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


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.


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.


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.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Television Review: LOVE THAT BOB: "Bob's Forgotten Fiancee"

LOVE THAT BOB: "Bob's Forgotten Fiancee" (Original Air Date: 6/17/58) Starring Bob Cummings as Bob Collins, Rosemary deCamp as Margaret, Lyle Talbot as Paul Fonda, Dwayne Hickman as Chuck, King Donovan as Harvey Helm, Olive Sturgess as Carol, Constance Towers as Patricia Plummer, Laurie Anders as Frances.  Written by Paul Henning, Shirl Gordon and Dick Wesson.  Directed by Bob Cummings.

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

With Chuck dressing up in Bob's smoking jacket and using his uncle's corny lines to give Carol the brushoff, Margaret is again concerned about her playboy brother's influence on her teenaged son.  Margaret learns about Bob's time-tested dismissals from his old Air Force buddy Helm, who participated in the "foolproof" routine when both were stationed near San Antono.  Colonel Collins handed out 'friendship' rings with the promise to turn them into 'engagement' rings once the 'test of time' was proven in the future.

As usual, Uncle Bob is unrepentant about passing his wisdom on to his nephew, so Margaret decides to turn the tables on the Casanova who "treats women like paper plates".  Assisted by Bob's fellow USAF veteran Paul Fonda, Margaret recruits stewardess and aspiring actress Plummer to pose as one of those long-forgotten fiancées from the Lone Star state.   The playboy photographer is mighty intrigued by the beautiful blonde guest in his home--that is, until he gets a gander at that very familiar pinky ring she's wearing.

The finale of the show's fourth (and best) season, Bob's Forgotten Fiancee has a very familiar setup: Margaret's concern about Bob's Je Ne Sais Quoi rubbing off on Chuck.  In Bob Gets Out-Uncled, the photographer was exposed as a windbag on the athletic field; in Bob Plays Margaret's Game, the playboy suffers a tag-team cockblocking as his payback.  Despite trekking over well-trod LOVE THAT BOB territory, the team of Henning, Gordon and Wesson (responsible for all 36 of the season's scripts) still manages to find a few fresh wrinkles for the premise.

Usual blocker Schultzy is M.I.A., partly because the episode takes place on Saturday (and thus, like Bob Plays Margaret's Game, the action never visits the studio) and partly because for once there's nothing to foil: Bob's only date is golf with Harvey Helm and his interest in Miss Plummer dissipates in seconds.  No, the only comeuppance Margaret seeks this time is to scare some of the savoir faire out of her bachelor brother by making him think the past has come back to haunt him.

If Cummings' direction isn't as inventive here as it was in other segments, the star still keeps the smiles coming consistently, punctuated by a belly laugh or two.  Just about every flashback or dream sequence was a winner on LOVE THAT BOB, and predictably, this installment's San Antonio reminiscence from Helm provides the biggest laugh out loud moments, as we witness the silver tongued Major (now Colonel) Collins' routine in all its glory, complete with Helm's well-timed musical accompaniment.

There's also plenty of chuckles to be had as Chuck tries to emulate Uncle Bob, eagerly trying out the leisure wardrobe as well as all of those time-tested lines.  But the nephew lacks Mr. Collins' slipperiness, and Carol Henning isn't impressed by the secondhand deliveries--perhaps best demonstrated by the outcome of that dispute over Chuck's Fats Domino record.

That the younger generation finds Bob's lines highly resistible hints at the coming youth revolution, but the swanky Playboy was still in the lead in 1958.  And the ever-subversive LOVE THAT BOB continues to undermine any perceived agreement with Margaret about Bob's bachelor life, as our only married man Harvey Helm is as henpecked as they come.  Given Harv as our example of a "happily married man" ("I wish Bob had gotten married instead of me", Helm admits), it's no wonder why Chuck continues to emulate his Uncle despite all of his mother's efforts.  While Bob's romantic prowess isn't demonstrated first-hand for Chuck, other benefits to his unencumbered lifestyle are front and center.  For example, Colonel Collins can fly off to Mexico City at the drop of a hat if he wants.  Imagine Ruth Helm's reaction if "Harv" tried that!

Laurie Anders
Bob's 'real' forgotten San Antonio fiancee is played by Laurie Anders (Bob and Automation), in her final acting role.  Best known as a singer-comedienne on THE KEN MURRAY SHOW, Wyoming native Anders parlayed her catchphrase from it into a hit 1951 single, "I Like the Wide Open Spaces".  After one last TV appearance (Ken Murray's 1960 episode of THIS IS YOUR LIFE), Anders retired for good.

Anders was at the end of her show business career, but Constance Towers (billed here as Connie) was only beginning.   Known to film fans for her iconic role as the bald prostitute in THE NAKED KISS (1964), Towers starred in ANYA and THE KING AND I (opposite Yul Brynner) on Broadway.  Towers is still active today in her early eighties, playing Helena Cassadine on GENERAL HOSPITAL.


Atypically, nothing to block this time. 


See above answer.

The scene-stealing Ann B. Davis isn't around, but also isn't really missed, so Henning and company obviously did something right this time.  It isn't quite the best of the installments focusing on "Bob's Bad Influence",  but presents the familiar tale with just enough freshness.  Fewer sidesplitting moments than usual for the setup, but like Bob Collins himself, Bob's Forgotten Fiancee manages to slip through and score often than not.  (*** out of four)

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Television Review: HONDO: "Hondo and The Savage" (1967)

"Your Lives are Meaningless compared to HONDO!"

HONDO: "Hondo and the Savage"  (1967 ABC-TV/MGM/Batjac Productions) Episode 5; Original Air Date: October 6, 1967.  Starring Ralph Taeger as Hondo Lane, Noah Beery Jr. as Buffalo Baker,  Gary Clarke as Captain Richards,  William Bryant as Colonel Crook.  Guest Stars: Charles McGraw as General Rutledge, Nico Minardos as Ponce Coloradas, Tom Monroe as Dink, William Henry as Sand. Teleplay by Frank Chase.  Directed by Michael D. (Mickey) Moore.

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

While lassoing a wild horse he intends to sell to Richards, Ponce Colorados is ambushed by Sand and Dink, competitors also seeking to make the Army transaction.  Witness Hondo comes to Ponce's aid, and the grateful Apache Prince (son of Chief Mangas Colorados) gifts the scout with the stallion he just captured.  The would-be thieves vow revenge.

Once he's back at Fort Lowell, Hondo learns his new assignment: assisting General Luther B. Rutledge, a veritable living legend whose battle tactics from the Civil War are required study at West Point.  The blustery thirty year military veteran has been sent from Washington to inspect all frontier posts and "improve conditions" for both settlers and natives.

Ostensibly there to learn and report, Rutledge imposes his "by the book" philosophy despite Hondo's advice that the west requires flexibility.  The General's resolute belief in army regulations results in the imprisonment of Ponce after Rutledge is accidentally hit in a melee (instigated by Sand and Dink).  After five days in solitary confinement, "the book" also calls for a dozen lashes with a whip for striking an officer.  The same punishment once befell Ponce's late father at the hands of the Mexican Army, and the General is undeterred by Hondo's revelation that the Senior Colorados killed 100 enemy soldiers for every scar afterward.

Frolific TV western scriptwriter Chase crafted an atypical HONDO in his series debut.  Sam disappears after the teaser, and the Dows and Chief Vittoro are completely absent--the latter certainly would have echoed Lane's warnings to General Rutledge.  But while the Chief of the Apache Nation isn't present during Hondo and the Savage, his desire for peace is shared by Ponce Colorados.

Actually, despite his great personal pride and fearsome reputation, the Prince's ambition to maintain harmony with the white man even exceeds Vittoro's.  Witnessing his father's vengeance and the resulting bloodshed as a child affected Ponce greatly, for he is clearly determined not to follow in Magnus' footsteps.  Ponce resolves to establish mutually beneficial co-existence and trade with Captain Richards and even orders the Apache braves to stand down and not (immediately) retaliate when their leader is brutally punished.

The younger Colorados also takes mercy on the surrounded soldiers in battle, and resists the temptation to take full Apache revenge on the captured General when the opportunity presents itself.  Ponce's almost pacifist leanings haven't diminished his ability on the battlefield (which the Prince capably displays after the celebrated General blunders into Apache land), but even-tempered, cerebral leadership away from combat is his defining quality.

Speaking of tempers, the closure for Lane's long-lasting grudge against his wife's killer in Hondo and the Superstition Massacre brought a noticeable improvement in Emberato's oft-referenced short fuse.   Lane is just as assured with the highest ranking U.S. officer as he is with Apache royalty: it is the revered "wise" elder Rutledge who is the hothead out West, with Lane more than once providing measured, cool counsel.   

The show's protagonist isn't the only one showing remarkable growth in the five episodes to date.  Formerly advocating extermination over conciliation (in Hondo and the War Cry), Captain Richards' own personal vendetta after his brother's death has softened also.  With Vittoro's consistent honesty and Lane's input taken into consideration, Richards now negotiates trade agreements with Colorados with full trust.  The Captain is in a difficult place: agreeing with Lane, but required to follow Rutledge's wrongheaded orders.  It's enough to drive teetotaler Richards to have a rare (offscreen) drink.

While Hondo's half-Apache status is never mentioned, it certainly wouldn't make Rutledge any more receptive to advice from the "Confederate Captain" he dismisses derisively.  The General is exalted upon his arrival, but proves to be stubborn, prideful, and bigoted.  He underestimates the "savages" every bit as much as Colonel Thursday does in the similarly themed FORT APACHE.

Even a pro like Chase isn't immune to laying it on too thick sometimes, and that's this segment's most significant drawback.  General Rutledge shows humility in his opening scene, fully aware he has a lot to learn about the West--but not one of his subsequent actions show any of this perception.  The Book Soldier's rigid adherence to the Army Manual, frequently stated to be his defining character trait, disappears quickly when he's faced with the same humiliation he subjected Prince Colorados to: the General is completely out of control, crazed enough to attempt to murder the only man who can get him back to the Fort safely (and not long after vowing to 'follow the book' and see him hang).

In comparison, patient Ponce shows seemingly infinite discipline and wisdom.  He's Rutledge's superior in every way ("General, out here he outranks even you"): handling punishment in a more mature fashion and much more forgiving of a similar accident by Rutledge at the Apache village.  As a result of the script's heavy-handedness, one is perplexed as to how Rutledge ever reached his current stature in the first place, and the General's closing monologue comes uncomfortably close to a sitcomish character change as resolution.   That it works as well as it does is a credit to Moore and to Charles MacGraw's robust portrayal of an inconsistently written antagonist.

Hondo knows the unintended consequences of fighting for the wrong reasons all too well from his war experience, but there's about as much chance that the General will listen to Hondo Lane as there was of Colonel Owen Thursday taking Captain York's advice.  However, Lane has the key advantage of talking to an esteemed older man at the tail end of a long career instead of a "disgraced" young officer who's been demoted.  Thursday was seeking to reestablish lost glory at any cost, and York couldn't talk him out of a foolish long-odds gamble to do it.  But Rutledge's glory is still intact to everyone outside Fort Lowell, and Lane is able to make the General realize that even a "victory" would tarnish a still-stellar record--any loss of stature from his capture by Ponce is all in Rutledge's mind.  ("I'm going to wash the stink off my soul.")  It's too bad MacGraw wasn't given steadier writing to work with--as it is, his performance still makes Hondo and the Savage worthwhile.


The softening of Emberato's temper doesn't mean we lack fisticuffs.  He and Ponce are getting the best of drunken ne'er-do-wells Sand and Dink when the fight is stopped by troopers.  Later, Hondo gets to finish the job with one punch in the saloon, and does so without destroying any furniture for once.  Chase must have been determined to avoid every expectation the audience developed from the first four shows.  

Maybe he shoulda listened to Hondo....


It isn't Taeger that ends up shirtless this time, but MacGraw.  See above.  


Sam is merely a spectator in the teaser, and M.I.A. for the rest of the installment. As is always the case when this happens, the scene stealing canine is missed.


Propelled by a game performance by MacGraw and solid direction from Moore, who builds some genuine tension.  Ponce's punishment is as cringe-worthy as it could be on prime time circa 1967, and check out Hondo's realization that he's hearing the Apache Death Chant when he arrives to retrieve the General--Lane trusts Colorados, but the scout's uneasiness is palpable.  Unfortunately Chase stacks the deck too much, turning an interesting variation on FORT APACHE into an installment that is just average.  The ensuing Hondo and the War Hawks provided a much more nuanced and effective exploration of similar themes.  (**1/2 out of four)

HONDO: THE COMPLETE SERIES is currently streaming at Warner Archive Instant and the series also airs every Saturday afternoon at 3:30 PM Central on getTV. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

F TROOP Fridays: "Corporal Agarn's Farewell to the Troops" (1965)

F TROOP Fridays -- Number 12

F TROOP: "Corporal Agarn's Farewell to the Troops" (1965 ABC-TV/Warner Brothers) Season One, Episode Four: Original Air Date October 5, 1965.  Starring Forrest Tucker as Sergeant Morgan O'Rourke, Larry Storch as Corporal Randolph Agarn, Ken Berry as Captain Wilton Parmenter, Melody Patterson as Wrangler Jane, Edward Everett Horton as Roaring Chicken, James Hampton as Bugler Dobbs, Bob Steele as Private Duffy, Ivan Bell as Duddleson, Joe Brooks as Vanderbilt.  Guest stars: Forrest Lewis as Doc Emmett, Vic Tayback as Bill Colton, Robert Anderson as Bob Colton, Georgia Simmons as Granny, Buff Brady as the Driver.  Directed by Charles Rondeau.  Written by Stan Dreben and Howard Merrill.

The leftover beef stew from the mess hall claims two victims: the Sergeant's horse, and his VP of O'Rourke Enterprises, Corporal Agarn.  Veterinarian Doc Emmett is Fort's only doctor, so he treats both patients.   While O'Rourke gets a grave prognosis on his equine, eavesdropping Agarn believes that he is the terminal one.  Determined to leave earth with a clear conscience, the self-described "crooked Corporal" decides to fully confess his crimes to the Inspector General.  Meanwhile, Captain Parmenter hatches a plot with Dobbs' assistance to apprehend The Colton Brothers, wanted highwaymen with a $5,000 reward for their capture. 

After the bizarre, hilarious concepts of Don't Look Now, One of our Cannon Missing and The Phantom Major, F TROOP took a step back with the much more mundane primary plot of this installment.  The Mistaken for Dying trope was well-worn in sitcom circles even then, and the most remarkable attribute of this usually inventive show's spin on it is how conventional it is.  

Hypochondriac Agarn is ready to believe the worst about his "topsy turvy tum tum" on the word of a horse doctor.  Doc Emmett's examination of the Corporal is F TROOP at its silliest, a starter weak enough to require half-hearted attempt at lampshading ("he's the only medical man we have!").  The usual clichés follow, with few twists on the weathered concept.  Agarn misinterprets innocent and well-meaning comments from the Doctor and Jane, and ultra-kindness from Captain Parmenter and Sergeant O'Rourke (on the former's suggestion) only heightens the Corporal's paranoia.  

Not that the episode is devoid of surprises.  The secondary plot provides the biggest: after three episodes of near-complete bumbling, the Captain displays a rare trait for him in a black and white F TROOP: competence.  Hatching a plan to end the stage robberies, Parmenter correctly detects a pattern to them, accurately predicts the site of the Coltons' next heist, and actually apprehends the thieves successfully--without assistance from the best marksman available to him (Jane).  True, his trademark clumsiness is still very much in evidence, but for once, Wilton saves the day and isn't oblivious to the fact.

I fear him, don't you?

Rondeau tones down the slapstick a bit in Corporal Agarn's Farewell to the Troops, with subtler physical humor (i.e. the Captain struggling to remain calm after puncturing his palm) rather than copious pratfalls.  Agarn even bests usual champ Parmenter two falls to one, though the latter causes a second (Dobbs).  Speaking of the always reliable Storch, he shoulders the lion's share of the humor in this outing.  His V.O. narration of the military funeral and realization about his not-so-illustrious career is a winner, as is his reaction to O'Rourke's scheme to retrieve the incriminating letter.  The latter gives us this segment's best sight gag.

Among the supporting players, Horton isn't the only wizened presence, as he is joined to two guest stars with 19th century birthdates.  Longtime "that guy" Forrest Lewis deadpans his way through the best medical exam that Agarn can find, and 81 year old Georgia Simmons is a fiesty bride to be(!) telling the Coltons to "get on with it" (meaning their robbery).

A much younger Vic Tayback (BLOOD AND LACE, with Patterson) plays Bob.  His face is hidden during most of his screen time, but the voice is unmistakable.  "Why don't you shut up, you old crow" is delivered the way that only Vic the unsuspecting Simmons. 

If you're not a fan of Vic's, well, STOW IT!!!!

Corporal Agarn's Farewell to the Troops isn't really a bad segment, just disappointing after the wildly funny twin triumphs preceding it.  Four segments in, the writers were still seperating the laugh-getters from the clunkers, and many of the running gags the show is now known for (the falling lookout tower, Hekawi words of wisdom) are missing from this early outing.


Agarn would want a last meal of chicken, peas, watermelon and candied yams.  (Curious request, since he supposedly still had a topsy turvy tum tum at the time he made the request.)

Marinated corn cob can cure stomach problems for horses or humans.  However, only take one pinch at a time, for it is very hot.

Corporal Agarn says he wouldn't want a blindfold during an execution, though when the situation comes up later (The Day They Shot Agarn) he doesn't refuse one.

Chief Wild Eagle's assessment that his medicine man is a "big quack" in Scourge of the West doesn't appear so well founded now.  More on this below.  (Roaring Chicken is also a 'terrific dancer' per Agarn, another improvement from the pilot.)


None this time, though he could have been arrested for the felonious crime of robbing the U.S. Mail if Parmenter hadn't bought into his story of going undercover to capture the real robbers.


No words, wise or otherwise, from our esteemed Chief.  Corporal Agarn's Farewell to the Troops is the lone episode not to feature Frank de Kova, and Don Diamond's Crazy Cat is also M.I.A.  Horton's Roaring Chicken has the tribe's only scene to himself.


In his scant screen time, Roaring Chicken manages to prescribe a successful medicinal cure for O'Rourke's horse, proving the "professional" veterinarian's grim prognosis to be laughably wrong.  Score one for the Hekawis!


A bit funnier than I remembered (I originally gave it two stars), with Storch having some very bright moments (the best: his spot-on vocal impression of Horton) and the script allowing the Captain to grow into his duties a bit.  Still, this installment's slightly slower pace makes the groaners stick out like a sore thumb and the hackneyed primary storyline is handled in mostly perfunctory fashion.  The F stands for "flat" a little more often than usual in this offering.    (**1/2 out of four)

F TROOP currently airs on Me-TV for a full hour each Saturday morning at 5 AM ET/4 AM CT and on Sunday mornings at 7 AM ET/6 AM CT.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Hollywood's Hispanic Heritage Blogathon 2015: Adele Mara

It's Blogathon Time again!  Today's post is The Horn Section's contribution to Hollywood's Hispanic Heritage Blogathon 2015, hosted by Horn Section friend and fellow blogger Aurora of Once Upon a Screen!  Check out all of the other great participating posts by clicking the link above, including Aurora's own contribution on Velia Martinez, co-star of our of our faves, The Big Boodle.  And check out the archives there for more classic film blogging by Aurora.

For my contribution, I'll highlight one of the most beautiful actresses (and pin-up models) of the 1940's and 1950's, who delighted us for nearly two decades before retiring to raise a family.

Adele Mara was born Adelaida Delgado on April 28, 1923 in Highland Park, Michigan.  Though it was sometimes written that she was half-Irish, Mara stated for the record to western biographer Boyd Magers that she "is adamantly" all Spanish.  Her father was a Ford Motors executive and her brother, Luis Delgado, also became an actor (and James Garner's long-time stand-in).

One of the most popular pin-up models during WWII.  No, not the cat

She got her show business start at the young age of six by winning dance lessons as a door prize at a theatre.  Starting with tap, young Adele progressed into adagio and ballet.  By the time Miss Delgado was 15, she was singing and dancing with Xavier Cugat's orchestra.  It was at Cugat's suggestion that she shortened her last name, and the newly billed Adele Mara was spotted by a talent scout at New York's Copacabana.  The result was a contract with Harry Cohn's Columbia Pictures in October 1941--just six months after Adele's 18th birthday.  (Also notably signing with Columbia simultaneously, per UPI: 18 year old dancer Ann Miller and 20 year old big band singer Janet Blair).

with Victor Jory and Joe E. Brown in SHUT MY BIG MOUTH (1942)

By year's end, she was popping up in Columbia "B"s.  Adele Mara's screen career began modestly enough--she was uncredited in her first two films, Navy Blues and the Lupe Velez vehicle Honolulu Lu (both 1941) but she was a leading lady by her fourth, appearing opposite comedian Joe E. Brown in Shut My Big Mouth (1942).  While the film was Brown's vehicle (witness the title) all the way, his brown-eyed co-star with the bright smile attracted a lot of press, and with good reason: you couldn't take your eyes off her.   Subsequently, she was Chester Morris' leading lady in his next BOSTON BLACKIE adventure.

One of the few roles Adele Mara was up for and didn't win: the plum part of Ada in The Moon and Sixpence, which went to fellow Cugat alum Elena Verdugo.  She did have the opportunity to work with the studio's most popular comedy team, The Three Stooges.  Mara appeared in four short subjects during the team's prime years with Curly in 1943 and 1944.

Yes, that's Adele in I CAN'T HARDLY WAIT (1943)

Years later, Mara admitted that she was "a little unhappy" at Columbia: "I wasn't doing things I really wanted to do"--dance.  She wasn't that disappointed when the association only lasted two years.  As fate would have it, her new agent secured an interview with Herbert J. Yates' Republic Pictures in 1944, and they needed an actress to jitterbug with John Wayne (and to teach The Duke how to do the dance) in The Fighting Seabees.

Her 1948 Bowman Movie Stars card.  You wouldn't flip this one!

The auspicious beginning at Republic led to a seven year contract.  At Republic from 1944 through 1951, Mara not only received more opportunities to display her dancing skills (Vampire's Ghost and the Gene Autry vehicle Twilight on the Rio Grande, among others) but a wider range of roles--she proved she could play 'bad girls' as well as sweet, innocent types.  While Adele Mara was most frequently appearing in westerns, she was given opportunities to play choice parts in film noirs, thrillers, mysteries and war films as well.

In Exposed (1947), Adele Mara was top billed as wisecracking P.I. Belinda Prentice.  While the film didn't yield a signature role for the starlet (or even a sequel) it's a must for her fans.

My opinion: we should have had at least one more Belinda Prentice adventure

The daughter of a homicide Inspector (Robert Armstrong), Prentice is hired by Colonel Bentry to investigate his son and heir Bill, who ends up murdered with his butler (Harry Shannon) standing over the body.  There's no shortage of suspects, with the dead man's sister (Adrian Booth).  Adele Mara gets to try her hand at the snappy dialogue, and the brisk 59 minute "B" also features William Haade as Prentice's assistant and venerable Bob Steele as a mob enforcer (tougher than his size would indicate, as always).  This watchable mystery is streaming at Epix HD.

Looking stunning as always in Blackmail (1947)

During her stay at Republic, Adele also received top billing in The Inner Circle (1946), memorably supported John Carroll in Angel in Exile (1948) and had high profile supporting roles in John Wayne's Wake of the Red Witch (1948) and Sands of Iwo Jima (1949).  The latter film also gave a breakthrough role to Forrest Tucker, who like Mara had been at Columbia (and appeared with the starlet in Shut My Big Mouth and Honolulu Lu) prior to signing with Republic in the late forties.  Tucker was given his shot at top billing with Ms. Mara as his leading lady for a pair of 1950 films, Rock Island Trail and California Passage (which I wrote about just last month).

In California Passage (1950)
The former was a highly entertaining "A" and one of the studio's most highly promoted films of the year, with Mara singing the title song.  However, it was the lower profile Christmas release California Passage that gave Adele one of her most memorable roles, as an Eastern transplant caught between feuding saloon partners Tucker and Jim Davis in the Sunshine state.  Read the reviews above for more, but suffice to say that I agree with the assessment of Allmovie's Hans J. Wollstein that Mara was "given a chance to shine".  California Passage is also currently streaming at Epix HD.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be Mara's last hurrah at Republic, for her contract was up in June 1951 and Yates, citing studio budget cuts, elected not to renew it.  By then, Adele Mara was engaged to TV writer/producer Roy Huggins (their marriage lasted a half century until Huggins' death in 2002).

Mara most frequently worked in television throughout the fifties; she made only five features after her stint at Republic ended.  As was the case on the big screen, she remained a popular presence in westerns, guesting on BAT MASTERSON, TALES OF WELLS FARGO, LARAMIE and multiple appearances on CHEYENNE, which was produced by Huggins.  She also made multiple appearances on her husband's shows 77 SUNSET STRIP and MAVERICK for Warner Brothers, and the latter contained Adele Mara's most memorable television roles.

Wowing the cowboys in Seed of Deception

The first season MAVERICK finale Seed of Deception (1958) gave her a chance to briefly show off her still-formidable dancing skills (though Mara claimed she was 'a little rusty'), but it was the second season's The Spanish Dancer that gave her a more extensive showcase as well as the titular role. 

While The Spanish Dancer was not included in the series' Columbia House boxed set, it is one of the most underrated installments of the show's legendary second season.  The lengthier dance sequence for its leading lady is especially welcome--director James V. Kern wisely shows the entire routine.  As a bonus for her fans, the memorable flim-flam involving Bart Maverick (Jack Kelly) and Gentleman Jack Darby (Richard Long) also gives Adele Mara her best small screen opportunity to show off her comedic chops.  Robert Bray (LASSIE) is the worthy foil, who, like Bart and Jack, is crazy about 'Elena Grande' .

With Myron Healey in Seed of Deception

She returned for one final MAVERICK in its third season, again opposite Jack Kelly and again playing the title role in The Marquessa (1960).  Semi-retired and raising three children by this time, Adele Mara appeared much less frequently on the small screen, with only two 1970's cameos after the 1962 ALFRED HITCHCOCK episode House Guest.

Adele Mara left quite an impressive body of work in her two decades on film and television, but remained remarkably modest about it when interviewed by Boyd Magers years after her retirement (for his 1999 book with Michael Fitzgerald,  Ladies of the Western).  "It was like make-believe, and I was being paid good money for it.  Except I never thought I was too good at it."

I'm sure I'm not the only fan who begs to differ with her assessment.