Sunday, May 22, 2016

Television Review: GET CHRISTIE LOVE!: "Highway to Murder" (1974)





GET CHRISTIE LOVE!: "Highway to Murder" (ABC-TV/Universal; Original Air Date: October 30, 1974) Starring Teresa Graves as Det. Christie Love, Charles Cioffi as Captain Reardon.  Guest Stars: Clu Galager as Sheriff Burl Taggart, John Quade as Deputy Willet, Donna Andresen as Myrna James, Walter Brooke as Kane, Rudy Ramos as Dimas, Jack Ryland as Chan, Migdia Varela as Tina Estrada, Pat Corley as Duffy, Patch McKenzie as Loretta Brooks, Brion James as Trent Hopper, Georgia Schmidt as Mrs. Bannister, Douglas Dirkson as Tolan.  Written by Donn Mullaly.  Directed by Ivan Dixon.

Series overview for GET CHRISTIE LOVE! and introduction to the episode guide at this link.


The incarceration of material witness Myrna James brings Detective Love to the small town of Monroe.  Needing to arrange James' extradition for a key L.A. murder trial, Christie finds that she'll have to wait: Myrna's jailed for robbery and the Judge is away on a fishing trip.   Monroe Sheriff Burl Taggart can't be much help, since Love's arrival coincides with the discovery that one of Burl's officers has been found murdered outside of town.


Taggart offers to let Love ride along and observe investigative techniques "out here in the sticks".  Despite Deputy Willet's discovery of an incriminating stolen watch in Dimas' luggage, "big city" Detective Love thinks that the Sheriff is barking up the wrong tree when he suspects the Hispanic immigrant of the killing.  Meanwhile, with the backing of a menacing biker gang (The Vikings), the dead officer's brother Chan threatens vigilantism if Dimas is "let off".  When public defender Tolan pulls a few strings with the Attorney General,  Christie is assigned to help with the case, putting the L.A. Detective squarely in someone's crosshairs.  But who?


Highway to Murder is the obligatory episode where our metropolitan detective unwittingly gets involved in a rural case and finds a hostile reception from the locals.  But don't expect many echoes of In the Heat of the Night---while none of the locals we meet are African-American, no one makes so much of a mention of Christie's race.  The lone comment Christie's appearance elicits?  Deputy Willet's opener: "They sure do package 'em nice in the big city!"  Even the Vikings' leader avoids racist or sexist perjoratives while menacing the outsider.


This isn't to say that Highway to Murder is devoid of racial tensions; Chan is upset to learn his brother has been murdered, and seems even angrier at the thought that Mexicans might get away with the crime--lynching is his stated threat from the officer's sibling if justice "isn't served".  As it turns out, the choosing of Dimas as a patsy is purely to cover up a much larger operation, one that has an impressive number of collaborators.  Not surprising in 1974, but this conspiracy isn't of (say) Race With the Devil proportions: the sheriff and the most powerful employer Kane certainly aren't in on it.  However, both have moles in their respective organizations.


Despite a few comments early, the expected urban/rural law enforcement conflict never really develops.  He initially seems eager to demonstrate that hustle and know-how can compensate for budgetary shortfalls, but Sheriff Taggart owns a Masters in criminology from UCLA, takes refresher courses through the LAPD and already embraces the latest technology.  Still, it takes Taggart a while to release his idea that Dimas is guilty.  The Sheriff doesn't appear all that pleased to be ordered to work with Detective Love, but he welcomes her input before and after this brief irritation, agreeing that they both want the same thing: a real culprit behind bars.


Taggart and Love are equally dogged invesigators, and the former implies he's in Monroe instead of L.A. because he dislikes the hassle of the big city.  Then again, for all his training, hustle and expertise, he's still unaware of the major criminal activity taking place right under his nose--specifically, with his top deputy.  On the surface, Willet fields the calls and minds the store at the department, all the while directing and concealing the illegal immigration scheme.


Willet is intriguingly written by Mullaly: using his position to stay one step ahead of Taggart's leg work, deftly planting phony evidence to steer suspicion,  easing Love into a wild goose chase to the Kane farm (and into harm's way after).  All the while, he's deferential tto his boss, of whom he speaks glowingly--it's Willet who lists Taggart's credentials, something the modest Sheriff appears highly unlikely to do.


Unfortunately, much of the resolution doesn't hold water.  The incriminating body at the resort would almost certainly be disposed of after the first officer's death, particularly with the manpower available to our labor suppliers.  Chan's inflammatory actions also seem very puzzling in hindsight, once the final revelation is known.  Willet foolishly handles the showdown with Love--he should be telling her to throw down the gun instead of asking her to hand it to him (so he can lose his balance reaching out for it), shouldn't he?   (It makes as much sense as approaching Steven Segal with a gun instead of shooting him at a distance always did.)  Too many highly unlikely mistakes from a meticulous mastermind.


Outside of the disappointing finale, director Dixon (Trouble Man) handles the action capably, with Christie's second run-in with the Vikings well handled--Dixon doesn't even utilize the overexposed right hand flip that seemed to show up in every episode.  Christie's Capri takes the beating that the Detective avoids, with her back windshield shot out by "crazy hermit" Trent Hopper as he supposedly hunts for jackrabbit.


Speaking of Hopper, he's played by Brion James in what appears to have been the actor's first prime time TV role.  In fact, I suspect James may have been doing double duty, since he's credited only as Hopper, while the Vikings' leader is unlisted in the credits, but definitely appears to be him as well.  You be the judge:


Elsewhere, a young Patch MacKenzie plays Kane's much younger squeeze,


Migdia Chinea has one of her earliest credits as well, before launching her career as a writer-director:



And Donna Andreson makes an appearance as Christie's jailed material witness, shortly before her most memorable role in 1976's Mansion of the Damned.  Incidentally, that cult classic was directed by Michael Pataki, who would join the cast of GET CHRISTIE LOVE! just a few episodes later as Christie's new partner, replacing Andy Romano.



The eclectic guest cast headed by Galager, Quade and Brooke is a definite plus, since both Andy Romano and Dennis Rucker are M.I.A. this week and Charles Cioffi is limited to a fifteen second telephone cameo.  Doesn't quite all tie together, but does set up a potential sequel with Galager's Sheriff, since Quade's accomplice who actually committed one murder and sabotaged Christie's car is still at large.  Alas, Highway to Murder would be our only visit to Monroe, California and those fiery enchiladas.


ONE LUMP OR MORE?

Christie doles out two. with Trenton and Deputy Willet uneasily sugared by our wary heroine.  The first after that aforementioned back windshield blast, the latter after the deputy gets the drop on the big city detective who threw a wrench in his seemingly foolproof scheme.



THE BOTTOM LINE:

The guest cast is deeper and more fascinating than usual, and both Mullaly and Dixon bring impressive credentials and skills, but neither seems to be at the top of his game with Highway to Murder. On the plus side: Galager and Quade give well conceived performances to lead a strong guest cast, and the change of scenery (for the first time since the pilot movie, we're out of L.A.) is welcome. An interesting setup that doesn't quite come together but has its points of interest.  (**1/2 out of four)

Monday, May 09, 2016

MAVERICK Mondays: Maverick and Juliet (1960)





MAVERICK Mondays: Number 19






MAVERICK: "Maverick and Juliet" (1960 Warner Brothers/ABC-TV) Starring James Garner as Bret Maverick, Jack Kelly as Bart Maverick, Carole Wells as Juliet Carteret, Steven Terrell as Sonny Montgomery, Rhys Williams as Montague Montgomery, Marjorie Bennett as Mrs. Edwina Montgomery, Jack Mather as Enoch Carteret, Sarah Selby as Mrs. Carteret, Michael Garret as Ty, Lew Brown as Jeb, John Zaccaro as Nat.  Directed by Arthur Lubin.  Written by Herman Epstein.


Bret Maverick is just passin' through Carteret land en route to St. Louis when he happens upon Juliet Carteret, Sonny Montgomery and their broken down horse carriage.  Bret briefly interrupts his journey to help the couple get the wheel fixed and finds himself nose to nose with the entire Carteret clan, accused of assisting the elopement by hot-headed Ty.  In the ensuing fistfight Ty instigates, the ill-tempered young Carteret hits his head on a large rock.  Held responsible for Ty's head injury, Bret finds himself taken hostage at gunpoint by the still suspicious Carterets.


Maverick soon learns that the young lovers are on opposite sides of a family feud (over land) that has lasted generations. With his life on the line (thanks to revenge-seeking Ty), Bret suggests a civilized way to settle the dispute: a poker game, with Bret playing on the family's behalf.   Since there's only half a dozen players in the West who can hang with Bret at the tables, it seems like a sure win for the Carterets.  That is, until "Bret Carteret" meets his opponent: Bart "Montgomery"
 

A MAVERICK variation on Romeo and Juliet?  Producer Coles Trapnell admitted that Maverick and Juliet is lifted from Mark Twain's satirizing of Shakespeare in Huckleberry Finn.  In earlier seasons, a natural fit for Marion Hargrove (The Rivals), but with the Gun-Shy author long gone from the series, the assignment went to Herman Epstein, another of Trapnell's colleagues from his days at Four Star Productions.  As was the case with Epstein's first installment (A Fellow's Brother), he crafted a hilarious tale of misguided family honor and illogical logic.


The Carterets and Montgomerys have been at war for a half century over access to fifty acres of land.  Neither patriarch is trusting enough to resolve the dispute--each prefers the collateral damage of losing the occasional family member to gunfire over "trafficking with the Devil".  The stubbornness has been passed down intact for three generations, with no sign of fading anytime soon if the youngest Montgomery's attitude is any indication.


While Mr. Carteret "don't hold with gambling" he is perfectly okay holdin' with murder and deception.  "Whatever must be, must be."  Gunshots are liable to ring out at any time, except for Sunday--neither family wishes to fight on the Sabbath and they attend the same church (with the two clans collectively comprising about eighty percent of the congregation).  The Montgomerys and Carterets are faithful in physical presence, but the sermons fall on deaf ears, week after week--the feudin' starts right back up after midnight every Monday.


Only Sonny Montgomery and Juliet Carteret join Bret in seeing the ludicrousness of letting the land go unused ("this way, everyone loses").  Summing up this hopeless--but of course, never serious--situation: Ty, spoiling for a gunfight, shoots a silver dollar in the air to intimidate Bret.  The eldest Carteret sternly scolds his son for wasting ammunition.  Maverick is horrified, too--because money is being destroyed.


The highlight of Maverick and Juliet is the opportunity to see Bret and Bart on opposite sides of the poker table in extended action for the first (and only) time.  Bret is thrown off by the unexpected competition, and Bart takes advantage (and an early lead).  Despite Bart's initially heartless response (hilariously voiced by messenger Juliet) to Bret's dilemma, the younger sibling displays some brotherly love by tapping the brakes on the budding rout, and Bret returns the favor when the tables are turned.


Though this epic poker match isn't entirely on the level (how could it be, since both sides are entering it under false pretenses?) it is realistically staged, with a small full house being the top hand we see and the deciding hand being won (or is it?) by two pair.  Director Lubin has a similarly grounded approach to the episode's humor, completely eschewing silliness for Garner's exasperated reactions to the absurd logic of his captors. 



The question of which Maverick is the better player remains unanswered after two days of heads-up action but this particular battle is conceived, fought and decided pragmatically.   Satisfyingly, too.  Young lovers are helped, a family feud is resolved, and the Maverick brothers come through for one another--well, sort of.  But never fear, you're still firmly in the MAVERICK universe, with no tears, no hugs, and certainly no lessons learned in Maverick and Juliet.


HOW'D THEY DO AT POKER?

The Mavericks emerge from their own family battle with both of their lives intact and $5,000 profit to keep in the family, the best possible outcome.  Bret does kick ass earlier against Nat Carteret, but the only thing at stake is a chance to play for his life if he shows prowess against the family's most experienced gambler.


WISDOM FROM PAPPY?

Wise old Pappy is in fine form, with both aphorisms hitting the bull's-eye.  "If all the men who lived by the gun were laid end to end, I wouldn't be surprised."  Gunfire from the Montgomery family partially obscures the final word.  Even better is Bart's response (via Juliet) when Bret relays the dire fate he faces if he loses the game.  Is brother Bret's life more meaningful to Bart than the promised $5,000 for the win?  When in doubt, heed Pappy's words: "The only thing more important than money is more money." 

 
THE BOTTOM LINE:

One of the unsung heroes of the Coles Trapnell Era, Epstein penned four segments during his Four Star Productions colleague's MAVERICK stint.   All were winners, and this is his best (by a nose over A Fellow's Brother).  Getting the Maverick brothers across the table from one another for the highest stakes was a much anticipated situation for two and a half seasons, and the writer doesn't disappoint-- director Arthur Lubin deftly handles both the game and its buildup.  Maverick and Juliet is deserving of its high reputation with fans and one of the most rewatchable installments of the entire series.  (**** out of four)


MAVERICK currently airs Monday through Friday at 1 PM Central/2 PM Eastern without commercial interruption on Encore Westerns.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Favourite TV Episode Blogathon II: BILKO in "Hollywood"


THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW - "Hollywood" (1956)  Starring Phil Silvers as Sgt. Bilko, Paul Ford as Colonel Hall, Howard Smith as Cecil D. Chadwick, Ralph Stantley as Chick Benson, Eric Fleming as Rory Mundane, Malcolm Lee Beggs as General Merritt, Jule Styne as Himself, Robert Dryden as Sampson, Billie Allen as WAC Billie.  Directed by Al de Caprio.  Written by Nat Hiken.

Welcome to the Horn Section's contribution to the 2nd Favourite TV Episode Blogathon, hosted by our friend Terence Towles Canote at his wonderful blog, A Shroud of ThoughtsCheck out all the other entries for what we hope will continue to be an annual event, and while you're there, check out Terence's archives as well--A Shroud of Thoughts has been around since 2004 and the archives are stuffed with goodies.

THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW was a remarkably and meticulously written creation from the great Nat Hiken, who realized his vision immediately.  By the second episode, "Empty Store", the show's formula was established.  Nominal commanding officer Colonel Hall would spend most of his time trying to figure out what was really behind some seemingly innocuous Bilko request, and "Ernie" would always be one step ahead of him and everyone else.  For all the Sergeant's cunning, though, deep down, he was a softy--not a sociopath.  The series original title spelled it out for Bilko: YOU'LL NEVER GET RICH.  But on the bright side, he'd never be supplanted as the man who really runs Fort Baxter either.


I previously highlighted the first season entry Centennial, a great example of one of BILKO's most commonly used sits to set up the com--the arrival of an outsider threatening to disrupt Bilko's well-oiled operation.  Such segments were almost always home runs, whether the new arrival was a visiting officer (Centennial), a muckraking reporter (The Secret Life of Sergeant Bilko) or even a visiting lecturer (The Twitch).  The show's supporting players almost always got individual moments to shine in these episodes, which was challenging given the show's expansive cast (22 regulars were stationed at Fort Baxter at one point).

Despite the large cast, and the popularity of Maurice Gosfield's sad-sack Private Doberman, BILKO was far less of an ensemble than the military comedies it inspired (McHALE'S NAVY, F TROOP).  As suggested by its change in title during the first season, THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW was vehicle tailored to the talents of its star.

No disrespect intended for the contributions of Gosfield, Joe E. Ross, Allan Melvin, Karl Lukas, Maurice Brenner and the rest of the motor pool platoon.  But let's face it: the bulk of the show fell on Phil Silvers' shoulders--case in point, none of the above take part in this blogathon selection.  If not for appearances by Paul Ford (and an uncredited Billie Allen as WAC Billie, with no lines) no one else from Fort Baxter would appear in Hollywood at all.  This episode is truly Silvers' show wire to wire.


Hollywood is also the first of another subset of installments that showed Sergeant Bilko's inimitable skills unleashed on the civilian world outside sleepy, long-ignored Fort Baxter. ("The Pentagon is calling?  They must have the wrong number!"--Colonel Hall) The Sarge would later end up in Monte Carlo (hilariously trying out a foolproof roulette system) and on Wall Street (temporarily making a killing).  Ernie would also chisel his way into the spotlight in an army training film and an all-army special hosted by guest star Ed Sullivan.  All classic BILKO's, and all a result of the wild success of this initial furlough in Tinseltown.

To be sure, Nat Hiken was never that fond of the titular movie capital.  Television production moved rapidly from New York to Los Angeles in the late Fifties, but Hiken didn't relent and move with it until years later.  I'd imagine this quintessential champion of East Coast television delighted in penning Hollywood.


After a string of WW2 themed 'sexy' hits (like They Met in Okinawa), Chadwick's creative team sets its sights on the Battle of Kabuchi for Guns, Guts and Gals.  The higher-ups at the Pentagon would prefer that Chadwick Productions seek their moneymakers elsewhere, but General Merritt admits that non-cooperation with Chadwick Productions is a losing battle: "Chadwick will make the picture anyway, and at least this way we'll know they're wearing United States uniforms!"

Chadwick needs a technical advisor who "fought in the Battle of Kabuchi and is still in the Army", and after a decade, only one serviceman fits the bill: Sergeant Ernest Bilko of Fort Baxter.  While the most powerful military in the world may be completely helpless to stop Tinseltown, Sergeant Bilko is a different matter.  Hollywood's unique hook is that Bilko, usually a man subverting the ultimate faceless bureaucracy--that Army--is unknowingly doing just what the Pentagon wants by simply being his scheming, conniving self.


By the time Bilko has arrived, Guns, Guts and Gals has a title change to Love in a Foxhole ("gals" is too tacky for Chadwick's sensibilities).   Technical advisor Bilko is to be a mere figurehead--the script is already written, and he'll be sent back to Fort Baxter once the publicity photos are taken.  But Chadwick's flunkies are no match for the career soldier, and neither is the producer himself once the Sergeant starts dividing and conquering.


It's a classic scene, with Bilko successfully getting under the skin of virtually everyone in the room: director Sampson (accused of keeping scuttlebutt away from "Hokey Pokey" Chadwick), the screenwriters (who Bilko claims don't even have the climactic battle on the correct location), leading man Rory Mundane (deemed perfect for the role of Sgt. Skinner once Bilko sees the "ugly mole" on his cheek) and Chadwick himself, whose films "kept our minds off the War" and possesses production skills unsurpassed "since Georgie Jessel".  Cecil D. smells a troublemaker, but Bilko (likely bluffing) already has the numbers for every gossip columnist in town (starting with Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons), so simply sending him back to Kansas won't do.

Fake and real Sergeant Ernest Bilkos
Realizing that they can't beat him, they decide to join him, and find Bilko's doppelganger to play a bit part.  Rather than "stars in his eyes", Bilko sees dollars, threatening a libel suit since he "had a full head of hair" during his tour of duty on Kabuchi.

Bilko emerges from the infighting with his own personal director's chair ("call me E.B."), a production hopelessly behind schedule, and Chadwick begging the Sergeant to get the picture rolling.  By the time handsome Mundane is playing him ("here's the ammunition?") the exasperated producer finally pulls the plug on his box-office busting war series and sends a scathing letter to General Merritt--which results in "Ernie" getting another month long furlough from his grateful commanders in D.C.

Eric Fleming as Rory Mundane

Gruff character actor Howard Smith (HAZEL) sputters and fumes memorably as Chadwick, but perhaps the funniest supporting performance comes from future RAWHIDE star Eric Fleming as his top box office attraction Rory Mundane.  Using a hilariously hammy "matinee idol" voice, Fleming's interpretation of a vainglorious Hollywood "war hero" leaves a terrific impression with barely a half dozen lines.  Enraged to learn about the real-life "scrawny, lisping" character he's playing, Mundane becomes positively livid when Bilko decides he is well cast.  While uncredited here, Fleming would return to the series as The Face on the Recruiting Poster (the intended one, anyway).


While undeniably presented as trashy (by 1956 standards), Chadwick's productions are lent a distinct touch of class with songs by Oscar-winning composer Jule Styne, who plays himself and writes "My Heart is a Burned Out Shell" for the doomed feature.  A regular at Hiken's (and Silvers') weekly gin rummy game, Styne received a whopping twelve Academy Award nominations in all, winning for 1955's THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN.

Speaking of Oscar winners, THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW soon had a technical advisor of its own not long after Hollywood aired--George Kennedy, who would parlay the duty into his first acting roles.  Kennedy's debut, The Court-Martial (from March 1956) could have easily been my choice to highlight here.


While references to Jimmie Fidler and George Jessel's career in film production haven't aged that well, and Chadwick's sarong-heavy flicks don't seem so sleazy by modern standards, Hollywood remains a hilarious skewering of the city that would replace Hiken's beloved NYC as the U.S. television capitol.  Quite a warped hierarchy: the Pentagon is helpless against Chadwick, Chadwick kowtows to the power of the press, and all of the above are completely impotent against one Sergeant Ernest Bilko.  In my opinion, the best of the episodes that had Nat Hiken's timeless military creation invading civilian life.

THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW airs on MeTV every Monday morning at 12:30 AM Central.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

TV Sidekick Blogathon: HONDO's Helpers




This is the second of two Horn Section contributions to the TV Sidekick Blogathon, hosted by Rick at the Classic Film and TV Cafe.  This three day blogathon covers Classic (pre-1990) television's greatest sidekicks; be sure to check out all of the entries to read about twenty-two of the memorable characters who never failed to make the top banana look good.



For today's entry, we stay on ABC and in a post-Civil War setting.  But we move from comedy to drama; from the midwest to the southwest; from Fort Courage to Fort Lowell; and from a uniformed Sergeant to a half-Apache army scout wearing buckskins.  Being buried in a killer time slot by ABC meant that Hondo Lane had the misfortune of a short prime time run in 1967, but he was rediscovered and appreciated in reruns.


Hondo Lane got very little help from his network, but he had plenty of assistance onscreen: his faithful dog Sam and an equally loyal fellow scout named Buffalo Baker.  
 
(L to R) Hondo, Buffalo and Sam


Since Lane's canine companion gets a lot of coverage in every installment of The Horn Section's HONDO episode guide, today's post will start with the formidable, funny yet often overlooked Buffalo. 



Now don't get riled up, Sam. You'll get your chance later!.


In the original 1953 HONDO film starring John Wayne, Buffalo Baker took a back seat to the titular character's canine pal, widow Angie Lowe and her son Johnny.  Sam was at his human's side at all times, and much of the film takes place at the Lowe's ranch.  Played by the burly and bearded Ward Bond (WAGON TRAIN), Buffalo came across like a physically imposing Gabby Hayes in his handful of scenes.

Ward Bond as Buffalo Baker
Producer Andrew J. Fenady moved the action to Fort Lowell for the TV series and sought to make Buffalo Baker more of a traditional sidekick, albeit one who would defy some of our expectations (starting with the loss of the whiskers).  He cast amiable character actor Noah Beery, Jr., who had been playing good-natured friends of the hero for over twenty years when HONDO premiered on September 8, 1967.

Beery's Baker
Baker ended up with a much larger role in the HONDO series.  Angie Dow (Kathie Browne) and Chief Vittoro (Michael Pate, reprising his film role), both appeared in six of the first eight installments, but Angie was missing from seven of the final nine and Vittoro from six.  In contrast, Buffalo was the only character besides Hondo Lane to appear in all 17 segments, gaining screen time as the show jelled.  While this was partly a mechanism of the action moving to the Fort, Beery's charismatic performance and his chemistry with Ralph Taeger were also factors in the expansion of his role after the pilot.



Hey, the man had to be doing something right to take screen time away from Kathie Browne!




In the two part series opener (Hondo and the Eagle Claw and Hondo and the War Cry), Beery's Baker is a fairly straightforward Pat Buttram type: beating sore loser Ed Dow at poker, struggling with his fight (a captured renegade Apache), fiercely loyal to his fellow scout, and persuading the hero to buy their beers--subsequently drinking about half of Hondo's while Lane is defending Sam from irate cowpokes.

To be fair, Buffalo is an equal opportunity mooch who also bums drinks off of Colonel Crook and a traveling medicine show salesman (in Hondo and the Hanging Town).  (Teetotaler Captain Richards is never much help for him in this department.)


Stereotypical comic relief at first look, but Buffalo defies some of the initial expectations.  He proves to be formidable assistance mentally and physically in subsequent episodes.  He's as keen an observer of humans as Hondo: correctly surmising that the telegraph owner they're assigned to protect (Hondo and the Singing Wire) is "lower than the belt buckle on a snake" and setting a crusading reporter straight about the history of Hondo and the Apache Kid


Fierce loyalty is arguably Baker's defining quality.  When Hondo chooses an insubordination charge rather than be the courier to Chief Vittoro for an ill-conceived order by wunderkind Colonel "Buckeye Jack" Smith (Hondo and the War Hawks), Buffalo is next in line--and promptly joins his fellow scout in the guardhouse.  Buffalo sells Colonel Crook on supporting Hondo's risky rescue plan in Hondo and the Comancheros even when he's facing a return trip.

Lest you think that Buffalo is blindly devoted--well, think again.  A rugged individualist himself, Baker sets Hondo straight when necessary, most memorably in a tense moment during Hondo and the Gladiators.



Most of the time, Buffalo Baker eschewed his fists to provide well-timed sidearm support in the frequent cantina fights  ("You watch--I'll referee" he advises a surly cattleman in War Cry).  But don't be fooled by his seeming reticence to throw punches: Baker is one sidekick more than capable of holding his own at fisticuffs despite seeming slight in stature (Beery was 5'11" compared to Taeger's 6'3").  Two examples: Buffalo capably handles his man in a donnybrook with villainous Tribolet's henchmen in Hondo and the War Hawks and dispatches the larger, younger L.Q. Jones one on one in Hondo and the Death Drive.


Savvy Baker is rarely helpless--it is just as likely that Buffalo will rescue Hondo as vice versa--maybe even moreso.  Baker does it twice in Hondo and the Superstition Massacre.  Baker is the only man who can stop Hondo from literally beating his wife's killer to death (Captain Richards and several troopers fail to stop Lane first) and, as Captain Richards points out, facing a murder charge.  Later Buffalo arrives in the nick of time after renegade Pimas capture Lane, saving the day a second time.  The tough old bird achieves all of this on a cane after suffering a "hollowed-out leg" from a Pima gunshot in the opening minute!


Baker also provides a timely assist in Hondo and the Death Drive when the hero faces a lynch mob led by a corrupt cattleman.  In one of Beery's finest and funniest scenes of the series, he shows Buffalo's aptitude at thinking fast by bamboozling the local authorities and engineering a jailbreak to keep the titular Drive going (and Hondo out of the hangman's noose).


Rest assured, though--while it's clear that Buffalo Baker is no bumbling sidekick, he isn't hypercompetent either.  He provides healthy comic relief on a weekly basis.  Hondo is perpetually put-upon at the cantina, since Baker always has "too much month left" after his pay runs out.  Buffalo is outwardly willing to pay Hondo back "later" for a drink today (or three), but "later" never arrives--at least, not during the seventeen adventures we see.


If Buffalo isn't drinking away his money, he's gambling with it.  He's sharp at poker, but Buffalo can't resist the temptation to make bad bets away from the cards (i.e. on himself at arm wrestling).

Yes, this bottle is on  Hondo, as usual.
Buffalo's literacy is a little shaky--he struggles to read a telegram in Hondo and the Judas but seems to have no problem with the newspaper in Hondo and the Apache Kid.  However, the grizzled scout's devotion to friends, insolvency and fondness for alcoholic beverages are all as reliable as the sunrise.


Occasionally there's a nugget about Buffalo's personal life.  Baker anxiously awaits a letter (which doesn't arrive) from the "little filly" he spent a month's wages on, prefers "carrot topped" ladies, and briefly considers a career change to bounty hunting.  That's about it for Buffalo's life away from the Fort.  For all we know, he spends every moment that he's off duty at one of the southwest's many cantinas.


And that's OK.  Noah Beery Jr.'s animated garrulity provided the perfect contrast to Ralph Taeger's ill tempered stoicism.  Beery gives the sober-faced reactor plenty to react to, providing just the right amount of levity to some rather tense stories.  Beery's signature role was yet to come (THE ROCKFORD FILES, of course, where he supported James Garner just as ably), but he was as responsible as anyone for the cult following that grew when HONDO was given its chance at rediscovery on TNT in the 1990's.


Buffalo Baker wasn't the only helping hand available to Hondo Lane.  Then again, technically he was, since our hero's other sidekick was lending a helping paw.


It's your turn, Sam!

Hondo's non-human sidekick isn't quite as mangy and feral as he looked in the Wayne film, but he's every bit as independent.  "Sam does what he wants to do" as Hondo constantly reminds us--and what he wants to do is go wherever Hondo Lane goes.


Sam doesn't depend on Hondo; his human won't allow it.  While there's talk of Sam getting fat on table scraps, we never see those leftovers coming from Lane.  Sam is consistently told to "get his own" dinner.  That usually means catching a jackrabbit, but Sam sometimes finds other delicacies.  Angie Dow's homemade apple pies, for example:


Finders keepers, right Hondo?

It's apparent from the beginning there's nothing sappy about this relationship between a man and his dog.   When Hondo is captured by renegade Silva in Hondo and the Eagle Claw he simply tells Sam to "beat it"--an order that the faithful canine obeys.   Sam's rare display of affection (he licks his human's hand) during the subsequent Hondo and the War Cry has Lane wondering if the dog has stumbled into some "loco weed".


While Sam is an appealing scene-stealer, he isn't an impossibly Heroic Dog. Sam still contributes whenever possible during a scuffle.  Whether Hondo is battling no good thieves.....



......or renegade Apaches....


.....Sam has a knack for finding that one adversary who is terrified of dogs, and exploiting the weakness.  Sam takes his man out of the action as thoroughly as Deion Sanders ever did.


The scratches on Sam's nose tell you he's taken a licking and kept on ticking, and we see it firsthand when the courageous canine takes the battle to Hondo's fiercest foe, the vicious and psychopathic Apache Kid (Nick Adams):


Sam also rivals Buffalo's ability to come through in the clutch.  Hondo's furrier sidekick has a knack for distracting gunmen who get the drop on Lane (most notably in Hondo and the Mad Dog), and makes the rescue in Hondo and the Superstition Massacre possible by showing up at Fort Lowell with Hondo's eagle claw.

Sam the therapy dog.  Where's his vest?
Sam has a lot more to offer than just faithful companionship and courage in battle; he's no Lassie, but he is versatile in his own right.  In Hondo and the Death Drive he offers adept assistance to herding dog Maria during a sheep drive, and might well have himself a girlfriend by episode's end.  Sam also proves to be a great therapy dog for Johnny Dow after his mother Angie is kidnapped by banditos in Hondo and the Comancheros.


And like most dogs, he likes to play fetch.  Difference is, Sam is always fetching Hondo's horse.


A lovable dog is always going to steal scenes from even the funniest humans.  Storylines too.  Buffalo was never the focal point of a plot during HONDO's brief run, while Sam was twiceHondo and the Mad Dog saw him as the only witness to a murder, which led the killer to use a hydrophobia scare in an attempt to eliminate the canine before he can lead Lane to the body.  Hondo and Sam end up getting each other out of jams by segment's end, but forget about our rough hero getting maudlin after the close call--Sam is still hunting his own dinner as we fade out.  Unlike Buffalo, Sam never asks for anything, except to share in his owner's adventures.


Did I say his owner?  I almost forgot--Hondo consistently disavows ownership of Sam.  Not because he doesn't want the responsibility.  No, Lane explains that he treasures Sam's independence.   Hondo and the Gladiators gives us clarity before the series wrapped up (only two episodes remained).  After Hondo's statement that Sam "belongs to no one but himself" is taken at face value outside the comfortable confines of Fort Lowell, the canine is drugged and dognapped by a sadistic showman intent on turning Sam into a pit fighter.  For once, the tough exterior cracks just a bit and we see how Hondo really feels about his four legged friend.  I haven't reviewed this one yet in my episode guide, so--no spoilers.  I'll just say that for a show about a gruff loner, HONDO could sure produce emotionally resonant moments.


Sam had a lot to do with HONDO developing its TNT following.  A show with a smart, brave dog had to be appealing to the Saturday morning audience.  Particularly older kids, since Fenady was careful not to exaggerate either quality.

With a mere seventeen episodes, HONDO is one show that leaves you wanting more.  Buffalo and Sam both helped make those segments that we do have highly rewatchable.



If you'd like to catch HONDO, you're in luck if you have Dish Network or a Roku:  HONDO: THE COMPLETE SERIES is currently streaming at Warner Archive Instant and also airs every Saturday afternoon at 3:30 PM Central on GetTV.