Sunday, December 10, 2017

Leon Errol Series: DEAL ME IN (1951)

DEAL ME IN (1951 RKO Radio Pictures Short) Starring Leon Errol as Leon, Wendy Waldron as Wendy Errol, Harry Harvey as Harry, Emory Parnell as McCormack, Harry Hayden as Jamison, Lyle Latell as Sergeant Billings, Ralph Hodges as Bill.  Written by Hattie Bilson.  Directed by Hal Yates.

Introduction to the Horn Section's Leon Errol Salute Series at this link.

In an effort to finagle a big contract out of poker fiend McCormack, Leon hosts an all night card game at his house, inviting the financier, McCormack's associate Jamison, policeman Billings, and Errol's business partner Harry.  Gambling?  Only on that business deal.  Leon intends to lose money now to get it back tenfold later when McCormack signs, and even fouls Harry's full house to grease the wheels.

Alas, the game breaks up at 3 A.M. and Leon will need to keep it going the following week if he wants contract signed.  The game ends just in time for Errol to catch his daughter Wendy sneaking in from her date with Bill.  Despite the poker plans, the ever-watchful Dad demands that Wendy Errol stays in the following weekend, unknowingly creating an obstacle to his riches.   Harry creates a second one when he disinvites Billings.

Deal Me In is the sole Errol entry credited to Hattie Bilson, wife of George, the producer of numerous two-reelers in the series from 1944 to 1951.  Mrs. Bilson wrote several Pal shorts for RKO's canine star Flame (the Wonder Dog), and her contribution marks quite a departure from the norm for Leon.

Mrs. Errol is nowhere to be found and unmentioned throughout, making Leon a single parent--no wonder his mind is on making the most of his business.   The unsupervised Mr. Errol shows atypical self-discipline, totally avoiding alcohol and women.  The only person sneaking into the Errol household at three in the morning is Wendy.  Okay, technically he is gambling, but the (rigged) card game is merely a means to an end.  This Leon Errol is a sober, responsible parent, but don't worry.  He still produces a lot of laughs.

Since Wendy is confined to the home, Bill comes to see her, with both planning to disrupt the game enough to free Miss Errol from her house arrest.  Trick decks, "innocent" hand reveals, temperatire malfunctions and fine feathered visitors are among the annoyances to follow, with the septuagenarian star given the opportunity to show he's still a nimble physical comic.  While that trademark rubber legged walk is AWOL in Deal Me In, Leon's anomalous antics include disguising himself as a vase(!), mimicking his sneaky offspring, and arguably the highlight, attempting to apprehend that pigeon who has stolen Jamison's toupee.

It's a bit ironic that a teetotaling Errol ends up in jail (pissing off a detective isn't a good idea when there's gambling going on) while the plastered version usually ends up making it home, but even the pokey doesn't stop the poker.  While Deal Me In wouldn't exactly be one of my choices as an introduction to the Leon Errol two-reelers, it's a solid change of pace for inveterate viewers of the durable RKO series.  (**1/2 out of four)

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Television Review: GET CHRISTIE LOVE!: "The Big Rematch" (1975)

GET CHRISTIE LOVE!: "The Big Rematch" (Universal/ABC-TV: Original Air Date 2/19/75)  Starring Teresa Graves as Detective Christie Love, Jack Kelly as Captain Ryan, Michael Pataki as Gallagher, Dennis Rucker as Belmont.  Guest Stars: Bobby Riggs as himself, Rosemary Casals as herself, Ken Tobey as Sheriff Baxter, Phil Pine as Emmett Reese, Fred Holliday as Monty, Hunter von Leer as Deputy, Sandra Giles as Reporter, Keith Atkinson as Miles, Rick Jason as Walt Harris, Karen Machon as Elaine Harris, James G. Richardson as Joe Madison. Written by Howard Berk.  Directed by Gene Levitt.

Series overview for Get Christie Love! HERE 

To get the office maverick out of his hair for a few days, Captain Ryan loans Christie Love and partner Gallagher out as crowd control during the anticipated "Battle of the Sexes" rematch between Bobby Riggs and Rosie Casals at the Palm Valley Tennis Club.  The prize: $250,000, winner take all.

That is, if the cash makes it to the match.  Promoter Walt Harris is as compulsive a gambler as Riggs, and heavily indebted to loan shark Reese.  Reese's threat to torch the resort has Harris going along with a scheme to stage an armed robbery of the quarter million, but both the robber and the robbed are planning a double cross--in partnership with Mrs. Harris! 

Unfortunately for the shylock, she turns out to be a loyal wife, so Reese ends up dead and his unsuspecting driver Madison makes a perfect patsy after he drives away in panic and crashes the car.  The money's "missing" and the explanation seems to add up--to everyone except Christie, who is willing to give Joe Madison the benefit of a doubt.

The Big Rematch is partial wish-fulfillment for guest star Bobby Riggs, who never succeeded in getting Billie Jean King back on the tennis court but at least got this fictional do-over against her longtime doubles partner with a prize dwarfing the original's ($100,000).   Riggs might have missed out on that six figure reward, but in the years that followed the Astrodome debacle he made a mint playing himself on prime time in series ranging from JIGSAW JOHN to MCMILLAN AND WIFE.

As was the case with his memorable 1973 ODD COUPLE installment, Riggs' hustling prowess is preserved on film for posterity, with the tennis legend winning a match in scuba fins while carrying a parasol.  But the cartoonish chauvinism from that sitcom appearance is missing from Riggs' persona in the CHRISTIE LOVE universe.  Bobby limits his quips to the "you know she wants me" variety as Casals frequently rolls her eyes and makes the obvious retorts.  And, so much for male supremacy--Riggs even offers the very female Love a full-time gig as his bodyguard.  Don't worry about our boy going soft, though--he proves his newfound "commitment" to Women's Liberation by sticking Rosie with the dinner check.

The tennis Hall of Famers might not be professional actors, but their verbal sparring keeps The Big Rematch amusingly watchable for its first half.  Unfortunately, Riggs and Casals vanish around that point, forcing our attention towards a murder/robbery lacking both suspense and logic. 

Without the luck of an automobile accident that would have been impossible to foresee, the Harris's scheme would have had little to no chance of success.  Writer Berk seems to realize the weakness, even having Mr. Harris lampshade it by admitting his uneasiness with having his partner identify Madison as the assailant. 

More puzzling is the couple's plot to eliminate Detective Love permanently.  The timing makes no sense: Christie was just dressed down by the Sheriff and her boss right in front of them, with the latter ordering her back to L.A. the next day.  Why reignite a fire that seems to be fizzling with a sudden death that would arouse suspicion?   Not only is the timing highly suspect, but Mr. Harris goes into Love's conveniently unlocked(!) hotel room sans mask or gloves, leaving fingerprints galore on the fireplace he's sabotaging.  Amateur hour describes not only the scheme, but Machon's flat performance as the supposed mastermind.  In a series still digesting Glen Larson's mid-season changes in cast and tone, you need all the verisimilitude you can get.

Those adjustments (introduced in The Deadly Sport) in the supporting cast show mixed results in The Big Rematch.  Jack Kelly's more expressive Captain Ryan is an upgrade over Charles Cioffi's Reardon, with the former Bart Maverick capably wringing chuckles out of Ryan's annoyance with his subordinates.

Less successful is the switch from Andy Romano's stoic, reliable Caruso to Michael Pataki's animated, garrulous Gallagher, which gained some smiles but lost sorely needed credibility.  Frustrated writer Gallagher works on scripts while he's on the clock, blurts out inside information on the investigation on TV, and generally makes you wonder how the Hell he keeps his job.

So, who wins the big match?  Unfortunately, we don't find out, as Riggs and Casales are still competing at the final freeze frame.  But we do get a doubles match earlier, with Casals/Love besting Riggs/Gallagher.  Proving she's no Oscar Madisoy, Christie gets the match point past the great hustler herself.  It's too bad this competition only gets about a minute of screen time, since Graves looks phenomenal in her tennis outfit.


Prize money being used to satisfy mafia debts eerily anticipates the controversy that would engulf The Battle of the Sexes four decades later.  More uncomfortable: the plan to use a malfunctioning fireplace to murder Christie--star Teresa Graves would meet her untimely demise in a house fire in 2002.


Just one, Sugar--following Christie's declaration to the thieves that she never bluffs.

The enduring, seemingly timeless fascination with Bobby Riggs and tennis' Battle of the Sexes makes The Big Rematch an entertaining period piece for its initial half, but a consistent lack of plausibility hurts badly once the sparring ITHOF'ers exit and the sloppy heist takes over for good.  A letdown from usually reliable writer Howard Berk, who was responsible for first-rate installments of THE ROCKFORD FILES (Counter Gambit) and COLUMBO (By Dawn's Early Light) elsewhere during that 1974-75 season.  (** out of four)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Television Review: CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Fox and the Wolf" (1986)

CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Fox and the Wolf" (CBS-TV/Sony 1986) Original Air Date: January 5, 1986.  Starring Jack Warden as Harry Fox, John Rubenstein as Harrison Fox, Penny Peyser as Gail Fox, Robby Kiger as Josh Fox, Patricia Ayame Thomson as Allison.  Guest Stars:  Gene Barry as Nicholas Roland, James McEachin as Briggs, Charles Levin as Sidney, Katherine Moffat as Courtney, Lora Staley as Bonnie, Anne Howard as Juliet, Byron Morrow as Littlefield, Lillian Muller (credited as Yuliis Ruval) as French Maid, Joyce Meadows as the Clerk, Traci Rae as Gillian, Kelly Andrus as the Fencer, Joseph Whipp as the Detective.  Written by Steve Greenberg and Aubrey Solomon.  Directed by Paul Stanley. 

Introduction to the 1984-86 CBS series CRAZY LIKE A FOX is at this link.

Flamboyant, free-spending movie star Nicholas Roland faces a competency hearing forced by his daughter, and his estate lawyer Harrison has the exasperating task of keeping the legendary actor out of the tabloids until the controversy is resolved.   Keeping an eye on Roland proves to be a task challenging for even the senior Fox, who finds the schedule (including fencing, spa days and mysterious private trips every Thursday) exhausting.

"Nick" manages to persuade his new keeper to stay after Harry solves his staged kidnapping, but the star's eccentric behavior is increasingly hard to explain, even for longtime chauffer Briggs.  If the threat of losing his financial independence isn't enough to start the explanations coming, the murder of Roland's business manager will have to be.

Opening with a montage establishing Nicholas Roland as Hollywood royalty of several decades, Fox and the Wolf is CRAZY LIKE A FOX at its breeziest.  Gene Barry's bon vivant effortlessly sweeps every lady he meets off her feet and pampers himself and those around him, putting Harry in the unfamiliar position of mother hen.  And the equally foreign position of quitter.  Yes, bulldog Harry Fox gives up--not once, but twice!  Fortunately the emergence of a baffling mystery--even more enticing than Roland's promise of weekly manicures--keeps the grumbling old Fox around.

Which can't be easy, since Fox and the Wolf is Barry's show, with our usual exasperator Harry elbowed out of the way to become one more exasperated adult in Roland's life.  He joins his own son, Roland's two daughters, and the star's accountant in that category--only chauffer Briggs takes everything in stride.  We learn very early that the shoe will be on the other foot, with Roland actually asking Harrison "what could possibly happen?" in his first scene.  The hammy actor even bests Harry behind the wheel, escaping his watchdog and triggering that second resignation from the elder Fox.  Not that this change of pace is a bad thing: the ever-versatile Warden handles his one-time switch to straight man smoothly, and the role of Roland fits the always debonair Gene Barry like a glove.

It doesn't hurt that this especially poised episode has several enjoyable left turns and a mystery that holds water.  Seeing Harry more ruffled than Harrison for a change is just icing on the top.

While on the topic of added bonuses, Nicholas Roland is constantly surrounded by beautiful women, and we can be just as impressed as Harry is.  Teri Hafford and Theresa Ring are among those attending to our men in the spa (and yes, Mr. Fox has a smoking cigar sticking out of the towel on his face--what else did you expect?).  Kelly Andrus is Roland's fencing coach, and best of all, 1976 Playmate of the Year Lillian Muller (credited here as Yuliis Ruval) is the movie star's French maid.

In a season that saw the premieres of THE GOLDEN GIRLS and THE EQUALIZER and highly rated reunions for PERRY MASON and THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW there was much written about the "graying of prime time".  Seeing a 67 year old Gene Barry plausibly woo over a half dozen women half his age while swashbuckling his way through this highly enjoyable hour epitomized the venerability of 1985-86 television as well as any of those success stories. 

While Fox and the Wolf ranked a very respectable 24th in the weekly Nielsens (19.0 rating, 27 share), it came in second in its time slot to the highly promoted opener of BLACKE'S MAGIC, which starred two more of those comeback veterans: Hal Linden and Harry Morgan.  Sadly, it would be the final Sunday airing for CRAZY LIKE A FOX, and not coincidentally the final time that the show placed in the top 25.  Too bad, because the one-time Amos Burke was a prime candidate for a repeat visit to the Fox universe.  This fast-moving, highly enjoyable outing from TV lifer Paul Stanley (HAWAII FIVE-O) is one of the season's best.  (***1/2 out of four)

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Television Review: HONDO: "Hondo and the Comancheros" (1967)

"Your lives are meaningless compared to HONDO!"

HONDO: "Hondo and the Comancheros" (1967 ABC-TV/Batjac/MGM) Episode 10: Original Air Date: November 10, 1967.  Starring Ralph Taeger as Hondo Lane, Noah Beery Jr. as Buffalo Baker, Kathie Browne as Angie Dow, Gary Clarke as Captain Richards, Buddy Foster as Johnny Dow, William Bryant as Colonel Crook, William Benedict as Willie.  Guest Stars: Fernando Lamas as Rodrigo, Marie Gomez as Teresa, Glenn Langan as Victor Tribolet, Bruno VeSota as Biddle, Tom Hennesy as the Poker Player, Makee D. Blaisdell as Paco, Kelton Garwood as Kyle, Peggy Stewart as Mrs. Malcolm, Jerry Brown as Kruger.  Written by Frank Paris.  Directed by Michael D. Moore.

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

Acting on an erroneous tip from henchman Kyle, Comanchero leader Rodrigo attacks a stagecoach thought to be carrying a gold shipment.  But bullion isn't included in the cargo: just Angie Dow, Hondo Lane and D.C. emissary Biddle, en route to Fort Lowell.  After killing Biddle and the driver, Rodrigo decides to salvage something from the failed mission by holding Angie a ransom of $3,000, payable to him at his natural fortress in Val Verde Canyon.

"I don't have the authority!"

An international incident is a concern, as Captain Richards is disallowed under U.S. treaty with the Mexican government to cross the border with troops.  With extradition even for Biddle's murder out of the question, Hondo gamely tries to raise the seemingly impossible amount.  Meanwhile, Buffalo rides to Tucson for a direct appeal to Colonel Crook, and Rodrigo insinuates to his captive that he isn't planning to honor his own terms.

"She belongs to somebody, eh?  Maybe you, amigo?"

During the series' all-too-brief fun, Hondo Lane dealt with three different kidnappings involving those closest to him, with Angie Dow's abduction in Hondo and the Comancheros being the first.    Fortunately, Buffalo can help here, with both the fundraising and the personal appeal to Colonel Crook.  And while Captain Richards' hands are tied militarily, he still contributes his own money to the cause--as do his subordinates, who all gave "what they have, and some they didn't".  Even town drunk Willie (one of four HONDOs for long-time Bowery Boy Billy Benedict) is willing to forego his next three drinks for the cause.

"I got a lucky feelin', Mister."

While this isn't quite the helpless and urgent situation Hondo would face in Hondo and the Gladiators, it's still a dicey one.  The time allotment is only marginally more favorable (roughly 36 hours--"tomorrow before sundown"), and $3,000 is an impossible amount given the window and location.  With Rodrigo, the latter is almost certainly intentional.

"It's a large tent, amigo!"

Frank Paris' script has some racy elements for the series (and the era).  Rodrigo's avarice isn't limited to money: in fact, he hints strongly that he'd prefer a nightly threesome with the widow Dow and his buxom girlfriend Teresa to the sizable ransom.  Rodrigo even implies that Angie might become the "new number one"--but only when he's out of Teresa's earshot.  With good reason: Teresa responds to Rodrigo's suggestion in predictable fashion ("I will not touch her!!") and the jealous Latina becomes the biggest threat to Angie's safety.  Suffice to say that Lamas is the show's lustiest villain.  Well, verbally, at least.  (The only close competition is Nick Adams' almost mute Apache Kid.)

Fernando Lamas puts his effortless charm to good use here as Rodrigo, whose perpetual smile brings little comfort--he drops it to send a message (by murdering Biddle) for only a few seconds, then flashes it again once the body hits the ground.  We keep expecting his carnal desires, greed or arrogance to be his undoing, and Paris keeps you wondering which character flaw will ultimately be the fatal one for Rodrigo.  Lamas' jovial menace was also memorably effective a month later in one of the highlights of THE HIGH CHAPARRAL's first season, The Firing Wall.

"All it takes is money.  And we won't have to beg for it."

Lamas and a reliably fiery Gomez are the obvious front-runners in the larger-than-usual guest cast.   Glenn Langan returns as Tribolet, making the same snarky comments about Hondo's relationship with Mrs. Dow and adding a curt dismissal about Lane's lack of collateral. 

For the only time, Tribolet doesn't meet the chief antagonist, but they'd have gotten along swimmingly--Tribolet's money hunger far outstrips even Rodrigo's.  Curiously, Benedict is uncredited, a fate that often befell longtime stuntman Tom Henessy, cast here as a burly cardsharp.


Emberato punches heartless Victor Tribolet after the freighter, sensing a great opportunity to pick up the Dow store, refuses to loan him the ransom money despite having it many times over.  Later, the attempt at raising the funds brings Hondo Lane to the poker game, where he is forced to kick the living crap out of that poker cheat at Joe's.  Speaking of...


For once, Joe the bartender actually complains about the damages, which is odd because his watering hole is pretty much unscathed but for a single broken chair--probably the brawl requiring the least furniture replacement to date!


Hondo restricts Sam to Fort Lowell for the duration, to serve as Johnny's therapy dog during his mother's absence.


Long-time Horn Section readers know how yours truly feels about the latter, but there is no wrong answer to this one, right guys?

Hmm...Marie might disagree.

I keep reading that we're currently enjoying the Golden Age of Television, but on a Friday night in 1967 you could watch Marie Gomez and Kathie Browne have two catfights within an hour--with bosomy Ms. Gomez throwing in a sexy flamenco dance for good measure.  If that doesn't prove there was must see TV a half-century ago, I don't know what would.  Fernando Lamas excelled at bringing smiling scoundrels to life, and his flamboyant performance further enhances this entertaining and well directed segment.  (*** out of four)

HONDO airs every Sunday morning at 10:15 AM Central on getTV.  The complete HONDO series is also now available on DVD through Warner Archive.

Oh, and Happy 50th, HONDO!  The first episode aired on ABC-TV fifty years ago this Friday!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Television Review: CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Motor Homicide" (1985)

CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Motor Homicide" (CBS-TV/Sony 1985) Original Air Date: February 3, 1985.  Starring Jack Warden as Harry Fox, John Rubenstein as Harrison Fox, Penny Peyser as Gail Fox, Robby Kiger as Josh Fox.  Guest Stars:  Bo Svenson as Chuck Dobson, Patrice Chanel as Saleswoman, Paul Koslo as Maggot, Ed Bakey as Earl Stanton, Susan Bjurman as Evelyn Blaine, Al Ruscio as Manager.  Written by John Baskin, Frank Cardea, George Schenck and Roger Shulman.  Directed by William Asher. 

Introduction to the 1984-86 CBS series CRAZY LIKE A FOX is at this link.

En route to a Fox family camping vacation, Harry swears he's witnessed a murder in a neighboring R.V.  Eschewing their existing reservation, Harry follows the culprit to the not-so-aptly named Heavenly Hideaway, a campground that young Josh accurately describes as a "dump".  Meanwhile, Harry waits for the body to drop.

After an unauthorized search of the RV lands Harry in hot water, the "corpse" turns up alive, well, and very shapely.  After the senior Fox's suspect turns out to be a physically imposing twenty-five year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department, one has to ask: did Harry's instincts finally failed him?  Well, that lifeless arm we see dangling from the vehicle's roof has to belong to someone.

The first ingredient of the comedy/mystery hybrid is crisply executed in Motor Homicide.  Harrison Fox was seldom more reluctantly involved than in this one.  First, a two week family vacation is shot to Hell before it even begins, with prime reservations lost while dead fish, poison ivy and bee stings are found--along with a murderer, and a (thankfully friendly) motorcycle gang. 

The sabbatical truncated, Harrison then hopes to enjoy a San Francisco Giants game with his father--only to have the investigation trail heat up again, costing the junior Fox a chance to see a once in a lifetime event at the old Candlestick.  John Rubenstein rarely got more opportunities to deliver priceless reactions.

It's no surprise that the humor is so deftly handled by sitcom vet William Asher (BEWITCHED), but the director had been absent from the detective genre for a quarter century (since 1958's THE THIN MAN) and unfortunately doesn't deliver the second key component of the FOX formula as smoothly. To be fair, the script from the series' creators has a few problems also.

You'd think that a long-time cop would know enough to keep his RV locked when he's away, knowing there's a corpse inside.  Certainly you'd think that he'd know not to behave in a way that arouses suspicion: when Harry takes advantage of the first error, Sgt. Dobson is far less outraged than one would expect--and it's that curious inaction that keeps Fox hot on his trail for the rest of Motor Homicide.   Sure, it's fun seeing Harry try to bluff his way out of the Sergeant's motor home unscathed, but as physically menacing as Dobson is (played by Bo Svenson), he's never the truly worthy adversary that his experience should create.

The show's usual charms can go a long way even when the tension is lacking.  In addition to Svenson, Ed Bakey brings his long face and perpetual crooked smile for one of his final TV roles as the failing campground proprietor; Paul Koslo is unusually sympathetic as another of Harry's oddball allies; DAYS OF OUR LIVES co-star Patrice Chanel makes an offer that is hard to refuse as a guns and ammo dealer; and the ubiquitous Al Ruscio turns up as yet again, as Bjurman's former landlord.

Asher's only FOX ended up also being his last episodic TV assignment; he closed out his career with the RETURN TO GREEN ACRES reunion movie five years later.  Motor Homicide continued the show's first-season winning streak in the Nielsens, scoring a 20.7 rating and handily outgunning the network television premieres of FIREFOX and THE VERDICT to win the 9 PM ET timeslot.  The episode might not fully work but Asher's deft touch for comedy is very much in evidence.  (**1/2 out of four)