Friday, January 30, 2015

F TROOP Fridays: "Don't Look Now, One of Our Cannon Is Missing" (1965)






F TROOP Fridays: Number 8





F TROOP: "Don't Look Now, One of Our Cannon Is Missing" (Season One, Episode 2; Original Air Date 9/21/65) Starring Forrest Tucker, Larry Storch, Ken Berry, Melody Patterson, Frank de Kova, Don Diamond, James Hampton, Bob Steele, Joe Brooks, Edward Everett Horton.  Guest Star Donald "Red" Barry.  Written by Howard Merrill and Stan Dreben.  Directed by Charles R. Rondeau.


Whoa, wait a minute!  I thought Chief Wild Eagle (de Kova) was a lover, not a fighter!


Whew!  Had us worried for a second there, but it's just another batch of 'authentic' action photos for O'Rourke Enterprises to sell to tourists.  With a bit of shaky acting, as Sergeant O'Rourke (Tucker) has to remind Wild Eagle not to smile.  Crazy Cat (Diamond, though his character remains unnamed in the actor's debut) handles photography while the Chief wonders aloud for the first time (but not the last) why the Indians always have to lose.  Crazy Cat makes a pitch for letting the Hekawi win once: "a good novelty souvenir". 

While on the subject of the merchandise, O'Rourke reports that the peace pipes and tomahawks aren't selling "at all" despite Wild Eagle's ninety moon guarantee.  The blankets, on the other hand, are a hot item, with two dozen more needed ASAP for Thanksgiving.

Naturally, Wild Eagle is unmoved, since the Hekawis don't celebrate Thanksgiving.  (Gee, I wonder why...) Instead, the tribe has the Mishaguna Festival.  The first of many sly "13th tribe of Israel" references for the series, since this is two letters off the Yiddish word for "crazy" (Meshuguna).  However, the Chief informs us that Mishaguna means "moon" in Hekawi.  If Wild Eagle is going to persuade the grumbling tribe to work for a fourth consecutive weekend, he wants something in return.  Will his fifty-fifty partner let him down?  "Chief--you name it, you got it!"


Our cannon?  Wild Eagle wants us to give him our cannon?

Not "give"--lend, O'Rourke corrects Agarn (Storch).  Lend--for the night of the festival only.  The plan is to sneak it out of the fort after retreat and have it back the next morning before reveille.  And since the prior week's pilot episode (Scourge of the West) made it clear that they have until 10 A.M. to do so (reveille is adjusted at Fort Courage to accommodate the "three hour time difference"), what could possibly go wrong?

Agarn still isn't reassured, so silver tongued O'Rourke resorts that old standby: the guilt trip. Just recounting three of the numerous times the Sarge came through for him (twice, saving Agarn's life) is enough to secure the services of his Vice President.   Still, the little Corporal has a final concern: Captain Parmenter (Berry).  Technically, the Cap'n should be his first area of worry instead of the last, but remember, this is Fort Courage.


O'Rourke's diversionary tactic for the C.O. becomes obvious once Wrangler Jane (Patterson) greets the troopers.  Knowing that Jane is a willing, if unwitting accomplice when it comes to the Captain, the Sarge stakes out a comparison between Jane's (so far) unrequited love and that of John Alden and Priscilla.

It seems that "poor Wilton" is too shy to court the woman he loves, "Priscilla" Jane--just like Alden in the 1858 Longfellow classic.  Fortunately for the both of them, Myles Standish O'Rourke is there to play matchmaker for the first time (but not the last).  Janie can't resist the invitation, second hand or not, and it's on to get the Captain to the date on time, again using the words of Wadsworth.


This time, it's Jane who's hankerin' for an invitation.  Well, Sarge isn't lying about that, at least, though Parmenter gets his analogy confused (no Captain, Jane isn't Standish)!.  Agarn helpfully has some flowers ready for the big evening.  Still, the call of duty has to be answered before the call of love.  Retreat must be sounded before Wilton can go out for the evening.


This daily ceremony is clearly still a work in progress for the newly appointed Captain of F Troop.  First, he learns that Bugler Dobbs (Hampton) still hasn't learned how to play retreat, though his Georgia-born "bugle teacher" taught him how to play "Dixie".  Undaunted, Wilton urges him to do his best, the same advice he has for the equally challenged gun crew.


To no avail, in either case.

Parmenter sums it up. "It's good we only do this twice a day."  Only the second episode, and we're already wondering why they even bother to put the damn thing back up in time for reveille.  Oh well, the Captain is now safely off to his hot date, so the Sarge and Agarn have clear passage to make the last delivery of the day for O'Rourke Enterprises.


Another series first, as the Corporal masquerades in drag, crying as O'Rourke drives the coffin of the "widow's" husband off on the buckboard.  Meanwhile Widow Agarn lets the tear ducts roll, threatening to write a letter to Lincoln.  Agarn's commitment to the performance is commendable.  He keeps the soon to be famous "Storch Shiver" going until they're well outside Fort Courage.


Despite, or perhaps because of, Randolph's ability to overact with style, Wild Eagle is skeptical once the cargo is unloaded at the Hekawi camp, wondering aloud if the "fast talkin' paleface" is a straight shooter and even threatening to sue (not Sioux).

While the Hekawis proceed to celebrate in the moonlight, Jane and Wilton bask in it during their date. 


The Captain could still use a fresh read of the oft-quoted poem, one can't help but notice that Parmenter is a much more willing recipient of Wrangler's kisses than he would be in subsequent episodes.  In fact, the scene is probably their most passionate of the entire season, something no doubt attributable to the fact that Melody Patterson's real age (16) wasn't yet known to ABC and Warner Brothers.  By the time the truth was out, six episodes were in the can and recasting was out of the question.   Parmenter even feels the earth moving after one kiss.


Well, Janie can't take full credit for that--after all, the Hekawis are firing the cannon nearby.


They aren't any more successful at it than the troopers, since the moon is still covered by clouds after several blasts.  Frustrated Roaring Chicken (Horton) decides to sit out rather than firing it again.  Still, considering that the cannon hasn't fallen apart yet and has been fired at least twice, O'Rourke and Agarn might want to consider hiring him to train the gun crew.

The repeated explosions ensure success for the matchmaking, at least, since they coincide with each kiss.  Impressed, Jane tells the Captain he's "making history tonight"!  Wilton Parmenter--kissin' bearcat!


O'Rourke and Agarn clearly succeeded in a big way at matchmaking.  The loan to their partners in business?  Eh, not so much.

Another satisfied customer!  Not.
"How can we have moon festival with no moon?"  Chief Wild Eagle makes it clear that he won't return the cannon until the celebration is completed.  O'Rourke Enterprises cannot return the merchandise, either, since the blankets have been sold already.  "Then we keep cannon!"  It's still early in the show's run, you can tell, since it would turn out to be a very rare occasion that anything was more important to the Hekawi Chief than his share of the profits.


The Sarge urgently brings up the near-certainly of a court-martial if they go back to the fort without the cannon (Agarn: "Next time I'm drowning, mind your own business!") to which Wild Eagle has a solution: desertion!  "Get blankets, feathers--join tribe!" No sale, O'Rourke.  You'll just have to wait until after the next full moon.  Hey, look at the bright side: the lookout tower should be safe for the next thirty days!


Back at the fort, it's almost time for reveille (and clearly, the sun has been up for several hours).   The lack of a cannon for this morning ritual is glaring.  So much so that even Captain Wilton Parmenter notices it missing.


No problem at all, O'Rourke explains.  He took it upon himself to send the cannon away for repairs.  Specifically, to have the "bohr framinized", the "barrell glomonated", with polishing and refurbishing.  While the Sarge certainly shouldn't go over the Captain's head to make that decision, it is pretty clear from what we've seen at reveille and retreat so far that the cannon does need some work.

Before this break in the chain of command can be addressed, Duffy (Steele) informs from the lookout tower that we have a visitor: Colonel Donnalley (Barry) from the Inspector General's office.   Good thing he didn't show up a little earlier and discover a fort full of sleeping soldiers around 9:30 A.M....

Donald "Red" Barry
He's the first in a long chain of I.G.'s we will meet (few seem to last long when assigned to Fort Courage--wonder why?).  Donnalley brings big news: Fort Courage is the next stop on General Ulysses S. Grant's inspection tour of the area.  The General is due there by "noon tomorrow", with the customary 18 gun salute anticipated.  (Actually, wasn't it 17 guns then?  No biggie really, but do note that we shall soon see historical accuracy taking a turn for the worse in Act II.)


The Colonel also notices the cannon is missing--man, these officers don't miss a thing!  Parmenter's explanation about the glomonating doesn't have much of an impact, so O'Rourke steps in and translates: the cannon is out for repairs so it will be in "first class shape for the General's visit".  Donnalley rightly asks how they knew the General was going to visit, something that the Sarge quickly attributes to F Troop's ever omniscient "scouts".  (Forrest Tucker's expertise with this and other well-timed comic denials had to be a revelation in 1965 to viewers used to seeing him in serious westerns.) 

Bottom line: the cannon needs to be back within 24 hours, and the Captain's suggestion that the framinizing could be skipped isn't that helpful.


Corporal Agarn is freaking at the subsequent brainstorming session with O'Rourke (what else is new), suggesting that Grant will "wipe out F Troop, Fort Courage and the Hekawis".  I doubt he'd go that far, Randolph, unless you try to serve him some of that watered down whiskey at your saloon.  It's up to the Sarge to come up with the needed great idea, and this one is a doozy.


"Oh yes, I salute you, General Grant!"  If Agarn was uneasy before, he's positively queasy now.  A court martial is probably the least of his worries given the penalty for impersonating a five star General.  But the Sarge again reminds him that it could be worse--he could be dead from drowning or rattlesnake venom.  Interestingly, following this episode, O'Rourke never brought up these guilt trips again.  I suppose it was never necessary--the Corporal's greed was almost always sufficient motivation for the scheme of the week in later installments.

For now, though, the Sarge's past heroics are needed to have the Corporal ready for his beard.  He's off presumably being fitted (I hope they found something besides the poor horse's tail) when Parmenter summons O'Rourke to join him for a trip to the gunsmith.  That trip, however, is no longer needed.


The Sergeant reports the bad news to his C.O.: Agarn has already gone to fetch the cannon when the "ferocious" Hekawi sneak attacked him.  "Seven of them with tomahawks, Sir," and while he's "badly" hurt,  he's "going to be alright".  That explanation is as risky as you'd think, since Wilton's understandable first instinct is to attack the tribe.  Ever the Talleyrand to the Captain's Napoleon (or, if you want to go there, the Cheney behind the Bush), O'Rourke gently steers Parmenter away from that impulse.

Colonel???
"Sir, you're already known as the Scourge of the West!  Now, if you were to become known as the great peacemaker, it might be Colonel Parmenter."  Despite the warlike act, O'Rourke suggests a civilized response: negotiation, and "bringing back our cannon peacefully".  It works--dangling that promotion in front of Wilton doesn't hurt--and the Captain once again defers to his Sergeant.  O'Rourke also advises to let him go to the camp first, due to the "snipers".  "We can spare Sergeants, but hardly a man who's on his way to becoming...a Colonel."


Once O'Rourke is at the camp, he's setting the stage: Wild Eagle and Roaring Chicken are expected to be savage and hostile.  A tough sell, since the Chief doesn't even know the meaning of the latter.  "Unfriendly.  No friends," offers Roaring Chicken helpfully.  The Sarge also warns them that General Ulysses S. Grant is in the area, and certainly wouldn't take kindly to the cannon's current placement.

Parmenter arrives waving a white flag of peace.  A good start, but the negotiation goes downhill from there.  "Magic fire stick" is the first offering from the Captain.


No dice, since the Hekawis have one hundred boxes of the sulfuric wonder.  "What you think, we rub sticks together?"   Not to be deterred, the Captain pulls out a watch: "Magic tick tock".  Can the Chief top that?


Uh, yeah, he can.  Even Parmenter admits that one of Wild Eagle's watches runs better than his.

Offer number three is a "rare delicacy": small, round, tasty "fruit of chicken".


"Egg?  You offer egg for cannon???"  If the Captain has any other barter items (and they seem to be getting worse), they'll just have to wait, for Sergeant O'Rourke notices the imposing figure riding up.  Could it be?  Why, yes it is, Sir--General Grant!!!


Naturally, Parmenter wonders aloud how the four star general could have known, and O'Rourke once again chalks it up to those seemingly omniscient "scouts".  Storch's Fake General Grant is loud and boisterous, with a hearty laugh and a quick temperament.  ("Yeah, tell him about it," is his urging to O'Rourke after the Sarge brings up the "terrible time" he has with it.)

Aided by the expertly crafted beard, and the lucky coincidence of Agarn being the same height as the real-life General (yep, for you trivia buffs, Larry Storch is 5'8", just like Ulysses Grant was), the ruse works well enough to fool even Parmenter, who as a Private was in charge of officer's laundry when stationed at Appomattox (per Scourge of the West, the only prior episode).

For all that he has right, Agarn gets in trouble once he opens his mouth, claiming to have had lunch with President Lincoln at the White House yesterday.  But he quickly recovers: "Been riding ever since.  Forty-six hours in the saddle.  Lucky the wind was with me!"


Sergeant Morgan Sylvester O'Rourke quickly comes to the rescue before the logistics can be pondered and once he mentions their little problem, "General Grant" is predictably outraged, enough so that he doesn't even finish his story about sipping sauce with General Lee.

While surprisingly unintimidated to this point, the Chief would still prefer to negotiate ("without shouting", he emphasizes) but General Ulysses S. Grant became commanding general of the U.S. by action, not words.  He gets right to the heart of the matter: "You give us that cannon right now!  I want my eighteen gun salute!!"


You'd think that the tribe that invented the peace pipe would be a little uneasy seeing Grant's legendary temper up close, but Wild Eagle is surprisingly unyielding.  At this, and O'Rourke's prodding, the "General" reveals he has three hundred troops on the hill, camouflaged as "tubs and shrees".  Hmm, sounds like ol' Ulysses needs some hot coffee.  Either to wake up or sober up.  Or perhaps both.

Wild Eagle can't see the soldiers by the hill, and aged Roaring Chicken can't even see the hill, so "number one tree" fires a convincing shot that takes the Chief's headdress off, missing him by maybe an inch.


(Now it's time: a NAGGING QUESTION: Who the Hell fired that shot?  Dobbs, Parmenter, O'Rourke and Agarn are accounted for, so given the available choices, it has to be Wrangler Jane--she's the only one accurate enough to pull it off.  But still, isn't O'Rourke taking a Hell of a chance, since the shooter is at least two hundred feet away?  If his/her aim isn't dead solid perfect, she's killing Wild Eagle!  A bit shaky, this one.)

A risky move in a second act full of them, but the gamble pays off, as Wild Eagle finally decides that it is, after all, "only a cannon".


It is the General who is last to exit, bidding the "fine feathered friends" farewell.  "Peace be with you---or we'll wipe you out!!"  Alas, the beard doesn't make it through his final salute, leading the cheated Wild Eagle to shout out "Indian giver!".  (yikes!)

Back at the Fort, Parmenter is none too pleased with the scheme either, even if O'Rourke's heart was in the right place.  There's little time to deal with it now, though, as the Real General Grant has arrived, greeted by Dobbs' rendition of "Yankee Doodle".  Unfortunately, with no time to clean out the cannon, once it is fired....

The Real Fake Grant.  Or, the fake real Grant.

....we find out too late that the Hekawis left some debris in it, including a strangely intact arrow, which ends up giving U.S. a close call to rival the one Wild Eagle just experienced.  On the bright side, at least the tower stayed intact.  And there's plenty of time to framizine that bohr now, Captain!

In the coda, Jane is ready for another picnic with the kissing bearcat, but he's too distracted with second guessing his handling of O'Rourke and Agarn.  He goes back and forth, missing every hint from Jane (what else is new?) but in the end seems satisfied, having delivered a "stern lecture".


Meanwhile back at the Hekawi camp any differences between the business partners have been ironed out also.  O'Rourke and Wild Eagle are on to their next set of souvenir photographs.  The one above seems like a safe choice, but Wild Eagle has an idea that he predicts will be a bigger seller than the blankets:


Easy to see why he's the Chief!

MOST SUGGESTIVE LINE:

Captain Parmenter keeps coming up with male-male couplings in his confusion over the love triangle in Longfellow's poem, but he's definitely responsive to Wrangler Jane's charms on their date.  She gets a little aggressive on his lap, though, with Wilton cautioning her: "Careful, Jane, you'll bend my saber!"

TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE?

Very shaky timeline on Agarn-as-Grant's claim to have dined with Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln at the White House "yesterday".  Much shakier than you thought, in fact.  Parmenter was promoted after his timely sneeze made him the "Scourge of Appomattox"--a battle that took place on April 9, 1865.  President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 15--six days later.  That sure was a quick trip west for Wilton after that promotion....  Also, that fourth star that we see on Fake Grant's saddle was eventually correct, but the legendary commander didn't achieve that lofty and unprecedented ranking until July 1866.

SPEAKING OF RANKINGS:

Don't Look Now, One of Our Cannon Missing received the series' highest Nielsen rating ever, coming in at # 7 for the week.


PC, OR NOT PC?

The Fake General Grant calls both Wild Eagle and the Captain "boy", and Parmenter has far less of an excuse to be fooled by Agarn's disguise than the Chief does.  So, minimal grounds for offense there.  Also, the tired cliche of Peter Minuet-esque trading is wonderfully skewered during Wilton's inept bargaining with the savvy Wild Eagle.  That said, this installment is a mixed bag.  The most cringe-worthy line comes from the Chief during the Moon Festival: "Cuttum speeches!  Bring on squaws!"

WISE OLD HEKAWI SAYING?

No, not yet; Chief Wild Eagle's very first aphorism didn't arrive until the next episode, The Phantom Major.


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

Lending a cannon to the Hekawis certainly qualifies.  Just one of many potential charges from an installment chock full of court-martial-able offenses.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

This early in the show's run, the writers are still figuring out what works and what doesn't.  Don Diamond and Bob Steele would end up promoted to the regular cast, and Storch impersonations became frequent and wildly popular with fans.   Questionable suspension of disbelief in the reclamation of the titular weapon keeps this one from the highest rating, but Don't Look Now, One of Our Cannon Missing is more than saved by its cornucopia of belly laughs.  (***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 and on Saturday mornings at 5 AM ET/4 AM CT.


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