Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Summer of MeTV: F TROOP Meets "The Singing Mountie"--and The Burglar of Banff-f-f






F TROOP Fridays Tuesday???: Number 10











Welcome to The Horn Section's contribution to the Third Annual "Summer of MeTV Classic TV Blogathon", hosted by our friends at the Classic TV Blog Association!  Go here to view all of the posts in this week's blogathon, which takes place May 25-28.  We're honoring those television shows airing this summer on the MeTV schedule, which is full of Memorable Entertainment that stands the test of time.  Click here to learn more about MeTV, and here to find a MeTV network affiliate in your area.

For my third MeTV blogathon, it's finally time for me to write about my all-time favorite TV series, F Troop.  Not that I haven't been writing about it:  I reviewed the first season DVD release with a two part post in 2006, covered season two when it was released in 2007, and in 2013 researched the show's demise, one of the most undeserved cancellations in TV history.  Then, when MeTV began airing it in September 2013, I started the Horn Section's ongoing episode guide, F Troop Fridays

For this special Tuesday blogathon edition, we move to the second season premiere, the show's very first episode in color:


F TROOP: "The Singing Mountie" (Season Two, Episode 35; Original Air Date 9/8/66) Starring Forrest Tucker, Larry Storch, Ken Berry, Melody Patterson, Frank de Kova, Don Diamond, James Hampton, Bob Steele, Joe Brooks, Ben Frommer.  Guest Stars Paul Lynde and Don Kent.  Written by Arthur Julian.  Directed by David Alexander.


The sophomore season of F TROOP begins with Sgt. O'Rourke (Tucker) are Cpl. Agarn (Storch) walking out of their most profitable venture and counting the monthly take.  The only saloon for 109 hot and thirsty miles continues to flourish: "a real gold mine".  Agarn's greedy smile quickly turns into concern when a knife lands between them.


People do get mad when you're watering down the whiskey, gentlemen!  Oh, wait, there's a note attached:  Written in English, but best read in a French accent.


Corporal Agarn has the visiting relative: Pierre Agarniere, a.k.a. "Lucky" Pierre (also Storch).  Yep, we have two Larry Storches for the price of one.


Pierre turns out to be a fur trapper who has been cross-breeding Lynx with Marmosets to create a "new fur" he says he has named mink.  Innovative, but not exactly living up to his nickname, because a "notorious fur thief" is after him and his rare and valuable invention.   Luckily, the Sarge has just the place for Pierre to lay low--the Hekawi camp (where else?).


As Agarn and O'Rourke walk back to the fort, the shrewd Sergeant has that gleam in his eye.  Yep, O'Rourke Enterprises is about to diversify by going into the fur business.  Meanwhile, inside Fort Courage, Dobbs (Hampton) is trying out a new bugle, but with the same lips, and the same old result.


Dobbs' musicianship may still leave much to be desired, but robust singing soon fills the air, with a uniformed Sergeant of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Lynde) making a grand entrance, singing "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp" while the dogs pull his sled (outfitted with retractable wheels) into Fort Courage.  (While there was a famous Civil War song of the same title, these lyrics belong to the Victor Herbert song--still about forty years away from being written.)


In case you were wondering, it takes Lynde all of five seconds to get this out of the way: "We always get our man!"  It's pursuit of a notorious fur thief that has brought the Mountie to Fort Courage.  "They call him Lucky Pierre!"


Another crooked Agarn relative to go with El Diablo?  Ever the pragmatic, profits-before-people type, O'Rourke ponders whether the reward for Pierre might exceed the potential earnings from the minks (and finks, and loxes).  The Corporal has limits to how far he'll go for money (you're slipping, Randolph!) and Sarge agrees not to turn him in without at least getting Lucky Pierre's side of the story.


The call to assembly interrupts them, and guest Ramsden gets to repeat that they always get their man.  The Mountie then zeroes in on Agarn, giving the Corporal careful study as Parmenter (Berry) gives another awkward address to his men to explain the presence of O'Rourke's Canadian cop counterpart.  Ramsden studies slowly, meticulously.....

... then pounces.  "I have found my man!"



"He has cleverly shaved off his mustache and beard!"  Cunning!  The lack of an accent might be explained by the loss of it--Sgt. Ramsden has been tracking Pierre for three years.  Corporal Agarn passes the first couple of tongue twisting tests, but rapid-fire interrogation eventually reveals that he's furloughed in Canada before "to visit my cousin Pierre".  This is enough for Ramsden to request the guard house, but given the lack of any criminal activity on Agarn's part (well, OK, any that the Captain knows of), a confinement to quarters will have to suffice.


Just as pragmatic as their NCO's, Dobbs and Duffy (Steele) have a sotto inquiry regarding the availability of fur coats.  Agarn's reaction is exactly what you'd expect.


With Agarn restricted to the fort, it's up to O'Rourke to go up to the Hekawi camp solo and get Pierre's explanation.  Meanwhile, Sgt. Ramsden, like every other officer who visits Fort Courage (regardless of country), tries to woo Wrangler Jane (Patterson) shortly after being introduced.


With the advantage of vocal talents, Ramsden breaks into an impromptu version of "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair"--with appropriate adjustments to "Wrangler" and "Yellow" to taylor the 1854 Foster classic to his audience.  It works--she agrees to join him on his investigation, which thrills Parmenter to no end.


Meanwhile, the object of all the fuss is treating the Hekawi to gourmet French cooking, complete with wine, flames and tender meat.  Crazy Cat (Diamond), Wild Eagle (deKova) and the ever-silent Papa Bear (Frommer) look on.


"Ooh la la, Pierre, you've done it again!"  While the Lucky one is pleased with the results, the Hekawi leaders seem a bit skeptical.


Chief Wild Eagle ends up tasting first and seems to enjoy the French cuisine, since he keeps right on tasting.  Sergeant O'Rourke's arrival doesn't hinder the Chief's meal.

Lucky Pierre pleads innocence.  Perhaps this is one Agarn relative who is as honest as the day is long.  (The days are shorter in Mexico, per the Corporal.)  Pierre does more than just deny involvement, though.  He offers insight into who the real thief is: The Burglar of Banff.


While O'Rourke is initially unmoved by Pierre's persuasion, the enterprising Sergeant is moved by something near and dear to his heart: the potential profits from all those mink coats already being manufactured.  A soldier second, but the President of O'Rourke Enterprises first, the Sarge elects to hear more testimony "about this Burglar of Banff". (Phhft!  Phhft!)


An aside: gotta love the way Julian baited the ABC censors throughout this season opener.  First, Agarn's cousin is nicknamed Lucky Pierre.  Then, he uses the old French profanity Sacrebleu.  Finally, Pierre calls the assistant chief Crazy Pussy.  All this and we haven't started Act Two yet!

I swear that's not how I got the nickname!

Back at the fort later, O'Rourke fills his Vice President in this recent development, and Agarn backs his "cosin".  "He may be a crook, but he's not a liar!"  O'Rourke is convinced, but Parmenter will be a tougher nut to crack, what with Ramsden providing a one-sided view via a criminology lecture in the Captain's office.

I said I'm convinced!!!
If Wilton was perturbed by this tenor singing to his girlfriend, he's at least as annoyed by Ramsden's air of superiority professionally: "On a good day, I can even tell the color of his eyes" when sifting the ashes of a campsite.  Unfortunately, he has yet to find Pierre's despite the "broken twig" method leading his sled to Fort Courage.


Sergeant O'Rourke arrives, and finds himself combed for clues, as Ramsden proceeds to display his skills to his cavalry counterpart.  The Mountie observes clay dust on O’Rourke’s boots (indicating he’s been off the post), “shiny pants” (he’s been on horseback for ‘some distance’) and gravy stains on his uniform (indicating pork n’ beans for lunch--what relevance that has, I have no idea).


Finally, Ramsden finds the hair “of a fur-bearing animal” on O’Rourke’s person--specifically, the rare and valuable mink, known to be in Lucky Pierre’s possession.  Fortunately for our Sarge, the Mountie draws the wrong conclusion from the evidence: that Agarn has made contact with his cousin.  Swearing them to secrecy, Ramsden exits with the “new evidence”.

Whew!  Well, not quite--any sigh of relief is premature.  Parmenter is inspired to do a little criminal investigation of his own.  He decides that a fur thief is likely to steal from the area’s tribe--the Hekawis.


NAGGING QUESTION: Why didn't the Captain suggest this to Sergeant Ramsden earlier?  Then again, this one isn’t quite so nagging when you think about it.  With his smugness and his constant singing to the Captain’s girlfriend, the Mountie clearly isn’t endearing himself to Parmenter.  In both regards, Ramsden is a bit reminiscent of The Phantom Major.  What is it with these foreign officers, anyway?

Sergeant O’Rourke tries to divert Wilton from this "wild goose chase", but to no avail.  The C.O. is off to the Hekawi camp, with O’Rourke coming along to run interference.  Once they arrive, we see that the initially skeptical Wild Eagle is now fully on board with French cooking, trying a delicious Bouillabaisse.


Even Parmenter recognizes this as a French dish, but the Sarge informs him that it was actually “taken by the French from the Indians”.  It actually means “soup of bark of tree”, according to O’Rourke.

“Ooh la la!  That’s good!”  Quick thinking O’Rourke reveals this is actually an old Indian saying, which means “very very hot”.  If he’s keeping the Captain at bay so far, the Sarge is going to have a hard time explaining this:


“I suppose that fur coat is squirrel!”  Parmenter follows the garlic, which takes him directly to Lucky Pierre’s tepee.  Congrats, Captain!  You’re one up on Ramsden and his "broken twig method"!


O’Rourke finally fesses up: he knew all along where Pierre was at the camp, but Agarniere has convinced him that he is innocent.  Lucky Pierre claims friendship with the Singing Mountie, swearing that Ramsden’s favorite song is Frere Jacques (one he hasn’t sung yet) and that he is a baritone, not a tenor.  The fur trader does so with such convinction that even Parmenter now wonders if they have the right man.  Only one way to find out--let Lucky Pierre confront his accuser.


Who, by the way, is still singing to Wrangler Jane, who seems to be the only person at Fort Courage who actually likes him.  The Mountie is so overjoyed to see that the troopers have captured Pierre that he actually stops singing.  That joy, however, is short lived.  O’Rourke and Parmenter are asking Sergeant Ramsden to sing Frere Jacques.  O'Rourke helpfully gives the vocalist his key.


Pierre stops him after two lines and accuses his accuser of in fact being the Burglar of Banff.  Seeing that the troopers no longer believe him, "Ramsden" drops the ruse, pulling his gun and declaring he won't be taken alive.  He mushes the huskies.....


...and finds them unhitched from the sled.  For a man capable of such attention to detail, this fake mountie sure overlooks some important things, huh?

In the coda, O'Rourke instructs Dobbs and Duffy (Vanderbilt is nowhere to be found this episode) to throw "this canary" in his cage.  Gotta give credit where it's due: for all their ineptitude,the troopers are always pretty competent at getting suspects into the guardhouse.  As soon as the Burglar is taken away, another round of singing starts, though this one is distinctively deeper.  It's Ramsden (as he's credited, The Real One), arriving with a sled and set of huskies looking identical to the fake Ramsden's.


Right on cue, he begins crooning to Wrangler with the light yeller hair.  But, she's a bit underwhelmed this time.  Diminishing returns?  Does Wrangler prefer a tenor to a baritone?  No time to explain.  Wilton is just as unenthused with the Sergeant's deep, rich tones, but at least Pierre is still an appreciative audience.  What is it about Agarns and tears?


HOW'S BUSINESS AT O'ROURKE ENTERPRISES?

Business is booming at the saloon, though the jury is still out on the fur business venture at episode's end.

THIS EPISODE’S DRINKING GAME:

The Burglar of Banff is mentioned eleven times: Pierre and O’Rourke tie for the lead with four times apiece. Parmenter and Wild Eagle both say his name once, and the Burglar mentions himself in third person he reveals himself.

WISE OLD HEKAWI SAYING?

No wisdom from Wild Eagle this time, unless O’Rourke is correct about the origins of “Ooh La La”.


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

For once, zero. Since Pierre turns out to be innocent, O'Rourke doesn't even break Canadian law.

PC, OR NOT PC?

Not much to offend here, save for Pierre's use of real fur.  That is, unless you're from the Corporal's home state, since Parmenter gets this shot in: "Agarn speaks English as well as anyone from New Jersey!"


Paul Lynde spoofing Nelson Eddy (a baritone, btw).  Bizarre idea?  Not for F Troop!  That Julian and Alexander (Lt. O'Rourke, Front and Center) provide so many inspired gags while staying true to the show's loopy universe makes this one terrific opener.  As usual, Storch takes a dual role and runs with it.  While the disappearance of Corporal Agarn at the halfway mark is a mild letdown, The Singing Mountie is sublime silliness throughout and one of the show's most quotable installments.  (**** out of four)

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

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Television Review: GET CHRISTIE LOVE!: "For the Family Honor" (1974)




GET CHRISTIE LOVE!: "For the Family Honor" (ABC-TV/Universal; Original Air Date: October 23, 1974) Starring Teresa Graves as Det. Christie Love, Charles Cioffi as Captain Reardon, Andy Romano as Det. Joe Caruso, Dennis Rucker as Detective Belmont.  Guest Stars: Robert Alda as Rico Cesari, Vincent Baggetta as Frankie Romano, Titos Vandis as Papa Caruso, Lee Delano as Eddie Manson.  Written by Sam Ross.  Directed by Alexander Grasshoff.

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


After a meal at Papa Caruso's Restaurant, Detectives Love and Caruso witness Frankie Romano's attempted hit on Eddie Manson and arrest the former.  Omerta takes effect, as Manson denies seeing his assailant.  Frankie is tight-lipped initially as well...but, realizing that employer Rico Cesari will be looking to silence him, dangles the carrot of information to parlay his cell into an apartment under 24 hour patrol.  That doesn't deter Cesari's search for the hideout, as he calls in a favor from an old friend who owes him: Papa Caruso.


For the Family Honor moves Christie's partner Caruso to the spotlight, filling us in on his family (ten year marriage, two kids), heritage and backstory (a life-threatening childhood illness that left his father owing an unfortunate favor).  Not that the titular detective is ever that far from the action.  While a distracted Caruso is behaving strangely, and keeping his troubles to himself, it's up to Detective Love to put the pieces together.


In Downbeat for a Dead Man, the writers effectively dealt with the limitations placed on them (i.e. no sex, minimal violence) by centering an episode around the music industry (and utilizing Graves' considerable singing talents).  With For the Family Honor focused on organized crime, the constraints are slightly more noticeable.  Christie's colleagues have to shoot a kill a couple of enforcers, but for some strange reason, the hood who threatens Detective Love decides to bring a knife to a gunfight.


Not something that makes a lot of sense (didn't he think a cop on duty would be armed???), but not the greatest source of unintentional humor in For the Family Honor.  That would have to go to Godfather Robert Alda's ridiculous toupee and dye.  I couldn't recognize Alda without re-checking the credits--at first, I thought MAUDE star Bill Macy was moonlighting on a rival network:


If you've seen an episode or two before, you expect GET CHRISTIE LOVE! to have somewhat tamer content than your usual mid-70's crime drama.  What isn't expected is the plethora of tired dialogue from veteran Sam Ross (NAKED CITY).  In his only effort for the series (and one of his last teleplays) Ross gives Graves hoary dialogue like "with friends like you, he doesn't need enemies", wasting the star's sassy delivery.


Oh, well, on the plus side, Alda's rug isn't the only guilty pleasure here.  Not to pick on Dennis Rucker, but he provides an example in the elevator of what actors thought they could get away with in the pre-VCR, pre-MTV era (he's far left, and it looks like everyone notices):

Gotcha, Detective!
And then there's this example of labeling almost worthy of the Batcave:

Might need the shark repellent Batspray too just in case.
Yeah, I know, I'm reaching for jollies a little.  Hey, I have to this time.  Among the guests, Baggetta is suitably irritating, giving Romano a chance to emote his displeasure.  Vandis (the informant who met an unfortunate end on a boat in the pilot movie) is back, this time as Caruso's restaurateur Papa.  It's too bad that the interesting premise in For the Family Honor received such uninspired treatment.


ONE LUMP OR MORE?

When lacking sharp one-liners, rely on your catchphrase--a whopping four Sugars this time.  The first and best, to most frequent target Frankie:  "We got the bullet, your gun, your fingerprints and you, Sugar!"


THE BOTTOM LINE:

Nice to see dependable character actor Andy Romano getting a better opportunity than usual.  Too bad this potentially intriguing exploration of underworld "family" colliding with literal family is hurt as much by its tired script as it is by the constraints on content and budget.  Too cliched and sanitized to really score, but unintentional humor is something of a saving grace in this disappointing outing.  (** out of four)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Television Review: LOVE THAT BOB: "Bob Gives S.R.O. Performance" (1958)



LOVE THAT BOB: "Bob Gives S.R.O. Performance" (Original Air Date: 3/4/58) Starring Bob Cummings as Bob Collins, Ann B. Davis as Schultzy, Rosemary deCamp as Margaret, John Archer as Bill Lear,  Dwayne Hickman as Chuck, Marjorie Bennett as Mrs. Niemayer.  Special Guest Star Tania Velia as Herself.  Written by Paul Henning, Shirl Gordon and Dick Wesson.  Directed by Bob Cummings.

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

Arriving at home, Bob Collins finds himself getting the royal treatment from Schultzy, Margaret and Mrs. Niemeyer.  Oh, yes, they want something--Bob to play the lead in their charity play.  Uninterested in playing opposite one of the venerable ladies in the mahjong club, Bob successfully farms the starring role off on buddy Bill Lear and pats himself on the back for it.  Until he finds out that the leading lady is Tania Velia, recruited from outside the club's membership.


This discovery greatly increases Bob's enthusiasm for the cause.  In fact,  he feels so strongly about it he has reconsidered their offer to star.  Unfortunately for him, Bill isn't willing to concede the stage (wonder why?) and the ladies in the club are unanimously in agreement to move forward with "Lover Lips" Lear.  So Bob graciously steps aside and offers sincere support to the actors by taking on the decidedly menial task of being stage manager.


Yeah, right!!

For all of his now-quaint pickup lines and theatrical mannerisms, Bob Collins might have been the edgiest sitcom character of his decade; Sergeant Ernest T. Bilko and George "Kingfish" Stevens provided his only real competition.  Bilko and Kingfish were money-hungry; Bob's appetite ran towards the carnal.  But what gave LOVE THAT BOB an extra bit of subversion was a creative team (led by Executive Producer George Burns and Producer Paul Henning) that allowed the protagonist to often succeed in his nocturnal quests--even as he's officially receiving his "comeuppance".  Matter of fact, in Bob Gives S.R.O. Performance, he isn't rebuked at all, if you ask me.


Collins manipulates the ladies into accepting boring non actor Bill Lear as a romantic lead, and friend Lear into giving up his evenings and taking a long cab ride out of his way to rehearsals.  When the gig turns out to have unanticipated fringe benefits, Bob tries to weasel his way back in with tricks and double talk.  He later resorts to ruining an entire night's rehearsal (for a charity performance, mind you) and blatantly misrepresenting himself to an aspiring starlet at least fifteen years his junior ("Oh, yes, I've literally made hundreds of pictures") while plying her with wine.  Bob's punishment for his transgressions?  The ladies and Lear decide not to interrupt Bob--instead they sell tickets to the real show in progress.  So Bob sweeps the blonde beauty off her feet in front of 260 paying people, not only getting his heart's desire but looking like a bigger stud than ever to a large crowd.  Yeah---paybacks are Hell, huh? 

The understudy!
LOVE THAT BOB offered a "who's who" of up and coming starlets like no other show of its era.  Within a single month in 1958, Angie Dickinson, Patricia Cutts, Joi Lansing, Lisa Gaye and Tania Velia all appeared as Bob's dates (fella gets around!).  Twenty-three year old Velia was making her TV debut in Bob Gives S.R.O. Performance, eponymously playing a fictional version of herself (as Ingrid Goude and Anna Maria Alberghetti would in later episodes). 

Hold it!  I don't think Tania's likin' this picture!
A Yugoslavian refugee, Velia was a member of the 1952 Olympic swimming team.  She refused to return to her native country after a competition in Austria.  Exotic Velia (fluent in six languages) sought asylum in the U.S. afterward, scoring a film contract within weeks of her 1956 arrival.  For Tania's introduction to American viewers, director Cummings gave her quite a showcase.  Starting with her legs, all that we saw of her as she stepped out of the shower to answer Schultzy's phone call.

Mr. Hefner on the line....
That view didn't escape screen Bob's notice, either, and the director elicits a laugh out loud moment via the trusty old "dream balloon sight gag" later.


Focusing on her gams was understandable, but Velia gets equal time for her other attributes.  A sultry singer, Tania makes a spotlighted entrance singing "Tame Me" to leering Lear, and also elicits laughs as she (initially) erects an iron curtain of resistance for our photographer turned stagehand.  Twice a Playboy Playmate, Tania Velia later starred in THE FIEND OF DOPE ISLAND (1961) and recorded several Spanish LP's.

Cockblocker of the week!
WHO WAS "BLOCKING" THIS WEEK?

Schultzy, for her usual reasons.  We learn from her that Tania caught Bob's eye a couple of weeks before the play, and Schultzy knew this--but didn't tell him that she lives across the hall from Tania, since even after 125 episodes she's still pining for the boss.  Later, Bob tries to maneuver his way into driving Tania home from rehearsal--but guess who gets her in the car first?


DID BOB SCORE?

I'd say a resounding "yes" this time, after a slow start.  The last we saw of his titular performance, Bob appeared to be as big a hit with Ms. Velia as he was at the box office.  Not bad for a weeknight, and Bob says we shoulda caught him on the weekend before!


As I've noted previously, actor Bob Cummings was surprisingly assured behind the camera, and in Bob Gives S.R.O. Performance he again displays his knack for presenting sight gags and his considerable skill in directing inexperienced actors.  The Henning/Gordon/Wesson team was a well-oiled machine throughout this fourth season, remarkably consistent at churning out laughs--particularly the guilty ones.  Bob Gives S.R.O. Performance is another subversive example of just how far producer Henning and director Cummings could go within the bounds of the obligatory circa 1958.  (***1/2 out of four)

Bob Gives S.R.O. Performance is available, along with 39 other episodes (4 per DVD) at Shokus Home Video.