Friday, September 19, 2014

F TROOP Fridays: "The Courtship of Wrangler Jane" (1966)






F TROOP Fridays: Number Six







F TROOP: "The Courtship of Wrangler Jane" (Season One, Episode 23; Original Air Date 2/22/66) Starring Forrest Tucker, Larry Storch, Ken Berry, Melody Patterson, Frank de Kova, Don Diamond, James Hampton, Bob Steele, John Mitchum, Joe Brooks, Rachel Romen, Ben Frommer. Directed by Gene Reynolds.  Written by Arthur Julian.

Sergeant O'Rourke (Tucker) and Corporal Agarn (Storch) are arriving at the Hekawi camp for a business meeting with his partners in Enterprise, Chief Wild Eagle (DeKova) and Assistant Chief Crazy Cat (Diamond).  They are led to a literally smoking tepee by a pointing Smokey Bear (Ben Frommer).

Ben "blink and you'll miss him" Frommer at right
Frommer can be seen (or more accurately, glimpsed) in 52 different F TROOP installments, but he has no lines here and is uncredited.  That's par for the course for Mr. Frommer, who only had a speaking part in four of those 52.  PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE and SCARFACE were among his big screen appearances, and Frommer's F TROOP character was also called Papa Bear and Happy Bear in some episodes.


O'Rourke initially thinks the tepee is on fire, but learns that the smoke is coming from Wild Eagle's new steam room.  Crazy Cat points out that Wild Eagle needs the sauna to relieve his "tired old bones", and would likely be in the "happy hunting ground" without it.  Which leads one to wonder why Crazy Cat doesn't sabotage the thing......


Wild Eagle informs the Sarge that the price for a steam is 15 cents, something that hypochondriac Agarn is more than willing to pay to "open up pores" and let the poison out of his system.


The PC police certainly can't claim that the Hekawis are exploited by their business partners.  On the contrary, the 50/50 split on souvenirs and whiskey sales is referenced in virtually every show, and O'Rourke Enterprises does not have a hand in everything, either. This is the second Wild Eagle business venture in six F TROOP Fridays (so far) shown to be completely independent of his partners (the Playbrave Club was seen in LT. O'ROURKE, FRONT AND CENTER).  So ye F TROOP detractors who are offended by what's on the surface should take note: dig a little deeper, and you'll find that things were actually downright progressive at Fort Courage.

(I know, I know.  This ain't Speaker's Corner.  Back to the show.)

O'Rourke learns that this "steam room" isn't the result of a natural hot spring (86 Proof or not) but is in fact just a fire in a pit with rocks over it.  ("What you want for fifteen cents, Yellowstone Park?"  is Wild Eagle's defensive response.)  All it took to set up was one day to dig a pit.  Six feet, "just like when you're burying someone" Crazy Cat helpfully describes.  We can already see the wheels turning in the Sarge's head.


Once he's safely out of the steam room and the Chief's earshot, a time honored tradition takes root: the knockoff.  "We have a steam room of our own", O'Rourke explains--"we just ain't built it yet".  O'Rourke elaborates that the location will be their trusty NCO Club. (Nagging Question # 1: Where will you put all the whiskey and souvenirs once it's built?  You couldn't risk them being seen by anyone outside the business, right?)

Agarn points out another obvious problem, that even Captain Parmenter (Berry) would get suspicious of a constant parade of troopers and townspeople lined up outside the NCO Club in towels.  Thus setting the plot in motion....

Captain Parmenter is way too important to the Sarge's business to ever get rid of ("O'Rourke Enterprises needs Great White Pigeon") but he would nevertheless be even more beneficial if he lived off the post.  And he would--if he was a married officer.   O'Rourke notes that this would give them 12 hours a day to pursue ventures without a watchful (so to speak) eye of supervision.  Agarn, not being the sharpest tool in the shed, needs it spelled out:  "We are gonna play Cupid, stupid!"


Okay, three guesses where this is leading, and the first two don't count.  That's right, O'Rourke and Agarn pay a visit to Wrangler Jane (Patterson) in her general store.  "Janey, would you like to get married?" is Agarn's icebreaker, and an omen of things to follow.


Jane is naturally skeptical of this sudden interest in her romantic life.  "Wilton hasn't said anything to me about gettin' married.  And I don't think he's said anything about it to you, either!"  In the face of such skepticism, Agarn must elaborate--the Captain talks in his sleep.  Must be loud, since he's in seperate quarters, right?  Wrong--the Corporal hears him "because I'm walking in my sleep!"

According to Agarn, "I want to marry Jane--but I'm too shy to ask her" is the Captain's oft repeated somniloquy.  Shaky as the presentation may be, Wrangler Jane wants to believe it, which is half the battle.   She shows the non-coms her intended wedding dress--which she's selling for half price, having lost hope that Wilton will ever propose.  If that doesn't get your tear ducts going, it does have the onion effect on one Randolph Agarn.


O'Rourke persuades Janey to let the old matchmakers have a crack at this, tearing up the "For Sale" sign.  Meanwhile, in the Captain's office, Parmenter is struggling to open that desk drawer again when O'Rourke and Agarn report.  WD-40 was invented just 87 years too late for Wilton, as we can see this coming a mile away:


Prompting Corporal Agarn to remark, "you know, Captain, this never would have happened if you were married!"  Subtlety, thy name is not Randolph Agarn.  O'Rourke clarifies that if he was married, he would have been having lunch at home.  Agarn: "Off the post!"


Personal questions about the Captain's preferences regarding children quickly follow, with comparisons to Jane's views on the same.  With the Captain wondering aloud how this conversation got to Janie "all of a sudden", Agarn takes another step by invoking one of Wilton's heroes.  "George Washington never would have made it through Valley Forge if he hadn't lived off the post with Martha!"


O'Rourke and Agarn, two guys who are single, continue to list all the positives of married life, and the Captain appears to be liking what he hears.  Right on cue, a "surprise" visitor arrives: Wrangler Jane, wearing a homemade dress and holding a hot apple pie.  Or is that a hot dress and a homemade apple pie?  You decide.


What happens next is another in the long tradition of F TROOP writers slipping one past the censors.   While Standards and Practices at ABC managed to stop Wild Eagle's tribe from being named the Fukawis(!) they failed to catch Agarn's Canadian cousin being named Lucky Pierre in the second season opener, The Singing Mountie.   Well, they're about to miss another one:

Marveling over the quality of Jane's apple pie, the men encourage the Captain to try a piece, but he declines, stating: "My taste runs to gooseberry."  A popular Philadelphia dessert at the time, perhaps?  I found no evidence of that, but: "Gooseberry Bush" was widely used 19th century slang for a woman's pubic hairCombine that knowledge with the look on Wilton's face as he says this right in front of Miss Thrift:


That doesn't look like an innocent expression if you ask me!  Is the Captain subtly sending Janie a message here?  Perhaps that shy, hard-to-get routine is just that, an act?

Looks like Janie's heard the term before....
Nah, don't get your hopes up, Jane.  He seems completely oblivious to all these attempts to woo him and turns his attention right back to that damn drawer, ignoring all of Wrangler's attributes and efforts.  After further difficulty, he opens it again and gives himself a shiner in the process.  Whether it's due to the hard-sell of being married (and yes, Agarn--off the post) or embarrassment, he beats a hasty retreat to the carpenter with the warped wood, leaving the displeased trio in his wake.


Agarn is befuddled.  (What else is new?)  "I don't understand--you look pretty, Janie!  For a girl."  Hmm.  Corporal, with comments like that, I'm beginning to understand just why Betty Lou broke off that seven year engagement.

Before Miss Thrift can put the wedding dress back on the sales rack, O'Rourke has another idea that just might get a rise out of Wilton: the jealousy angle, with Agarn doing the courting.  In case you couldn't guess from Randolph's prior comment, neither seems to pleased with the idea, causing O'Rourke to admonish them.  "You two are havin' a lover's quarrel and you ain't even in love yet!"


The greater good appeals to both of them, with Wrangler happy to try this if it will wake Wilton up.  And Agarn? "All I care about is seeing you two kids find a lifetime of happiness---off the post!"  And it's off to Act Two, where the revised scheme will go into action.


The next morning after reveille, Wrangler Jane again arrives in a dress, carrying a basket.  Parmenter is pleased, until he learns that she's brought breakfast for Corporal Agarn.  Homemade flapjacks, topped with homemade maple syrup, with a side of homemade sausage and a jug of homemade coffee to wash it all down.  And she brought it in her "homemade basket"!

Go Randolph....go Randolph.....
Randolph commences with his morning nourishment (all allowed by regulations, as O'Rourke helpfully covers), wiping the smile completely off the Captain's face.  The Sarge consoles him by pointing out how smooth "that lucky dog" Agarn is, causing Wilton to suddenly lose that appetite for breakfast.


Captain Parmenter's aggravation continues at lunchtime, since it appears Corporal Agarn's newfound preoccupation with Jane and her home cooking is causing him to neglect his duties.  Posting a guard in the lookout tower is Agarn's responsibility.  But O'Rourke is able to diffuse the situation, pointing out that the Corporal has merely decided to take a hands-on approach to his duties.  Showing further dedication, he's actually working through lunch.  Sort of.


"Everything's clear up here!"  If I were Corporal Agarn, I'd be worried that the increasingly nauseated Parmenter might fire the cannon right now, but like any good officer, Wilton keeps his composure.  Next, dinner time rolls around, and O'Rourke informs the dismayed Captain that the Corporal still isn't dining in the mess hall.  Instead, Jane and Agarn have set up a picnic--on the Captain's porch.


The evening menu?  Homemade fried chicken, homemade biscuits, homemade apple butter, and homemade carrots (raised in Jane's garden).  After dinner, Mr. Agarn plans to take his lady out to pick wildflowers.  "At night?" the Captain asks.


"Yes.  That's what makes it...so wild."  Agarn, if you were this silver tongued around Betty Lou, she never would have ditched you for Clarence the horse car conductor.  What follows is this installment's most memorable setpiece, parodying the tavern meal in TOM JONES (1963) that doubles as sexual foreplay.  How voracious are the appetites?



If you think that last screencap is too suggestive, well, hey, I could have shown you this one:


Oh wait, I just did.  Never mind.

Parmenter has now reached two conclusions.  One, Corporal Agarn isn't exactly a smooth eater, and two, it's time for a change of scenery.  Not just by closing the window to his porch, either.  The Captain plans to file an application for transfer.


Wilton starts listing his reasons, feeling a Jane ("I mean, strain") and a climate with a little more Jane ("I mean, rain").  It's all got him ready to catch the next Jane--er, train.


Now, wait a minute! O'Rourke Enterprises needs great white pigeon!  But Sergeant O'Rourke is surprisingly unalarmed by the Captain's sudden desire to leave.  While he gently tries to get the Captain to open up on any hidden reasons for the pending departure, Morgan maintains an "everything is under control" look, so one can only assume that this is part of the master plan.  Right down to the going away party for the Captain at the Fort Courage saloon.


Which the Sarge informs him will be a combination affair, simultaneous with Corporal Agarn's bachelor party.


(Nagging Question # 2: Why does the second banner read Good-Bye Corporal Agarn?  He isn't going anywhere, he's just getting married to Jane, and he isn't even moving Off The Post, since he's not an officer!)

Anyway, it's time for the toasts, and the Captain makes the classy move of toasting the man who has bested him for Jane's hand.  Only no one can find him.


Oh, wait, there he is.  "Agarn, we're toastin' you!"

"Thanks, Fellas!"
Captain Wilton Parmenter has finally had enough, and a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.  No, violence isn't on the agenda, even if he is the Scourge of the West.  But with Randolph getting so randy on the eve of the wedding, it is time to have a man to man talk with this scoundrel who is toying with Wrangler Jane's emotions. 


"Just get me to the church on time!" the Corporal assures his commander.  (Arthur Julian really liked quoting song lyrics in his teleplays.  Something for fans to listen for, since he authored nearly half of the show's episodes.)

"Corporal Agarn, you're a cad!"


Aw, now that hurt, Captain.  O'Rourke rushes over and encourages the Captain to tell Janie what he now knows.  As luck would have it, she arrives on cue, just in time for Parmenter to assert himself and show some fiery emotion.  "I forbid you to marry that man!"


Inside, the Sarge congratulates Agarn on his perfect performance, and outside, Captain Wilton Parmenter and Jane Angelica Thrift reconcile.  But not in the way that O'Rourke and Agarn were shooting for--she doesn't want to get her man by tricking him.  She's ready to let him go, but the newly appreciative Captain isn't leaving.


Wilton tears up his transfer papers, and while there's no marriage proposal coming just yet, Jane does accept his invitation to pick a few wild flowers at night.  Oh, that Agarn!  What a smoothie!  A man can learn a few things about courtship from him, huh, Captain?


Then again, maybe not.

In the coda, they may not have that marriage they wanted just yet, but O'Rourke is ready to move forward on that steam room anyway.  However, Agarn forgot to turn off the boiler after testing it, and....


You know, O'Rourke Enterprises is really going to need to find alternate storage for the whiskey and souvenirs if they expect to stay in business.

BETTER DRINKING GAME FOR THIS ONE: "OFF THE POST" OR "HOMEMADE"?:

It's really close through the end of Act One, but "Homemade" wins this one going away in the second half once the phony courtship takes over for the real one.  If you use both as cues to imbibe, you'll be intoxicated faster than you can say Wrangler Train.

PC, OR NOT PC?

Not much that's objectionable here, though you might want cringe when Corporal Agarn declares that Janie is cheaper to keep than a horse. 

WILD OLD HEKAWI SAYING:

No kernels of wisdom this time dispensed during the lone scene at the village.


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

A remarkably treason-free outing for Season One, leading me to wonder how many episodes had no traitorous acts by O'Rourke and no Wise Old Hekawi Sayings.  That number has to be in the low single digits.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

This is the best of the show's forays into the titular courtship, which likely would have lasted as long as the Major Nelson-Jeannie pre-nuptial romance on I Dream of Jeannie if F TROOP hadn't prematurely succumbed to the cheapskate ways of Warner Brothers.  A fine showcase for Melody Patterson (who for once gets to wear a dress for much of the episode) and you'll be scraping yourself off the floor after the Tom Jones homage.  Great fun that even provides a little warmth without letting heart get in the way of hilarity, a flaw that fatally damaged Marriage, Fort Courage Style when this premise was revisited during the second season. (***1/2 out of four) 


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

1 comment:

Jack Seabrook said...

Great job! I love your articles on F Troop.