the second Opara book, The Ledger, changing the white protagonist's race, location (to Los Angeles) and name--to Christie Love.


The limitations of network standards circa 1974 ensured that the resulting GET CHRISTIE LOVE! would bear more of a resemblance to the PG rated JONES than the R rated COFFY, but other factors were in play as well.  Being a cop, Christie would work within the system (like intelligence agent Jones) while Grier's Coffy (and later, FOXY BROWN) dispensed vigilante justice.  Foxy Brown memorably told us her black belt was in "bar stools", but Detective Love shared Cleopatra Jones' aptitude in martial arts.


One final similarity came about unintentionally, when Cicely Tyson (the original choice to play Detective Love) passed on the pilot film--officially, due to a scheduling conflict with her Emmy-winning AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MISS JANE PITTMAN--and the role was accepted by Teresa Graves.  While no one could tower over the bad guys like 6'2" model Tamara Dobson, 5'10" Graves shared the CLEOPATRA JONES star's above average height, age (Tyson, at 5'3", was also a decade older than both) and slim physique.

Teresa Graves' solo LP (1970)
Teresa Graves was born in Houston, TX but moved to Los Angeles at age five.  A 4.0 student in high school active in both glee club and drama society, it was her vocal talent that brought her to the attention of Doodletown Pipers founder George Wilkins in 1966.  Graves elected to take his offer to join the singing group over a fully paid music scholarship to U.S.C. and spent the next three years touring North America with the Pipers.  It was with the group that she made her initial television appearances.

In "Downbeat for a Dead Man"
 While Graves was soon to become the first African-American female to star in a dramatic series, it was her comedic talents that first brought her into households on a weekly basis.  She was cast in the notorious LAUGH-IN ripoff TURN-ON (cancelled after a single episode on February 5, 1969), then joined  LAUGH-IN itself--still the nation's # 1 show in the Nielsens--for the 1969-70 season.  Her third series was another sketch comedy, NBC's THE FUNNY SIDE (opposite John Amos) in 1971.  It was the telefilm (and pilot) GET CHRISTIE LOVE! that gave the stunning performer top billing for the first time when it premiered to strong ratings on the ABC Tuesday Movie of the Week on January 22, 1974 (immediately following the second episode of some new sitcom called HAPPY DAYS).

Detective Love here!
Christie Love (Graves) is the lone female detective assigned to Captain Reardon (Harry Guardino) of the LAPD.  Our introduction to Love finds her on Sunset Boulevard posing as a prostitute--a guise utilized by the aforementioned Pam Grier characters.  However, this opening scene is atypical, for both the Detective and her series.  (Note: all comments that follow are my observations based on the TV-movie and the eight subsequent episodes I've watched recently--a significant sample, but not a complete one.  I still have 14 more to go.)

Christie Undercover
Titillation was never a David Wolper trademark, and while Love looks enticing in her outfit for her undercover work, she's also dressed about as modestly as a prostitute could be while remaining convincing.  This was the shortest skirt we'd see Graves wear on the show, and subsequent disguises were considerably more dignified (one exception: her "heroin dealer" in Emperor of Death Street).  Once Christie has her man, it's made clear that the only reason she's been impersonating a hooker was to trap a criminal who is a major concern--a serial killer.  So rather than what the viewer expects at first--that she's relegated to the humiliating assignment of arresting solicitors (due to her gender, race or both)--Detective Love is in fact a valued member of the force who is simply the best choice to apprehend a very dangerous perp.


Christie encounters one prospective John en route to the entrapment, and after his price haggling is firmly rejected, he retaliates by yelling the N-word at her.  But this is the slur's only appearance in the movie (or, AFAIK, the subsequent series), and once it's trotted out, Detective Love dispatches it and the delivering bigot with a cool two word retort.  We will observe Christie facing sexism on the job (notably in the episode Pawn Ticket for Murder) but little to no racism--not even, surprisingly, from the criminals she arrests.  A tad idealistic, perhaps, but still a refreshing approach for Wolper to take.  Equally novel is the utilization of Seventies slang, in that it mostly comes from Reardon (sounding just like a teen's father trying to be hip) and the villain's squeeze (played by Louise Sorel)--not our hero.

Louise Sorel
The GET CHRISTIE LOVE! telefilm doesn't skimp on the action.  A half dozen fatalities, with no fewer than three different informants meeting a violent end--the first in an exploding boat before we even meet our protagonist.  We have the requisite car chase as well, despite the fact that our heroine drives a Beetle.  Detective Love also dispatches two foes via martial arts in the first fifteen minutes, to mixed results.  While the nighttime struggle with the sex offender is effectively staged and edited, Christie's hotel fight in Miami has an exciting commencement but concludes in somewhat awkward fashion.

Harry Guardino---nightcap, ladies?
While she can take care of herself physically and verbally, Christie Love mainly relies on smart, determined sleuthing to get the job done.  And afterwards, she uses her memorable catchphrase: "You're under arrest, Sugar!"  Captain Reardon grumbles a lot, but he's also turning on the charm throughout.  In the coda, he's hoping (for the second time) that Christie will invite him in for a "nightcap" after he chivalrously walks his ace Detective home.  The workplace sexual tension was certainly not unusual for the era, but the attempted swirling was--this was a full year before THE JEFFERSONS gave U.S. prime time its first interracial couple on a weekly basis.

When wits and karate fail, there's always this third option.
Graves stressed that Detective Love "wouldn't be a superlady".  She told the Lakeland Ledger's Dan Lewis that Christie "will use her wits" and "not necessarily feminine charms" to get out of tough situations.  She and Wolper both envisioned that Christie Love would be "more Columbo than Mannix" when the pilot was picked up for by ABC for its Fall 1974 schedule.  The star was baptized as a Jehovah's Witness in January 1974, and her newfound faith resulted in a number of requests for the episodes to follow.  Graves did not wish to perform kissing scenes and in general asked that the show's sex and violence be toned down even further.  Given that GET CHRISTIE LOVE! was scheduled at 10 PM Eastern Time on Wednesdays, it made competing for that time slot's audience (generally used to spicier content) more difficult.  Comparisons to NBC's racier POLICE WOMAN (also a 10 PM offering, on Fridays) would be inevitable.


Harry Guardino did not return for the series, and departing with him was any hint of attraction between Christie and her boss.  On the weekly series, Reardon would be a married man played by Charles Cioffi.  While Cioffi is a dependable character actor (and ten years younger than Guardino), his Matt Reardon seemed even older than his predecessor's, coming across as more of a stock "exasperated boss".  All in all, Cioffi's Captain was 180 degrees from the one played by the ruggedly virile Guardino.

Charles Cioffi and Teresa Graves
Andy Romano returned as Christie's partner for the series, but his character (Sgt. Greenburg) was renamed Caruso.  (Caruso's backstory was fleshed out a bit in For the Family Honor.)   Female African-American NYPD detective Olga Ford was hired as a technical advisor for the series, with a number of scripts inspired by Ford's real cases.  (A sixteen year veteran at the time, Ford retired after 25 years on the force in 1983.)

Cioffi, Graves, Romano (L to R)
Graves and Wolper might have aspired to make Love a female COLUMBO, but GET CHRISTIE LOVE! lacked the distinctive writing that helped make the NBC stalwart so popular.  With envelope pushing content also missing, the sexy sleuth quickly faced a weekly struggle in the Nielsens.  ABC re-tooled the show at mid-season in an effort to boost the ratings.  Glen Larson took over behind the camera, and Cioffi and Romano were replaced by Jack Kelly (yup, Bart Maverick himself) and a young Michael Pataki in front of it.

With her third and final boss, Captain Ryan (Jack Kelly)
Kelly and Pataki proved to be solid additions, but there was one particularly ill-advised change that coincided with Larson's arrival: the show's theme song.  Replacing some of the montage was expected--the cast had changed, after all.  But the new producer missed the mark when he discarded Luici de Jesus' driving intro in favor of a much more generic sounding instrumental piece co-written by Larson himself (with Stu Phillips).

You be the judge.  Would you have replaced this theme song:


With this one?


Well, your mileage may vary, but IMO:

No way, Sugar!
With all the turnover and other production problems, GET CHRISTIE LOVE! usually went exactly as far as Teresa Graves could carry it--which was often a long way.  That the series is so well remembered four decades after its single season is a tribute to its star's charisma and talent.  Graves received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Dramatic Series in the winter of 1975 (and overseas, won Best Foreign Actress at TP de Oro) but it wasn't enough to save GET CHRISTIE LOVE! from cancellation.  Her well received performance seemed like a springboard to major stardom, but Ms. Graves elected drop out of show business altogether and dedicate her life to her religion.


Many expected her to return to performing someday, but GET CHRISTIE LOVE! would remain her TV swan song.  Tragically, Teresa Graves was killed in a fire at her Hyde Park home in 2002.  It would be a mind boggling 37 years before ABC would have its second hour-long dramatic series headlined by an African-American actress (Kerry Washington's 2012 hit Scandal).

37 years???  Are you kidding me???
The feature-length GET CHRISTIE LOVE! pilot has been ubiquitous for a decade now, thanks to its lapsed copyright--you can find it on YouTube, at Amazon Prime and on bargain DVD's everywhere.  The series has been harder to find, but Centric did bring it out for a two day marathon last August to celebrate the show's 40th anniversary.  Hopefully, the network will give us an encore presentation soon, or even move Christie to its regular schedule on weekends.  (hint, hint!)
 
While this is Christie Love's first appearance here at The Horn Section, it's far from her last, Sugar!  We'll be starting our GET CHRISTIE LOVE! Episode Guide with the next installment, eventually working our way through all 22 episodes of the late, great Teresa Graves' most famous role.  Thanks for stopping by today, and be sure to check out the rest of the posts from my fellow Classic TV Bloggers over at the Classic TV Detectives Blogathon! 

Monday, February 16, 2015

MAVERICK Mondays: "Seed of Deception" (1958)






MAVERICK Mondays: Number 13






MAVERICK: "Seed of Deception" (1958 ABC-TV/Warner Brothers) Starring James Garner as Bret Maverick, Jack Kelly as Bart Maverick, Adele Mara as June Mundy, Joi Lansing as Laura "Doll" Hays, Myron Healey as Jim Mundy, Frank Ferguson as Sheriff Bill McPeters, Bing Russell as Russ Aikens, Ron Hayes as Evers, Terry Rangno as Grady Lester, Guy Wilkerson as Deputy Cecil Mason, Gerald Mohr as Doc Holliday.  Written by Montgomery Pittman.  Directed by Richard L. Bare.


Stopping off at Bonita, Arizona en route to Yuma, Bret is mistaken for Doc Holliday by the locals.  Once Maverick learns that a dinner (Eastern turkey with sage dressing) has been prepared for the good doctor's arrival, his effort to correct the error is halfhearted at best.  When Bart arrives and is subsequently believed to be Wyatt Earp, Bret even assists this misconception in order to share the good fortune ("two types of gravy, thickenin' and specklin'!") with his brother.


Of course, Bret soon regrets the subterfuge.  Bonita's next visitors?  The Mundys--and shady Jim is a first cousin to Earp's enemies, the Clantons.  The brothers Maverick learn from Sheriff McPeters that Earp and Holliday are expected to show up in town ahead of Mundy's menacing entourage.  Complicating matters, the Sheriff decides to double down on the bluff, which fails miserably since June Mundy recognizes Bart from her dance hall days and Evers knows on sight that neither Maverick is Earp.  However, Jim Mundy lets this slide, since the false sense of security provided by the brothers is a perfect fit for his plan--a bank robbery as "Cousin June" dances at the saloon for a SRO crowd.

Joi Lansing and admirer
Written by Montgomery Pittman (Pappy), Seed of Deception lives up to its name with Bret, June and Bart (unwittingly) all impersonating someone else while Jim's gang and Sheriff McPeters engage in duplicity with their respective identities uninvolved.  Bret's brief implication that he is the Doc Holliday is unconvincing at best, but he's much bolder in pretending to be a gunslinger of some accomplishment once Bart runs afoul of not-too-bright henchman Aikens. 

Be careful Bart!
Pittman's knack for MAVERICK dialogue is evident from the get-go, with Ferguson (the first of his six appearances) and Garner deftly handling most of the punchlines.  Few installments provided memorable roles for child actors, but Rangno gets laughs out of his repeated asides, insisting on defining Mavericks literally (and setting up the brothers with increasingly nonsensical retorts).

Myron Healey and Adele Mara
Seed of Deception boasts one of the strongest supporting casts of the show's run.  In addition to Ferguson, Myron Healey's subtle, brainy villainy keeps the viewer off-kilter--after all the buildup surrounding his arrival, we're expecting a demonstrative threat and some serious gunslinging.  The "fastest gun in these parts", Jim Mundy instead cagily charms the townspeople and calmly executes the plan he's prepared.  Seed of Deception is the first and meatiest series role for Healey--he returned in Bare's Trooper Maverick.  Weakest link Aikens is solidly played by Bing Russell (A Fellow's Brother), whose son Kurt would become one of the big screen's most memorable Wyatt Earps in the 1993 cult favorite TOMBSTONE.


Mrs. Roy Huggins herself, Adele Mara, makes her first of three MAVERICK appearances and forms an unbeatable one-two punch of babosity with Joi Lansing (LOVE THAT BOB).  As widow Doll Hayes, Lansing has little to do other than wear her prettiest dress and signal her availability to "Wyatt" and "Doc", but Mara has the choice part of a dance hall girl affiliating herself with Mundy platonically for a chance to improve her lot in life.  Mara was still very active on TV with her film career winding down, and Seed of Deception gives the former Adelaide Delgado an opportunity to show off her dancing talents (as did her followup, The Spanish Dancer).  Her brother Luis was James Garner's stand-in and lifelong friend, playing a dozen uncredited speaking parts on the series.


A stickler for creative control, Montgomery Pittman usually directed his own scripts, but trusted Richard L. Bare's capable hands for his first MAVERICK.   Pittman worked mostly for Warner Brothers in the late 1950's and early 1960's, though he also contributed several memorable TWILIGHT ZONE installments.  The Louisiana native was one of TV's most-sought after creative talents when he died of cancer in 1962 (he was only 45).  His capper is perfect: a cameo by the always welcome Gerald Mohr (You Can't Beat the Percentage) making an encore as the real Doc Holliday after The Quick and The Dead.  Played by Peter Breck, Doc Holliday would become a recurring character in later seasons.


Bret and Bart banter delightfully throughout, even after Bart is wounded  ("I'm not mad at anybody.  They didn't shoot me!" Bret acknowledges).  Seed of Deception culminates the initial season with the groundbreaking MAVERICK we all remember now fully realized and established.  With Pittman added to a very talented pool of scriptwriters (i.e. Huggins, Heyes, Hargrove), the show was well-poised for its sophomore effort, which would turn out to be not only the show's peak, but arguably the greatest collection of episodes for any of the era's television westerns.


HOW'D THEY DO AT POKER?:

Neither Maverick makes it to the tables while visiting Bonita.  It is explained early on that the reason both Bret and Bart are Yuma-bound is a lack of coin.  This isn't resolved until just before the fadeout, but once it is, Bret's pulling out a deck of cards.

WISDOM FROM PAPPY?

Nothing during this episode at all, though the one aphorism that we hear directly from the lips of the wise one during Pappy is certainly taken to heart by his elder son in Seed of Deception:


THE BOTTOM LINE:

The first season closed out with the most fully realized two-brother installment to date.  The chemistry between Garner and Kelly is the key, but it's the former's showcase, really.  He gets things off to  rascally start, then solves the plot and foils the crime after both Mavericks realize something doesn't add up.  Montgomery Pittman set the bar high with his debut, and Bare paced the proceedings well enough to mask the fact that the drily quotable humor was heavily weighted towards the episode's first half.  The only real defect Seed of Deception has is that the setup makes a straightforward resolution unavoidable.  With such a great cast and script, though, it is one of the first-season's highlights.  (***1/2 out of four)


MAVERICK currently airs Monday through Friday at 1 PM Central/2 PM Eastern without commercial interruption on Encore Westerns, and every Sunday night at 10 PM Central/11 PM Eastern on COZI TV.

Friday, January 30, 2015

F TROOP Fridays: "Don't Look Now, One of Our Cannon Is Missing" (1965)






F TROOP Fridays: Number 8





F TROOP: "Don't Look Now, One of Our Cannon Is Missing" (Season One, Episode 2; Original Air Date 9/21/65) Starring Forrest Tucker, Larry Storch, Ken Berry, Melody Patterson, Frank de Kova, Don Diamond, James Hampton, Bob Steele, Joe Brooks, Edward Everett Horton.  Guest Star Donald "Red" Barry.  Written by Howard Merrill and Stan Dreben.  Directed by Charles R. Rondeau.


Whoa, wait a minute!  I thought Chief Wild Eagle (de Kova) was a lover, not a fighter!


Whew!  Had us worried for a second there, but it's just another batch of 'authentic' action photos for O'Rourke Enterprises to sell to tourists.  With a bit of shaky acting, as Sergeant O'Rourke (Tucker) has to remind Wild Eagle not to smile.  Crazy Cat (Diamond, though his character remains unnamed in the actor's debut) handles photography while the Chief wonders aloud for the first time (but not the last) why the Indians always have to lose.  Crazy Cat makes a pitch for letting the Hekawi win once: "a good novelty souvenir". 

While on the subject of the merchandise, O'Rourke reports that the peace pipes and tomahawks aren't selling "at all" despite Wild Eagle's ninety moon guarantee.  The blankets, on the other hand, are a hot item, with two dozen more needed ASAP for Thanksgiving.

Naturally, Wild Eagle is unmoved, since the Hekawis don't celebrate Thanksgiving.  (Gee, I wonder why...) Instead, the tribe has the Mishaguna Festival.  The first of many sly "13th tribe of Israel" references for the series, since this is two letters off the Yiddish word for "crazy" (Meshuguna).  However, the Chief informs us that Mishaguna means "moon" in Hekawi.  If Wild Eagle is going to persuade the grumbling tribe to work for a fourth consecutive weekend, he wants something in return.  Will his fifty-fifty partner let him down?  "Chief--you name it, you got it!"


Our cannon?  Wild Eagle wants us to give him our cannon?

Not "give"--lend, O'Rourke corrects Agarn (Storch).  Lend--for the night of the festival only.  The plan is to sneak it out of the fort after retreat and have it back the next morning before reveille.  And since the prior week's pilot episode (Scourge of the West) made it clear that they have until 10 A.M. to do so (reveille is adjusted at Fort Courage to accommodate the "three hour time difference"), what could possibly go wrong?

Agarn still isn't reassured, so silver tongued O'Rourke resorts that old standby: the guilt trip. Just recounting three of the numerous times the Sarge came through for him (twice, saving Agarn's life) is enough to secure the services of his Vice President.   Still, the little Corporal has a final concern: Captain Parmenter (Berry).  Technically, the Cap'n should be his first area of worry instead of the last, but remember, this is Fort Courage.


O'Rourke's diversionary tactic for the C.O. becomes obvious once Wrangler Jane (Patterson) greets the troopers.  Knowing that Jane is a willing, if unwitting accomplice when it comes to the Captain, the Sarge stakes out a comparison between Jane's (so far) unrequited love and that of John Alden and Priscilla.

It seems that "poor Wilton" is too shy to court the woman he loves, "Priscilla" Jane--just like Alden in the 1858 Longfellow classic.  Fortunately for the both of them, Myles Standish O'Rourke is there to play matchmaker for the first time (but not the last).  Janie can't resist the invitation, second hand or not, and it's on to get the Captain to the date on time, again using the words of Wadsworth.


This time, it's Jane who's hankerin' for an invitation.  Well, Sarge isn't lying about that, at least, though Parmenter gets his analogy confused (no Captain, Jane isn't Standish)!.  Agarn helpfully has some flowers ready for the big evening.  Still, the call of duty has to be answered before the call of love.  Retreat must be sounded before Wilton can go out for the evening.


This daily ceremony is clearly still a work in progress for the newly appointed Captain of F Troop.  First, he learns that Bugler Dobbs (Hampton) still hasn't learned how to play retreat, though his Georgia-born "bugle teacher" taught him how to play "Dixie".  Undaunted, Wilton urges him to do his best, the same advice he has for the equally challenged gun crew.


To no avail, in either case.

Parmenter sums it up. "It's good we only do this twice a day."  Only the second episode, and we're already wondering why they even bother to put the damn thing back up in time for reveille.  Oh well, the Captain is now safely off to his hot date, so the Sarge and Agarn have clear passage to make the last delivery of the day for O'Rourke Enterprises.


Another series first, as the Corporal masquerades in drag, crying as O'Rourke drives the coffin of the "widow's" husband off on the buckboard.  Meanwhile Widow Agarn lets the tear ducts roll, threatening to write a letter to Lincoln.  Agarn's commitment to the performance is commendable.  He keeps the soon to be famous "Storch Shiver" going until they're well outside Fort Courage.


Despite, or perhaps because of, Randolph's ability to overact with style, Wild Eagle is skeptical once the cargo is unloaded at the Hekawi camp, wondering aloud if the "fast talkin' paleface" is a straight shooter and even threatening to sue (not Sioux).

While the Hekawis proceed to celebrate in the moonlight, Jane and Wilton bask in it during their date. 


The Captain could still use a fresh read of the oft-quoted poem, one can't help but notice that Parmenter is a much more willing recipient of Wrangler's kisses than he would be in subsequent episodes.  In fact, the scene is probably their most passionate of the entire season, something no doubt attributable to the fact that Melody Patterson's real age (16) wasn't yet known to ABC and Warner Brothers.  By the time the truth was out, six episodes were in the can and recasting was out of the question.   Parmenter even feels the earth moving after one kiss.


Well, Janie can't take full credit for that--after all, the Hekawis are firing the cannon nearby.


They aren't any more successful at it than the troopers, since the moon is still covered by clouds after several blasts.  Frustrated Roaring Chicken (Horton) decides to sit out rather than firing it again.  Still, considering that the cannon hasn't fallen apart yet and has been fired at least twice, O'Rourke and Agarn might want to consider hiring him to train the gun crew.

The repeated explosions ensure success for the matchmaking, at least, since they coincide with each kiss.  Impressed, Jane tells the Captain he's "making history tonight"!  Wilton Parmenter--kissin' bearcat!


O'Rourke and Agarn clearly succeeded in a big way at matchmaking.  The loan to their partners in business?  Eh, not so much.

Another satisfied customer!  Not.
"How can we have moon festival with no moon?"  Chief Wild Eagle makes it clear that he won't return the cannon until the celebration is completed.  O'Rourke Enterprises cannot return the merchandise, either, since the blankets have been sold already.  "Then we keep cannon!"  It's still early in the show's run, you can tell, since it would turn out to be a very rare occasion that anything was more important to the Hekawi Chief than his share of the profits.


The Sarge urgently brings up the near-certainly of a court-martial if they go back to the fort without the cannon (Agarn: "Next time I'm drowning, mind your own business!") to which Wild Eagle has a solution: desertion!  "Get blankets, feathers--join tribe!" No sale, O'Rourke.  You'll just have to wait until after the next full moon.  Hey, look at the bright side: the lookout tower should be safe for the next thirty days!


Back at the fort, it's almost time for reveille (and clearly, the sun has been up for several hours).   The lack of a cannon for this morning ritual is glaring.  So much so that even Captain Wilton Parmenter notices it missing.


No problem at all, O'Rourke explains.  He took it upon himself to send the cannon away for repairs.  Specifically, to have the "bohr framinized", the "barrell glomonated", with polishing and refurbishing.  While the Sarge certainly shouldn't go over the Captain's head to make that decision, it is pretty clear from what we've seen at reveille and retreat so far that the cannon does need some work.

Before this break in the chain of command can be addressed, Duffy (Steele) informs from the lookout tower that we have a visitor: Colonel Donnalley (Barry) from the Inspector General's office.   Good thing he didn't show up a little earlier and discover a fort full of sleeping soldiers around 9:30 A.M....

Donald "Red" Barry
He's the first in a long chain of I.G.'s we will meet (few seem to last long when assigned to Fort Courage--wonder why?).  Donnalley brings big news: Fort Courage is the next stop on General Ulysses S. Grant's inspection tour of the area.  The General is due there by "noon tomorrow", with the customary 18 gun salute anticipated.  (Actually, wasn't it 17 guns then?  No biggie really, but do note that we shall soon see historical accuracy taking a turn for the worse in Act II.)


The Colonel also notices the cannon is missing--man, these officers don't miss a thing!  Parmenter's explanation about the glomonating doesn't have much of an impact, so O'Rourke steps in and translates: the cannon is out for repairs so it will be in "first class shape for the General's visit".  Donnalley rightly asks how they knew the General was going to visit, something that the Sarge quickly attributes to F Troop's ever omniscient "scouts".  (Forrest Tucker's expertise with this and other well-timed comic denials had to be a revelation in 1965 to viewers used to seeing him in serious westerns.) 

Bottom line: the cannon needs to be back within 24 hours, and the Captain's suggestion that the framinizing could be skipped isn't that helpful.


Corporal Agarn is freaking at the subsequent brainstorming session with O'Rourke (what else is new), suggesting that Grant will "wipe out F Troop, Fort Courage and the Hekawis".  I doubt he'd go that far, Randolph, unless you try to serve him some of that watered down whiskey at your saloon.  It's up to the Sarge to come up with the needed great idea, and this one is a doozy.


"Oh yes, I salute you, General Grant!"  If Agarn was uneasy before, he's positively queasy now.  A court martial is probably the least of his worries given the penalty for impersonating a five star General.  But the Sarge again reminds him that it could be worse--he could be dead from drowning or rattlesnake venom.  Interestingly, following this episode, O'Rourke never brought up these guilt trips again.  I suppose it was never necessary--the Corporal's greed was almost always sufficient motivation for the scheme of the week in later installments.

For now, though, the Sarge's past heroics are needed to have the Corporal ready for his beard.  He's off presumably being fitted (I hope they found something besides the poor horse's tail) when Parmenter summons O'Rourke to join him for a trip to the gunsmith.  That trip, however, is no longer needed.


The Sergeant reports the bad news to his C.O.: Agarn has already gone to fetch the cannon when the "ferocious" Hekawi sneak attacked him.  "Seven of them with tomahawks, Sir," and while he's "badly" hurt,  he's "going to be alright".  That explanation is as risky as you'd think, since Wilton's understandable first instinct is to attack the tribe.  Ever the Talleyrand to the Captain's Napoleon (or, if you want to go there, the Cheney behind the Bush), O'Rourke gently steers Parmenter away from that impulse.

Colonel???
"Sir, you're already known as the Scourge of the West!  Now, if you were to become known as the great peacemaker, it might be Colonel Parmenter."  Despite the warlike act, O'Rourke suggests a civilized response: negotiation, and "bringing back our cannon peacefully".  It works--dangling that promotion in front of Wilton doesn't hurt--and the Captain once again defers to his Sergeant.  O'Rourke also advises to let him go to the camp first, due to the "snipers".  "We can spare Sergeants, but hardly a man who's on his way to becoming...a Colonel."


Once O'Rourke is at the camp, he's setting the stage: Wild Eagle and Roaring Chicken are expected to be savage and hostile.  A tough sell, since the Chief doesn't even know the meaning of the latter.  "Unfriendly.  No friends," offers Roaring Chicken helpfully.  The Sarge also warns them that General Ulysses S. Grant is in the area, and certainly wouldn't take kindly to the cannon's current placement.

Parmenter arrives waving a white flag of peace.  A good start, but the negotiation goes downhill from there.  "Magic fire stick" is the first offering from the Captain.


No dice, since the Hekawis have one hundred boxes of the sulfuric wonder.  "What you think, we rub sticks together?"   Not to be deterred, the Captain pulls out a watch: "Magic tick tock".  Can the Chief top that?


Uh, yeah, he can.  Even Parmenter admits that one of Wild Eagle's watches runs better than his.

Offer number three is a "rare delicacy": small, round, tasty "fruit of chicken".


"Egg?  You offer egg for cannon???"  If the Captain has any other barter items (and they seem to be getting worse), they'll just have to wait, for Sergeant O'Rourke notices the imposing figure riding up.  Could it be?  Why, yes it is, Sir--General Grant!!!


Naturally, Parmenter wonders aloud how the four star general could have known, and O'Rourke once again chalks it up to those seemingly omniscient "scouts".  Storch's Fake General Grant is loud and boisterous, with a hearty laugh and a quick temperament.  ("Yeah, tell him about it," is his urging to O'Rourke after the Sarge brings up the "terrible time" he has with it.)

Aided by the expertly crafted beard, and the lucky coincidence of Agarn being the same height as the real-life General (yep, for you trivia buffs, Larry Storch is 5'8", just like Ulysses Grant was), the ruse works well enough to fool even Parmenter, who as a Private was in charge of officer's laundry when stationed at Appomattox (per Scourge of the West, the only prior episode).

For all that he has right, Agarn gets in trouble once he opens his mouth, claiming to have had lunch with President Lincoln at the White House yesterday.  But he quickly recovers: "Been riding ever since.  Forty-six hours in the saddle.  Lucky the wind was with me!"


Sergeant Morgan Sylvester O'Rourke quickly comes to the rescue before the logistics can be pondered and once he mentions their little problem, "General Grant" is predictably outraged, enough so that he doesn't even finish his story about sipping sauce with General Lee.

While surprisingly unintimidated to this point, the Chief would still prefer to negotiate ("without shouting", he emphasizes) but General Ulysses S. Grant became commanding general of the U.S. by action, not words.  He gets right to the heart of the matter: "You give us that cannon right now!  I want my eighteen gun salute!!"


You'd think that the tribe that invented the peace pipe would be a little uneasy seeing Grant's legendary temper up close, but Wild Eagle is surprisingly unyielding.  At this, and O'Rourke's prodding, the "General" reveals he has three hundred troops on the hill, camouflaged as "tubs and shrees".  Hmm, sounds like ol' Ulysses needs some hot coffee.  Either to wake up or sober up.  Or perhaps both.

Wild Eagle can't see the soldiers by the hill, and aged Roaring Chicken can't even see the hill, so "number one tree" fires a convincing shot that takes the Chief's headdress off, missing him by maybe an inch.


(Now it's time: a NAGGING QUESTION: Who the Hell fired that shot?  Dobbs, Parmenter, O'Rourke and Agarn are accounted for, so given the available choices, it has to be Wrangler Jane--she's the only one accurate enough to pull it off.  But still, isn't O'Rourke taking a Hell of a chance, since the shooter is at least two hundred feet away?  If his/her aim isn't dead solid perfect, she's killing Wild Eagle!  A bit shaky, this one.)

A risky move in a second act full of them, but the gamble pays off, as Wild Eagle finally decides that it is, after all, "only a cannon".


It is the General who is last to exit, bidding the "fine feathered friends" farewell.  "Peace be with you---or we'll wipe you out!!"  Alas, the beard doesn't make it through his final salute, leading the cheated Wild Eagle to shout out "Indian giver!".  (yikes!)

Back at the Fort, Parmenter is none too pleased with the scheme either, even if O'Rourke's heart was in the right place.  There's little time to deal with it now, though, as the Real General Grant has arrived, greeted by Dobbs' rendition of "Yankee Doodle".  Unfortunately, with no time to clean out the cannon, once it is fired....

The Real Fake Grant.  Or, the fake real Grant.

....we find out too late that the Hekawis left some debris in it, including a strangely intact arrow, which ends up giving U.S. a close call to rival the one Wild Eagle just experienced.  On the bright side, at least the tower stayed intact.  And there's plenty of time to framizine that bohr now, Captain!

In the coda, Jane is ready for another picnic with the kissing bearcat, but he's too distracted with second guessing his handling of O'Rourke and Agarn.  He goes back and forth, missing every hint from Jane (what else is new?) but in the end seems satisfied, having delivered a "stern lecture".


Meanwhile back at the Hekawi camp any differences between the business partners have been ironed out also.  O'Rourke and Wild Eagle are on to their next set of souvenir photographs.  The one above seems like a safe choice, but Wild Eagle has an idea that he predicts will be a bigger seller than the blankets:


Easy to see why he's the Chief!

MOST SUGGESTIVE LINE:

Captain Parmenter keeps coming up with male-male couplings in his confusion over the love triangle in Longfellow's poem, but he's definitely responsive to Wrangler Jane's charms on their date.  She gets a little aggressive on his lap, though, with Wilton cautioning her: "Careful, Jane, you'll bend my saber!"

TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE?

Very shaky timeline on Agarn-as-Grant's claim to have dined with Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln at the White House "yesterday".  Much shakier than you thought, in fact.  Parmenter was promoted after his timely sneeze made him the "Scourge of Appomattox"--a battle that took place on April 9, 1865.  President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 15--six days later.  That sure was a quick trip west for Wilton after that promotion....  Also, that fourth star that we see on Fake Grant's saddle was eventually correct, but the legendary commander didn't achieve that lofty and unprecedented ranking until July 1866.

SPEAKING OF RANKINGS:

Don't Look Now, One of Our Cannon Missing received the series' highest Nielsen rating ever, coming in at # 7 for the week.


PC, OR NOT PC?

The Fake General Grant calls both Wild Eagle and the Captain "boy", and Parmenter has far less of an excuse to be fooled by Agarn's disguise than the Chief does.  So, minimal grounds for offense there.  Also, the tired cliche of Peter Minuet-esque trading is wonderfully skewered during Wilton's inept bargaining with the savvy Wild Eagle.  That said, this installment is a mixed bag.  The most cringe-worthy line comes from the Chief during the Moon Festival: "Cuttum speeches!  Bring on squaws!"

WISE OLD HEKAWI SAYING?

No, not yet; Chief Wild Eagle's very first aphorism didn't arrive until the next episode, The Phantom Major.


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

Lending a cannon to the Hekawis certainly qualifies.  Just one of many potential charges from an installment chock full of court-martial-able offenses.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

This early in the show's run, the writers are still figuring out what works and what doesn't.  Don Diamond and Bob Steele would end up promoted to the regular cast, and Storch impersonations became frequent and wildly popular with fans.   Questionable suspension of disbelief in the reclamation of the titular weapon keeps this one from the highest rating, but Don't Look Now, One of Our Cannon Missing is more than saved by its cornucopia of belly laughs.  (***1/2 out of four)

F TROOP currently airs on Me-TV for a full hour each Wednesday night at 10 PM ET/9 PM CT and on Saturday mornings at 5 AM ET/4 AM CT.