Friday, January 17, 2020

F TROOP Fridays: "Bye, Bye, Balloon" (1966)







F TROOP Fridays: Number 23  










F TROOP: "Bye, Bye, Balloon" (1966 ABC-TV/Warner Brothers) Season 2, Episode 3: Original Air Date September 22, 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 deKova as Chief Wild Eagle, Don Diamond as Crazy Cat, Bob Steele as Duffy, James Hampton as Bugler Dobbs, Ivan Bell as Duddleson.  Guest Star: Harvey Korman as Colonel Heindrich von Zeppel.  Directed by Seymour Robbie.  Written by Austin and Irma Kalish.



Captain Parmenter receives an urgent communique from Washington, notifying the C.O. that Prussian Colonel Heindrich von Zeppel will be arriving to train the men of F Troop for a new Balloon Corps.  Agarn isn't thrilled with the idea of becoming a flying soldier, but O'Rourke sees fringe benefits on the horizon: speedier deliveries for O'Rourke Enterprises, an expanded customer base, and the ability to sell rides to civilians.




"Now, do you want to be in the Balloon Corps?"
"It's the only way to fly!"

Von Zeppel arrives on (literally) the noon stage and the Sarge soon changes his tune.  First the Colonel institutes grueling physical training for his decidedly deconditioned new subordinates.  Next, Heindrich poaches the Vice President of O'Rourke Enterprises to be his begleiter.  Agarn is soon brainwashed into doing things the blue blooded Prussian Vay: wearing a monocle, answering "Jawohl" to orders, goose stepping, and replacing his cavalry hat with a pickelhaube.  That's bad--but it gets worse.  Von Zeppel plans to use his Balloon Corps to go beyond mere reconnaissance, beginning with a full scale aerial assault on the Hekawis.






"And if it vorks--it is Vestvard Ho!  Un to the Apaches!"

With the historically accurate Civil War use of observation balloons by the Union's "Chief Aeronaut" Thaddeus Lowe as their springboard, the husband and wife team of Austin and Irma Kalish makes a splashy series debut.  The first of their eight teleplays for Season Two, Bye, Bye, Balloon boasts quite a comedy smorgasbord: cheeky ribbing of ABC lead-in BATMAN, sharp parody of HOGAN'S HEROES' equally edgy source of humor, and arguably the two most quotable lines of the season.  For starters, that is.



"Feldwebel???"


"WHO SAYS I'M DUMB???"

Believe it or not, that running gag didn't debut until this third episode of F TROOP's second season.  Despite the late start, this quote quickly became as synonymous with the show as a falling lookout tower.  O'Rourke sets that punch line up for the very first time in Bye, Bye, Balloon's teaser, with only about 15 seconds passing before Agarn angrily asks the aforementioned question.  The pauses would get longer and funnier as the color episodes continued.  Rather impressive to come up with a running gag of such longevity and quality in your inaugural script for a well-established series.  Nice job, Mr. and Mrs. Kalish!



Refusing to be outdone, director Seymour Robbie (Johnny Eagle Eye) starts the proceedings with an impressively choreographed letter reading by gracefully clumsy Parmenter that betters the hitching rail antics in Old Ironpants.  Surprisingly, the narrow avoidance of disaster in this opening minute is the closest we get to a pratfall in Bye, Bye Balloon despite the foreshadowed and seemingly inevitable presentation of a duel between our distinguished officers.  




"Naturally a young lady vas involved."

The late, great Harvey Korman was "only" 6'3", but seems about 3 inches taller in his boots and helmet here--a truly imposing antagonist who even appears to tower over Tucker in a couple of shots.  It's a wonder mother Prussia would spare this most patriotic officer at a time when war with Napoleon III loomed, for von Zeppel's heart bleeds Prussian blue.  Hell, his faithful Dachshund (of course) is even named Schnitzel.  When the Colonel isn't singing the praises of sauerbraten and ten mile pre-breakfast hikes, he's indoctrinating the always easily-led Agarn.  Storch's entertaining way with a accent keeps Korman from dominating their scenes together, but the future Mel Brooks mainstay nevertheless stands tall (figuratively, too) as one of F TROOP's most indelible guest stars.



O'ROURKE: "Of course he accepts!  The honorable name of Parmenter is at stake!"
AGARN: (sotto) "He could always change his name."

One sticking point in Bye, Bye, Balloon is the nagging feeling that O'Rourke and Agarn don't seem as protective of the Captain and their business interests as they should be.  Attempts are made to steer Wilton out of harm in the climactic clash with his lofty adversary, but compare the exchange above this paragraph with the duo's desperation to avoid conflict in Dirge for the Scourge.  The attempt to help their 50/50 partners is blunter but still toned down from the outright sabotage depicted in The New I.G. and The Phantom Major.  To be fair, that delicacy is necessary since von Zeppel is a considerably more fearsome foe than the conceited Major Bentley Royce.  Suffice to say that with the benefit of a fresh look, the defense of the Enterprises is definitely sturdier than the astonishingly feeble effort (if one can call it that) in the previous week's How to be F Troop Without Really Trying.  



"It is balloon!"

Let's face it, there is one rather obvious hindrance to attacking a force proficient in archery via balloon.  And not just the Apache--even the Hekawis manage to hit the basket with one arrow.  Hey, it is improvement from what we saw in The Day the Indians Won.  Perhaps Agarn really did make some progress with that training.  Speaking of, it's too bad we don't get to see Duffy, Duddleson and Vanderbilt becoming flyboys--in fact, Vandy is missing altogether from this one.  Wild Eagle's response to the sight of the titular bag gets all the love, but I'm partial to his hilariously deadpan story about the Hekawi who tried to fly.  Whatever floats your boat, Bye, Bye, Balloon has something to make even F TROOP's detractors laugh out loud.  And by the way, if you are one, you're wrong!





Newspapers at the time reported a mishap while filming Agarn's flight with Schnitzel in which the balloon suddenly surged upward, with Storch's legs tearing the bottom and the show's gravy comedian clinging to the side of the basket some 35 feet in the air before the bag was hauled back down.  Fortunately, a nip on the lip from the apparently frightened canine was the comedian's only injury.
THE ALL IMPORTANT NIELSENS:


Bye, Bye, Balloon aired during the first report of the 1966-67 season, helping win the time period with a 17.8 rating versus DANIEL BOONE's 16.8 and JERICHO's 16.5 for the two weeks ending September 25, 1966.  F TROOP ranked 44th, so all three shows were off to a lukewarm start.  In subsequent weeks, the established shows heated up and JERICHO kept cooling.  


THING YOU LEARNED:

In addition to the expected military history--which is correct for once! (the Kalishes would prove to be sticklers for this) we learn some German by way of Prussia.  For example, "feldwebel" means Sergeant.

Horton on BATMAN, October 19, 1966

ONE GOOD TURN......

F TROOP's clever nod to BATMAN would be returned by the Caped Crusader four weeks later in An Egg Grows in Gotham, guest starring Roaring Chicken himself, Edward Everett Horton as---Chief Screaming Chicken.


...and Horton on F TROOP, November 23, 1965

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

Once.  Ok, so he doesn't actually throw a battle this time, but revealing Army plans to the enemy about to be attacked would still get him the charge.






WISE OLD HEKAWI SAYING?

"He who plant crop of rhubarb will lose moccasins in light of full moon."  The Chief is as indecipherable as ever, though Crazy Cat goes along with it.






PC, OR NOT PC?

Probably not, if you're Prussian.  Your heritage is represented by a goose stepping officer arriving to wipe out Native Americans--but only if they're incapable of fighting back (as he states in the tag).  But fear not: like all the bloodthirsty Fort Courage visitors who preceded him, von Zeppel is thwarted in his efforts to break the peaceful, profitable coexistence between troop and tribe.  And if you're offended by Wild Eagle's famous and beloved quote, well, there's just no hope for ya.





THE BOTTOM LINE:


I underrated this one in my initial assessment in reviewing the second season DVD.  Controlled chaos full of quotable lines and engagingly performed by the entire cast.  Bye, Bye, Balloon is also ranked too low by the Imdb.com readers (41st out of 65 episodes?  Really?).  A top five color installment, with more than enough inventiveness to compensate for any of my nagging questions.  Excellent work from Kalish, Kalish and Robbie; they would later collaborate on (IMO) the finest color episode, Our Brave in F Troop. (***1/2 out of four)



Monday, December 16, 2019

MAVERICK Mondays: "The Sheriff of Duck 'n' Shoot" (1959)






MAVERICK Mondays: Number 28







MAVERICK: "The Sheriff of Duck 'n' Shoot" (1959 ABC-TV/Warner Brothers) Original Air Date: September 27, 1959.  Starring James Garner as Bret Maverick, Jack Kelly as Bart Maverick, Peggy McCay as Missy Maybrook, Chubby Johnson as Deputy Billy Waker, Jack Mather as Judge Hardy, Donald "Red" Barry as Fred Leslie, James Gavin as Buck Danton, Hal Baylor as Bimbo, Irving Bacon as Andrews, Billy Greene as Herman, Richard Cuttling as Smitty, Fred Aldrich as Ferguson.  Written by William Driskill.  Directed by george waGGner.  


Getting up to cash in his poker winnings in the titular township's (population 1,018) saloon, Bret gets credit for the inadvertent result of an agitated horse's kick: the subduing of town bully Ferguson.  That makes him the closest candidate the unfortunate city has to replace the recently departed sheriff, with a little bit of blackmail--the impounding of Bret's winnings--inducing a six month appointment.


Maverick's first day on the job starts inauspiciously: he learns he's the twenty-third sheriff that his new deputy has worked for, and Bimbo Ferguson is determined to wreck Duck n' Shoot as vengeance for his brother's incarceration.  On the other hand, newcomer Melissa ("Call me Missy") Maybrook wants to make the sheriff's acquaintance, so it isn't all bad...or is it?  She's also secretly partnering with Danton and Leslie, well known bank robbers who will be the novice lawman's next challenge.


"I'm unreliable.  I'm a terrible shot.  And this I mean most sincerely--I have been for as long as I can remember--a coward."

Despite the shortcomings that Bret modestly details, he turns out to be the most successful lawman in the history of Duck 'n' Shoot.  (At least, for a month--more on that below.)  Yes, the disabling of Frank was nothing more than dumb luck, but that was before Bret had the badge.  Reluctantly pinning it on and trying to hide it as he does, Maverick nevertheless deserves full credit for the vast reduction in crime on his watch.  The methods are all his.


When Bimbo arrives to test out the new Sheriff by trashing the town, Bret gambles with him--winning a day's incarceration with three nines to the junior Ferguson's two pair.   When a fight breaks out in the saloon, Bret wins money on it--which disgusts the participants into peace.  Interestingly, Bret subtly cheats on both occasions, something he'd never do (he never has to) while he's at the poker table.  Tellingly, Maverick only feels guilty about his deception with the deck.  ("Forgive me, Mr. Hoyle" he says with raised eyes.  Begging God's forgiveness?)


One can't fully blame Bret Maverick for keeping such income supplements with a salary of $84 a month keeping him away from a poker table that netted him nearly sixty times that in a day.  (I counted $260 in brawl-related winnings, myself.)   The Judge admits that Bret is earning every penny--as long as he's dealing with male criminals.  As might be expected, Bret's weakness is Missy Maybrook.  Bret doesn't completely trust her--note his relocation of the bank's funds once he thinks she's out of eyeshot--but she proves to be his Achilles heel nevertheless.  Too bad--Deputy Waker might well have put Bret's picture on the wall alongside Pat Garrett's if he'd kept that early momentum going.

"Then throw in nine more 'helps'." 

As he had in Shady Deal at Sunny Acres, Bart comes to his brother's aid capably.  Naturally, it is strongly hinted that collecting a debt from Bret brings him to the titular town more than any sense of brotherly love.  Bart proves less susceptible to the winsome lass than his brother, but clearly knows they have the same limitations: the younger brother is notably leery at having to resist her for a long period of time in the coda.  Peggy McCay had one of television's longest careers (started in 1949, ended in 2017!) and would return to bedevil both Mavericks again in The Maverick Line.


The Sheriff of Duck 'n' Shoot is also an auspicious debut for both its director and writer.  George waGGner was most often behind the camera on 77 SUNSET STRIP (he helmed 41 episodes), but returned to show his serious side: he wrote and directed his next installment, the underrated You Can't Beat the Percentage.  Leonard Driskill turned out to be a one-hit wonder after this hilarious opener, at least as far as MAVERICK goes: his second and last teleplay for the series was the disappointing Trooper Maverick.  This one, though, is near-perfectly paced and very well calculated, with only Maybrook's decision to back Bart seeming slightly perfunctory.

A sly commentary on the merits of the peace officer versus the law-and-order type, The Sheriff of Duck 'n' Shoot makes that point as well as any ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, and for my money even better than Garner's later hit SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF!.  Further analysis on the virtue of being a rascal while taking on other rascals is pure MAVERICK--and pure fun from start to finish.  Another one of those episodes that demonstrates what made the series special, and a surprising number of those remained even after the loss of series creator Roy Huggins.


HOW'D BRET DO AT POKER?

$5,000 in winnings for Bret that the judge is holding in escrow.  Not too shabby, but actually pales in comparison to the success enjoyed by our crooks at the table: Leslie pockets $8,000 and Danton a whopping $12,000 respectively on the night they were supposed to be robbing the bank!  Who needs criminal activity?  And if the locals are that loaded and that terrible at the table, why isn't Duck 'n' Shoot a regular stop on the Maverick Poker Tour?

WISDOM FROM PAPPY?

Driskell gives us more Pappyisms than I can recall in any other single episode: five.

"The worst crime a man can commit is to interrupt a poker game."  Very true, Beauregard.

"If you know a man's weakness, you know the way to his heart."  The Judge is convinced of Pappy's intelligence with this one.

"Try everything once, and if you don't succeed, then become a lawman."  One of Pappy's truest proverbs?  Bret and Bart both tried to follow it.

"The next best thing to money is a man's name on the dotted line."  However, Bart was quickly contradicted by brother Bret on this one, who recalled Pappy saying:

"Sign nothing."  Indeed, the wise one was prone to contradict himself from time to time.

Driskell must have been tapped out, since Pappy had nothing further to offer in Trooper Maverick.


THE BOTTOM LINE:

Three episodes into his stint as producer, Coles Trapnell shows that he has the juice to keep MAVERICK as subversive as before.  Both brothers take a turn in the Sheriff's office and demonstrate that brains can triumph over brawn in that profession, too.  As long as the big head does the thinking for the little head, anyway.  The Sheriff of Duck 'n' Shoot arguably bests even SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF!, going light on the silliness once the far-fetched knockout of Ferguson is out of the way.  With just the right amount of time taken to get to its twists and effective brotherly one-upmanship at its most concise, this is among the season's very best.  (**** out of four)  


MAVERICK airs Monday through Friday commercial-free at 3:10 P.M. Central on Encore Westerns, and every Saturday morning at 9 A.M. on MeTV.


Monday, November 18, 2019

MAVERICK Mondays: "The Bold Fenian Men" (1960)






MAVERICK Mondays: Number 27 








MAVERICK: "The Bold Fenian Men" (1960 ABC-TV/Warner Brothers) Original Air Date: December 18, 1960.  Starring Roger Moore as Beau Maverick, Sharon Hugueny as Diedre Fogarty, Arthur Fields as Terence Fogarty, Arch Johnson as Colonel Summers, Lane Bradford as Sergeant Hanson, Herb Vigran as Ed, Jack Livesey as Patrick Hunter, James O'Hara as Sean.  Written by Robert Vincent Wright.  Directed by Irving J. Moore.

After being thrown off an Army post by Colonel Summers for gambling with the soldiers (mostly for winning) Cousin Beau Maverick finds himself under attack by Indians.  Rescued by the Colonel and taken into protective custody, Beau finds he won't be taking that trip to St. Louis after all.  Instead, he'll be accompanying the cavalrymen to Dakota City.


"I was there last year!  There's not a poker game in town!"

Despite Maverick's protests, it is better than 90 days in the guardhouse for his prior offense.  So Beau has to settle for games by campfire with the enlisted men until he learns the Colonel's real purpose for bringing him along.  A civilian is needed to infiltrate the titular Irishmen during their First Annual "Sons of the Shamrock" convention, which is really a ruse for their real plans: taking over Canadian land in order to force Ireland's independence from England.  When "O'Maverick" spots a poker game full of sons of the old sod, he warms to the assignment.  But the stakes are higher than Beau realizes: discovery as a spy would put the English cousin in front of a firing squad.


The fourth MAVERICK season is the show's most inconsistent, with most of the show's best writers having departed along with star James Garner.  Fortunately Robert Vincent Wright (Greenbacks, Unlimited) was still around, and he penned this bit of blarney inspired by the Irish revolutionaries who really did plot to invade Canada to win Irish independence in the late 1860's.  The Bold Fenian Men was originally intended for brother Bart, but Jack Kelly's hand injury forced him out of action temporarily and sent this story to Moore.  The casting change actually works to this episode's advantage: Beau being sent to infiltrate the Fenians with his "slight English accent" adds a little extra spice to the proceedings.


"A toast...to one of the bravest men I've ever known!"

Wright provides the gamut of humor, throwing in droll whimsy ("They're fightin' him one at a time!") and topical lines now lost to time ("I've got no time for Sergeants!") to go with the Irish stereotypes.  Director Moore gives star Moore plenty of opportunities for subtle, wordless asides (my favorite follows the Colonel's line above--referencing Maverick!) and some of the future SAINT's cheekiest moments as a Maverick.  Beau mansplaining the finer points of seduction to Diedre and thwarting attempts to inebriate him provide two of the episode's highlights.


But unfortunately, a deft touch isn't maintained for the segment's entirety.  Beau barking out commands to the shifty Sergeant Hanson during their fistfight is more F TROOP than MAVERICK, and what should be the episode's highlight--Beau's impudence in the face of a firing squad that he (wrongly) believes can't harm him--is dulled when Moore oversells the swoon at the conclusion.  Too bad: the buildup is very amusing and well paced. 


Sixteen year old Sharon Hugueny has a predictably inconsistent Irish accent, but is fine otherwise.  She would return opposite Jack Kelly in The Devil's Necklace.  Hugueny's career was interrupted by an ill-fated marriage to thirty-one year old Robert Evans the following year, and the starlet never regained her early momentum.  She's more than charming enough here to make one wonder what might have been.  The forever gruff Arch Johnson (Royal Four Flush) is in fine no-nonsense form as Summers.  The Colonel knows enough to hedge his espionage bets, but misses some key spot checks right under his nose.  Among the few male civilians is the always welcome Herb Vigran (The Golden Fleecing) amusingly wincin' o'plenty at the Emerald invasion of his hotel.


"According to military protocol, Mr. Maverick, do you have any last requests?"
"Yes.  Don't shoot."

While the James Garner comparisons aren't fair--Roger Moore had the misfortune to join the MAVERICK family after most of the good scripts had gone--they're unavoidable.  Nevertheless, when Beau was given one of those "always hopeless, but never serious" situations, Moore delivered capably, if not quite as smoothly as Garner or Kelly.  A mostly lighthearted farce grounded by its basis in historical fact, with Wright giving us one last actuality at the conclusion (the real life Fenians did indeed try multiple invasions of the Great White North), The Bold Fenian Men ends up as a highlight of both Moore's tenure and the disappointing fourth season.  Even if a little bit o' Irish music goes a long way for ya.


HOW DID BEAU DO AT POKER?

After doing well enough to be banished from the post, Beau seemed to be continuing his winning ways with the limited stakes available while the soldiers were camped out.  This despite the Sergeant's marked deck of cards.  Pastures appeared much greener with the whiskey-soaked Irishmen in Dakota City, but complications from Beau's mission kept his table hours there minimal.

WISDOM FROM PAPPY?

None this time.  Just as well, frankly, since the Pappyisms always sounded awkward when turned into Uncleisms.



The Fenian invasion was a subject that producer Coles Trapnell long thought to be fertile ground for a MAVERICK, and the execution is more often than not satisfying.  Significantly superior to the similarly themed Trooper Maverick.  Moore was too often let down by teleplays during his brief tenure as Cousin Beau, but in The Bold Fenian Men Wright gives the actor the kind of material he'd expected from what was likely television's best-written show just two years earlier.  Not quite a top-grade installment, but more memorable than most that aired during the too-often misguided fourth season.  (*** out of four)


MAVERICK airs every Saturday morning at 9 A.M. Central Time on MeTV, and weekdays at 3:10 P.M. Central on Encore Westerns Channel.



Thursday, October 24, 2019

Leon Errol Series: TOO MANY WIVES (1951)





TOO MANY WIVES (1951 RKO Radio Pictures) Starring Leon Errol as Leon Errol, Dorothy Granger as Dorothy Errol, Joanne Jordan as Barbara Burke, Harry Harvey as Harry, Paul Maxey as Johnson and Sam McDaniel as The Cook.  Written and Directed by Hal Yates. 

Introduction to our ongoing Leon Errol Salute Series is at this link.

Leon graciously lets Ms. Burke into the apartment building when she locks herself out, just in time for an early arriving Mrs. Errol to assume that her husband has been 'stepping out' with the new neighbor.  For once, it really is a misunderstanding, but Mrs. Errol is having none of Leon's explanation.  Leon gets an ornate frame to the head and Dorothy gets her bags and leaves.


Hearing rumors of Leon's marital trouble, bluenose Johnson wants nothing to do with the "scandal" and decides to opt out of his contract with Leon's firm.  Harry persuades the money man to come see for himself at the Errols' over dinner--and Leon's objections, with no wife present to refute Johnson's allegation.  Where to find a female who can cook to take Dorothy's place and save the day?  Across the hallway, perhaps?  One problem--Burke's husband is as jealous as Leon's wife.

Careful, Leon!!!!

Leon's innocent--at least for awhile--in his RKO swan song, TOO MANY WIVES.  Written and directed by Hal Yates, who helmed the bulk of the Errol series after 1944's HE FORGOT TO REMEMBER, TOO MANY WIVES delights with a series of nose pulls worthy of The Three Stooges in its second reel.  Even Granger and Jordan get in on the knockabout antics, with the latter becoming less and less ladylike with each successive indignity.


Well into his seventies (unless he really was 15 when attending medical school in 1896!), Errol neither looks (he's just as bald and beak-nosed as he always was) nor sounds worse for the wear in his 98th and final RKO short.  There is one rare acknowledgement of the star's advanced years with Leon's comment that Johnson will "never buy" Jordan as his wife: "she's too young"!   While that's a tad sad, it's only one line, albeit an unnecessary one.  The legendary legs had grown far less rubbery by 1951, making Errol's wobbly signature walk rare if not impossible, but Leon could still execute equally hilarious variations on Lord Epping's penguinesque prance flawlessly.  Errol retained his impeccable timing to the very end--an amazing feat that few comedians matched in the decades that followed.

Harvey (L) and Errol

The ever-instigating Harvey began egging Errol on in 1939's TRUTH ACHES, giving him a lengthier tenure with the series than Granger or Yates!  Harry predictably starts the charade and deepens Leon's dilemma, but commendably stays to assist as the situation simmers.   TOO MANY WIVES would be Harvey's last two-reeler, but he was barely halfway through his 454 imdb.com listings.  Sam McDaniel was uncredited way too often, but he makes the list this time around; curiously, the jealous husband doesn't.  (If I can figure out who he is, or who played the woman in the hallway, I'll update the cast above--that's him pulling Leon's beak above, if anyone can help!)


Newcomer Joanne Jordan would become far better known as a commercial spokesperson for the next decade, despite a famous blooper that had her recommending Star Kist tuna on "crappers"(!) to her television audience.  TOO MANY WIVES was her only two-reeler, but she acquits herself well enough as she dives into this slapsticky entry.  Rotund Maxey played Leon's boss several times in the series' later years, but doesn't escape unscathed.  At least his belly remains unharmed.


With Yates soldiering on and lanky Gil Lamb taking over as the marquee name, RKO's short subject department survived for two more years, but Leon Errol's passing was truly the end of an era.  The aforementioned Three Stooges continued at Columbia, but both two-reel comedies and the RKO studio would be defunct by 1959.


Released two months after the legendary comedian's death in October 1951, TOO MANY WIVES thankfully sends Leon Errol out on a high note after nearly one hundred shorts: fast paced without being frantic, with just enough surprises to hold your attention and the star getting a well-deserved, appropriate last laugh at the fade-out.  Errol retained his comedic touch to the very end, and we can only wonder what might have followed in the Fifties: he and Granger were reportedly set to bring the formula to series television in 1952 if Leon had lived.  (*** out of four)





TOO MANY WIVES is available on YouTube, courtesy of The Silent Man, who is owed our thanks.  If you'd like to see it yourself, and perhaps fill in the blanks on the casting that the credits didn't solve, here ya go:





Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Television Review: HONDO: "Hondo and the Apache Trail" (1967)






"Your lives are meaningless compared to HONDO!"




HONDO: "Hondo and the Apache Trail"  (1967 ABC-TV/MGM/Batjac Productions) Episode 16; Original Air Date: December 22, 1967.  Starring Ralph Taeger as Hondo Lane, Noah Beery Jr. as Buffalo Baker, Michael Pate as Chief Vittoro, William Bryant as Colonel Crook, Ed McCready as Sergeant Hurst.  Guest Stars Nick Adams as The Apache Kid, Annette Funicello as Anne Williams, David Nelson as Jeff Williams.  Written by William Froug.  Directed by Michael Caffey.



Following the events depicted in Hondo and the Apache Kid, that episode's titular villain is in Fort Lowell's guardhouse awaiting transport to Tucson for trial.   After relatives of the Kid's murder victims infiltrate the jail and narrowly miss taking an eye for an eye, Hondo realizes that the Kid's journey to justice will be fraught with similar danger if promulgated with a large escort.


Lane talks Colonel Crook into a stealthy transfer: two troopers and a buckboard with Hondo trailing them.  Unfortunately, the prisoner escapes, terminating one captor and badly injuring the other.  Hondo sets out to recapture his nemesis before the Apaches learn of the jailbreak, but Vittoro is already aware.  With Buffalo and Sam along for assistance, Lane trails the Kid to a farmhouse where he has taken a newlywed couple hostage.


This second Apache Kid adventure is leaner and meaner than the first.  Free of the social commentary of the prior installment--and along with it, Farley Granger's eventually tiresome reporter--the sequel is wall to wall tension, staying focused on Lane's futile attempt to recapture the serial killer alive.  In keeping with Buffalo Baker's expanded role at this point, the grizzled sidekick joins Hondo in his pursuit, taking the scouts on the road for the fourth consecutive segment.


Michael Caffey (COMBAT) had just begun his career when he helmed this sequel, favorably matching up with the earlier effort from action master William Witney.  On three separate occasions the director utilizes a gunman's POV, with each creating greater unease than the one preceding.  Hondo and the Apache Trail presents a challenge for the most experienced action director: fights through iron bars, brass backboards and in rock-filled rapids are just some of the tasks faced by Caffey.  Somewhat surprisingly, the newcomer is a bit more successful than Witney at masking the disparity in size between Taeger and Adams in their confrontations--though having the climactic one in water helps.


To be fair, Caffey gets a script from longtime UCLA professor and one-time TWILIGHT ZONE producer William Froug that is all meat and potatoes and free of the unconvincing child actors that occasionally hindered the prequel.  Some of the credit is due Apache Kid writer Frank Moss, whose coverage of the Lane/Kid backstory made it unnecessary for Froug to retread it.  That said, neither writer nor director enjoys a perfect hour in Apache Trail.  Strangulation scenes were rarely convincing in prime time, and despite the fury of Adams' performance, seeing the diminutive Kid murdering with his bare hands (with multiple weapons available to him!) is less plausible than most.


The Dows are M.I.A. for the fourth consecutive segment, and Funicello's rescue potentially sets the stage for future appearances--possibly even as a romantic rival for Angie.  Years later, the BEACH PARTY star indicated in an interview that her character was intended to return, potentially as a love interest for Taeger's hero.  Sadly, Apache Trail turned out to be the penultimate HONDO.  David Nelson becomes the second sibling to guest star on the series as Funicello's ill-fated spouse; brother Ricky had the higher-profile role of Jesse James in Hondo and the Judas.


Crook confidently declares the Apache Kid's file closed at the conclusion, but despite ostensibly solving the conflict, Apache Trail's conclusion doesn't quite slam the door on another sequel.  Unfortunately, Nick Adams' death would have.  This would be the next-to-last TV appearance for the REBEL star, whose WILD WILD WEST swan song aired exactly three weeks later on January 12, 1968.  Less than a month after that, Adams was found dead in his Beverly Hills home, only 36.


It's impossible to know for sure, since Hondo and the Apache Trail aired during a Nielsen black week, but it likely improved on the viewership for the initial outing given the ratings HONDO drew for the preceding and following weeks.  It was the ninth and final episode for Michael Pate, whose screen time as Vittoro was reduced once the focus shifted plots taking the two scouts on the road. 



HOW MANY CANS OF WHOOPASS?

Hondo might be with Running Bear in spirit, but subdues Bear and his cohort in the teaser despite their two on one advantage.  The battle inside the Williams' cabin with the Kid is interrupted by Vittoro's arrival, but Hondo tracks down the Kid for the decisive battle in the rapids.


IS THE CANTINA STILL STANDING?

How tense was this episode?  Buffalo didn't even set foot in the cantina!  Well, to be fair, that's where they were headed at the fade-out.


A DOG'S LIFE:

Buffalo isn't the only sidekick to get nicked up.  After evading several of the Kid's bullets during the farmhouse standoff, Sam gets a stab wound and a limp scuffling with him near the riverbank before Hondo's arrival.  Don't worry, though--he's bandaged up and healing at the fadeout, already able to put weight on that injured paw.


Continuing the string of winners in the show's stretch run, Hondo and the Apache Trail is compelling and exciting, effectively concluding the Apache Kid saga.  Despite having a different writer and director, the two installments could easily be fused for a feature, arguably meshing even better than the Hondo and the Eagle Claw/Hondo and the War Cry duo that begat HONDO AND THE APACHES for overseas screens.   Even as a standalone, this one delivers the goods.   (*** out of four)




HONDO airs every Sunday morning at 10:15 A.M. Central time on GetTV.