Monday, April 14, 2014

MAVERICK Mondays: "You Can't Beat the Percentage" (1959)

 



MAVERICK Mondays: Number 2





MAVERICK: You Can't Beat the Percentage (ABC-TV/Warner Brothers 1959) Starring Jack Kelly as Bart Maverick, Gerald Mohr as Lindell, Karen Steele as Myra, Tim Graham as Pop, Dan Riss as the Sheriff, Ray Daley as Brazos, Joe Partridge as Harry and Michael Harris as Charlie.  Written and Directed by george waGGner.

Riding in from Santa Fe, Bart arrives at Lindell's hotel/saloon after receiving a letter from old girlfriend Myra, who works there and is Lindell's current squeeze.  Myra helps pay Bart an old debt during a game of "California Poker" (by helping foil Harry and Lindell's plot to cheat him) and fills him in on "bigger plans": taking over the property with Bart's help.  Citing Bart's prowess at sniffing out a crooked game, Lindell has a proposition of his own for Maverick: a job as floor manager.  Lindell's first duty for Maverick is protection from Brazos, who has stated an intent to kill the saloon owner (over Myra).


Correctly surmising that Brazos doesn't really have murder in his heart, Bart disarms the gunslinger peaceably.  However, Brazos is gunned down on his way out of town and Maverick finds himself accused of the crime when Myra provides Lindell's alibi.  Has Bart been played away from the table?  And if he has, was it by Lindell, Myra, both---or someone else completely?


If Mohr's prior appearance (also owning a gambling hall, in Escape to Tampico) was a "MAVERICK Casablanca", You Can't Beat the Percentage is a "MAVERICK Noir".  As was usually the case for a Bart episode during the first three seasons, it's considerably less humorous than the typical Bret solo show but still highly entertaining.  For his teaser, Waggner sets the plot in motion instead of previewing a scene from later, and that rarity for MAVERICK is only his first curveball.  Waggner provides numerous twists and turns, with the seductive Myra using her wiles on multiple male marks and Bart trying to convince the skeptical sheriff that things aren't what they seem to be.


Exotic platinum blonde Karen Steele displays terrific chemistry with Kelly.  In fact, she's even better here than she was in the first season's Point Blank (when she enticed Bret and guest star Mike "Mannix" Connors).  We agree with Kelly wholeheartedly when he says she "has an eye filling strut": she's one actress we can believe has every man in the cast after her.

Karen Steele
Steele, who was born in Hawaii to parents of French, Danish and English descent, was probably best known for the 1959 western RIDE LONESOME.  She brought her sultry voice and stunning looks to virtually every Warner Brothers series during the studio's TV heyday.  She died of cancer in 1988 at age 56.

Gerald Mohr
As Lindell, Mohr is intimidating without ever once raising his voice.  He may be able to laugh off Maverick's deft deflection of his table tricks, but we later learn that it isn't the first time he's pulled it on an "outsider" to create unpayable debt.  With the subtlest of menace, he means it when he says he "owns this town"--to the sheriff's chagrin.

With his resemblance to Humphrey Bogart, Gerald Mohr found himself somewhat typecast in "B" film noirs in the 1940's.  Always a welcome presence, Mohr made seven appearances on MAVERICK in seven different roles.  James Garner cited him as a favorite actor to work with, though Mohr actually guested more often (five times) with Kelly.  Like Steele, Mohr also died young, of a heart attack at age 54 in 1968.

HOW'D BART DO AT POKER?

Sidestepping the scheme to foul his hand (with a sixth card) wins Bart $1100 after getting "tapped" by Lindell on the one hand we see.  It caps off a $2800 win for the night.

Bart's winning hand

WISDOM FROM PAPPY?

Startlingly, not a single proverb from wise old Pappy this time.  Is that why Garner passed this otherwise excellent script on to Kelly?  The closest we get is gravedigger "Pop" explaining his repeated use of the episode's title.


THE BOTTOM LINE:

Waggner helmed a very entertaining installment for each Maverick brother during the third season (Garner's was The Sheriff of Duck n' Shoot).  While he returned to direct again in the fourth season, You Can't Beat the Percentage was Waggner's lone MAVERICK teleplay.  Its only real flaw is being a little too conventionally serious for a series that was usually anything but.  It's still a fine episode that plays perfectly to Kelly's strengths.  With engaging twists and two of the show's best guest stars, You Can't Beat the Percentage is worthy of a few repeat viewings.   (*** out of four)

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Film Review: THE BAD NEWS BEARS IN BREAKING TRAINING (1977)

The following is The Horn Section's contribution to the Big League Blogathon, hosted by Forgotten Films!  Yes, it's blogathon time again, and I am honored that Todd has invited me to contribute.  Be sure to visit Forgotten Films to check out all the other contributions: after all, that's what the Looper would want, if he could be here with us today at the Astrodome.

A personal note: I attended my very first Major League Baseball game on July 8, 1977, the same day that the following film was released.  The Rangers, behind legendary Dock Ellis, defeated the Angels and some guy named Nolan Ryan 9-5 at Arlington Stadium.  The lure of MLB in person kept me from seeing this film until the Sunday afternoon matinee on the 10th.


THE BAD NEWS BEARS IN BREAKING TRAINING (1977 Paramount) Starring Jackie Earle Haley as Kelly Leak, William Devane as Mike Leak, Clifton James as Sy Orlansky, Jimmy Baio as Carmen Ronzoni, Chris Barnes as Tanner Boyle, Erin Blunt as Ahmad Abdul-Rahim, Jeffrey Louis Starr as Mike Engelberg, Dolph Sweet as Coach Manning, Lane Smith as Officer Mackey, Fred Stuthman as Lester Eastland.  Directed by Michael Pressman.  Written by Paul Brickman.

One year after their near miss as an expansion team, the Bears are back sans Coach Buttermaker and female pitching prodigy Amanda Wurlitzer.  After the team pulls a mutiny against their militaristic new coach, a proposed trip to Houston for a game in the Astrodome is in jeopardy.  Of course, it's Haley's Kelly Leak who has a solution to everything: New York transplant (Baio) as the new pitcher, a "borrowed" van as a ride to Houston, and mentally challenged groundskeeper Stuthman ("Hello!  How are you?") as the new coach--at least, until the parents are gone.  Kelly has a hidden motivation for rejoining the team to make the trip, as his estranged father (Devane) now lives there.


The initial BAD NEWS BEARS (1976) was a self-contained story with points to make, not unlike the year's other big underdog story, ROCKY.  Indeed, Bears coach Morris Buttermaker gained redemption after years of missed opportunities with a near miss, a moral victory against a seemingly invincible champion.  Just like Rocky Balboa.  The bigger messages to be taken from BEARS (about the dangers of winning at all costs and of parents living vicariously through their children) were also appreciated by adults, but for all the four letter words being thrown around, pre-teens still made up the bulk of the Bad News Bears' audience.


Continuity sticklers will note right away that the Bears aren't the reigning "California champions"; in fact, they finished second in their league.  No matter.  It's clear the players are literally taking over from the opening scene, when disciplinarian new coach Manning (Sweet) is unceremoniously fired by the team.  To firmly establish our new leader (and undisputed star with Matthau and O'Neal gone) it's Kelly Leak who enters heroically on his bike and tells him to take a hike.  Hammering it home, Leak arrives via Harley in his next two scenes as well, one with a blonde passenger, the other with the new pitcher.  He subsequently procures the team's "ride" and drives them to Houston, coolly waving off initially suspicious cops along the way.


Yes, the kids are running the show in the sequel.  BREAKING TRAINING marks the transition from a self-contained first film with pertinent points to make into a crowd pleasing franchise.  Beating ROCKY to a sequel by two years, BREAKING TRAINING establishes the template Stallone would follow: hit the same chords that resonated in the first outing while giving fans the outcome they want this time.  This doesn't always run smoothly: it requires the Bears forgetting everything Buttermaker taught them in the year that has passed, best demonstrated by the team's thorough thrashing at the hands of a Native American team in en route to their destination.


Further stacking the deck, Engelberg (played by Starr in a casting change) has gone from a solid # 3 hitter to just plain uh, portly, and Kelly's new pitcher, Carmen Ronzoni (Jimmy Baio, SOAP) is shown to be a load of hot air in that New Mexico pickup game.  Ronzoni has studied the windups of Catfish Hunter and Luis Tiant like any twelve year old baseball fan did in the mid-70's, but can't get the ball over the plate.  He's so bad that even his ability to steal multiple copies of Playboy doesn't win his teammates over.

At least his brushback pitch is working
It must be said that Kelly's put-upon dad Mike Leak turns out to be one Hell of a coach.  A strong case can be made that he's better than Buttermaker--and I'm about to.  Consider that Buttermaker's pitcher (Amanda) was a finished product when he brought her to the team.  Leak inherits hapless Ronzoni and fixes his mechanical problems in two minutes.  Literal minutes, not screen ones.  No dissolves, no montage needed.  Leak had a grand total of four days (tops) to re-teach the Bears all the forgotten fundamentals and get them ready to win a game in the Astrodome.  Buttermaker had weeks to get the Bears ready for the season opener, and didn't even have them ready to record a single out.


Earl Weaver has nothing on me, son!
True, Buttermaker was quite a hustler who knew all the tricks both on (i.e. leaning into pitches, spitballs) and off (getting the two ringers on the team) the field, but Mike Leak is no slouch in that category either.  Mr. Leak utilizes the old "hidden ball" trick in a very timely manner on the field, and finds a way to have his son bat in three consecutive innings (anyone else notice that?).  And yet, Mike's baseball knowledge is still dwarfed by the resourcefulness he demonstrates outside the lines.  (Like father, like son.) Mike Leak smooth talks Officer Mackey (Lane Smith) into leniency when the van is discovered to be "hot", convinces super-rich Texan Sy Orlansky (Clifton James) to be the team's benefactor, and even gets the big game extended with the impromptu "let them play" chant in the film's most memorable scene.  Mr. Leak has little trouble winning over everyone except, ironically, his own son, creating the core conflict in the script (an early effort by RISKY BUSINESS auteur Paul Brickman). 

Occasional sappiness from the father-son reunion (or from the friendship that has formed between Tanner and Lupus) is kept to a minimum though.  BREAKING TRAINING is a feel-good film through and through, best exemplified by it's theme song.  "Carmen" makes an appearance here and there, but is largely replaced by "Life is Looking Good", a quintessentially Seventies theme song if there ever was one:


Could anything root this film in 1977 more than that?  Well, I guess the van could have had a CB radio, but Brickman avoided that sign of the times.  He hit plenty of others, though, and came up with a highly watchable sequel that would surely never get greenlighted by Paramount (or any other major studio) today.  Brickman and Pressman gave us pre-teens on an unsupervised trip in a stolen van across three state lines, smoking, swearing and shoplifting along the way.  With no punishment: The Bears avoid "the joint" (despite Ahmad's frequently stated fears) and emerge with a literal triumph instead of a moral one--in The Freaking Astrodome--easily the coolest and most futuristic stadium around at the time.

The Bad News Bears were living every twelve year old boy's fantasy in 1977, ensuring an enduring cult following for THE BAD NEWS BEARS IN BREAKING TRAINING.  While that following largely consists of males born between 1964 and 1969 (face it, Haley was never exactly Tom Cruise, and Jimmy Baio never matched his cousin Scott's "heartthrob" status), and this second chapter lacks the groundbreaking material of the first film, enough of the cast returns for BREAKING TRAINING to remain a surprisingly entertaining time capsule with a number of very funny scenes.  Two memorable favorites: Stuthman meeting the players' parents and Barnes routing two Astros officials during a diamond chase.


BREAKING TRAINING also offers some redemption at its own conclusion, with humbled Carmen Ronzoni getting the last at-bat this time around.  And while it might not be Gary Cooper's PRIDE OF THE YANKEES speech, just see if you don't get goosebumps during the "Let Them Play" chant.  Father and son finally get in synch and bring the entire crowd at the Astrodome crowd to its feet.  They even get approval from the team's biggest stars (Bob Watson and Cesar Cedeno) to keep playing.  It's a worthy followup to "The Big Looper's" catch against the Yankees.

Whaddya mean Scott's out with Pamela Anderson??? AGAIN??

DVD?

Yep, and pretty cheap, too.   Recommended as the last real moment of triumph for the Bears.  Only one year later, Devane, Baio and Barnes were all out and Tony Curtis was in for the franchise killing BAD NEWS BEARS GO TO JAPAN, which shoved both the Bears and baseball into the background in favor of a Tokyo travelogue.  Suffice to say it was very difficult to find a single creative decision in that 1978 fiasco that wasn't ill-conceived.  Plans for a fourth Bad News Bears film (that would have taken the team to Cuba) were scrapped, and the franchise moved to television for two seasons with an entirely different cast that included a young Corey Feldman.

I'll leave you with one puzzling question that has persisted throughout the years.  No, I'm not talking about Mike Leak's unnoticed liberties with the batting order.  Rather, who is this hottie?


She has no lines, and no mention in the credits.  A rather obvious looking prostitute back at the Bears' original hotel in Houston (before Sy Orlansky makes the team his guests), she does turn up again, in a great "blink and you'll miss it" sight gag.  We see her at the game, apparently the uh, "guest" of Officer Mackey, who is enjoying the Hell out of those free tickets from Mike Leak:

C'mon, now, I'm off the clock!  Let me play! Let me play!!
Isn't that another "lady of the evening" to his left?  Go Mackey....go Mackey....  But seriously, free tickets for the cop AND a hooker for an Astros game??  Could Buttermaker have pulled that one off???  I rest my case!

Monday, March 03, 2014

MAVERICK Mondays: "Shady Deal at Sunny Acres" (1958)

 


 MAVERICK Mondays: Number 1






MAVERICK: Shady Deal at Sunny Acres (Warner Brothers/ABC-TV 1958) Starring James Garner as Bret, Jack Kelly as Bart, John Dehner as Bates, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. as Dandy Jim Buckley, Diane Brewster as Samantha Crawford, Leo Gordon as Big Mike McComb, Richard Long as Gentleman Jack Darby, Arlene Howell as Cindy Lou Brown, Regis Toomey as Granville and Karl Swenson as The Sheriff.  Written by Douglas Heyes and Roy Huggins.  Directed by Leslie H. Martinson.

After a long and successful poker game in Sunny Acres, Bret Maverick walks away with $15,000 cash in the middle of the night.  Uneasy with having this much cash in his hotel room and seeing Bates working late at the bank, he convinces the banker to accept a late night deposit.  The next day, Bates denies ever meeting Maverick before or ever accepting any after hours business, and points out that Bret's receipt is not on official stationary and the signature on it isn't his.  With steely eyes, Bret tells Bates (in front of partner Granville and the other bank employees): "You owe me $15,000.  And before I leave Sunny Acres, you're going to give it to me."


Bret rents a room at the boarding house or two weeks, and spends the next few days sitting in front of it, whittling.  "I'm workin' on it!" he declares to the baffled but amused townspeople.  Meanwhile, "Bartlett J. Mansfield", a dead ringer for brother Bart, rides into town and makes it known he's interested in the local mill, currently in foreclosure by Bates' bank.....

Yeah, I'm starting MAVERICK Mondays with perhaps the most beloved and famous episode, but as entertaining as Shady Deal at Sunny Acres is, it isn't an ideal introduction to the series.  With two of the titular shady deals to unfold and only fifty minutes to do so, there's no time for introductions, and this episode works best if you're already familiar with the friends (McComb, Darby) and foes (Crawford, Buckley) who come together to assist the Maverick brothers in the complicated "sting" that ensues.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Dandy Jim Buckley
For example, one has to have seen his prior appearances to fully appreciate Dandy Jim Buckley's participation. It's clearly for the best that Bart is the intermediary with Dandy Jim, who seemed a genuine friend to the younger Maverick brother in High Card Hangs.  Buckley works seamlessly with Bart: it's doubtful the scheme would have worked as well with Bret and Bart switching roles, since The Jail at Junction Flats made it clear that the elder Maverick has a much more antagonistic relationship with the sophisticated con artist.  Not that it's that hard to understand why Jim and Samantha would be willing to help (beyond their cut of the action).  Again, those familiar with these rival con artists know their point of view: it's OK if we steal from Bret, but a man taking advantage of his official capacity in a theft?  Well, that's hitting below the belt.

Bart is wary of Samantha Crawford, with good reason to be.

Like any good poker player, Bret uses the appearance of his constant surveillance across the street from the bank and gets inside Bates' head.  Picking up every tidbit of information from the man's banking partner and his own experiences to concoct just the kind of characters it will take to bring Bates down: worldly financiers who have access to the kind of million dollar opportunities that Bates (a big fish in a small pond) can only dream about.  He also correctly surmises Bates is overconfident and ripe for a fall after achieving his long-awaited goal: taking sole ownership of the bank with his $15,000 "windfall".  Most of all, Bret knows that you don't bluff a calling station, and the fact that Bates is shrewd and formidable makes him the perfect target for this particular deception.



Ironically, Bates is also done in by the same tactic he used against Bret: lack of home field advantage.  No one will believe the transient gambler's word against the upstanding local banker in Sunny Acres.  "If you can't trust your banker, who can you trust?"  Bret and Bart are crafty enough to move the action to Denver, where Bates' lack of familiarity with the truly big financial players is his fatal flaw.

John Dehner made a living playing droll con men, and he's right up there with Raymond Bailey and Charles Lane as your quintessential "greedy bankers" of the era.  With his stenorious voice and 6'2" height, he's a great foil.  This was the first of five MAVERICK's for this great character actor, and we'll be seeing him on F TROOP Fridays later on as well.


Surprisingly, Kelly has the lion's share of the screen time during this Maverick brothers team-up.  He and Garner share no dialogue together (only a great take from Kelly after one of Garner's wise old sayings from "Pappy"), another oddity.  Heyes deftly handles the intricate plot, managing to keep you from thinking too much about some of Bates' lapses in judgement (or the geography of Sunny Acres, which is apparently not that far from Denver).  While Garner has a lot less screen time than you'd expect, it's his effortless comedic skill that you'll remember most of all: the image of him whittling in his rocking chair, "workin' on it" is the first thing many fans think of when they recall MAVERICK.

HOW'D THEY DO AT POKER?

Bart has to forego the tables to help Bret get his winnings back, but Bret did win $15,000 at poker to kick everything into motion.  Got to keep it too--minus the "fees" to his brother and friends, of course.

WISDOM FROM "PAPPY"?

An abundance in this episode, with both brothers quoting him.  The best: "You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, and those are very good odds."  Bret even throws in some Ecclesiastes at one point, proving that $15,000 was a pretty big deal back then.


THE BOTTOM LINE:

Classic episode that brings this show's gallery of rogues together for the first and only time, and has as many laugh out loud moments as any episode (with the possible exception of "Gun-Shy").  While not an ideal introduction, no MAVERICK---or Fifties Western---collection is complete without it.  (**** out of four)


Friday, January 31, 2014

F TROOP Fridays: "Lt. O'Rourke, Front and Center" (1966)

 



F TROOP Fridays: Number Three






F TROOP: LT. O'ROURKE, FRONT AND CENTER (Season One, Episode 32; Original Air Date 4/26/66) Starring Forrest Tucker, Larry Storch, Ken Berry, Melody Patterson, Frank de Kova, Don Diamond, James Hampton, Bob Steele, John Mitchum.  Guest Stars: James Gregory, Marilyn Fisk. Directed by David Alexander.  Written by Arthur Julian.

Major Duncan (James Gregory) arrives at Fort Courage, carrying his usual saddlebag full of trouble from territorial headquarters.  A lack of candidates for commissions elsewhere has him visiting each Fort in his jurisdiction for "officer material".  The Major's plan is to conduct a series of military exercises to evaluate enlisted personnel for commissions in the field.  After all, Captain Parmenter (Ken Berry) was commissioned in the field at Appomattox, something that the Major is well aware of.  "But we're going through with the scheme anyhow," Duncan grumbles.


One man who won't be seeking a commission is Sergeant O'Rourke (Forrest Tucker) who explains it succinctly to Agarn, citing the income from O'Rourke Enterprises that would cease as a result of the promotion. "If they made me a General I'd be taking a pay cut!"

Before we resume, I must say that while F TROOP gets a lot of flak for historical inaccuracies, they were on solid ground with the payroll distribution during THE PHANTOM MAJOR (ep. 3).  O'Rourke got $17 and private Dobbs $13, which is historically accurate based on this link.  So what would General O'Rourke get paid?  Assuming he's a one star or Brigadier General, his salary would increase nearly twentyfold, to $315.00 per month.   With 17 privates, 2 enlisted men and Captain Parmenter ($115.50 per month) that's only $51.50 short of what all of F Troop earns in a month.  Clearly, O'Rourke Enterprises is one ass-kicking Capitalistic venture.


And so the Major's search for authority figures will begin with a fitness test.  Based on that pay scale from the link, you'd think everyone else would be very interested, with the possible exception of the Vice President of thriving O'Rourke Enterprises, Corporal Agarn.  But, no, the words "fitness test" and "simulated battle conditions" are sufficient to trigger a parade of exemption requests.  Duffy (Bob Steele) cites his old wound at the Alamo for about the 847th time, Hoffenmueller (John Mitchum) cites an ankle problem (in German) and Dobbs (James Hampton) cites a series of "dizzy spells" lately.


All those ailments will be joined by headaches, as Agarn gives them all a whack over the head with his hat.  This is followed by Parmenter and Duncan demonstrating "tip top" physical condition with some obvious slapstick.  Sgt. O'Rourke has the task of motivating the men into the test.  "All right you yellowlegs-- this is an obstacle course and you are gonna run it!" He barks out each stop of the course at length, barely pausing for breath before ending with "and you can start now, Dobbs!".


With the obvious limitations of the era and prime time TV guidelines, Forrest Tucker can't possibly match (say) R. Lee Ermey's impressive harangues.  Still, like Ermey, Tuck really did know his stuff from experience and his service background obviously paid off for scenes like this.  It's true: Tuck really did serve in the U.S. Cavalry, at Fort Myers, Florida during the 1930's.  And like his F TROOP co-star Melody Patterson, Tuck lied about his age to enlist.  Unlike Patterson (who got to keep the role of Jane with so many episodes already in the can), Tuck was discharged when his real age was discovered.  He also worked in burlesque (at the Old Gaiety in Washington, D.C.) before his 18th birthday as well.  When you're 6'5", I guess it's easier to look legal.

Anyway, Dobbs is first to go, and gets off to an inauspicious start, failing to jump over the hitching rail and damaging his bugle in the process.


Hoffenmueller and Vanderbilt also fail to hurdle the hitching rail, with the latter falling into the horse trough and panicking over his inability to swim.  Parmenter and Duncan fire "live arrows" during the test, but they aren't needed as the results never rise above dismal.  Major Duncan calls off the test, calling it the "biggest defeat for the United States Cavalry since Bull Run".


All is not lost, however.  At least not to the Major.  Duncan feels that F Troop has one man "very well qualified" to be an officer: Sergeant Morgan Sylvester O'Rourke!


That night, O'Rourke brainstorms with his second in command over a way to get the promotion rescinded.  Obviously, General Grant's wild success proves that drinking alone won't be enough to disqualify him.  However, as it often does, Agarn's wording ("an officer and a gentleman") gives the Sarge his idea, since it's a gentleman's club circa 1866 that will be the center of the plan.


Over at the Captain's quarters, Parmenter is already in his pajamas and nightcap at 7 P.M.  Preparing his mousetraps before bedtime, he's caught off guard by Wrangler Jane's visit.  Hey, it makes sense.  She can't close the General Store much earlier than that.  The men are nowhere to be seen, so there's no worry about Jane wanting hanky panky in front of them this time.


Even with that frequent concern of his out of the way, the Captain is as virginal as ever.  He covers up and resists Jane's offer to "tuck him in"(!).  Parmenter is even undeterred by advice from Jane's wise old grandmother: "If you go to bed with the setting sun, you'll surely miss a lot of fun!"  No offense to Benjamin Franklin, but Jane's grandmother sounds a lot more convincing on that "early to bed, early to rise" topic.

Wilton finally convinces Wrangler to leave (as the boys watching yell "Why??") and speaks sternly to her when he hears another knock a few seconds later.  But this time it is the returning Major Duncan, who doesn't buy Parmenter's claim that "Jane" is his horse.   Duncan's twinkling "sure you do" response and his anecdote regarding his "wise old grandmother" indicate to us that Major Duncan's gruff exterior while he's on duty is at odds with his personality in private.  Duncan is no humorless ramrod like THE NEW I.G.'s Chester Winster.  He'd be just as disappointed as we are in Wilton if he'd seen her send the lady away.


As it is, what he does see from Parmenter is enough of a letdown to him: mild scolding for tracking mud, borderline O.C.D. cleanliness, and most painfully, mousetraps on the windowsill.  It's enough to make you realize O'Rourke and Agarn are on the wrong track with this scheme, something they'll have to find out the hard way.  The frantic Corporal comes in to let Duncan know that he has something "urgent" to show him as Act One comes to a close.


Act Two fades in on the Hekawi camp and that urgent matter: their Playbrave Club.  Corporal Agarn and Major Duncan note the goings-on with the expected astonishment.


A beautiful "Playbrave Squirrel" dances onstage to the lively sounds of The Tomahawk Trio while Crazy Cat (Don Diamond), menu in hand, greets the newest customers.   Also notable is the tobacco selling Squirrel Girl, played by Marilyn Fisk, who was Mrs. Forrest Tucker from 1961 to 1985.

Mrs. Tucker also appeared in WHAT ARE YOU DOING AFTER THE MASSACRE during Season Two, and had lines in both episodes (her only screen acting credits per imdb).  She met Tuck while both were touring in THE MUSIC MAN in 1961, and the 24 years that they were married surpassed the length of Tuck's other three marriages combined.


As the band plays on, Major Duncan reminds us that he's no Major Winster.  "I'd sure like to help that little squirrel gather acorns for the winter!"  Suffice to say I think he'd have been far more receptive to a maiden's kiss than Winster was.  Parmenter too for that matter.  But leave it to Agarn to ruin the Major's fun, since his "role" is to play the killjoy.  "We are here to arrest Sergeant O'Rourke!"


Leave it to Chief Wild Eagle (Frank de Kova) to explain.  "Sergeant in here every night!  He has membership card Number One in Playbrave Club!"  Now, I'm calling B.S. on the first statement.  If he's there every night, then who's watching the saloon?  Is Good Old Pete the bartender entrusted with it night after night?  Knowing the Sarge, I doubt it.  He's a hands-on executive from every indication. 

Perhaps the Playbrave Club was created just to fool Major Duncan?   I kinda doubt that.  This is the first time we've seen it, but it has all the earmarks of a legitimate Wild Eagle brainstorm (swingin' band, scantily clad Hekawi ladies).  But shouldn't the Sarge be sharing in the intake, since he and Wild Eagle are partners?  And wouldn't this venture be cutting into the saloon's night time profits?  Regardless, it didn't last long--only this one episode--so maybe expenses did it in.  I will say I'm sorry we never saw the Playbrave Club again.

Agarn, meanwhile, justifies his snitching to the Sarge: "I'm a buddy second, but I'm a soldier first!"  Sergeant O'Rourke stands ready to take his punishment.....


And ends up commissioned Second Lieutenant O'Rourke.  Duncan explains that leadership is the reason.  "Any man who can lead me to a place like this is officer material!"  The Major also drops a, well, major hint in O'Rourke's lap when the Sarge gently protests and cites Parmenter as an example.  "The Army is looking for men, not housekeepers!"  The usually sharp Sarge is too stunned to notice the answer right in front of him, so there's nothing to do but enjoy the dancing Squirrels as the band plays on.


The next day, Lt. O'Rourke's is less than 24 hours away from what has to be at least a 70% pay cut.  Sergeant Agarn's words of comfort: "We know different--but the Major thinks you're great"!  No time to ponder the success of an "Agarn Enterprises" or whether Corporal Dobbs might get in on the business.  While waiting to see the Captain and make a last minute plea to stay, O'Rourke and Agarn overhear the conversation that shows them the error of their ways (and the clue both missed the night before).

"There's another Officer I can bunk with, Parmenter--Lieutenant O'Rourke!  He's a man's man.  You can be sure he won't be greeting me in his nightcap with a feathered duster in his hand!"

Oh, really?  Think again, Major!


Tuck's ability to overact with style is well documented throughout F TROOP's run, but his ability to underplay effectively gets overlooked.  Here, he completely transforms himself into a taller and gentler Parmenter.  Soft-spoken, rapidly mopping up after Major Duncan, beaming as he wears Lieutenant's bars on his night shirt ("I'm just so proud") and letting Duncan know that his wise old grandmother told him "cleanliness is next to Godliness".

And of course, rebuffing the Major's idea that they should go up to the Playbrave Club.  Mousetrap?  No, the Sarge isn't troubled by mice.  Only bears.


"I'd let you lie on the bed, Major, but I just made it."  It's enough to get those pesky Lieutenant's bars off his shoulders for good, sending Duncan back to spend the night with "Captain 'Blood n' Guts' Parmenter"!  All that's left is a coda the next morning, in which Agarn, Dobbs and Hoffenmeuller are also relieved of their temporary promotions, once again bringing F TROOP full circle so we can finish where we started.

FIVE THINGS YOU LEARNED:

Wrangler Jane's grandmother was Dodge City's highest paid Dance Hall girl.  Who wishes they could have seen her act? (Raises hand)

In addition to legal blindness and hearing problems, Private Vanderbilt also suffers from "horseshoe pitching elbow".

The Tomahawk Trio was held over for four weeks at Little Big Horn.  Obviously, snagging them for the Playbrave Club was a real coup.  I wonder if they ever crossed paths with The Bedbugs?

Major Duncan sawed the rockers off his grandmother's chair as a boy.  The reason why almost makes you wish they'd given him a spinoff series.  James Gregory did return in Season 2 as "Big Jim" Parker at least. 

And, as mentioned earlier, we now have a confirmed minimum that the President of O'Rourke Enterprises earns in a given month.  We saw the impressive payroll in THE PHANTOM MAJOR but heard no specifics, other than that it surpassed the Army payroll(!).


WISE OLD HEKAWI SAYING:

Surprisingly, none this time.  All the wisdom is left to the wise old grandmothers of Captain Parmenter, Wrangler Jane, Sergeant O'Rourke and Major Duncan.  We got four sayings in all.  Jane Angelica Thrift's grandmother would likely have the most popular advice.

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

Surprisingly for Season One, also none this time.  Frequenting the Playbrave Club won't hurt him either, not with the Major there as Wild Eagle's honored guest.

PC, OR NOT PC?

Depends on how sexist you find the Playbrave Club and its squirrels.  Hey, at least the ladies aren't being called the other word that starts with the letter "S", right?


BOTTOM LINE:

The terrific run of episodes closing out Season One continues.  However, the conclusion seems a little too pat, with Major Duncan awfully quick to conveniently give up on O'Rourke's promotion (the denouement in TOO MANY COOKS SPOIL THE TROOP worked better IMO).  That said, you could give this an extra half star for the riotous Playbrave Club alone, and Wrangler Jane is far more risque than usual with Wilton.  If they didn't quite "go yard" to straightaway center with LT. O'ROURKE, they did get it well inside the left field foul pole at least five rows into bleachers.  **** out of four.

F TROOP currently airs on Me-TV Monday through Thursday at 9:30 ET/8:30 CT


YOUTUBE BONUS:  While we're highlighting her first F TROOP appearance: Did you know there's a six part interview with Marilyn Fisk Tucker from 2012 on YouTube?  Here's Part One:


And regarding the Forrest Tucker question that everyone wants to hear answered, that's below, in Part 6.  Needless to say, Not Safe For Work:


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Television Review: LOVE THAT BOB - "Bob Plays Margaret's Game" (1958)

 
Hold it!  I think you're gonna like this picture!

LOVE THAT BOB: "Bob Plays Margaret's Game" (Original Air Date: 12/23/1958) Starring Bob Cummings as Bob Collins, Rosemary DeCamp as Margaret, Dwayne Hickman as Chuck Collins, Ann B. Davis as Schultzy, Barbara Lang as Doris, Anne Neyland as Gwendolyn, Benny Rubin as the caterer.  Written by Paul Henning and Dick Wesson.  Directed by Bob Cummings.

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.

Bob's widowed sister Margaret is concerned about her son Chuck (now in college) being influenced by Uncle Bob's "attitude towards women".  Model Gwendolyn is the latest to be hinting about marriage, so Bob creatively gives her the brushoff with a (technically truthful) story about a trip of "undetermined length".  Chuck witnesses this, and Margaret witnesses her son trying out some of Uncle Bob's lines.


Bob is unrepetant when she confronts him, advising her that it's about time she stopped playing "Mother Hen" and started going out herself since Chuck is about to "fly the coop".  The ladies' man comes to regret this somewhat heated advice when he brings his latest model (Barbara Lang) over for a date and ends up with no car, jacket, food or credit card to impress her with.


Nearly 150 episodes in, and only a half season from the finish line, LOVE THAT BOB is still exactly the same show it was at its January 1955 outset, which is a good thing.  The youth revolution is still in the (now near) future, so Chuck is still Grasshopper to Bob's Master Po on all matters of the "fair sex".  Schultzy is still pining for Bob, normally on his side but all too eager to give the playboy photographer his comeuppance in this case (since it involves foiling his latest attempt to bed a beautiful model).


And the ladies are still lovely (and usually twenty years younger than Cummings).  In this episode, the spotlight is on the rarely seen Barbara Lang.  Like LOVE THAT BOB's go-to bombshell Joi Lansing, Lang was one of episodic television's answers to Marilyn Monroe in the Fifties, frequently guesting on Warner Brothers' shows (MAVERICK, LAWMAN, 77 SUNSET STRIP).  She missed out on the opportunity to play opposite Elvis in JAILHOUSE ROCK and unfortunately had both her career and her life shortened by various health issues.  Sadly, Lang passed away at age 54 in 1982.

Anne Neyland
Anne Neyland (briefly seen here as Gwendolyn) did appear (in a supporting role) in JAILHOUSE ROCK, and the part originally intended for Lang went to the even more star crossed Judy Tyler.  Tyler was killed in an automobile accident at 24 before the film was released.

Cummings helmed the majority of the show's last two seasons himself, 42 episodes in all.  He never directed episodic television outside of his biggest hit, but his work behind the camera was consistently solid, making the most of every gag, verbal and visual.  The sharp acting supports Dwayne Hickman's rememberance of Cummings as a stickler for rehearsal.  Many have noted that Cummings' somewhat theatrical mannerisms were out of style less than a decade later, but he knew his comedic strengths well, milking each double entendre from the Henning/Wesson script for all it was worth.


LOVE THAT BOB was always a show that can be appreciated on two different levels.  It's a well written Fifties sitcom, with misunderstandings and wit not unlike that of Henning's later smash THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, only more sexual.  Much more.  It's also well directed and acted (Davis won two Emmys and Cummings was nominated three times).  But it isn't much of a stretch to see it as the 1950's equivalent of (say) a Playboy or Penthouse photographer who has been really affected by 15+ years of scantily clad models half his age throwing themselves at him, and----oh Hell, you have the link to the series overview in the first paragraph, just read it!  Whether you consider it "good TV", or "so bad it's good" TV, LOVE THAT BOB is a must see.

The self-contained storyline of BOB PLAYS MARGARET'S GAME was something of a throwback to the show's early days by this time, as Paul Henning filled the last two seasons of LOVE THAT BOB with several multi-episode story arcs.  It is atypically lacking in action at Bob's photography studio, but otherwise serves as a decent enough introduction to what LOVE THAT BOB was all about.  In other words, it's as witty, campy and un-PC to modern eyes as any other episode.  (*** of four)

Want to see BOB PLAY'S MARGARET'S GAME for yourself?  Here ya go, courtesy of YouTube:


Oh, and how did Bob do this episode?  .500.  He had to have scored with Gwendolyn, but definitely struck out with Doris.