Friday, October 31, 2014

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






F TROOP Fridays: Number Seven





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

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

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

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


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


Wait just a minute.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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




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

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


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

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


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


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


THINGS YOU LEARNED:

Wolfberry pie does not agree with Chief Wild Eagle.

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

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

No stagecoach has Transylvania on its route.  (Understandable.)
 
TURNABOUT IS FAIR PLAY:

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


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

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

P.C. OR NOT P.C.?

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


WISE OLD HEKAWI SAYING:

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

THE BOTTOM LINE:

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

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

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