Monday, January 12, 2015

MAVERICK Mondays: "Epitaph for a Gambler" (1962)

MAVERICK Mondays: Number 12

MAVERICK: "Epitaph for a Gambler"  (1962 ABC-TV/Warner Brothers) Starring Jack Kelly as Bart Maverick, Robert Wilke as Diamond Dan Malone, Marie Windsor as Kit Williams, Fred Beir as Sheriff Ed Martin, Joyce Meadows as Linda Storey, Adam Williams as Sam Elkins, Don Haggerty as Lucky Matt Eakins.  Written by George F. Slavin.  Directed by Irving J. Moore.

Bart wins $12,600 in Diamond Dan Malone's casino, or about $10,000 more than Malone has on hand.   Learning that Sheriff Martin is anxious to close Malone down (a situation not helped when his deputy is killed protecting Bart from a robbery attempt), Maverick finds himself sharing ownership--his only chance to eventually be paid in full.

Collection comes slowly, in part due to Malone's overhead, which includes blackmail payments to mysterious Sam Elkins.  Meanwhile, Bart finds himself attracted to Storey, Martin's intended.  If that doesn't frustrate the Sheriff enough, Elkins' subsequent murder does, since Sam's gunslinging brother Matt vows revenge.

Robert Wilke
The fifth (and last) season of MAVERICK was largely ignored by Nielsen viewers after a time slot change to 6:30 ET. on Sundays.  Despite the sliding ratings, this final batch of 13 episodes (down from 32) was a noticeable step up creatively over the inconsistent 1960-61 season.  Not every new wrinkle succeeded, but producer Coles Trapnell made a game attempt to recapture the vibe of the show's prime by adding Doc Holliday (Peter Breck) and "Pearly" Gates (Mike Road) as recurring foils.  With a reduced production schedule and no new Maverick kin to introduce, the writers went back to the basics as well.  Installments like The Art Lovers, A Technical Error and The Golden Fleecing boasted intriguing setups stemming from the poker games that were absent from too many fourth season entries.

Windsor and Meadows
All that said, Epitaph for a Gambler was one of the few misfires from the show's final go-round.  The key problem was Slavin's ill-fitting script, surprising considering that he was one of few writers remaining with credits dating back to MAVERICK's genesis (he debuted with Stage West, the sixth episode).  Great pains were taken from the get-go to note the difference between Bret and Bart's chosen profession of poker (primarily a game of skill, with elements of luck) and every other casino table game.  You rarely (if ever) saw either brother at (for example) the blackjack table.  Why play a pure game of chance with the house having the advantage instead of you?  Nevertheless, Bart not only plays roulette here in the first scene, but lets it ride after hitting his 36 to 1 shot!  If Bart detected a flaw in the system that made his unlikely two-fer (odds: 1 in 1296) close to a sure thing, he never let us in on it.

Bart later competes with the upright Sheriff for lovely Miss Storey, even considering settling down with her. Maverick tells us via narration that his wise old Pappy "always told him" he'd meet a lady one day who'd "make him forget all about Lady Luck".  Which of course contradicts everything we've heard from Pappy for some 120 episodes: compare this thought with Bart's clever detection of a fake telegram from Pappy in Last Wire from Stop Gap for the most glaring contrast with his prior proverbs.

Finally, Bart even ends up tearing up an I.O.U. for several thousand dollars with no strings attached.  To be fair, this last action does seem plausible here in light of the denouement it follows.  Nevertheless, one spends most of Epitaph for a Gambler wondering: Who is this strange gentleman, and what's he done with Bart Maverick?

The theme of Epitaph for a Gambler (and lesson for Sheriff Ed Martin) is voiced by Bart: "You can't put people into groups.  They're all individuals, all different."  A worthy indictment of both prejudice and collectivism, true.  But MAVERICK best delivered this edict with a light, subtle touch (i.e. Gun-Shy) and Epitaph for a Gambler is right behind Prey of the Cat on any list of its grimmest hours.  Besides, the series had just explored the same message much more effectively via Poker Face just two episodes earlier.   That installment was much truer to MAVERICK and to its lead character--for starters, the titular game played a pivotal part.

In his only MAVERICK, veteran heavy Robert J. Wilke effectively conveys a decent man carrying more baggage than he lets on.  Wilke's "Diamond" Dan looks increasingly burdened with each new revelation, yet keeps proving his essential honor throughout.  Marie Windsor, so memorable as Doll Brown in HELLFIRE, does what she can with her limited screen time as the woman who stands by her man (and boss).   These two stalwarts keep Epitaph for a Gambler from being a total loss, but ultimately, Slavin's teleplay veers way too far into melodrama, with a surfeit of disclosures rushed out in the final act.

Marie Windsor


He never touched a single card.  What series is this again? 


"You can tell more about a town by looking at its gambling emporium than any other ediface."  Worth pondering, but where's the punchline?  I won't even get into the aforementioned aphorism about Lady Luck, since I refuse to believe Pappy Beauregard Maverick really said that.


Even our friend Jack Kelly can't sell us this bill of goods.  Epitaph for a Gambler would be a worthy exercise for a different series, but it's no MAVERICK.  Inconsistent with the show's established universe and virtually humorless, Epitaph for a Gambler is worth a look for excellent performances from Windsor and (especially) Wilke, but there's little else here to recommend.  Slavin's MAVERICK swan song ends up being the writer's weakest contribution.  (*1/2 out of four)

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

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Television Review: LOVE THAT BOB: "Colonel Goldbrick" (1958)

Hold it!  I don't think Bob likes this picture....
LOVE THAT BOB: "Colonel Goldbrick" (Original Air Date: June 3, 1958) Starring Bob Cummings as Bob Collins, Rosemary deCamp as Margaret MacDonald, Dwayne Hickman as Chuck MacDonald, Ann B. Davis as Schultzy, Olive Sturgess as Carol Henning, General Clarence A. Shoop as Himself, Stanley Stenner as Himself, Jacqui LaQuerre as Jenny.  Directed by Bob Cummings. Written by Paul Henning and Dick Wesson.

Series overview of LOVE THAT BOB a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW previously published here for the one hundredth anniversary of the star's birth in 2008 at this link. 

Chuck is reeling from the loss of best girl Carol to rock n' roll singer Stenner, a blow with additional pain inflicted when the coupling makes the front page of the campus newspaper.  Margaret calls on Uncle Bob the romance expert to help his lovelorn nephew, but her brother can't be bothered.  Wearing his Air Force uniform, the still active reserve departs for a "top secret" photography assignment with the head of S.A.C.  Obviously, Strategic Air Command takes precedence, right?

However, you guessed it: Colonel Collins hasn't been summoned by that S.A.C., but rather, he's photographing a bathing beauty from this one:

And of course, he's wearing the officer's duds to impress blonde Jenny, S.A.C.'s leader and fundraiser.  When Margaret discovers the real reason that Bob can't stay and aid her moping son, she schemes with commanding officer Shoop to give him a genuine Air Force assignment--in Greenland!  Bob immediately cooks up an explanation involving yet another organization with the same acronym, but can the Colonel put one over on a two star General?

Cummings and Shoop
Colonel Goldbrick is one of several installments to debunk the two most repeated myths about LOVE THAT BOB: a) that aging playboy Collins is ludicrously presented as irresistible to women twenty years his junior while b) the budding youth revolution is completely ignored on the show.

Granted, Collins does have a bevy of beautiful young models thinking he's the cat's meow (Shirley Swanson, Collete DuBois), but as one of L.A.'s top photographers, Bob is in a position to further a model's career--not unlike his obvious role model, Hugh Hefner.  It makes perfect sense for Bob to have extra attraction in the eyes of a professional model, particuarly if she's marriage minded and likes a challenge--single, successful Bob is a nice prospective catch to a lady so inclined. 

Jacqui LaQuerre and Stanley Stenner
However, the considerably younger Jenny is neither a professional model nor aspiring to be one.  She appears somewhat attracted to Collins, but in a way exudes more respect than arousal.  Bob hasn't a chance with her or the other divers once he introduces the ladies to the hip rock n' roll singer their own age, obviously underestimating the appeal of the guitar and voice to the next generation.  The members of S.A.C. (who would have been in grade school during Colonel Collins' war heroics) can resist a man in uniform, and it's Stenner who ends up walking away mobbed in admiration by the entire club. 

Speaking of that uniform, Bob atypically wears it for the entire episode, though his antics have him on the verge of losing a few stripes by the final scene.  While Bob's business casual is nowhere to be found, Colonel Goldbrick is quintessential LOVE THAT BOB (and Henning) otherwise.  One misunderstanding snowballs when deceptively uncorrected in a manner that will be very familiar to BEVERLY HILLBILLIES aficionados.

One consistent strength of Cummings' direction was his work with inexperienced (and often non professional) actors, as many guest stars during the later seasons were.  He pulls double duty in that regard here, with Stenner and Shoop playing amusing fictionalized versions of themselves.  Seventeen year old Stenner was making the second of two 1957-58 appearances.  A Mary Martin protege who had played Curley in PETER PAN on Broadway as a child, Stenner never parlayed this prime time exposure into rock n' roll stardom.  He did, however, cut singles for the Dynasty label in 1962 and briefly fronted The Grass in the mid-Sixties, but his acting career never took off either.

Stenner's second LOVE THAT BOB would be his last, but Major General Clarence A. Shoop (making his fourth appearance here as himself) would return for Bob in Orbit.  Shoop's association with the show's star went back to the General's work as a technical advisor on Cummings' 1943 film PRINCESS O'ROURKE.  While working on O'ROURKE, Shoop met actress Julie Bishop (SANDS OF IWO JIMA), who would remain his wife until his death in 1968 (he was 60; their daughter is actress Pamela Susan Shoop).

A genuine World War II hero who flew the first photographic mission over Normandy prior to D-Day, Shoop was a technical advisor on several films and also acted in the original INVASION U.S.A. (1952).  He is generously given several good lines in Colonel Goldbrick (including the titular one) and delivers laughs consistently in his largest LOVE THAT BOB role.  In addition to his successes in Hollywood and on the battlefield, General Shoop was also Vice President of (Howard) Hughes Aircraft Company.

Cummings was nominated for four acting Emmys for the series but his work behind the camera was just as worthy, particularly when one considers how frequently non professional actors were seamlessly blended into the LOVE THAT BOB universe.  The crisply executed Colonel Goldbrick is a solid example to point to.  


Prodded for words of wisdom, Uncle Bob sees his agonized nephew holding a textbook bottom side up and offers: "You don't hold a girl upside down either."  I dunno, Bob, that might make a man look really virile....   Runner up: the playboy photographer assures Jenny of his love for "water sports".  TMI, Bob!  Oh, no, wait, he clarified that he meant scuba diving


An emphatic "Hell no" this episode.  Youth is served at every turn; all Colonel Collins gets is a comeuppance.

Another simple farce played to perfection, Colonel Goldbrick is a bit funnier than companion piece Bob Digs Rock n' Roll, which also featured Stenner.  Shoop's deadpan delivery is put to especially good use here as he retorts Cummings' well-timed denials.  Bob's square view on the next generation's music would become a recurring theme in the show's following season, and hints that he was close to the end of his shelf life as a swinging single would become more frequent.  No wonder, then, that the fifth season would be the show's last.  With two episodes to go in its fourth, though, Colonel Goldbrick displayed a show streaking to the finish line.  (***1/2 out of four)

Monday, December 29, 2014

Film Review: JOHNNY BE GOOD (1988)


JOHNNY BE GOOD (1988 Orion Pictures) Starring Anthony Michael Hall, Uma Thurman, Robert Downey Jr., Robert Downey Sr., Paul Gleason, Jennifer Tilly, Steve James, Seymour Cassel, Marshall Bell, Deborah May, Michael Greene.  Directed by Bud Smith.

Hall is a hot-shot high school quarterback fresh off his second state championship in a row, and the major colleges have come a-callin' before he signs his letter of intent.  Best bud Downey Jr. recommends the highest bidder.  Girlfriend Thurman wants him to join her at State, but State coach James isn't offering the perks that boosters Cassel and Greene dangle from larger schools.  The former is willing to offer high school coach Gleason (whom Hall can't stand) the job if Hall comes along for the ride.  All the while, mysterious Downey Sr. observes the entire process and records notes to self.

Unsavory recruiting practices for college athletics is a surefire topic for a movie with teen appeal; it's astonishing that only two came down the pike during the decade of the Brat Pack (the other being 1983's ALL THE RIGHT MOVES).  While that Tom Cruise film went the dramatic route (a la BLUE CHIPS, ONE ON ONE), JOHNNY BE GOOD takes the comedic route previously mined by 1979's FAST BREAK.  JOHNNY BE GOOD can't touch the underrated Gabe Kaplan vehicle for laughs, and is far less realistic to boot--no easy feat.

Any hope of genuine audience engagement in the situation is obliterated during the opening scenes depicting the State Championship Game.  Hall is Coach Gleason's ticket to a college job and all the usual perks, yet the coach stupidly risks having his star quarterback returning kickoffs, punting, and facing frustrated pass rushers with a 52-0 lead!  Numerous coaches and recruiters are in the stands, yet Hall blatantly fakes an injury in front of all the folks crucial to his future.  He does it to get backup Downey Jr. into the game, and the opponent--supposedly the second best team in the state--can't even keep this fifth stringer from a touchdown run after he starts by running at least thirty yards the wrong way!  One can only imagine the quality of the teams that didn't get to the final.

After the game, the absurdity continues, with a post-game call from Howard Cosell (sadly showing symptoms of Parkinson's during his cameo) urging Hall to choose that widely known destination for future pros, Yale University (Why?  Cosell wasn't even an alum!).  Cheerleaders join the football team under the showerheads (both still in uniform, PG-13, folks) and numerous recruiters wearing jackets from the closet of Rudy Russo bombard the nation's hottest prospect with loud offers of money, cars and girls (or if he prefers, boys) en route to his car outside the stadium.  All of this within the first five minutes.

The once great champ, now a study in mopishness.....
No doubt, Hall wanted to break out of the "nerd" stereotype with this role (and OUT OF BOUNDS) and the 6'2" actor manages to look the part.  His passing looks far better on film than Charlton Heston's or Adam Sandler's.  But he's given no help from the weak script (by REVENGE OF THE NERDS alumni Steve Zacharis and Jeff Buhai) or from the unremarkable direction by first timer Bud S. Smith.  Twice nominated for an Oscar as a film editor (THE EXORCIST, FLASHDANCE), Smith returned to his area of expertise after JOHNNY BE GOOD and has yet to helm another feature.  He never brings the proceedings any closer to planet Earth after that opening sequence, and the tone is all over the place, shifting abruptly from ZAZ gags (such as the "chip tray" at Tex's house) to somber moments (Johnny's conversation with a former hot-shot recruit turned gas station attendant by an injury).

Three of Smith's credits as editor were directed by Robert Downey, Sr., a connection that no doubt helped bring the cult filmmaker to the supporting cast.  In a rare bright moment, their collaboration PUTNEY SWOPE plays at the drive-in, while Downey Sr. comments on the movie being "shit".  Great in-joke for us film buffs, but how many among JOHNNY BE GOOD's target demographic got this joke in 1988?  (There is one other moment of amusement along these lines, but it wouldn't become one for another decade: Downey Sr.'s NCAA investigator is named Lloyd Gondoli, which PUTNEY SWOPE fan Paul Thomas Anderson would use in BOOGIE NIGHTS for Philip Baker Hall's character).

Despite Hall's best efforts, filmgoing football fanatics are unlikely to suspend disbelief through the opening and an equally absurd pickup game between the two high school QB's and cops led by Thurman's father Bell.  The promised raunch on the recruiting trail never really materializes, and the ridiculous finale features a wild fistfight between dozens of recruiters on national television, which undercuts the intended impact of Hall's mature decision.   

JOHNNY BE GOOD has some appeal to those wanting to check out the future stars in the supporting cast, but even this attraction is limited.  Consistently manic Downey Jr. is essentially playing BACK TO SCHOOL's Derick Lutz again, only after ten energy drinks: a Razzie nomination would not have been out of place.  To be fair, Downey Jr. appears to be improvising a lot, which is understandable given the script's quality.  Uma Thurman makes a charming debut, but is given little to do other in her predictable character arc (she loves Johnny, then thinks he's a jerk, finally forgives him after he comes to his senses).   As for the adults, Seymour Cassel and Paul Gleason supply the assholishness and its nice to see the late Steve James playing against type in a key role.

Among genre camp classics from its era, JOHNNY BE GOOD is more rewatchable than COOL AS ICE, but never funny enough to touch the level of insanity reached by LISTEN TO ME.  Hall, who turned down FULL METAL JACKET and FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF prior to accepting this misfire, ended up back in supporting roles after its box office disappointment.  His performance can't really be faulted--just his taste in screenplays. 


Yes, both standalone and in combination with other Brat Pack films, but unless you're a completist of one of the actors, don't bother.  Wait for the next showing on Encore Classic.

Monday, December 01, 2014

MAVERICK Mondays: "Gun-Shy" (1959)

MAVERICK Mondays : Number 11

MAVERICK: "Gun-Shy"  (1959 ABC-TV/Warner Brothers) Starring James Garner as Bret Maverick, Gage Clarke as Kenneth Badger, Reginald Owen as Freddie Hawkins, Ben Gage as Marshal Mort Dooley, Walker Edmiston as Deputy Clyde Diefendorfer, Andra Martin as Virginia Adams, Marshall Kent as Doc Stucke, Kathleen O'Malley as Miss Amy, Doodles Weaver as Lem, Iron Eyes Cody as Native American.  Written by Marion Hargrove.  Directed by Leslie H. Martinson.

Ellwood, Kansas is a peaceful town, kept that way by towering Marshal Mort Dooley.  Bret Maverick is brought there by the same thing attracting Hawkins, Badger and (apparently) Adams: a buried treasure.  Half a million dollars in gold to be exact, hidden in Ellwood during the Civil War by a now-deceased Confederate officer.  Unfortunately for Maverick, his competitors lack the formidable obstacle that he faces: Dooley's intense dislike of professional gamblin' men.

Determined to "uphold the law" and protect the trail hands "just lookin' for a friendly game" in the saloon, the Marshal sees Bret off on the noon stage just as conman Hawkins arrives.  Bret protests to no avail, and Dooley makes it clear that a return to Ellwood will put Bret on a collision course with the 6'6" Marshal.  You'd think Pappy's advice would probably be avoidance, since Dooley has sent 11 no-good scoundrels to Boot Hill in the past month alone.  But $500,000 is a lot of money--the only thing more important than money, right Pappy?

Money, or my life?  Hmmm......
Series creator Roy Huggins did some re-writes on MAVERICK's first and best outright parody, but the finished product still bears the skewed stamp of Marion Hargrove.  If the title doesn't make it clear that spoofing GUNSMOKE will be the primary focus, the voice-over narration that opens Gun-Shy will, since it comes not from Bret Maverick, but from Marshal Dooley.

Dooley is a wonderful creation from Hargrove's subtly sick mind.  Underneath the sturdy surface, the Marshal is corrupt, power-mad and thickheaded.  Proud owner (he mentions this repeatedly) of "37.5 percent" of the Weeping Willow Saloon, his vision of law and order is a pure reflection of his financial interests.  Town drunks aren't thrown out of the saloon, but rather assisted right back inside--as long as they still have money to spend.  Naturally, Bret is going to be doubly unwelcome: he's not only a teetotaler, but one who's likely to win a great deal of drinking money and taking it right out of Ellwood altogether.  This Marshal is ready to shoot Bret dead for merely "flauntin' authority"--no crime yet committed.  Dooley's stated reason for going up to Boot Hill isn't contemplation---it's "to get ahead a grave or two"!

And did I mention he's thickheaded?  We see literally nothing but miscalculations from Dooley: Hawkins' character, the source of Ellwood's street vandalism, and (in the best-remembered scene) the range of his six-shooter.  The one correct deduction by a lawman--that Bret is a poker pro--comes from Deputy Clyde.  Such power vested in one man as doltish as this Marshal would be frightening, if not so hilarious.

Gage Clarke (L) and Reginald Owen
While Ellwood's locals steal the show right down to the aforementioned narration (which Bret amusingly reclaims for one brief announcement midway through), the finished script is impressively balanced, with the search for gold just as engaging and enjoyable as the spoof.   British character actor Owen was previously seen in Hargrove's The Belcastle Brand, and is clearly enjoying himself playing the windbag conman who appears to be a step ahead of Bret as he charms the locals (while Bret can't, no matter how hard he tries).  Gage Clarke is also amusing as the nervous salesman who lets greed get the best of him; he would return for a much larger and more memorable part in Greenbacks, Unlimited, Garner's penultimate episode.

As for Garner, he's flawless as usual, but upstaged by superb portrayals of the GUNSMOKE doppelgangers by Edmiston and Gage.  A voice actor for over half a century, Edmiston does a terrific job (the explanation for his limp is a beaut) but it's Gage's stone-faced James Arness impression that really drives Gun-Shy home.  At 6'6", Gage is a mere inch shorter than the GUNSMOKE star, and he's otherwise uncanny, nailing Arness' cadence and gait.  His stone-faced, rock-brained portrayal of Dooley anticipates the POLICE SQUAD!-era Frank Drebin--minus the competence at police work.

Gage's performance was so popular he was brought back to parody Matt Dillon in three more MAVERICK episodes after Coles Trapnell took over as producer.  However, none of these followups approached the magic or hilarity of Gun-Shy, since each one had his character either grudgingly helping or being outright allied with Maverick.  Aping Arness wasn't funny by itself--being such an irrational adversary while doing so is what made Gage's Mort Dooley work so well.

Since this lampoon arrived only three years into GUNSMOKE's twenty year CBS run, some of the trademarks punctured by Martinson and Hargrove will be lost on those viewers more familiar with the iconic western's later years--a minor defect, if one at all.  Gun-Shy remains genial, right up to and including the atypical (for Bret) conclusion.  In it, Maverick reveals that he intentionally gave the Marshal a chance to save face by "turnin' out to be as yellow as the others".  Ever-smiling Hawkins chides Maverick for his sentimentality: Dooley is just the kind of power abuser that Bret normally brings down (i.e. Shady Deal at Sunny Acres, Holiday at Hollow Rock), albeit a much dimmer bulb.  All in all though, Gun-Shy is about as flawless an installment as you'll find in episodic television.

72.5 percent of the Weeping Willow's ownership!
Well, okay, there is one nagging question.  Dooley owns 37.5% of the saloon, Miss Amy 25%, Doc and Deputy Diefendorfer 17.5% each.  Who owns the remaining 2.5%?


Well, he was sittin' there at the Weeping Willow Saloon in his clean, white shirt and black necktie and he was winnin' an undisclosed amount until the Marshal put him on the next stage.  Since it's the only game in town and Marshal Dooley is plurality owner, Bret was off the tables for the rest of Gun-Shy.


Disappointingly, Pappy had no comment.


Whether Huggins improved Hargrove's original script is always going to be open for debate, but one cannot deny the quality of the finished product.  Or that this episode's popularity is more than justified.  Expertly written, directed and acted, Gun-Shy is proof that a western parody need not be broad to succeed.  If it isn't MAVERICK's finest hour, it isn't far off.  (**** out of four)

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

MAVERICK Mondays: "The People's Friend" (1960)

MAVERICK Mondays: Number 10

MAVERICK: "The People's Friend" (1960 ABC/Warner Brothers TV) Starring Jack Kelly as Bart Maverick, Merry Anders as Penelope Greeley, R.G. Armstrong as Wellington Cosgrove, Walter Sande as Sheriff Burke, John Litel as Ellsworth Greeley, Francis de Sales as Mayor Culpepper, Dick Wilson as Crenshaw.  Written by Robert Vincent Wright.  Directed by Leslie Goodwins.

Bart Maverick arrives in town just a week ahead of the election, in which Cosgrove and Greeley are competing for a seat in the state Senate.  During a much anticipated debate, Maverick impulsively thwarts a would-be assassin.  This makes the newcomer an instant hero, one who ends up recruited to take the wounded Mr. Greeley's place on the ballot after the candidate is sidelined by doctor's orders.  If you've seen one MAVERICK, you know what Bart's answer will be.  However, after Greeley's stunning daughter coaxes him (and he learns that the state capital is full of Senators playing high stakes poker--badly), Bart goes against his initial instinct and agrees to run.

It isn't long before Maverick regrets ignoring his gut.  He's replacing Greeley on the Reform Party ticket, which means that gambling, smoking and romance with pretty Penelope are all out of the question.  In addition, Bart finds himself next in line for assassination once he becomes Cosgrove's latest obstacle for the seat.  Told in no uncertain terms that his life is on the line, "Honest Bart Maverick" tries to throw the election, only to find that he can't lose for winning.

James Garner later turned down efforts to recruit him to run for congress (in 1962) and governor of California (in 1990), so it isn't surprising that he declined a campaign on MAVERICK as well, passing the script for The People's Friend on to Kelly.   Life would later imitate art for brother Bart: Kelly was later elected mayor of Huntington Beach, CA in 1983 (using the slogan "Let Maverick solve your problems!").

With all due respect to Garner, the benefit of hindsight makes it clear that Kelly was the better choice for The People's Friend.  While Bret and Bart were equally reluctant heroes, Bart always appeared much more comfortable with extroverted glad-handing and public oratory--his Bizarro World speech to the Ladies' Aid Society in A Tale of Three Cities (also co-written by Wright) was one of Kelly's finest comedic moments.  Bart's sly address here is a drier display of humor, but no less effective.

While Jack Kelly's transition to political success went smoothly, Bart Maverick spends the majority of The People's Friend trying to lose the upcoming election.  Even when briefly campaigning for real, he's decidedly unconventional: making veiled references to his poker skill during the debate and drawing a mustache on his rival's poster (in front of the Sheriff, no less).  It seems unlikely that there was any satirical intent involved with making Maverick "the lesser of two evils" in the contest, but intriguingly, a few days in the Reform Party appears to have briefly rubbed off on the traveling rogue in the end.  Bart surprisingly passes up a chance to finally sit down and play poker, instead opting to go for a nighttime ride with the lovely Ms. Greeley.

Merry Anders
Since she's played by Merry Anders, Bart's decision is understandable.  The People's Friend was the first of four MAVERICKs for the blonde beauty.  While it was Anders' first installment, it was the third and final episode for veteran character actor John Litel (playing good guy Greeley).  Litel was previously seen in The Thirty-Ninth Star, which also placed Bart in the middle of a dangerous political feud.  Longtime heavy R. G. Armstrong makes a solid Cosgrove, appropriately charismatic in the public eye and menacing out of it.

The third season was arguably Kelly's finest, and he's given plenty of opportunities here to try his hand at the put-upon exasperation that was Garner's stock-in-trade.  Aided by Goodwin's expert pacing, Kelly carries this enjoyable installment past a number of nagging questions.  Never mind the eligibility questions for Bart and the town's female voters in the 1870's.  Wouldn't Bart be forced to hold his nose and vote for Cosgrove, since Greeley's Reform Party platform calls for the (unnamed) state to ban on all forms of gambling, poker included?


He picked up the antes uncontested in his first hand, a disappointing outcome considering he was dealt a pat royal flush.  Oh well, poker probability suggests it's only 649,699 hands until the next one, Bart.


Not one pearl from Pappy this time.  That makes all the sense in the world, since he would have to comment on politics.  I can't recall ever hearing Pappy opine on religion either, the other topic guaranteed to create the kind of conflict that he taught his boys to avoid.


Many fans feel The People's Friend is Kelly's finest solo effort.  That's debatable, but there's no denying that it's a perfect fit for brother Bart.  Granted, the setup requiring his run for office is more than a little contrived.  Maverick has only been in town for a day, bringing his eligibility to run or even vote into question.  So while The People's Friend is no biting political satire, it is a breezy romp with lots of smiles emerging from yet another typically "hopeless, but not serious" MAVERICK situation.  Probably Goodwin's second best episode behind A Fellow's Brother, The People's Friend is consistently amusing and engaging.  (*** out of four)

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

Friday, October 31, 2014

F TROOP Fridays: "V is For Vampire" (1967)

F TROOP Fridays: Number Seven

F TROOP: "V is For Vampire" (Season Two, Episode 56; Original Air Date 2/2/67) Starring Forrest Tucker, Larry Storch, Ken Berry, Melody Patterson, Frank de Kova, Don Diamond, James Hampton, Bob Steele, Joe Brooks.  Special Guest Star Vincent Price.  Written by Austin and Irma Kalish.  Directed by Hollingsworth Morse.

Welcome to this special holiday edition of F TROOP Fridays.  Hey, it was either going to be this episode, or The West Goes Ghost today,  right?  Happy Halloween, readers!

Another peaceful day at Fort Courage, only this time, instead of the morning stage, a black hearse arrives and drops off a passenger for this stop: a caped, pale-skinned fellow (Price) emerges, accompanied by what appears to be his pet crow.

Meanwhile, inside the banquet room (added early in Season Two) of the Fort Courage saloon, Captain Parmenter (Berry), Sgt. O'Rourke (Tucker) and Corporal Agarn (Storch) have foregone the mess hall for the saloon's plate lunch.

O'Rourke's table talk about military strategy is halted by a nervous, distracted Parmenter, who confides in his two most trusted men that he's received a communique to be on the lookout for spies, or "any suspicious character".  The captain's uneasiness apparently cost him his appetite, since he rather firmly (for once) suggests they "get out of here".

Wait just a minute.

That's wasteful to leave all that food, men.  Not to mention the beer!  Shame, shame.  Once outside, O'Rourke reassures the captain that Fort Courage is devoid of suspicious characters (HA!).  Right on cue, our pasty new arrival encounters the men and wishes them a "Good Evening"--in broad daylight.

The stranger then walks right into the saloon.  We don't get to see if he orders a drink (a Bloody Mary?  Nah, too easy) since he isn't followed.  Instead we get the opening freeze frame on the reactions by our F Troopers, followed by the theme song and credits.  Next stop for the stranger in town is the general store owned by Wrangler Jane (Patterson), who understandably looks a bit uneasy.

After wishing Jane a good ee-vening, we get an introduction from him.  "I am Count Sforza, from Transylvania."  (Yes, just like the Italian politician of the post-WW II era.)  He says something in his native tongue that sounds menacing, until the good Count translates it: "Please, may I look around?"

Jane's relief is short-lived, as Captain Parmenter stumbles in, literally.  This entrance brings one of many reaction shots from the Count that are, well, Priceless.

Not satisfied with just tripping over the flour, Wilton tries to move it, and throws a strike at the stack of bowls.  "I'm not usually this clumsy", he apologizes.  HA!

The Captain tries to save face by blaming his nervousness on that "weird looking stranger" who just moved into town.  "He looks like a bat!" Right in the middle of his description, he discovers that the person in question has been right behind him all along.  Count Sforza graciously introduces himself--and the crow, who he says is his "Brother"(!).

As it turns out, Sforza has rented the old Worthington house, which is rumored to be haunted.  "Exactly what I vas looking for!"  He needs some supplies to make his new house a home, ordering the following: a cake of nails, four large pine slabs, and twenty yards of black crape.  After asking for delivery, Sforza comments on what a "most charming" lady Jane is, starting with her eyes, mouth (careful, you're in front of her boyfriend, Count!) before ending up, of course, on her "charming neck" as he departs.

Go Count...Go Count...
Competition for Wilton?  Well, Jane does say that he "gives her the shivers", but I don't think she's talking about the kind that would steal her away from the Captain.

Outside, Private Vanderbilt (Brooks) is discussing the strange stranger with O'Rourke and Agarn outside the blacksmith's office.  A time honored tradition of small town Americana: gossiping about the new fellow in town.  Who knew Mayberry and Fort Courage had so much in common?  Sarge volunteers that he's heard about Sforza doing some window shopping--at the undertaker's.  Even Agarn isn't falling for that one.  "You can't scare me!"  Then the subject of all the attention arrives.

"But HE can!"  After wishing the men his third "Good Evening" of the day, the Count introduces himself to the trio, and informs them of his new accommodations.  "That creepy, gloomy, spooky old place?  You'll love it!"  Agarn assures him.  Sforza has a larger immediate concern, however--a scratch on Agarn's neck.

He notices that Agarn has cut himself shaving, and implores him to be careful next time.  No, not for the Corporal's sake--rather, it's Sforza's roots that are showing.   "Don't vaste blood" is what they said back home in Transylvania.  Considering the source, that even opens Vanderbilt's eyes!

In Captain Parmenter's office later, the tall, light stranger is still the center of attention.

Well, that and the Captain's attempt to get his footwear right.  "Any new developments on Count Sforza?" the Sergeant asks.

Parmenter is, in fact, making plans for the security of the Fort "just in case" the Count is a spy.  Corporal Agarn has a more sinister theory, that Sforza is in fact a vampire.  Since the undead are nowhere to be found in Parmenter's bible, the Army Manual, the Captain dismisses this theory.  (And since Duffy is silent, they must not have had them at the Alamo either.)

However, Agarn doesn't let go of his idea quite so easily.  Several hours later in the NCO quarters, he's still doing his research on the nocturnal creatures, and keeping O'Rourke from a good night's sleep.

The Sarge brings up a pertinent point: since vampires only come out at night, and Sforza has been walking around in daylight, that should prove he isn't a vampire.  But what if he has insomnia?

Bolstering O'Rourke's reassurances, Count Sforza is again outside during daytime the following morning.  Assistant Hekawi chief Crazy Cat (Diamond) caught Sforza "sneaking around the camp"--a very rare moment of bravery for Craze (or any Hekawi, for that matter).  One thing seems sure at this point: the newcomer isn't in cahoots with the local tribe, so we can safely rule out espionage.  At least Captain Parmenter can rest easy. 

With his initial reaction to Sforza, Chief Wild Eagle (deKova) gets the episode's best line.

Now THAT's what I call a paleface!!!!
The Hekawis' oft-repeated claim to be "lovers, not fighters" notwithstanding, the Count doesn't fare any better at making friends at the camp than he did at the Fort.  "Next time, throw lance first, ask questions later!" is the Chief's suggestion. 

Despite the chilly greeting from Hekawi leadership, the Count remains cordial and insists that he is only picking wolfberries to make a pie.  He even offers to save the Chief a piece, but his friendly efforts are to no avail--the Chief quickly declines.  Sforza even thanks Wild Eagle for his hospitality, and shares a little more Transylvanian wisdom--only to be accused of plagiarizing Hekawi wisdom!

Relax, Count, they're arrows, not wooden stakes.
Tough crowd eh, Count?  Continuing "paleface visiting hour" (per Crazy Cat), O'Rourke and Agarn arrive just as Sforza exits.  They've come to warn their business partners about Fort Courage's new resident, though Wild Eagle seems convinced that Sforza is harmless.  "Just don't make him a blood brother" Agarn advises.

Meanwhile, back at the fort, Jane opens Act II by letting the Captain know she'll be back for their date as soon as she completes her delivery to Count Sforza's creepy, gloomy, spooky house.  She asks Wilton if he wants to come along, but the Captain passes (some things didn't change with the move to color) since he's busy taking inventory.  Smooth, Mr. Parmenter.  Yeah, I'd much rather count postage stamps than spend the afternoon with Miss Thrift.....

Freeze-frame question: is this Parmenter and Dobbs checking out Jane's booty as she leaves?  You be the judge:

Caught you red handed, guys!
Besides the obvious one, there's another reason for Wilton to soon regret not going with her.  At 7:10 that ee-vening, Jane isn't back yet.

And so, the moment we've all been waiting for has arrived.  We've been hearing about that old Worthington house all episode, and now we're finally going to get O'Rourke, Agarn and Parmenter out there, searching for the missing Wrangler Jane.

Coincidentally, they get there just ahead of a brewing storm.  After ringing the doorbell, a jittery Agarn is ready to declare that no one is home about a second and a half later.  But then the door opens itself--well, he could still be right.

Sturdy O'Rourke, shaky Agarn and somewhere in-between Parmenter light some candles and begin calling Jane's name.   We might now have a drinking game to approach "Hi Bob" or even "Gilligan!", especially if you count the echoes seperately.  Also, now that the troopers are inside, we get another burst of thunder, a glimpse of lightning and some gothic riffing of the show's theme song on the organ.  Investigating that last sound, the organ is found--with no one in the room, much less playing it.

Despite the ominous atmosphere, the men split up to cover more ground, with the Captain heading upstairs and O'Rourke and Agarn covering the remainder of the downstairs area.  One thing is readily apparent: Mr. Sforza has yet to give the new home a really good dusting.

Downstairs, the only thing that O'Rourke and Agarn are able to find is a secret passageway.  Actually, O'Rourke discovers it.

And Agarn discovers he's suddenly alone in the house.  Once upstairs, the Captain finds the bedroom---and a live chicken.  Still no sign of Jane, but Parmenter is finally the first of the three to encounter an actual person.  That's the good news.  The bad news: it's a sleeping Count Sforza.

A startling discovery, but the "not a vampire" theory is actually bolstered an awful lot here.  For starters, Sforza is sleeping at night.  This, coupled with the prior knowledge that he walks around in broad daylight without evaporating, points solidly towards a "no".  He's also on a bed and not in a coffin.  On the other hand, he is sleeping in that same suit (cape and all) that he's been wearing all day.  But all things considered, pretty conclusive evidence that O'Rourke is right.

Still, whether the Count is undead or not, the Captain sure as Hell doesn't want to wake him up.  Startled by another crack of thunder, he scrambles for cover under the bed, losing his hat in the process to the aforementioned chicken.

And since he's now stuck under the springy mattress, Parmenter is powerless to stop the chicken from walking his hat out of the room.  Guess where he goes with it?

If you guessed downstairs to Corporal Agarn, well, too bad there isn't a prize involved.  The Captain's hat appearing to travel down the stairs by itself--just what Randolph needs to see in his current mental state.  If Count Sforza "turned his brother into a crow", then he must have just turned Parmenter into a chicken!  A deed most fowl, eh?

Good thing O'Rourke finally makes his way back from the secret passageway with the common-sense idea to go upstairs and check on the captain.  Well, if the Captain felt faint after sighting the slumbering Count, you can pretty much guess Agarn's reaction.

And while the guy has snoozed soundly through cracking thunder, organ music and several incidental noises, he finally awakens this time.  He's still alert enough to say, "Good evening!" again.

No need to worry about being still and quiet any more, Wilton!  Back down the stairs we go, with Captain Parmenter leading the F troopers and a knife-wielding Sforza not far behind.  Agarn has one more revelation from his book, though.  "We have to drive a stake right through his heart!  It's the only way to kill a vampire!"

Well, you should have read more closely, Corporal.  It has to be a wooden stake.

Despite these circumstances, the unfailingly polite Count Sforza remains, yup, unfailingly polite.

"Vat are you doing in my house?  You are trespassing, my friends!"

Even O'Rourke seems to weaken a bit, citing Agarn's stake.  The discussion is interrupted by....

...Wrangler Jane, who just walks right through the front door.  (NAGGING QUESTION: Ever hear of knocking, Jane?  Even the troopers rang the doorbell first earlier!)

Jane just rode back from Carson City, a trip made necessary when she didn't have the needed twenty yards of black crepe.  Since she's as dry as a bone (which might have been a new idiom then) we know that all that thunder and lightning hasn't resulted in any actual rain outside, yet.

Count Sforza's reaction to the vampire accusation is....laughter!  (Talk about good natured!)  "I vas the only one on my block who was not a vampire," Sforza recounts, and he had to leave his hometown because he was different.  Transylvania: less progressive than rustic Fort Courage and the Hekawi camp.  Who'd a thunk?

What follows is some exposition to wrap everything up--not too awkward as these scenes go.  The hearse was the "only means of transportation", the crow's name is "Brother", the Worthington house was "cheap", and Sforza has come out West to "live in peace" (hopefully the Apaches or Shugs won't stop him) and ply his trade as a chicken farmer(!).  The one in the house just laid an egg earlier, so he's off and running.  A good explanation exists for everything, outside of why he's sleeping in that damn suit.  Janey apparently got to know the Count very well in the interim (uh oh Captain!) and there's just one remaining question.  Who is playing that organ music?

Since Sforza is the one to ask, "what vas that?"  Everyone rushes back to the organ, to find the mysterious player is...Brother!  Well, he does seem to have more musical talent than Dobbs....

The coda gives us another suspicious looking stranger, and just to provide a counterpoint to the lesson just learned, this one drops a little something right in front of our soldiers.


Wolfberry pie does not agree with Chief Wild Eagle.

Vampires are not mentioned in the U.S. Army Manual.

The blacksmith's shop is directly across the street from O'Rourke's saloon.

No stagecoach has Transylvania on its route.  (Understandable.)

Price was very familiar to ABC's Thursday night viewers in 1966-67, having already guested on F TROOP's lead-in BATMAN as arch-villain Egghead just four months earlier.  Egghead's accomplice?  None other than Edward Everett Horton, as Screaming Chicken: a winking nod to Horton's hilarious recurring role as Hekawi medicine man Roaring Chicken during F TROOP's infancy.  F TROOP had already poked gentle fun at BATMAN in a memorable exchange during Bye, Bye Balloon (the season's third episode).  Too bad O'Rourke and Agarn never had a batclimb cameo.


Zero, due to zero involvement with the action this time from O'Rourke Enterprises.   Treason was almost a weekly occurence on black and white F TROOP, but relegated to the background far too often (IMO) on color F TROOP.  Here, O'Rourke can say the Fort has no suspicious characters with no irony whatsoever.


A stranger in town is prejudged (partly because of the color of his skin) by both townspeople and the Hekawis, with a tragedy narrowly averted as a lesson is learned by all.  V is For Vampire is F TROOP giving us a civics lesson!  That particular lesson (don't judge a book by its cover) showed up in just about every serious TV western during the genre's heyday, even turning up on MAVERICK.  What's here to offend?  Sforza is probably everyone's idea of a paleface.


Count Sforza provides all of the aphorisms here, though Chief Wild Eagle claims the last one is stolen from the Hekawis.


V is For Vampire is one of those F TROOP installments that scores better with casual viewers and nonfans.  The Hekawis have but one brief scene, and O'Rourke Enterprises isn't even mentioned.  On the other hand, it's very typical for the series to have something more substantial going on under the slapsticky surface.  V is for Vampire is ridiculous, no doubt, but irresistibly so.  Old pro Hollingsworth Morse makes solid use of the creaky old house in the second act's setpiece, and the actors are obviously having a blast, especially Price.  I wavered between 2 1/2 or 3 stars for this one, but since we never got a Christmas or Thanksgiving F TROOP episode, having a Halloween perennial is a must, right?  (*** out of four)

F TROOP currently airs on Me-TV for a full hour each Wednesday night at 10 PM ET/9 PM CT.