Thursday, January 28, 2016

Television Review: LOVE THAT BOB: "The Wolf Sitter" (1955)



LOVE THAT BOB: "The Wolf Sitter" (Original Air Date: December 8, 1955) Starring Bob Cummings as Bob Collins, Rosemary deCamp as Margaret Collins MacDonald, Ann B. Davis as Schultzy, Dwayne Hickman as Chuck MacDonald, May Wynn as Jean Blackburn, Sheila James as Gertrude, Claire Kelly as Miss Kelly.  Written by Paul Henning, Shirley Gordon and William Cowley.  Directed by Rod Amateau.


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


Everyone around swinging photographer Bob Collins is seeking a little extra cash.  Schultzy needs to borrow $19.98, but it is to buy a sweater for "the Boss", ever the object of her pursuit.  Margaret offers to loan it to her--as soon as she can borrow it from her brother.  Bob's nephew Chuck seems to have the most urgent need: he's making wooden spoon sets out in the garage in an attempt to bolster his college fund.


Bob counsels Chuck to find a less noisy venture, and to make himself "the brains" instead of the brawn.  The  successful shutterbug has more counseling to do at work: after going through Collins' "binders full of women", Schultzy has selected gorgeous Jean Blackburn as the model for his afternoon shoot (a skin oil ad).  What's the problem?  Blackburn is "the one girl the Boss just can't get a date with", according to Schultzy--which leads to a bet that he can do just that, with $19.98 at stake.


While the show's template is already well established in this early outing, the almost hyper pace of later seasons isn't.   Bob is quite the stinker this time out, taking "all's fair in love and war" to a new level.  To thwart Jean's honest (and unseen) scheduled date, Bob intercepts every phone call and telegram sent by his hapless rival, stretching the truth much further than we're used to seeing from him.


In later seasons, Bob would be misleading, sure.  But he would almost never tell an out and out lie.  To name two examples, his statements that he beat Pancho Gonzalez at tennis in Bob Gets Out-Uncled and his claim to have made "literally hundreds of pictures" in Bob Gives S.R.O. Performance were at least technically true.  Claiming to be sent overseas the next day by the Air Force here is not only blatantly dishonest but disappointingly uncreative in comparison, which makes you less invested in Bob's quest this time out.


As for Chuck, he's still in high school at this early stage, and curiously seems more concerned about earning money for college than trying to get in on Uncle Bob's action.  This innocence at least gets him as far as helping Bob relax his model before he's sent elsewhere.  Stories concerning Bob's influence became much more common during Chuck's college years.


Half the fun of any LOVE THAT BOB episode is spotting the starlets of the Fifties, and twenty-one year old Claire Kelly (SNOWFIRE, GUIDE FOR THE MARRIED MAN) made her debut with a brief appearance as Collins' outgoing model (and prior night's conquest).  Unattainable Jean Blackburn appeared in multiple second season installments, played by May Wynn (a.k.a. Mrs. Jack Kelly, at least until 1964).  Best known for her appearance in THE CAINE MUTINY, Wynn's acting career ended in 1960.

To the modern eye, both starlets are likely upstaged by fourteen year old scene stealer Sheila James, later to become most familar chasing after Hickman's DOBIE GILLIS from 1959 to 1963.  She essentially gets The Wolf Sitter's punchline, giving Bob his comeuppance after the playboy photographer weasels his way past Blackburn's honorable suitor.  Her brief appearance is the most memorable thing about a decidedly average early installment.

Damn cockblockers!

WHO WAS "BLOCKING"?

As usual, Schultzy was--subtly, by calling the one model uninterested in Bob "after hours" for the skin oil ad.  Later, after Bob bucks the odds and gets a date, niece Gertrude plays goalie at Jean's apartment.  But the ultimate blocker turns out to be Bob's nephew.  It gets Chuck literally (if not violently) sent to the woodshed.

DID BOB SCORE?

It's certainly implied that Bob scored the day before with Miss Kelly, and obstacles notwithstanding, it's his own damn fault and he doesn't score on the day we're watching.  I mean, c''mon Bob, you literally have binders full of women, with only one resisting your charms, and she's the one you're focused on?  Pride is one of the seven deadlies, you know.


Pretty familiar early outcome, with all that maneuvering resulting in Bob running afoul of his own advice to his nephew.  The show wouldn't really hit full stride until Cummings took over the director's chair during the third season, and while The Wolf Sitter is sporadically fun and boasts a decent punchline, the journey there gets a little labored at times.  Additional interest for viewers in seeing the future Zelda Gilroy and the future Dobie Gillis in giving Bob his just desserts.  Who says youth isn't served here?   (** out of four)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Horn Section Salutes: Clarence "BLOWFLY" Reid (1939-2016)


It's been a very bad month to be a legend in the music industry.  First Lemmy, then David Bowie, and now, sadly, the death trifecta strikes us again with very sad news today.  Legendary soul writer and singer Clarence Reid, perhaps even better known by his X-rated alter ego Blowfly, has passed away from liver cancer at the age of 76.


The photo above is from his February 2013 Dallas show as Blowfly, my fourth and final time to see Mr. Reid and his funky band live.  It was truly an honor to be there, and to meet him for the second time.



During my childhood, Blowfly tapes were definitely an underground item.  Part of the fun was the knowledge we weren't supposed to be listening to them, and I have to say, Mr. Reid's alter ego seemed much more forbidden than George Carlin or Richard Pryor to us southern Oklahoma kids.  The next link is NSFW, be advised:


Blowfly was the subject of the 2010 documentary, The Weird World of Blowfly--also the title of the 1971 debut LP by Reid's alter ego.  I previously wrote a bit about this in my 2012 Film Discovery list for Rupert Pupkin Speaks.  Suffice to say I highly recommend checking it out.


But Reid as Blowfly has a lot more to check out--though be warned, most of it is definitely NOT safe for work.  The Weird World LP's from the 1970's (i.e. Blowfly at the Movies, Blowfly Disco) boasted a great backing band (something that Papa Fly would maintain for the rest of his career, including the past decade under the management of "Uncle" Tom Bowker): Willie "Little Beaver" Hale on guitar, Timmy Thomas on keyboards and George "Chocolate" Perry on bass just for starters!  Check out the work of the latter especially on this opening track from 1977's Porno Freak (need I add it is NSFW?)

Oh, and that aforementioned 2013 concert I attended?  The entire show is available for your viewing pleasure, thanks to YouTube!


Prior to that concert, we saluted him here at the Section, with a half dozen more of his greatest hits from the 1970's and 1980's.  Back in the Horn Section's infancy, way back in 2006, we reviewed the second LP of his comeback, Blowfly's Punk Rock Party.

The next two video links are from Clarence Reid under his own name, doing the straightforward Miami R&B that he was excellent at.  He co-wrote classics like "Rockin' Chair" and "Clean Up Woman", and was one Hell of a singer of songs both PG and X-rated.


For all the wonderful years of entertainment and all the soul classics, The Horn Section salutes Clarence "Blowfly" Reid on the day of his passing.


R.I.P. Mr. Reid. Thanks for all the laughs and memories.


Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Television Review: GET CHRISTIE LOVE!: "Fatal Image" (1974)



GET CHRISTIE LOVE! "Fatal Image" (ABC-TV/Wolper Productions: Original Air Date: November 6, 1974) Starring Teresa Graves as Detective Christie Love, Charles Cioffi as Captain Reardon, Andy Romano as Caruso, Dennis Rucker as Belmont.  Guest Stars: Richard Rust as Johnny Morris, Claire Brennan as Lisa Morris, Max Gail as Mark Richie, Jared Martin as George Lennox, Vito Scotti as Emilio, Richard Lawson as Don Allen, Robert Yuro as Tom Holland, Donald Mantooth as Ken, Ann Coleman as Kay Burton.   Directed by Richard Compton.  Written by Larry Alexander and Robert Earl.

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


After being tailed back to his house by Detectives Love and Caruso, mobster Johnny Morris ends up murdered in his swimming pool once he's away from the watchful eye of the surveillance van.  Morris was handling millions in stolen bonds for money launderer Tom Holland, and after initial investigation reveals that Johnny had been cheating on his wife, Christie Love is assigned to the case.

Looks like he wants to, uh, get Christie Love if you ask me...

Journalist George Lennox is allowed to tag along during Christie's investigation while working on his upcoming article on "the female Jackie Robinson of the LAPD".  Christie enjoys bantering with the writer, fully aware of their chemistry--and fully unaware that Lennox is actually moonlighting as the killer she's after.  After Christie discovers that Morris' mistress also perished recently (in a car accident), more of Holland's underlings are added to the body count under mysterious circumstances.


A month before the series premiered, Graves told the Lakeland Ledger that GET CHRISTIE LOVE! would be "more like a Columbo than a Mannix".  Fatal Image partly realizes that ambition: the murderer is identified before the cold open fades, and Detective Love spends three full acts asking questions before she flips a single interviewee.  Director Richard Compton compensates for an often talky teleplay by frequently drawing the viewer's attention on the attraction bubbling under the chaste flirtation between Christie and Lennox throughout.


Chemistry between Graves and Jared Martin is considerably more convincing than that between the star and much older (and gruffer) Harry Guardino in the show's pilot.  Neither hints at being unprofessional, but the mutual admiration is palpable throughout the first three acts of Fatal Image.  Their playful banter provides the Alexander/Earl script with plenty of zip, though the exploration of Love's background unfortunately brings out a cliche or two--were all television law officers "mischievous kids saved from trouble" by a cop mentor back in the day?  Sure seems like it.


Refreshingly, a situation that seems ready-made for making Detective Love either a damsel in distress or a superwoman takes neither route.  She solves the mystery through good old fashioned questioning, with only one brief skirmish with Lawson (SUGAR HILL) along the way.  True, Christie's fellow detectives are almost nonexistent between the slide showing early and the finale, and Detective Love requires no help to free herself from brief capitivity.  She's still the first to acknowledge her shortcomings afterward: solving the puzzle sooner would have stopped additional carnage, and she did allow the murderer to get the drop on her at a critical point.

Let's face it, there's no show that Vito Scotti doesn't help
Compton mainly handled features (MACON COUNTY LINE and its sequel) throughout the 1970's; in fact, Fatal Image was his only foray into episodic TV of the entire decade, and it's an impressive one.  One might have guessed then that Compton would become one of the go-to directors of prime time crime in the Eighties (most frequently on THE EQUALIZER and MIAMI VICE).  The nighttime dropoff via helicopter and the construction site visit are both well staged; judicious use of inserts hints at the big reveal in the fourth act without giving too much away.


The one real flaw in Fatal Image has to do with that revelation about George, as he just doesn't look the part.  That said, it isn't completely unconvincing--that it works as well as it does is a tribute to Jared Martin's charismatic, intense performance.  Martin gives his all, subtly but noticeably changing both voice and personality and passionately defending his actions after Christie figures out his secret(s).


The efforts of Martin, Compton and (of course) Graves elevate this installment.  Watch for Max Gail (soon to score his signature role on BARNEY MILLER) and character actor extraordinaire Vito Scotti, who as usual leaves an impression in his scene as the faintly flamboyant clothing designer who employed Morris' modeling mistress.


ONE LUMP OR MORE?

Only two "Sugars", both directed at Allen after his initial lack of cooperation.  Seems to be a rule: the stronger scripts don't need as many catchphrases.


THE BOTTOM LINE:

Putting a crime drama with a sexy lead on at 10 PM without a lot of violence or eye popping outfits was no small challenge, but to David L. Wolper's credit, he found a number of ways to adjust.  In this episode, it's an intriguing relationship between the detective and her suspect and enough background information on each to explain the resourcefulness and the latter's emotional damage.  Martin's intensity helps the suspension of disbelief immensly and Compton effectively handles a somewhat talky script.  Christie's colleagues are given less to do than usual, but Fatal Image is just as entertaining on repeat viewings despite a few imperfections. (*** out of four)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

F TROOP Fridays: TV GUIDE, December 11-17, 1965

With apologies to Mitchell Hadley of the excellent (and highly recommended by yours truly) blog It's About TV, I'm going to take an excursion into what is normally his territory with a look back at a classic issue of TV Guide.

It was 50 years ago this Friday that television's all time greatest series, F TROOP, made the cover of the venerable U.S. television weekly for the first time.



F Troop would soon be overshadowed by the smash mid-season replacement Batman (which debuted January 12, 1966) but at the time of this issue, it was ABC's biggest new hit of the 1965-66 season. Airing in what had been a death slot for ABC (Tuesdays at 9 PM ET) since the turn of the decade, F Troop managed to stand its ground and then some.  In fact, the episodes Scourge of the West, Don't Look Now, One of our Cannon Missing and Old Ironpants cracked the Nielsen top 10 despite airing opposite CBS' seemingly invincible The Red Skelton Show.

It's series star Forrest Tucker who is the subject of this cover story, profiled by Leslie Raddatz (whose tenure at the weekly lasted from 1962 to 1976).  Actors Should Act Like Actors is the title of Raddatz' article and also our patron saint's credo.  Tuck learned it from his early show business mentor, Jimmy "Carnation" Lake, who unknowingly hired a fifteen year old Forrest to emcee at the Old Gayety burlesque theatre in Washington, D.C.  Whether this happened circa 1930 or circa 1934 depends on the source: Raddatz gives Tucker's birthdate as February 12, 1915 (though 1919 is the most widely reported year).


The interview takes place at Tuck's longtime favorite hangout, the Lakeside Country Club, so it isn't surprising that the star's prowess at golf gets almost as much mention as his chosen vocation.  Tuck's apartment is three blocks from Warner Brothers' backlot and from Lakeside, and he often drives from place to place in his customized golf cart.  While Tucker probably played more rounds at Lakeside than anywhere else, we learn that it wasn't the site of his greatest round ever (at least, as of late 1965)--a stellar 9-under-par 63 at a pro-Am in Stockton.


Professionally, Tuck's long run as Professor Harold Hill onstage in The Music Man (2,008 performances from 1958-1963) gets prominent mention in Raddatz' article.  "The part is so tough you have to spend all of your time between shows lying down.  For four years I saw nothing but the theatre and a ceiling."  Tucker is perhaps overly modest about a career on the big screen that at the time included 91 feature film credits:   "I never really made it in pictures--I was the other guy, the one who didn't get the girl." (Not always, Tuck!)  Marilyn Fisk is his third wife ("I like dancers because of their discipline") and ends up making three appearances on F Troop.

Marilyn Fisk Tucker on F Troop
The other cover story involves what, in 1965, was still being referred to as the UHF GambleThe All-Chanel Receiver Act of 1962 had gone into effect in May 1964, requiring all television manufacturers to include UHF tuners so that channels 14 through 83 could be received by the public.  David Lachenbruch's article looks at this "$200,000,000 Experiment" (the rough estimate of the added cost of said UHF tuners) after the first eighteen months.  More than 35 percent of the nations estimated 53.8 million households "already have at least one set" that can access the additional 70 channels.

Independent producer David L. Wolper (Get Christie Love!) was prescient: "Another network will be formed.  It's inevitable now that the stations are there."  He's far from the only prognosticator proven correct about where television would be headed: more choices, more programming variety. KWEX-TV in San Antonio "saw the light almost from the beginning", broadcasting 14 1/2 hours a day "for the last ten years".  Thus began what we now know as Univision.  WKBD in Michigan carries University of Michigan sports along with the Pistons and Red Wings in prime time.  ESPN, of course, was still fourteen years away.  Lachenbruch concludes that the all-channel experiment "cannot yet be called a success" but notes that UHF broadcasters insist that it must succeed, for the sake of television's future.  For the record, my issue, covering the Philadelphia area, carries listings for a mere by modern standards nine stations: 3 UHF independents (17,29,48); one UHF CBS affiliate (15), educational Channel 12, and four more network affiliates, with last-place ABC having only one (6) to the two for both NBC (3,8) and CBS (10,15).


Two stars whose best days were ahead of them also have articles about their respective shows that didn't survive the 1965-66 season: Peter Falk's Trials of O'Brien and Sally Field's Gidget.  ABC cancelled Gidget but had Field back on the air more successfully in 1967 as the star of The Flying Nun.  Falk would begin his epic run as Columbo in the 1968 TV-movie PRESCRIPTION: MURDER.  One can see elements that Falk would bring to that iconic portrayal in lawyer Daniel J. O'Brien's office, though none of these props could compare with that raincoat.

The office of Daniel J. O'Brien, attorney at law

Capping off an issue with most impressive star power, Charles E. Alverson interviews the legendary Gypsy Rose Lee, former burlesque queen and now host of her own syndicated TV talk show based in San Francisco (where it airs on WCO-TV).  Alverson reports that the transition from "take it off!" to "keep them talking!" hasn't been without its problems.  Used to being the interviewee, she started out "rattling away for the whole show".  The three page profile isn't the most flattering: "there are few signs that Miss Lee has given up running her guests off the conversational road".  Alverson almost grudgingly concludes that despite the problems, Miss Lee "can so far rest easy", since she has fans ranging from John Wayne to the secretary of a chapter of the Hell's Angels, "a band of California bike riders often in the headlines".

Gypsy Rose Lee on the set of her talk show, 1965

KCO-TV was an ABC affiliate, and Gypsy Rose Lee would make appearances on the network's Batman and The Pruitts of Southampton the following year.  She died in 1970.


Rounding out the feature articles, Pep Pills for Dr. Kildare, reviews NBC's attempt to reinvigorate its aging hit.  "Romance and a format change" didn't work; the doctor was out after this fifth season.

Inside: For The Record reports that ABC expects to debut two hour-long British TV series in the summer. The Avengers, noting that "Honor Blackman stars on British TV, but she won't be in the version shown here".  No mention whatsoever of Patrick MacNee or then-current costar Diana Rigg!  The second, Court-Martial, is far less remembered despite the bigger American name in Peter Graves, already familiar then from Fury and about to score his signature TV role in Mission: Impossible.


The British imports were two for two at hitting prime time, a much better batting average than the four reported projects from the "Comeback Quartet" for 1966-67: Phil Silvers in Help (Bilko as a chauffeur), Pat Boone in The Perils of Pauline (with Pamela Austin in the titular role) and 74 year old Lowell Thomas' planned documentary series all failed to make the schedule.  Only the return of The Garry Moore Show did, and thanks to competition from Bonanza, it barely lasted into 1967.  One last note, Roger Miller and Jonathan Winters are both "under consideration" for a summer series by NBC.  Miller ended up on the network's fall schedule in 1966, and Winters made it onto CBS' the following year for a two year run.


Interesting letters as always, with one blasting the unsuccessful format change for Amos Burke: Secret Agent (formerly Burke's Law, and off the air three weeks later) and two panning the salute to Stan Laurel that had aired on CBS November 23rd.  Perhaps most interesting of all is the opinion of V. Smith from Hamilton, Ontario: "Since playing Las Vegas, Johnny Carson's head has certainly swelled.  He is not nearly as interested in his guests as he is in setting his facial expressions for the camera.  Merv Griffin has him beaten by miles."  While Griffin didn't quite match Carson's run, The Merv Griffin Show had 21 more years to run, not far behind Carson's 27.

Despite Mr. Smith's non-endorsement, Carson's guest appearance on Get Smart was notable enough to give the December 11 episode a TV Guide Close-Up:


Mr. Hadley compares the lineups for Hollywood Palace (Saturday) and The Ed Sullivan Show (Sunday) each week that he reviews an issue from the Sixties, so just for fun, I'll take a shot at it too:

Palace: Host Caterina Valente, Bill Cosby, Bill Dana as Jose Jimenez, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Brazilian guitarist Luis Bonfa, magician Channing Pollock, the Black Theatre of Prague (pantomimists) and the Freedonias (German tumblers).

Alan King
Sullivan: Alan King, Al Hirt, Barbara McNair, Wayne Newton, the Swingle Singers (who adapt jazz styles to classical music), clown/juggling troupe The Gomberts and the Bratislova Slovokian Folkloric Company.

Alpert and the Brass play two songs from the legendary Whipped Cream and Other Delights LP, Valente gets four songs, Cosby does a presumably shortened version of "$75 Car" from his Why is There Air? LP, and Dana's Jose is a flamenco dancer.  It's enough to outweigh Hirt and McNair for me, so I'm going with Palace.  Besides, Caterina Valente is much easier on the eyes than Alan King.

Caterina Valente
On Sunday, the annual rerun of Gian Carlo Menotti's opera Amahl and the Night Visitors (first telecast live in 1951 as the very first Hallmark Hall of Fame) is NBC's counter-programming to the football games on CBS and ABC.  This is a taped repeat of the 1963 production, and the last before the TV rights reverted back to Menotti in May 1966.  Menotti, who never approved of the 1963 version, refused to allow it to be rebroadcast again.



Not to sound lowbrow or anything, but I probably would have chosen the football game between the New York Jets (led by rookie QB Joe Namath) and the Oakland Raiders instead.  (The Raiders prevailed 24-14 behind QB Tom Flores despite Namath's 280 yard, 2 touchdown day.)


The seasonal mood is being built on Monday night with the annual Andy Williams Christmas show, with Andy's special guests The Osmonds.  The aforementioned David L. Wolper also gets a TV Guide Close-Up for his ABC documentary airing at 10:00, In Search of Man.  Van Heflin narrates.

On Tuesday our cover show F Troop has one of its funniest episodes of the season, The 86 Proof Spring.  Competition: Red Skelton has Tallulah Bankhead as his guest and Wilt Chamberlain's 76ers are playing Cincinnati on UHF Channel 17.  (Oscar Robertson's Royals upset Wilt's 76ers 112-109: sounds like an exciting game.)


The Bob Hope Comedy Special gets Wednesday night's Closeup, bringing the star power with Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, Janet Leigh and singer Nancy Wilson joining Bob.  Probably a top draw, especially with Benny having given up his series after 15 years the preceding season.

There's no review from critic Cleveland Amory this issue, though Thursday night's listing for Amory's creation (with Abe Burrows) O. K. Crackerby includes a blurb that the critic will discuss the show's failure in next week's issue.  Crackerby, which starred Burl Ives, has only three episodes left after tonight's installment guest starring Aliza Gur, Miss Israel of 1960 and a finalist in that year's Miss Universe pageant.

Aliza Gur

Aliza Gur was a popular guest star in 1965-66, popping up on six different series, including the aforementioned Amos Burke just four weeks earlier in an episode entitled Deadlier Than the Male.  

Capping off the week, low-rated Camp Runamuck and Hank are pre-empted by NBC Friday night for Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.   As always, Jim Backus is Magoo and Jack Cassidy voices Bob Cratchit.  It's a repeat, having first aired in 1962.  Magoo goes head to head with ABC's long-running The Flintstones, and this week Fred and Barney are utilizing robot doubles to go bowling and take their wives out simultaneously.  If you dislike cartoons, The Wild, Wild West still airs as usual on CBS.


Before we leave Friday and the listings: The Trials of O'Brien has two of the longest running TV sleuths of all time facing off, as Peter Falk is joined by guest star Angela Lansbury.

Finally, TV Teletype: Hollywood has some interesting tidbits.  Jack Webb has been recently signed by Universal to produce a two-hour Dragnet, which "may again become a series".  (It did, a year later as a mid-season replacement in 1966-67 and became a long-running hit again.)  Webb won't be joined in the new version by Ben Alexander, who's busy with 20th Century Fox's pilot, Men Against Evil with Howard Duff and Jeanne Crain.  It became the long-running hit, Felony Squad (sans Crain) the following fall, running for three seasons.  Finally, Andy Griffith has decided to stay on CBS for a seventh season in 1966-67, which will "probably be the last".  (It wasn't.)

No review from Cleveland Amory this week.  Vacation, or mourning that cancellation of O.K. Crackerby?  

Finally, you know it's still the Sixties when you're encouraged to give the gift of Pall Mall this Christmas:



If that doesn't get you into the Holiday spirit, nothing will!


F Troop had two more TV Guide covers in its future, so hopefully this is the first of a trilogy here at the Section.  And if you like vintage TV Guide reviews, It's About TV has a new one each Saturday, and you'll find one periodically at Retrospace also.

Monday, November 30, 2015

MAVERICK Mondays: "The Art Lovers" (1961)






MAVERICK Mondays: Number 18







MAVERICK: "The Art Lovers" (1961 ABC/Warner Brothers TV) Starring Jack Kelly as Bart Maverick, James Westerfield as Paul Sutton, Jack Cassidy as Roger Cushman, Maurine Dawson as Anne Sutton, John Hoyt as George Cushman, Leon Belasco as Cosmo, Laurie Main as Crimmins, John Alderson as Captain Bly, Stephen Chase as Tabor Scott, Lou Krugman as LaRouche, Stanley Farrar as Leighton.  Written by Peter Germano.  Directed by Michael O'Herilihy.


Recognizing Bart from a prior game in Denver, coxcomb Roger Cushman proposes a deal that sounds too good to be true: he'll back Maverick in a high-stakes game with rich men whose bank accounts far outstrip their poker skills.  Smarting from a $30,000 loss at the same table, Cushman only wants 25 percent of Maverick's winnings in exchange.  Bart warns that a loss is always possible, but reassuring young Cushman offers to back any losses 100 percent.  After agreeing to terms, "Colonel" Maverick from east Texas is seated at the table with Cushman's uncle George and three more high rollers.


Unfortunately, a bad beat against Paul Sutton's kings full of fives proves the prescience of Bart's warning to the tune of a $25,000 loss.  Roger quickly disavows any "deal", indignantly declaring to Uncle George that the imposter Colonel tricked him.  With no witnesses to concur with him and four wealthy, influential men vowing to prosecute, Bart finds himself paying off his debt as a butler at the Sutton home.  It looks like Maverick's poker career will be on hold for five to ten years, until he learns that a shortage of domestic staffing at the household is due to financial troubles Sutton has been keeping a secret.  After Sutton fails to secure further financing for the railroad investment that has been draining his resources, Maverick learns of one highly confidential asset held by the troubled tycoon that could solve both of their problems.


Scripted by Peter Germano and directed by Michael O'Herlilihy (Poker Face), The Art Lovers continues the effort to reclaim MAVERICK's glory years during its abbreviated final season.  Producer Coles Trapnell attempted to re-establish a cast of recurring rogues in the season opening Dade City Dodge by introducing an ersatz Dandy Jim Buckley (Mike Road's "Pearly Gates") as a frequent foil to go with Doc Holliday (Peter Breck) and the re-cast Modesty Blaine (Kathleen Crowley replacing Mona Freeman).  This followup installment harkens back to Shady Deal at Sunny Acres with its setup: Maverick trusts a wealthy, well-connected individual who turns out to be dishonorable, ending up with no one believing his story that he was cheated out of five figures by his well-to-do adversary.


In fact, Bart's task is even more daunting than brother Bret's was in the classic second season entry.  Bret was only facing the loss of $15,000 profit; here, Bart is facing ten years' identured servitude (stables included, thanks to cutbacks Sutton's been forced into) to repay an unpayable debt.  Bret squared off against one well-connected banker; Bart has five influential millionaires on the other side.  Bret had the help of brother Bart and some of the west's best con men; by this time, brother Bret is long gone from the series, and even frequent friend Doc Holliday isn't in San Francisco for The Art Lovers.


The confidential admission regarding a valuable (but illegally owned) treasure at the halfway point is only the first of multiple twists and turns in Germano's clever script.  It's the opening Bart needs to turn the tables on his supercilious adversary, played by a perfectly cast Jack Cassidy.  Oily sore loser Roger gets less patronizing and more desperate as the cracks begin to show.  When he goes back to the well for a second attempt at shanghaiing Bart, Roger isn't surrounded by family and support, and that makes all the difference.  It's easy to see from this excellent early performance why Cassidy was one of the best COLUMBO villains (and also the actor that Ted Baxter was written for).


Thin-lipped, steely eyed and prematurely grey John Hoyt is also an ideal choice to play Roger's uncle; he's just as ruthless as the younger Cushman, but much more accomplished at it.  For example, he shushes Roger's suggestion to have Bart killed--not because he's morally opposed, but because he feels his foppish nephew "will only muck it up" and take them both to the gallows.   The much more unpretentious Sutton (James Westerfield of The Ghost Soldiers) is easier to sympathize with, since he lets the guard down.  The only baron realizing that he and his fellow patrons have more in common with Maverick (who is into "engravings") than with the truly enlightened (none of them appreciate the live opera hosted by Mrs. Sutton, for example), Sutton admits it outright: "We wouldn't know real culture if we fell over it."  Men focused on acquisition over true artistry are ripe targets for a "dealer" like Cosmo Nardi (aka "Duke Delaney" to Bart).


The Art Lovers is well paced.  The humor of work-shy Bart becoming an inept butler is exploited just long enough, getting the laughs out of the incongruity and then getting our hero back to what he does best (using his wits) before becoming tedious.  Once Bart recognizes Cosmo Nardi as a con-man from Louisiana (who's staying one step ahead of the law) he has a full foot in the door to regain his freedom (and his bankroll)--everyone involved, especially "Cosmo", needs Maverick's confidence.  It comes in especially handy once Bart finds himself face to face with Captain Bly.

A mutiny, ya say?
Germano's second (and last) installment is a notable improvement over his first (The Ice Man) but isn't without imperfections: Cosmo's convenient appearance at the dock is contrived, since Bly doesn't seem the type for him to be doing much business with.  There's also the realization that the return of the rare original painting to Louvre Palace would seem to leave Cosmo in danger of that California jail sentence that Bart escaped.  Nardi's fate is unknown (this was Leon Belasco's only appearance)--but hey, he landed on his feet with a new name before.  Any quibbles with The Art Lovers would be minor at best; it's a solidly constructed and very welcome return to form for an aging series that needed one badly after an often frustrating 1960-61 season marred by too many hackneyed plots that could have been written for any western on TV at the time.

Butler Bart

HOW'D BART DO AT POKER?

As noted above, he got his ass kicked at the tables, but did much better away from the them this time out, wiping out his debt (and then some) by episode's end.

WISDOM FROM PAPPY?

The fifth season's biggest flaw?   Pappyisms that lacked freshness and often humor.  Witness this one: "Travel broadens the imagination."  A better one is paraphrased earlier: "There are much worse things than being broke.  He just didn't know of any."  No classic either, true, but Pappy seems to have told us everything he knows at this point.


THE BOTTOM LINE:

O'Herlihy debuts impressively, making the lack of exteriors a plus, and Germano produces a twisting, turning script that can stand with the best of the first three seasons.  Put it this way: I doubt James Garner would have passed this on to Kelly if it had arrived in 1958.  It's every bit as satisfying to see haughty Jack Cassidy taken down as it was to see John Dehner's crooked banker get his, and The Art Lovers is one of the best of the final batch of MAVERICK installments.  In fact, it's one of Jack Kelly's funniest and best episodes, period.  (***1/2 out of four)

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