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!!!|
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).
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.