Sunday, April 11, 2021

THE HORN SECTION SALUTES: James Hampton (1936-2021)

The Horn Section becomes The Bugle Section today, with the sad news that we must blow taps for Private Hannibal Shirley Dobbs.  The late great James Hampton passed away on April 7th from Parkinson's complications at his home near Fort Worth at age 84. 

Every F TROOP passing hits hard here at the Section, but Mr. Hampton's hits a little harder than most.  Like yours truly, he was Oklahoman at birth (OKC), attended University of North Texas, and settled in that great state in the DFW area for much of the last two decades.  As a matter of fact, an acquaintance of mine fixed his air conditioning once.  

As Dobbs, James Hampton essayed arguably his most memorable character before his thirtieth birthday, memorably bickering with Larry Storch's Agarn and serving as the orderly for Ken Berry's Captain Parmenter.  This didn't keep the bugler from unwittingly getting caught up in O'Rourke Enterprises at times.  Dobbs was used as bait to draw lovely Laura Lee to Fort Courage for a saloon gig in She's Just a Build in a Girdled Cage; threw in with the schemers to homestead in The West Goes Ghost, and was the key to the new I.G.'s happiness in For Whom the Bugle Tolls.  Perhaps most memorably of all, he saved Wild Eagle and Crazy Cat from the noose in Carpetbagging, Anyone?

While Dobbs might have been rather limited on the bugle (thanks to a famously 'fat upper lip'), one of the show's subtlest running gags revealed him to be remarkably talented on other instruments: he terrific on the flute and competent on bagpipes, bass drum, ukulele and tambourine.  Given Hannibal's talent elsewhere, perhaps it wasn't out of line to hold out hope for his improvement on the horn.

Hampton in HAWMPS!, erroneously identified on F TROOP in one obit.  Come on, the camel is a dead giveaway!

Hampton's career was so much more than F TROOP, though the role of Dobbs was certainly good preparation for his first lead in a feature: Joe Camp's HAWMPS! (1976), about the introduction of camels to the U.S. Army in the 19th century.  Incidentally, Hampton joined Forrest Tucker as the only F TROOP cast members to have served in the cavalry in real life.  Hampton had another big-screen leading role in HANGAR 18, co-starring with Gary Collins.

James Hampton's best known theatrical roles came in support.  Perhaps his best known is as the tragic Caretaker in THE LONGEST YARD (1974), with longtime friend Burt Reynolds, but Harold Howard (TEEN WOLF) and Dr. Woolridge (SLING BLADE) have also endured in the minds of film fans.

Adept at sketch comedy, Hampton was featured often on LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE and was reunited with Storch and Tucker for one of the show's segments in 1971.  Later, he supported Mary Tyler Moore alongside David Letterman and Michael Keaton in her 1978 MARY variety series.  He branched out into directing (frequently helming episodes of Reynolds' EVENING SHADE) and kept taking occasional roles into the 2010's even after retiring to DFW.

Hampton in that 1971 LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE

R.I.P. Mr. Hampton. For a great read, check out James Hampton's memoir, published in February: WHAT? AND GIVE UP SHOW BUSINESS?  Hampton interviewed:

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Television Review: LOVE THAT BOB: "Bob and Automation" (1958)

LOVE THAT BOB a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW: "Bob and Automation" (1958 NBC-TV/Laurel-McCadden Productions) Original Air Date: February 25, 1958.  Starring Bob Cummings as Bob Collins, Rosemary deCamp as Margaret MacDonald, Dwayne Hickman as Chuck MacDonald, Ann B. Davis as Schultzy, Angie Dickinson as Millie Davis, Kathleen Hughes as Mary, Laurie Anders as Janice Tuttle, Ruth Brady as The Mother.  Written by Paul Henning, Shirl Gordon and Dick Wesson.  Directed by Bob Cummings.

Series overview for LOVE THAT BOB a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW is at this link.

The MacDonalds have been cost cutting to allow Uncle Bob to automate his business via the IBM 101 Electronic Statistical Machine.  Chuck's allowance has been cut and Margaret has been fixing wieners and sauerkraut almost nightly to help pay for the data machine.  Or is that date machine?  Turns out  Bob has done away with his not-so-little black book and is using the sorter instead.

BOB: "That's me, just a small businessman."

MARGARET: "One of the smallest!"

Needless to say, the family members aren't exactly thrilled with the result of their recent austerity.  "Stockholder" Margaret decides to turn the tables by crashing Bob's next appointment: 5'5", 118 lb. Millie Davis, who loves the music of Tchaikovsky and the poetry of Browning.  But how does the lobster loving brunette feel about Margaret's latest kitchen specialty?

The most unjustly overlooked series of the 1950's to these eyes, LOVE THAT BOB has a little extra spice compared to its key competitor in edginess, BILKO.  And I'm not just talking about the constant topic of sex, but also the success ratio of its lead while pursuing his less than altruistic goals.  We all knew Bilko would never get rich, but Bob does get laid.  Often.  Look no further than the following week's Bob Gives S.R.O. Performance for a textbook example of Bob's eventual carnal satisfaction resulting in a hilarious episode.  But BOB had this in common with Bilko and Ralph Kramden: it was also side-splittingly funny when he crashed and burned, and Bob and Automation joins Bob Batches It in giving us a classic example.

Not that Bob doesn't deserve his just deserts.  In his favor, Collins provides for his widowed sister and nephew--helping put Chuck through medical school at that.  But our Playboy practiced to deceive when implying his use of the unit was all business.   And the family stabilizing Bob's home life gets belt-tightening while the objects of Bob's desire get the likes of vichyssoise, cherries jubilee, the aforementioned Maine lobster and expensive wine.  (At least, treats intended for Millie.)  The IBM's true purpose is only revealed by a surprise visit to the office, so our Lothario is trying to get away with it in text as well as subtext this time.  And oh, boy, does he pay...

MARGARET: "The F.B.I. has to keep very detailed files!"

SCHULTZY: "The F.B.I. could take lessons."

Bob is in full-fledged stinker mode again, but it's hard not to admire his attention to detail in pinpointing every single "weakness" for the ladies in his life.  Milly and Janice are both new models to us, and he hasn't called the former in months, but she certainly left an impression to leave such detailed data in his mind.  Bob probably wasn't B.S.'ing when he told her that, anyway.  

Alas, that well oiled chain our shutterbug put together is only as strong as its weakest link, and Schultzy lets the cat out of the bag before a single minute has passed.  Highly motivated to rein in her mendacious brother, Margaret upsets the bowl of cherries (jubilee) with more gusto than usual and Bob can't even rely on Chuck's hero worship after hurting his nephew's pocketbook in the process of obtaining that dream machine.

Speaking of, the Electrical Statistical Machine is never blatantly identified (in 1958, you had to be a paying sponsor to get that during the show), but despite the lack of name checks in the script, IBM still gets some free publicity: its logo is clearly readable on the sorter in multiple shots.  With three scenes, the device is on camera often.

MILLY: "Why haven't you called me, Bob?"

BOB: "But my heart has, a thousand times!"

Returning to the series after Bob Traps a Wolf, Angie Dickinson deservedly gets this episode's slow burning centerpiece--a date with Bob inside his studio ("I want you all to myself") that takes eleven screen minutes to reach a payoff that proves to be worth the wait.  Her Milly Davis is a literal smoker (surprised Winston didn't get an extra plus in the dialogue) who inspires the painstaking specificity to get back in her good graces.  Angie was interestingly brunette in both BOBs.

While the future POLICE WOMAN is far more recognizable to 2021 eyes, the other object of Bob's desire was likely more notable in 1958.  KEN MURRAY SHOW icon Laurie Anders ("I like the wiiide open spayces!") came out of retirement at 35 to play Janice Tuttle, her first role since the Murray-produced vehicle THE MARSHAL'S DAUGHTER (her only film).  The curvy blonde is just as sexy and more expressive than in her deadpan MURRAY appearances.  Her many talents included dancing, martial arts, and jujitsu, but acting wasn't high on that list.  She's very funny here though, and returned in the season finale, Bob's Forgotten Fiancee.  Score another one for director Cummings, who simmers this imaginatively structured script to a satisfying boil.


Given her own desires, I'm not fully convinced that Schultzy's slip of the lip was intentional.  She certainly joined Margaret in putting a cold shower on Bob's aspirations with Milly.  The following night was a family affair, with Chuck joining his mother in creating a literal office full of obstacles to jar Janice away from him.  Summing it up: the only women Bob got tipsy turned out to be his sister and his secretary.


Two very large, excruciating strikeouts for The King this time.  Can't win 'em all, and since neither Milly nor Janice ever returned to the studio, Collins was denied another at bat by both.  (Incidentally, Janice Tuttle would also be the name of The Ravishing Realtor played by Elena Verdugo the following season, so the moniker had to be some kind of in-joke with Henning.)


There's a few, but Margaret gets the best one early, the aforementioned exchange concerning Bob's status as a small businessman.  He could take that one more than one way, ya know.

Speaking of suggestive, check out these downright orgasmic looks from our leading ladies while they're in the presence.  Was director Cummings as sneaky as his onscreen alter ego or what?

Riotously funny from beginning to end, proving that LOVE THAT BOB could follow the conventional path of its fellow sitcoms while still providing decidedly adult content for its era with the laughs.  We pretty much know the punchline, and the journey to it is tremendous fun.  Dickinson and the sadly forgotten Anders are on hand to provide us guys with a real eyeful, another bonus.  Quintessential installment of a classic at its peak.  (**** out of four)

If you'd like to check out Bob and Automation for yourself, here you go, syndication circa 1989 (but with no minutes cut and KXTX commercials intact):

Friday, March 05, 2021

F TROOP Fridays: "Wrongo Starr and the Lady in Black" (1966)


F TROOP Fridays: Number 28   

F TROOP: "Wrongo Starr and the Lady in Black" (ABC-TV/Warner Brothers 1966) Season One: Episode 18.  Original Air Date: January 11, 1966.  Starring Forrest Tucker as Sgt. O'Rourke, Larry Storch as Corporal Agarn, Ken Berry as Captain Parmenter, Melody Patterson as Wrangler Jane, Frank deKova as Wild Eagle, James Hampton as Bugler Dobbs, Bob Steele as Trooper Duffy.  Guest Stars: Henry Gibson as Private Leonard W. "Wrongo" Starr and Sarah Marshall as Hermione Gooderly.  Written by Stan Dreben and Howard Merrill.  Directed by Charles R. Rondeau.

A telegram brings news to Parmenter of F Troop's newest reinforcement: Private Leonard W. "Wrongo" Starr.  To say Wrongo has a reputation as a jinx is an understatement: his stint in the Navy resulted in three sunk U.S. ships; his horse died his first day in the cavalry of chicken pox; and Starr's most successful outfit to date was General Custer's 7th at Little Big Horn.  Nevertheless, apprehensive non-coms O'Rourke and Agarn are there to meet Starr when he arrives on the noon stage.

Wrongo isn't the only bad omen, though.  Hermione Gooderly arrives on that same noon stage, with the intention of opening a knick-knack shop and finding a fifth husband.  Turns out she has her own renoun as "The Happy-Go-Lucky Widow", with four previous marriages to servicemen.  Each spouse passed away within weeks of the wedding day, leaving a grieving(?) dowager in his wake.  Ms. Gooderly sets her sights on a quintuple with the Vice President of O'Rourke Enterprises, and that seven year engagement with Betty Lou quickly crumbles.  Can the Sarge keep his buddy from becoming the late Mr. Agarn?

The first installment to follow the William T. Orr era at Warner Brothers (Jack Warner dismissed his son in law and placed greater authority with Hy Averback), Wrongo Starr and the Lady in Black gave us perhaps the show's best remembered guest star.  Henry Gibson's titular private has tales of woe (his horse died of chicken pox) to put HEE HAW's moonshiners to shame, and the already diminutive actor seems to sink lower with each disaster that follows him around.  Since Fort Courage already has plenty of malfunctions, it says a lot that there's a noticeable increase in Wrongo's presence.  Thoroughly defeated at the hands of an Indian curse, Starr is even more hopeless than the outfit he's joining.

Starr's bad fortune dates back to an accidental shotgun hit during an Indian raid that "filled the medicine man's britches full of buckshot", resulting in perhaps the world's most effective curse pre-Bobby Layne.  To Parmenter's credit, Starr's new Captain doesn't shirk his new challenge, christening his new Private "Lucky" Starr in an attempt to boost Leonard's confidence.  But despite Parmenter's power of positive thinking and Wild Eagle's attempt to diffuse what he diagnoses as an Algonquin curse ("always overdress!") nothing seems to work, even temporarily, until Sergeant O'Rourke is forced into action.  Agarn isn't even deterred by the 29 day average for Hermoine's prior marriages or her request to honeymoon at the 2,896 foot Whopping Falls.

"I almost got married once, but my fiancee broke her leg.  Then she married the doctor."

Unsurprisingly, Wrongo's bad luck extends to his romantic life--that is, until the Sarge plays cupid (his reaction after springing the trap is priceless).  That confidence is suddenly fortified by temporary wealth and "special" wine and before you know it, the Private steals the Corporal's girl, marriage, wedding day AND honeymoon destination.  Starr's rungood doesn't stop there: he wins the fight with Agarn too!

For all of the slapstick brought on by Leonard's mishaps, the Private hilariously never bears the brunt of it himself.  Both stage drivers end up with serious injuries as Wrongo comes and goes, but they might actually be getting off light compared to our regulars.  Wild Eagle gets blown up, Agarn gets soaked and concussed, and it goes without saying that the lookout tower doesn't stand a chance.  Through it all, the little man continually emerges physically unscathed, save for an off-screen blow to the head from a board that luckily breaks Hermoine's spell.

Speaking of, British born Tony nominee Sarah Marshall is an inspired choice to play the subtly psychotic four time widow, who leaves no doubt that she'll find a fifth Army pension soon enough.  Gibson's a genuine hoot throughout, and while Wrongo ends up in the medical corps(!) at episode's end, he was back in the cavalry a year later for The Return of Wrongo Starr.


Betty Lou actually ended her engagement with Agarn during the tag of the previous week's Our Hero, What's His Name?Either our smooth Corporal managed to make up with her, or he's in denial, since they're together again this week and will remain so for the rest of the first season.  Though Hermoine got the proposal in seven minutes that Betty Lou's been waiting seven years for.  Wine's a hell of a drug? 


When he learns of the concern over Ms. Gooderly's arrival, Parmenter is on the case:  "I'll give her one of my casual, yet penetrating cross examinations".  Hopefully not in front of men....


A treachery free segment for the Sarge--with Agarn's life at stake he has bigger concerns than money for once(!).  He does manage to rope innocent Janey into sending a fake telegram.


We are absent aphorisms this time around, but Wild Eagle does opine that Indian curses are "phony".  That's before he encounters our Starr crossed trooper, however.


Henry Gibson is right up there with the funniest of the show's guest stars, more than justifying his return visit.  There's the expected surfeit of slapstick caused by the accident prone Private but Drebin and Merrill also provide plenty of good lines.  Too bad Roaring Chicken was no longer around to try to break this curse, but even without him Wrongo Starr and the Lady in Black delivers typical first season goods. (*** out of four)

F TROOP currently airs weekdays on Circle TV Network.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

HONDO (1967) Episode Guide: The Wrap-up

Hondo and the Rebel Hat completed the HONDO episode guide here at The Horn Section with the 17th and final installment.  Co-production from John Wayne's Batjac Productions and the solid track record of creator/producer Andrew J. Fenady couldn't make ABC more patient, nor could improved Nielsen ratings in the final month of 1967.  December 29, 1967 was the show's final prime time appearance on ABC.

Ironically, Wayne had an indirect but not insignificant hand in HONDO's early hook in 1967.  Much is made of the killer time slot opposite GOMER PYLE and STAR TREK, but HONDO's second half hour also had to compete with the original Hondo Lane twice on the CBS FRIDAY MOVIE as well.  The 21.6 that CBS' movie averaged in the 9-9:30 half hour opposite HONDO increased substantially whenever The Duke was providing competition for the ABC series.  THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE posted a 25.7 rating/46.4 share on September 22 opposite Hondo and the Singing Wire.  Even more damaging, the star-studded Hondo and the Judas had the misfortune to air opposite the network premiere of McLINTOCK! on November 3 after two weeks of slight ratings headway for HONDO (with one second place finish in the time slot).  The Wayne film was a Nielsen powerhouse with a 31.2/53.9, and HONDO's cancellation was announced by the network a week later.

At the time I announced the start of our HONDO episode guide in April 2015, the show had just resurfaced on Warner Archive Instant, causing yours truly to recall the series' amazing ten year run on TNT a decade and a half earlier.  I posited at the time that this might well make HONDO the most successful American show ever in syndication with such a small number of installments.  Since then, HONDO has bolstered that claim with another stellar network stint, this time on Sony's getTV.

getTV premiered HONDO on Saturday, September 19, 2015 as part of a new weekend Western block of programming.  As had been the case on TNT in 1989, HONDO again premiered alongside two short lived Westerns with superior star power, Robert Horton's A MAN CALLED SHENANDOAH and James Garner's NICHOLS.  And once again, Ralph Taeger outlasted the bigger names: the Garner and Horton shows are long gone, but HONDO remains on getTV's schedule in February 2021.  

TOMBSTONE TERRITORY, THE TALL MAN and RESTLESS GUN are just a few more weekend westerns that have come and gone on getTV's weekend schedule in the five and a half years since, but HONDO has again proven to be a cornerstone once again.  The show has been on getTV without interruption since its 2015 debut, having aired at least once every week.  HONDO has had a 24 hour New Year's Day marathon and several prime time multi-episode blocks as well.  Over halfway to matching its TNT run now, each segment has received over twenty airings as of this post.  HONDO currently airs at 10:15 A.M. Central every Saturday and Sunday alongside other overlooked Westerns such as LAREDO, SHANE and THE QUEST.

One man's ranking: While # 7 on the list is the reviewer's personal favorite, I gotta try to be objective.  Quite a strong list overall: even the two episodes I consider to be misfires have their moments.  HONDO is well worth following from beginning to end.  And apparently very rewatchable.

1. Hondo and the Superstition Massacre (1967) ****

2. Hondo and the Death Drive (1967) ****

3. Hondo and the Hanging Town (1967) ***1/2

4. Hondo and the Sudden Town (1967) ***1/2

5. Hondo and the War Hawks (1967) ***1/2

6. Hondo and the Mad Dog (1967) ***1/2

7. Hondo and the Gladiators (1967) ***

8. Hondo and the Singing Wire (1967) ***

9. Hondo and the Apache Trail (1967) ***

10. Hondo and the Eagle Claw (1967) ***

11. Hondo and the War Cry (1967) ***

12. Hondo and the Comancheros (1967) ***

13. Hondo and the Savage (1967) **1/2

14. Hondo and the Apache Kid (1967) **1/2

15. Hondo and the Ghost of Ed Dow (1967) **1/2

16. Hondo and the Judas (1967) **

17. Hondo and the Rebel Hat (1967) **

In addition to the twice weekly airings on getTV, HONDO has also received that long awaited DVD release, from Warner Archive.   GetTV's promotional clips for the series continue to air as well, courtesy Rob Word's 2015 interview with the late Andrew J. Fenady.

Well, Fenady was eventually proven right---22 years later, and six years after Ralph Taeger had left Hollywood for Taeger's Timbers in Placerville, CA.  HONDO's demise ended Taeger's bid for TV stardom; it was three years before he reappeared, in a small but prominently billed role in THE DELTA FACTOR (1970).  He continued to pop up as a guest on shows like POLICE WOMAN, QUINCY, M.E. and THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN into the early 1980's and reunited with Fenady for the TV Movie HOSTAGE HEART in 1977.  HONDO's renewed popularity did bring THE WALL STREET JOURNAL and TRAIL DUST calling Taeger for interviews in the 1990's.

Ralph Taeger in his final TV role, on FATHER MURPHY in 1983

In addition to the posts linked above, I also wrote a piece on Hondo Lane's scene stealing sidekicks for your reading pleasure.  

Finally, Rob Word's full length Andrew J. Fenady interview starts with the origin of A.J.'s partnership with The Duke on the HONDO series.  Well worth your time!

GetTV's website

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Television Review: LOVE THAT BOB: "Bob Meets the Mortons" (1957)

LOVE THAT BOB (a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW): "Bob Meets the Mortons" (Laurel-McCadden Productions/NBC-TV 1957) Original Air Date: March 21, 1957. Starring Bob Cummings as Bob Collins, Rosemary deCamp as Margaret MacDonald, Dwayne Hickman as Chuck MacDonald, Ann B. Davis as Schultzy, Joi Lansing as Shirley Swanson, George Burns as himself, Gracie Allen as herself, Bea Benaderet as Blanche Morton and Larry Keating as Harry Morton.  Written by Shirl Gordon, Paul Henning, Dick Wesson and Phil Shuken.  Directed by Bob Cummings.

It's tax time again, and Bob has hired "genius" Harry Morton to do his, on a recommendation by George Burns.  Harry has plenty of corny jokes, and also some bad news: he doesn't think the government will accept several of the deductions.  Specifically, entertainment expenditures that coincidentally are limited to 'feminine business associates'.  Bob tries to provide Harry with the receipts (and then some) but working at either man's office proves to be problematic, leading the shutterbug to the Morton household.

Blanche Morton is charmed to meet the Playboy--to hubby Harry's annoyance.  And to Bob's as well, once Mrs. Morton and Gracie Allen start conspiring to find the eternal bachelor a wife.  How could Bob possibly complain?  In pleading his case to Harry, he portrays himself as an innocent victim "forced" by the nature of his profession into constant contact with beautiful women.  Wouldn't successful matchmaking put an end to any suspicions about his business? 

HARRY: "I must admit, I did not have a true picture of your activities"
BOB: "Thank goodness."
HARRY: "What?"
BOB: "...that you understand!"

We all know that Bob Collins' profession allows him to live the dream, but---being able to get off a tax write off for a considerable number of his dates?  Chalking up some rather significant gifts to those beautiful models as business expenses?  Forget that smoking jacket, Hugh Hefner should have been wearing Bob Collins pajamas.

Reinforcement of Collins' legendary status abounds, with both Blanche Morton and her friend Gracie Allen going ga-ga over our lascivious libertine.  But Bob Meets the Mortons has an ulterior motive: an excuse to cross our playboy over to the world of BURNS (our executive producer) AND ALLEN.  The premise serves both purposes fairly well for a while, with Harry harried by Bob's beauties and Collins capturing the imaginations of both long-married BURNS AND ALLEN ladies.

HARRY: "This was a bad investment?"
BOB: "Oh yes, that was a total loss." (sotto) "She turned out to be married."

The premise only starts to wobble when Schultzy turns out to be that good friend of Gracie's getting fixed up.  If they're really close, surely Gracie knows about the boss she's been pining for!  To be fair, illogical logic does seem logical with Gracie involved.  Still, the momentum of Bob Meets the Mortons stalls with it, as the 'blind date' rings as false as Blanche's 'comeuppance'.  And why Blanche, when Gracie had the biggest hand in it?  At least the denouement is a complete home run for Bob the Stud--laying one on another man's wife with the husband's complete approval?  He's The King!

Lisa Gaye appears, briefly, to demonstrate a tax deduction

Bob's success with the I.R.S. remains unsettled at the fade-out, but for his next round a year later, Morton was nowhere to be found in Bob Retrenches.  Given the result of Collins' faceoff with a humorless I.R.S. agent (played by ever-mean Charles Lane), Bob should have given Harry a call.  (Perhaps Mr. Morton really was pissed about Blanche's reaction to the kiss?)

After we've seen Gracie and both Mortons, it's only natural that George Burns arrives in the final minutes to wrap things up.  Cummings (as Bob Collins) returned the favor in A Marital Mix-Up three months later on BURNS AND ALLEN.  Both series were on CBS during 1956-57, but LOVE THAT BOB moved to NBC in the fall of 1957, stopping further crossovers until George Burns took his new series to that network the following fall.  Cummings appeared in the season and series opener of the new GEORGE BURNS SHOW (Gracie retired in June 1958); meanwhile Burns and Harry Von Zell both visited BOB twice during the 1958-59 season, which turned out to be the end for both shows.


Frequent querida Shirley Swanson was his date on consecutive evenings, with Bob keeping her out late enough to tire her the night preceding our proceedings.  Judging from the smooches in front of Schultzy, the man was surely in like Flynn at least one of those nights.


I guess we could consider Gracie to be making the all time obstruction by bringing marriage into play, but she only joins a long list of vanquished foes in that endeavor.   


The rapid banter flows more smoothly than the plot, but this mixing of McCadden worlds provides a worthwhile number of laughs before an awkwardly abrupt resolution.  The only chance to see all four BURNS AND ALLEN principals in a LOVE THAT BOB setting would be worthwhile for that alone, but this is a pretty good episode in its own right, with everyone getting in on the verbal wit.  Slightly better than Bob's aforementioned tax adventure the following season but can't avoid that gimmicky feel in its second half. (**1/2 out of four)

Monday, January 04, 2021

MAVERICK Mondays: "A Tale of Three Cities" (1959)


MAVERICK Mondays: Number 30  

MAVERICK: "A Tale of Three Cities" (ABC-TV/Warner Brothers 1959) Original Air Date: October 18, 1959.  Starring Jack Kelly as Bart Maverick, Pat Crowley as Stephanie Malone, Ben Gage as Sheriff John Hardy, Ray Teal as Sheriff Murray, Ed Kemmer as Sherwood Hampton, Barbara Jo Allen as Mrs. Hannah Adams, Louis Jean Heydt as Jim Malone, Frank Richards as Sam, Leake Bevil as Pete.  Written by Leo Townsend and Robert Vincent Wright.  Directed by Leslie H. Martinson.

The first of our titular cities is Gold Flats, where Bart Maverick wins $800 in a poker game and is promptly relieved of it by businesslike but polite female bandit Stephanie.  The next morning Bart finds that Sheriff Murray will be of no help, since it was the mayor Bart bested in last night's game.  Forced on the next stage out of town by the lawman, Bart ends up in our second city, Brotherly.

After chatting up Mrs. Adams on the stage over, Bart finds a reception to match the name despite the clean nature of Brotherly.  Brotherly Bart charms Adams' Ladies Aid group with an inspiring story of his triumph over the evils of gambling.  Even better, Maverick recognizes Ms. Malone in the group by her ring and perfume, and learns the real reason she robbed him--to pay off her father's debt, incurred in a card game in neighboring Hampton, where one can find all the evils expunged from Brotherly.  You guessed it: Bart completes the trifecta by entering Mr. Hampton's (crooked) game next door.

The third season of MAVERICK brought an almost entirely new group of writers to the show, and A Tale of Three Cities was the first contribution for both Robert Vincent Wright (The Bold Fenian Men) and Leo Townsend (Maverick Springs).  This crucial first sale for 40 year old Wright was the first step away from his Seattle day job: supervisor of motion pictures in Boeing's engineering division.  Wright only provided the story in his debut but with encouragement from producer Coles Trapnell, he would go on to script The People's Friend and the hilarious Greenbacks, Unlimited solo.  Wright literally stayed with MAVERICK to the end, authoring the 1962 series finale, One of Our Trains is Missing.

Roy Huggins observed that Jack Kelly would sometimes deliver a punchline with "a little too much care", and this comes to pass during reformed gambler Bart's luncheon speech.  That said, Kelly mostly acquits himself well during both sermon and the season's heightened emphasis on the show's comedic elements, getting several witty lines from Townsend and some perfectly played physical humor during the barnyard climax--featuring some unhelpful surprises from a chicken and a rake.  

Best of all is the opportunity for Bart to make himself at home during incarceration, giving Kelly some choice interaction with Ben Gage, reprising his James Arness imitation after a very memorable performance in Gun-Shy.  John Hardy is far less hypocritical than Mort Dooley but more constrained by the book and more competent overall.  With Gage playing the role and Gun-Shy so prevalent in MAVERICK memories, it's a subversion of expectations to see Hardy bonding with Bart and proving to be a capable, if still rigid, Sheriff (though his blind spot is exploited in a big way by Hampton).

Helped by Martinson's sure hand, the writers debut with a great grasp of MAVERICK and Maverick.  Bart might be caught off guard by his thief, but his resourcefulness has rarely been on display so frequently in one segment: charming the Brotherly ladies enough to have them petitioning to his release (and making him the most comfortable prisoner in city history), picking up on Hampton's cheating before he even joins the game (a nice touch by Martinson with a simple cut of the cards), and staying several steps ahead of his adversary afterward.  (Yes, a woman can get the drop on Bart, but three men can't--nice rebound, Bart!)  Interestingly the cheat Bart sidesteps is lifted from UNHOLY PARTNERS, in which executive producer William T. Orr co-starred early in his acting career.

A Tale of Three Cities does contain one very noticeable misstep: Hampton's rather foolhardy gagging and binding of the Sheriff, who is left awake to witness the cardsharp's theft.  The villain's impatience makes little sense with little more than a week to go on Bart's sentence, and permanently, flagrantly getting on Hardy's radar makes even less.  It's the MAVERICK swan song for the always welcome Pat Crowley (The Rivals), but Ben Gage would return to parody Marshal Dillon twice more.


Maverick won $800 in Gold Flats as noted, and another $2,000 in Hampton Center.  He ended up giving Stephanie $1500 of the winnings in total (the additional $700 voluntarily) and $100 more went to the Brotherly saloon owner for property damages, leaving Bart with a still solid $1200 profit.


The Ladies Aid Luncheon speech contained a trifecta of pearls: "The only way to throw dice is to throw them away"; "Son, shun the roulette wheel as if it were the Devil's turntable" and finally "Get out, and work with your hands".  Real quotes or not?  Since Pappy was always consistent in telling the boys to stick to poker and had a dim view of other casino games, they could be authentic.


Consistently intriguing and amusing entry despite the rather glaring misstep late, A Tale of Three Cities remains highly watchable.  The situation seems less perilous than in the show's top tier installments, but everyone involved is in good, if not great form.  A solid addition to the MAVERICK queue, if not the first I'd choose for either the series or the season.  Wright and Townsend both had better scripts ahead of them, but overall A Tale of Three Cities is a pretty good start for both.  (*** out of four)

There's ample opportunity to catch MAVERICK these days: on MeTV at 9 A.M. Central every Saturday; on Encore Westerns every weekday at 3:35 P.M. Central, and on Heroes & Icons every weekday at 5 A.M. Central.  Regardless of where you watch it, it's a legend of the west and always worth catching.