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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Television Review: LOVE THAT BOB: "The Double Date" (1956)



LOVE THAT BOB a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW: "The Double Date" (1956 CBS-TV/Laurel-McCadden Productions) Original Air Date: November 15, 1956.  Starring Bob Cummings as Bob Collins, Rosemary deCamp as Margaret MacDonald, Dwayne Hickman as Chuck MacDonald, Ann B. Davis as Schultzy, Jeff Silver as Jimmy Lloyd, Olive Sturgess as Carol Henning, Evelyn Russell as Boom Boom Laverne.  Written by Paul Henning, Phil Shuken and Shirl Gordon.  Directed by Norman Tokar.


Overview of LOVE THAT BOB/THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW is at this link.

This installment of the LOVE THAT BOB episode guide is dedicated to the memory of the late, great Dwayne Hickman, who passed away on January 9 from Parkinson's complications (the same disease that felled Cummings in 1990) at age 87.


It's Chuck's 18th birthday, and Bob's nephew helpfully reminds him of a two-year old promise to take Chuck on the titular night on the town.  Collins' attention to detail is really lacking on this morning: not only does he not know what he's given Chuck (having delegated the selection to Schultzy) but he also made a date with "The Anatomic Bomb" Boom Boom Laverne for the evening in question.



"If you're going to photograph her, get ready to have the joint raided!"

Tell me Bob's date is a stripper without telling me she's a stripper.  The script does a terrific job of this with lines like the one above (and below, keep reading).  What's less clear than Boom Boom's occupation is who Bob made the 'election bet' with that is his excuse for making the date in the first place.  It clearly wasn't Laverne, since he catches himself almost referencing the "wager" in her presence--and quickly doing a 180.  Maybe Paul Fonda and Bob went to the club to see her?  I highly doubt Harvey Helm would have dared to.



"What are we going to do tonight, Mr. Collins?  Go for a ride in your new plane?"

"That's a good idea, Boss!  Your date's right at home on a runway!"

Regardless of how Bob came to this end on an obvious boy's night out, he doesn't seem the least bit uncomfortable with dating a woman with a libido to match his own until Chuck is involved.  But Bob isn't nearly as proud of this date as he usually is of one with a model-and Laverne calls him out on it. One gets the feeling that any shame on Bob's part is purely to save face in front of his sister and Schultzy, since the shutterbug uses the same lines on Laverne that he uses on Shirley and Collette.  Of course that could just be force of habit. 


"You've been trying to squirm out of this date since you called at ten o'clock this morning and woke me up in the middle of the night!"

Chuck's milestone eighteenth and the expected consummation (so to speak) of a two year old promise results in a heady natal day.  Ready to step up from 17 year old Carol, Chuck swoops in on The Anatomic Bomb once she's a free agent and scores the date that his Uncle just broke.  It gives the youngster daydreams of supplanting the reigning "King"--too bad that his mother isn't ready to let him sink or swim with Boom Boom.  Don't feel bad, Chuck--even your idol overplays his hand sometimes. Hell, you've seen that for yourself (Bob Batches It). 


The show stopping Boom Boom isn't as bosomy as her nickname would suggest but Evelyn Russell gives a sassy, brassy performance that fits the 1950's perception of Laverne's profession to a T.  She's perfectly willing to go out with Chuck after being dumped by Bob--giving the impression she'd like to further the young man's education!  Trying to get back at Bob for his rejection?  Maybe--but it's just a little vague.  I would totally watch a sequel with Chuck getting to keep that date.  Even if Jimmy Lloyd (who is even more desperate than usual here) tags along.


Since this was Boom Boom's only appearance, we can safely assume that her less then feminine reaction to a broken date (both Schultzy and Bob end up with shiners) likely turned our shutterbug off.  Chuck ends up with a comeuppance of his own, going to the drive-in with his mother--quite a letdown.  At least he is physically unscathed on his special day so he gets off easy for his transgressions.  So easy, in fact, that the spurned Carol Henning apparently forgave him since she remained his most frequent girlfriend through the remainder of the show's run.



WHO WAS BLOCKING?

This was a family affair.  Margaret insisted that Bob honor his double date promise that night, and Chuck stole Bob's date once she became a free agent.  Margaret solidified her status as supreme blocker by insisting Bob break Chuck's newly acquired date with Laverne, then accompanied her son to the drive-in.  Hey, he's eighteen now Margaret!  Some mothers never let go.


DID BOB SCORE?

Not hardly, surprising since Laverne would normally be the free space on the bingo card for a guy like Bob.  But family obligations cause him to forgo his nocturnal urges for a night, and I'm sure that black eye Laverne gave him probably put him on the disabled list for a few more.  At least he has a date for this evening--the similarly afflicted Schultzy. 


MOST SUGGESTIVE LINE:

In response to Carol asking if Bob's date is also a pilot: "No, but she's taken off quite a few times!"   Hmm.  Is that onstage or off, Bob?  Sounds like the voice of first hand experience either way...


The quotables hurtle at us furiously with Laverne's vocation and Bob's avocation providing the grist for the best of them.  Russell's audacious performance bolsters the strong script and it is always fascinating evaluating where Bob's moral lines are drawn.  Too bad he didn't surreptitiously take Laverne up on her offer of a double date with sister Tassels LaTour in a sequel.  Well, okay, that might have been a little too much for 1956.  The Double Date deftly avoids crossing the rigid lines of its era and the squirming is a great deal of the fun.  A solid winner from arguably the show's peak season. (***1/2 out of four)

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

The F TROOP Podcast with Cosometica

 


No, it isn't Friday yet, but yours truly participated in the first podcast of Dan Schneider's new "Why This TV Series is Great" series at Cosmoetica on YouTube.  In case you'd like an introduction to Dan's site:



https://youtu.be/_-o2nXFrj1w


Anyway, I was delighted to be asked to explain "Why F Troop is Great" on Dan's latest installment.  Check it out at this link!  The podcast runs 70 minutes and we discuss the great cast and characters, F TROOP's standing among the 1960's greatest sitcoms, why the show has endured, and why it was prematurely cancelled in 1967.



http://www.cosmoetica.com/index.htm

Many thanks to Dan for the invite!  Check it out, and be warned I'm a little rusty after a LONG hiatus from being in front of the camera (I think Clinton was Prez last time I acted).  There's only so much ground one can cover in a 70 minute interview, but if your interest in this 1960's classic is piqued by what you hear, you can get in-depth episode-by-episode critiques and other long form articles on the series here in our ongoing F TROOP FRIDAYS series.




Friday, December 24, 2021

Television Review: LOVE THAT BOB: "Grandpa's Christmas Visit" (1955)

 


LOVE THAT BOB a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW: "Grandpa's Christmas Visit" (Laurel-McCadden Productions/CBS-TV 1955) Original Air Date: December 22, 1955.  Starring Bob Cummings as Bob Collins and Grandpa Josh Collins, Rosemary de Camp as Margaret MacDonald, Dwayne Hickman as Chuck MacDonald, Ann B. Davis as Schultzy, Gloria Marshall as Mary Beth Hall, Mary Young as Mrs. Taylor.  Written by Paul Henning, William Cowley and Shirl Gordon.  Directed by Rod Amateau.

Series overview and introduction to the LOVE THAT BOB/BOB CUMMINGS SHOW episode guide.

The show's first Christmas brings a visit from Bob and Margaret's octogenarian grandfather, Josh Collins, a pioneering photographer (and don't you forget it!) in his own right who seizes the camera for a family Christmas portrait with hilarious results.  Lovable old Grandpa continues to cramp Bob's style in the city of angels, proving to be indefatigable in his pursuit of Hollywood Christmas parties and early morning basketball despite his advanced years.


Determined to slow the old codger down (and get some quality time in with model Mary Beth Hall), Bob arranges for widow Taylor to take up Grandpa's next evening with board games.  Or is that bored games?  Grandpa sees Mary Beth at the office, and isn't quite ready to be relegated to women his own age just yet.


Cummings debuted an aged version of himself in It's Later Than You Think and made a brief appearance as his Grandpa in Bob to the Rescue, but this is the real coming-out party for one Joshua Collins: spryness belying his age and an eye for the ladies to rival his grandson's.  In the former quality, one can see the genesis here for some of the humor Henning would later use for his most famous fictional grandparent, Daisy Moses on THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES.


This first extended exposure to Grandpa hints at him as the inspiration for Bob's vocation as well as his avocations--their shared love of aviation would be explored later (Bob in Orbit among others).  The aging shutterbug's resistance of modern cameras gives us a nice opening gag--thankfully Josh Collins would overcome this aversion when filling in at Bob's studio.  Grandpa's literal interpretations not only anticipate HILLBILLIES but seem slightly inspired by Gracie Allen, which is no surprise given George Burns' partnership in the series.

Bob's model of the moment was Gloria Marshall (Bob the Body Builder) as Mary Beth, and in a sign of the times, she's struggling to get her 25-inch waist down to 23 for an important shoot.  Talk about bad timing with all the holiday temptations!  Grandpa's still eagle-eyed enough in his elderhood to surmise she's made the cut, but at the fade-out, we can surmise that he has likely had a big hand in her having to start all over again on the 26th.  While less heralded than Joi Lansing and Lisa Gaye, Marshall nevertheless made eight appearances on the series during the first four seasons and later ended up guest starring on both the aforementioned HILLBILLIES and PETTICOAT JUNCTION (in another Christmas installment). 


The refrigerator full of Christmas temptations is the only real yuletide indicator to be found in Grandpa's Christmas Visit.  There's no presents or mistletoe to be found, making Bob's Christmas Party the far more seasonal installment.  Grandpa's still-fresh presence dominates at home and office, with the "chip" consistently a step behind "the old block" so to speak.  And don't you forget it!


In what must be the spirit of the season, Bob is a much better sport after being bested by his Senior that he would be in future segments.  Grandpa's Christmas Visit is rather ubiquitous as one of the twenty-ish public domain LOVE THAT BOB episodes to receive numerous budget DVD releases.  Also too many YouTube postings to count.  Suffice to say that it delivers the goods as well as your average BOB and is a fine enough seasonal watch.

WHO WAS BLOCKING?

Schultzy should take notes: Grandpa again accomplishes this without even trying.

DID BOB SCORE?

Only on the checkerboard, since the promise of blowing that diet was enough to send Mary Beth out with Grandpa. Hey, Bob, if that was enough to turn her head, you probably didn't have her interest level high enough anyway.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Amusing early installment for Bob's alter ego, and at the time the gimmick was at its freshest.  A bit more traditional than the later Bob's Christmas Party but with considerably less holiday-centric content, Grandpa's Christmas Visit is still a fine installment to peruse for fans, if not my first choice for a series introduction.  (**1/2 out of four)  


One of the many YouTube links below, for your viewing pleasure: Grandpa's Christmas Visit 



Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Television Review: LOVE THAT BOB: "Grandpa Meets Zsa Zsa" (1956)



LOVE THAT BOB a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW: "Grandpa Meets Zsa Zsa" (CBS-TV/Laurel-McCadden Productions 1956)  Original Air Date: October 4, 1956.  Starring Bob Cummings as Bob Collins and Grandpa Josh Collins, Rosemary de Camp as Margaret MacDonald, Dwayne Hickman as Chuck MacDonald, Ann B. Davis as Schultzy, Zsa Zsa Gabor as herself, Lurene Tuttle as Dixie Yates, Paul Frees as the announcer, Bill Baldwin as Desk Clerk, Trudy Wroe as the Beauty Queen, Jim Salisbury as The Muscle Man.  Written by Shirl Gordon, Paul Henning and Phil Shuken.  Directed by Rod Amateau.

INTRODUCTION to the LOVE THAT BOB/THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW episode guide at this link.


To the amazement of his family, Bob Collins turns down an opportunity to fly back home to Joplin and judge the five finalists in the Miss Schifferdecker Park contest.   The astonishment subsides when Schultzy spills the beans on Bob's real reason: a chance to photograph (and of course, romance) the former Miss Hungary, Zsa Zsa Gabor.  

"All right you finalists, I'm ready--so show me what you got there!"



To take his place, Bobby Boy persuades Joplin's own pioneering photographer, Joshua W. Collins.  The winner already has a lifeguard fiancee, but Grandpa's girlfriend Dixie Yates--winner of the same pageant fifty years earlier--is still troubled.  She takes the opportunity to remind Grandpa that she's been waiting a half century for his proposal, and mistakenly thinks she has it.  Grandpa's "engagement" results in a bigger misunderstanding on the West Coast--Margaret not only thinks it is real, but that it is to the newly crowned Miss Schifferdecker Park!


Detractors dismissing Bob Collins as an old lecher can prepare to eat a little crow when viewing Grandpa Meets Zsa Zsa.   Don't worry, our playboy is still horny--but he's bypassing five hotties young enough to be his daughter and directing seductive lines at the more glamourous and age appropriate Zsa Zsa Gabor.  For her part, Ms. Gabor (at the time freshly divorced from third hubby George Sanders) looks alluring and seems allured by Hollywood's hottest photographer. 


Bob's eschewing of the nubile lovelies is only the beginning of a third season opener than repeatedly emphasizes the value of maturity.  Grandpa ultimately travels to California with the 1906 Miss Schifferdecker Park instead of one of the reigning contenders.  The current titleholder's real fiance is a muscular bodyguard her own age who--despite being twenty years younger and ripped--appears to get the worst of a brief scuffle with fortyish but fit Bob.  Finally, Grandpa Collins gets the titular opportunity with Ms. Gabor that Bob lost in his trip to Missouri--and promptly knocks it out of the park judging by Zsa Zsa's reaction.  Forget "age before beauty": in Grandpa Meets Zsa Zsa they are one and the same.


ZSA ZSA: "Missouri?  Is that the state where they show me?"

BOB: "I don't think there's anything they could show you!"


Much of the fun in Grandpa Meets Zsa Zsa comes from watching our hero charm the titular beauty via telephone--Gabor gives as good as she gets (some clever dialogue throughout this season premiere) and makes one wish for a sequel in which this clash of the titans could be consummated, so to speak.  Alas, the title doesn't belie and this would be Gabor's lone LOVE THAT BOB.  Too bad, since the verbal volleys really deliver.



The premise of Grandpa Meets Zsa Zsa was almost certainly inspired by one of the star's real life adventures in 1954.  Cummings Sr. was asked to co-judge a beauty contest but had a scheduling conflict, sending the seven year old junior Cummings to replace him as a gag.  Bob Jr. selected Trudy Wroe as his choice, and the aspiring actress ended up playing a model on LOVE THAT BOB's first episode, Calling Doctor Baxter.


Perhaps apropos of an episode with so much telephone action, Grandpa Meets Zsa Zsa boasts two legendary voice actors in its supporting cast.  48 year old Lurene Tuttle transforms via makeup to play seventy-ish Dixie Yates, returning for Bob Buys a Plane the following week. Animation legend Paul Frees (Bob Becomes a Genius) returns to the series as the television announcer bringing us Grandpa's moment in the limelight.


This third season opener was the series sendoff for Emmy nominated director Amateau (THE SENIORS), whose stellar second season work brought him a promotion to producer/director for the final two seasons of BURNS AND ALLEN.  Amateau's association with the Burns family continued beyond that series; he married George and Gracie's daughter Sandra in 1959. Grandpa Meets Zsa Zsa was also the final LOVE THAT BOB for beauty queen Wroe, who left acting in 1959 to marry fellow thespian Don Durant.


And yes, like so many other references to Cummings' hometown of Joplin, Schifferdecker Park is real, the result of Charles Schifferdecker's 30 acre grant to the city in 1913.  It has changed addresses a few times, but is still in existence some 65 years after the city's favorite son gave it a spotlight on national television.   It apparently didn't exist yet in 1906, so either Dixie has the year of her triumph wrong or was having a senior moment.

WHO WAS BLOCKING?

Bob has only his grandfather's confusing explanation to Chuck keeping him from his Hungarian beauty.

DID BOB SCORE?

Not onscreen, but he does appear to be set up better than ever with Zsa Zsa if he can just get back from Joplin before she leaves the studio.  In keeping with this episode's theme, though, Grandpa gets kisses from beauty queens spanning the decades and countries (lest we forget, Ms. Gabor was Miss Hungary 1936) while The King comes up empty.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

"When they get together, could I sell tickets!"  Schultzy isn't wrong.  An attention getting season opener chock full of witty lines, Grandpa Meets Zsa Zsa sends Amateau off on a high note and kicks off arguably the show's finest batch of episodes.  Some of the misunderstandings are a bit strained--a girl's best friend is not a dog, it's diamonds!  (Come on Grandpa!)  But for the most part, the dialogue really scores.  (*** out of four)


Courtesy of The Allison Hayes Channel on YouTube, here's Grandpa Meets Zsa Zsa for your viewing pleasure (you'll have to go to YouTube to watch it though): 


 

Friday, November 05, 2021

F TROOP Fridays: "For Whom the Bugle Tolls" (1966)




F TROOP Fridays: Number 31





F TROOP: "For Whom the Bugle Tolls" (ABC-TV/Warner Brothers 1966) Season Two, Episode 10: Original Air Date November 10, 1966.  Starring Forrest Tucker as Sergeant Morgan O'Rourke, Larry Storch as Corporal Randolph Agarn, Ken Berry as Captain Wilton Parmenter, Melody Patterson as Wrangler Jane, Frank de Kova as Chief Wild Eagle, Don Diamond as Crazy Cat, Joe Brooks as Vanderbilt, James Hampton as Bugler Dobbs, Bob Steele as Duffy, Ivan Bell as Dudleson.  Guest Stars: Richard X. Slattery as Colonel "Bugle" Bill Bartlett.  Written by Hal Goldman and Al Gordon. Directed by David Alexander.  


The latest visiting officer to inspect Fort Courage is Colonel William Bartlett, a.k.a. "Bugle Bill", whose reputation precedes him.  After a harrowing experience in the field years before, Bartlett's M.O. is to judge an entire Fort solely on the quality of its Bugler.  Unfortunately for F Troop and O'Rourke Enterprises, Fort Courage's man on the horn is one Private Hannibal Shirley Dobbs.


To keep "Bugle Bill" from hanging around for months poking his nose into everything at the fort (i.e. the stash at the NCO club), O'Rourke and Agarn implore Dobbs to practice incessantly while simultaneously searching the limited talent pool for a temporary replacement.  The unceasing horn wreaks havoc on everyone's sanity and, perhaps even more damaging, the bugler's confidence--misplaced as it is.


Longtime JACK BENNY PROGRAM scribes Goldman and Gordon return for a second season encore that turns out to be a notable improvement on A Gift From the Chief.  While the writers had a firm grip on F TROOP's characters immediately, that first effort lacked the show's usual zip.  For Whom the Bugle Tolls shares a conventional premise and predictably gives us plenty of the time tested Dreadful Musician trope.  


Maybe too much of it, since you might be as ready to scream like Agarn by the end of the first Act, but there's enough clever variations (i.e. Dobbs shifting to "taps" after he swats a fly) to keep this montage from getting too tedious.  Even better is the way secondary characters are highlighted: Duffy shows us why he wasn't chosen bugler, Vanderbilt bemoans the constant loss of glasses to the flimsy lookout tower, and Crazy Cat plays a key role in the resolution.  Each represents a nice change of pace from Alamo stories, wishing for the Chief's demise and the pratfalls of 20/900 vision.


F TROOP had no shortage of dyspeptic character actors to play visiting I.G.'s, and Andrew Duggan, James Gregory and Fred Clark are joined in the club by a mustachioed Richard X. Slattery (BLACK EYE) in For Whom the Bugle Tolls.  Slattery gets less screen time than his cohorts and turns out to be more sentimental than any of them when all is said and done, but doling him out in two small doses keeps the Colonel looming menacingly over the proceedings.


Despite the necessitation of army routine taking the spotlight from business this time, a fine grasp is shown of O'Rourke Enterprises as well.  The two principals have brisk souvenir sales going and the NCO Club is well stocked with Old Moccasin, two reasons that Bartlett's visit is dreaded.  Wild Eagle cannily scrapes ten dollars away from O'Rourke on a "sure thing", but one can't help but notice the Sarge holding his money roll close to his vest while counting it out for the Chief, who earlier hinted that payment was late on some of the merchandise. 


For once, it is Crazy Cat who is the primary beneficiary of the soldiers' desperation, though I'm sure he was required to split his take with his superior later.  For Whom the Bugle Tolls is too slight to be a bona fide classic but showcasing virtually all of F TROOP's supporting characters in sometimes surprising ways adds up to a stimulating viewing experience.  The sophomore season had its disappointments, but this isn't one of them.


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

Once, if Bugle Bill had just waited long enough to see the real source of that "hauntingly, touchingly beautiful" retreat.


WISE OLD HEKAWI SAYING:

Not really, though the Chief is philosophical about getting half of his reward money: "Win a little, lose a little".  Makes too much sense to be formal wisdom from this source.


PC, OR NOT PC?

The Hekawis save the day, with peace and (rare for any music on F TROOP) harmony.  Also nary a perjorative term.


THE BOTTOM LINE:

Upon further review, I gave this one short shrift in my original review of the Season Two DVD.  Goldman and Gordon had a great bead on Fort Courage's characters and provided variance on the show's running gags.  These new wrinkles make For Whom the Bugle Tolls a sneaky success.  One wishes that the former BENNY writers had had more than one assignment per season.  (*** out of four)


F TROOP airs weekdays at 1 P.M. and 1:30 P.M. Central Time on CIRCLE TV.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Film Review: LAUGHING ANNE (1954)



LAUGHING ANNE (1954 Republic Pictures) Starring Wendell Corey, Margaret Lockwood, Forrest Tucker, Ronald Shiner, Robert Harris, Daphne Anderson.  Written by Pamela Bower.  Directed by Herbert Wilcox.

Skipper Wendell Corey gets drunk in a Java bar after his sea-hating wife leaves him.  He is charmed by the titular singer Lockwood, who quickly loses her laughter when abusive Tucker enters the room.  The captain spoils for a fight but learns that Tuck is crippled, and leaves for a two month voyage with first mate Shiner.  


At sea, the men soon learn they have a stowaway: Lockwood, on the run from Tuck.  The three become chummy on the trip and Margaret fills in the backstory: years earlier she and Tucker were a power couple--he a bare-knuckles contender for the heavyweight crown, she an elegant singer.  At Lockwood's urging, Tuck refuses to throw a key fight and finds himself permanently disabled afterwards, unable to continue his career.  Embittered, Forrest turns to making a living by hook or crook, usually the latter.  Lockwood and Corey fall in love, but she ultimately returns to Tucker after the boat docks in Singapore.  Six years later their lives intersect again when Corey encounters the couple in a backwater settlement, with Corey learning she has a five year old son, and Tucker intent on a heist of Corey's cargo.


Adapted from Joseph Conrad's two-act play, LAUGHING ANNE is the better of the two pictures Tucker made in the U.K. with co-star Lockwood and director Wilcox (TROUBLE IN THE GLEN).  Three years after THE WILD BLUE YONDER, Tucker and Corey are again competing for a woman.  In this case it's Lockwood, then the highest paid actress in British films who was nevertheless near the end of her run as a leading lady.  Still, hopes were high for the box office, particularly in Britain with peaking comedy star Shiner bolstering the supporting cast.


Tucker's Jem Farrell is ostensibly bitter about that the brass ring (a bout with John L. Sullivan awaited the winner of his fight) eluded him.  More likely, he's bitter than the titular singer coaxed him not to throw the match--ready to consider it for roughly $15,000 the night before, it's more than implied that Jem found a two-thirds increase too good to pass up.  Farrell sure appears to be giving less than his best effort as the bout opens.


Once Anne walks away from ringside in disgust, Farrell makes the fateful decision to welsh mid-bout, with life-changing circumstances that he clearly holds against Anne forever after, mostly silencing that unmistakable laugh.  While he "could have been a contender" for the title, Anne's the one who made a bad bet--Farrell's character was always lacking and misfortune has only intensified his shortcomings.  Alternating heroes and villains throughout the 1950's, Tuck excelled at just this type of truculent, shady character in his pre-MUSIC MAN days, and goes even darker here than in SAN ANTONE.  Despite unconvincing stump makeup doing him no favors, he pulls off one of his least affable roles of the decade.


Tucker's best roles were still ahead of him, but his co-lead was on the downside.  Corey, whose battle with alcoholism resulted in an early death at 54, already looks at least a decade older than his forty years during filming.  A good man who also chose his mate poorly, Corey seems fatigued even at the outset, a man who arguably married up but found himself unhappy away from the water.  Lockwood too was nearing the end of her film career--after the disappointing box office for LAUGHING ANNE, she was on television for good within a year (CAST A DARK SHADOW was her big-screen finale).  She paints a remarkable portrait of co-dependence in her penultimate feature.  It's telling that she bonds with Corey over a shared love for sailing, but returns to the devil she knows.


Adapted by the director's daughter Bower (who also scripted TRENT'S LAST CASE and the Errol Flynn starrer KING'S RHAPSODY for her father), whose patient approach sometimes crosses over into tedium in the first half.  There are rewards for sticking with it through Shiner's comic relief and the father/daughter team provides a rousing final reel once the would-be power couple collides with Corey a second time.  


Once a late late show perennial, LAUGHING ANNE faded from television screens after the 1960's and never received even a VHS release in the decades that followed.  However, the film was recently rescued from obscurity by Martin Scorcese's Republic Rediscovered project (as was the very worthy HELLFIRE) and is now available on Amazon Prime and iTunes.  Fans of Lockwood and Tucker are encouraged to check it out as the better of their pairings with Republic (TROUBLE IN THE GLEN is much slower going, and the stars are overshadowed by what amounts to a glorified cameo by Orson Welles).  Hey, if Martin Scorcese thinks it's worth a second look, what better endorsement is there? 


Monday, September 13, 2021

MAVERICK Mondays: "A Flock of Trouble" (1960)




MAVERICK Mondays: 
Number 31


 




MAVERICK: "A Flock of Trouble" (Warner Brothers/ABC-TV 1960) Original Air Date: February 14, 1960.  Starring James Garner as Bret Maverick, Myrna Fahey as Dee Cooper, Merritt Bohn as Big Coley, George Wallace as Verne Scott, Tim Graham as Jensen, Armand Alzamora as DeBasco, Donnelly Rhodes as Cain, Chet Stratton as Crabhill, Irving Bacon as McFadden.  Written by Jim Barnett, Ron Bishop and Wells Root.  Directed by Arthur Lubin. 


When his three Kings bests Big Coley's trip Queens during an impromptu poker game while their stagecoach is delayed, Bret Maverick finds himself the owner of "three thousand head" in lieu of the considerable cash he's just taken from Coley.  As was the case in Relic of Fort Tejon, Bret has misunderstood the loser: upon arriving at his new ranch, he finds himself the proud owner of 3,000 sheep, not cattle.  


And since Bret's new spread is right in the heart of cattle country, he finds himself inheriting a range war to go with the acreage.  The cattlemen, headed by Scott, are hankering to meet up with this "new owner Maverick", so Bret alertly introduces himself as Gordon W. Howitzer, range inspector from Washington, D.C.  Scott is immediately suspicious of this "federal man" who smells of sheep, but "Gordon" makes a needed ally in the richest owner of the bunch--Ms. Cooper.  Since she's Scott's intended, Howitzer has his wary eye at all times but reinforces the bond by treating the tomboyish Dee like a lady.


A Flock of Trouble is easily the best of three teleplays from the team of Ron Bishop and Wells Root (The  Maverick Line).  Lifting the premise from THE SHEEPMAN and working from a story by F TROOP co-creator Jim Barnett, the duo strikes the right balance this time, as Bret Maverick again winning a poker prize that might well be more Trouble than it's worth.  After belatedly realizing he's been sold a bill of goods, Bret deftly charms the one cattle owner who can save his neck by reading her correctly: underneath that tomboy is a beautiful young woman eager to let her feminine side shine.


Dee's no-nonsense if not tough exterior (instilled by her father, who wanted a boy) melts considerably once Bret charms her with poetry and a dress, but Maverick's charm only hardens Verne Scott's deep distrust.  No points for figuring that Scott has an ulterior motive to "merge" with Cooper's considerable spread, but despite this predictable twist A Flock of Trouble stays lean and amusing throughout.


As in the aforementioned Relic of Fort Tejon, Bret gets to deal with a scene stealing animal--in this case, a sheepdog named Heather.  In fact, the funniest scene involves Bret sweating being outed by the adoring canine in a cantina full of disapproving cattlemen. 


The unfortunately unsung Myrna Fahey was usually relegated to bland "good girl" roles and barely more than a bit player in Duel at Sundown.  She got her best MAVERICK role here and made the most of it, looking revelatory in her new dress.  Dee might seem a little too willing to buy Howitzer's line, but one can see how she'd crave the gentlemanly attention to that point: intended Wallace is too cold (basically treating her like one of the boys) and everyone else is way too intimidated by him to provide any competition.  


Director Arthur Lubin loomed largest in season three, with 9 of his 11 episodes coming in this batch. Originally airing on Valentine's Day, A Flock of Trouble doesn't quite reach the heights of his classic Maverick and Juliet (arguably the season's very best) but is a vast improvement for director and writers from their prior collaboration, the too-silly Cats of Paradise.   With "Seward's Folly" in Alaska figuring prominently in the plot, this one almost certainly takes place in 1867.  


HOW'D BRET DO AT POKER?

What should have been a hefty win ended up being muted by a typical Maverick misunderstanding on property taken in lieu of cash. Still, Bret's ending net was roughly $500, since he was into the game for $1,000 by his own estimate, and he received $1,500 for his 3,000 head of sheep.  Far short of his anticipated $36,000 windfall, and took a considerable amount of grief to get, but as any poker player understands, a profit is a profit.

WISDOM FROM PAPPY?

"Lightning can strike twice in the same place."  This was the Wise One's initial reaction to the birth of son Bart, according to Bret.



THE BOTTOM LINE:

A pretty lady gets Bret in a bit of trouble with a corrupt insider, after Bret fails to vet a poker foe's substitution for a lost stake.  I know, stop me if you've heard it.  But isn't that everything one expects from MAVERICK?  Delivered in a tight script from Bishop, Root and Barnett, A Flock of Trouble would make a solid addition to any season.  Not quite top tier but not too far from it, with lots of amusement if few surprises and a choice role for an overlooked starlet who died way too young (Fahey was 40 when she passed away in 1973).  (***1/2 out of four)

MAVERICK airs every Saturday morning at 9 A.M. Central Time on MeTV, and every weekday morning at 5 A.M. Central Time on Heroes and Icons.