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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. 

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Television Review: LOVE THAT BOB: "Bob the Body Builder" (1957)



LOVE THAT BOB a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW: "Bob the Body Builder" (NBC-TV/Laurel-McCadden Productions 1957) Original Air Date: November 12, 1957.  Starring Bob Cummings as Bob Collins, Rosemary deCamp as Margaret MacDonald, Dwayne Hickman as Chuck MacDonald, Ann B. Davis as Schultzy, Lisa Gaye as Collette DuBois, King Donovan as Harvey Helm, Mary Lawrence as Ruth Helm, Gloria Marshall as The Model, Robert Carson as Paul Martin.  Written by Paul Henning, Shirl Gordon and Dick Wesson.  Directed by Bob Cummings.

MARGARET: And who sells body building equipment?

CHUCK: Built bodies!

Bob Collins is whistling on his way to work today: his latest gig involves the photography of gymnasium equipment in action for builder Paul Martin.  Martin is paying $5,000 and Bob has booked two of his most attractive models, but there's a catch--Martin insists on a male model, and specifically an undeveloped man since that is Paul's targeted demographic.


Not wanting to lose the five G's but stumped for a milquetoast male model, Bob has the answer walk into his office when his old WWII buddy Harvey Helm visits.  It takes some convincing, but since Harv is there for advice on spouse trouble in the first place, convincing Helm that a few workouts will turn him from mouse to man has henpecked Harv hitting the weights with Collette and Mary.  The muscles might not grow much right away, but the confidence does--in a way that will be quickly tested once the Mrs. drops by the studio.


High-strung Harv is always a reliable source of amusement on LOVE THAT BOB, and watching Bob play Charles Atlas to Helm's Mac gives Bob the Body Builder a tad of slapstick to go with the expected witty lines.  For once the motivation for Bob is cash, not cooze, making this installment closer to BILKO than BOB.  Of course, Henning and friends are up to the Hiken Challenge.


Bob doesn't really set out to kill two birds with one stone in Bob the Body Builder, but placating Ruth gives our shutterbug a neat backtrack once she sees hubby having a bit too much fun with "two ladies back to back".  The focus stays firmly on Bob's vocation for once and the old adage that the customer is always right holds true--if said customer is paying enough, that is. 



Not that we get too far away from Bobby's avocation.  It's telling that he doesn't send the two lovely models home once Paul Martin disagrees with Bob's tried-and-true concept.  (Good for us too: we get Lisa Gaye and Gloria Marshall dressed for exercise all episode.)  Hey, with five large at the end of this day, Collins can safely afford their respective day fees.  That is, until he oversells it--male fear of Ruthie wasn't limited to her husband--she always did throw The King off his game. 


As well as Collins thinks on his feet when it comes to those gorgeous models, Harv's panic often rubs off on Bobby Boy when he's faced with the very married and no B.S. Ruth Helm.  Bob's loss of cool is never animated, but the calm duck on the surface is paddling furiously underneath.  Here, he gives away way too much of his payday----fully half----to his male model as part of his cover, and laying it on thick with the promise of a swimming pool from those earnings.  Add in the day fees for two models plus some promised goodies (mink stoles) to both and Schultzy, and Collins Photography's profitable day starts looking more and more like a mirage.  Can't win 'em all Bob.


Gloria Marshall was highly visible during the first two seasons of LOVE THAT BOB as Mary Beth Martin, then returned for two fourth season episodes credited as "The Model".  And there really was a Paul Martin Company in Oakland, California; he was a friend and neighbor of Jack LaLanne's who created and designed modern pully machines and weight equipment, including the Smith Machine that turns up in Bob the Body Builder.


WHO WAS BLOCKING?

No one was--any carnal activity, anyway.  But old habits are hard to break, and Schultzy inadvertently blocks Bob's financial plans (as well as her own) when she spoils his story about ruined negatives.


DID BOB SCORE?

No, but this was a purely professional episode in the workplace.  In other words, a true rarity!

ABOUT THAT SWIMMING POOL:

Could $2,500 have really gotten one in 1957?  Probably above ground only; Esther Williams Swimming Pools advertised a $5,000 18 x 36 concrete model in newspapers nationwide that year.  


THE BOTTOM LINE:

I can't dislike any segment that has Lisa Gaye in gym shorts for its duration.  Even without that enticement, Bob the Body Builder is a solid change of pace garnering its humor from slightly atypical sources while continuing to make the Henning/Gordon/Wesson team look like a bottomless source of clever lines.  Fewer belly laughs than usual but a half hour of near constant smiling compensates.  (*** out of four)

See Bob the Body Builder for yourself, courtesy of you know who's YouTube Channel:



Friday, August 27, 2021

F TROOP Fridays: "Bring on the Dancing Girls" (1966)

 



F TROOP Fridays: Number 30







F TROOP: "Bring on the Dancing Girls" (Warner Brothers/ABC-TV 1966) Season Two, Episode 16: Original Air Date: December 22 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 Chief Wild Eagle, Don Diamond as Crazy Cat, James Hampton as Bugler Dobbs, Bob Steele as Private Duffy, Joe Brooks as Private Vanderbilt.  Guest Stars: Peter Leeds as Dan Larsen, Pepper Curtis as Lilly.  Written by Arthur Julian.  Directed by David Alexander.


How quickly victory turns into defeat: Sergeant Morgan O'Rourke persuades military governor Captain Parmenter to allow "good old Pete" to have dancing girls in the saloon--then promptly loses said watering hole to con artist Dan Larsen.  How?  Larsen is his name and larceny is his game--and once he learned it is being leased to a soldier on active duty, "the rest was easy"!


"Listen, Larsen!  Fort Courage has no room for blackmailers!"

"Oh, come now, Sergeant, every town needs a crook!"

You could argue that Fort Courage already has its crook in Sergeant's stripes, but no matter.  Larsen has all the whiskey he can use, but O'Rourke has an ace in the hole.  With no troopers, the new owner will be hurting for customers, so he deftly uses Wrangler Jane's opposition to this "undesirable element" to his advantage--resulting in some very unhappy soldiers under Parmenter's command.  


Arthur Julian re-works his first season classic O'Rourke vs. O'Reilly but comes up with an inferior version the second time around with Bring On the Dancing Girls.  While guest villain Peter Leeds obviously lacks Lee Meriwether's disarming beauty, his aptly named Larsen is appropriately smarmy and even more prepared to maximize profits--Hell, he doesn't even need the Hekawis, since he's instituting a cover charge and raising all prices.  This dapper Dan even has his own line of dancers at the ready, one-upping his adversary just as effectively as his more persuasive predecessor.  So the antagonist isn't the problem here--it's the enemy within.


While Corporal Agarn is always O'Rourke Enterprises' weakest link, any role he plays in foiling a scheme is usually inadvertent, i.e. his casual admission to Derby Dan's daughter in The Ballot of Corporal Agarn or his greed-driven gullability in Play, Gypsy, Play.  Seeing Agarn folding like a sabotaged chair and consciously, even eagerly undermining his own financial interest here is more than a bit much.  Particularly when the non-coms both have an alternate slam dunk of an excuse for Parmenter's sudden order--Wrangler Jane's objection to the new entertainment!  


Diverting the troopers' wrath should be child's play, and the same conclusion--Parmenter realizing the negative effect this has on morale--would certainly still be reached in a much more faithful way to F TROOP's premise.  (Interestingly, Wilton doesn't get the silent treatment from Jane after rescinding it.)  Weakening money hungry Agarn's well-established loyalty to the cause in favor of unconvincing pathos doesn't work at all, coming across as lazy writing.  Or perhaps the opposite problem--Julian wrote over half of the color segments alone, and as the second season wore on, fatigue clearly showed with some of the series' weakest entries.


That said, Julian was thorough in researching the Can-Can's history.  It did indeed hit American shores in late 1867 (perfect timing for the show's universe) and was as scandalous as Wrangler Jane indicated.  It's use in the plot gives Ken Berry another opportunity to show off those dancing skills, and his deadpan responses to Jane's grievance show good development of their characters.  One step back, one step forward.....


Larsen is surprisingly brazen about offering to sell some of his whiskey to the Hekawi right in front of O'Rourke and Agarn, since that has been spelled out in all Westerns (including this one) as a big no-no.  Given the precarity of his propriety, you'd think the saloon's new owner would be much more careful of running afoul of the Captain.  This seed is planted early as a potential downfall, but it's a red herring as O'Rourke's eventual restoration comes via more conventional means.  Suffice to say that Larsen should have made sure he had all the keys to the place. 


As was the case with Lily O'Reilly, Larsen enjoys a surge in business upon taking over.  In both cases, the enthusiasm is created by feminine beauty.  O'Rourke certainly noticed both times, but in the end even he isn't smooth enough to persuade Parmenter over the lovely lady that has the Captain's ear.  Man's biggest motivator of all?  Perhaps the Sarge really does need to take Lily O'Reilly up on her closing offer to run the place.  Maybe she could get those dancing girls in there for good, O'Rourke!


The only speaking part for one of the hoofers belongs to Pepper Curtis, whose erstwhile work as a stunt woman hints at why she was hired for what this role required.  Curtis, who had multiple appearances on PERRY MASON among her TV credits (which were apparently more numerous than iMDB lists) sadly died young at age 49 in 1982.  Leeds' obituaries indicated more than 8,000 TV appearances (FWIW, his iMDB page lists more credits than even Steele and Storch, 248) when he passed away in 1996.



THING YOU LEARNED:

Things must have loosened up regarding the natives imbibing, since apparently the Hekawis are joined by pretty much every tribe in firewater production, judging from Larsen's inventory: Comanche Cognac, Shoshone Sherry, Blackfoot Bourbon--even Apache(!) Ale.  Speaking of---

WISE OLD HEKAWI SAYING?

None, but this episode is not without wisdom.  It seems pretty wise to leave the tribe's name off the liquor like Wild Eagle does--the other brands pretty much advertise their respective producers, no?  


HOW'S BUSINESS AT O'ROURKE ENTERPRISES?

Pretty disastrous to lose the saloon, and then run up a considerable repair bill for "good old Pete" (unseen, as was the case throughout the second year) getting it back.

NUMBER OF TIMES O'ROURKE COULD HAVE BEEN TRIED FOR TREASON?

Dan Larsen gets uncomfortably close to O'Rourke's big secret when pulling his wagon through camp, but doesn't obtain proof that would hold water--or whiskey (though at Fort Courage's saloon, who can tell the difference?).



THE BOTTOM LINE:

Good premise, good villain, but unsatisfying execution since Bring on the Dancing Girls unconvincingly undermines Agarn's character.  Middle of the pack installment that had the potential to be substantially better.  (**1/2 out of four)

F TROOP airs weekdays for an hour at 1 P.M. Central Time on Circle TV (Channel 370 on DISH network)

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Film Review: MONTANA BELLE (1952)






Why the Hell isn't this on DVD/Blu yet? --  Number 106








MONTANA BELLE (1952 RKO) Starring Jane Russell as Belle Starr, Scott Brady as Bob Dalton, George Brent as Tom Bradfield, Forrest Tucker as Mac, Andy Devine as Pete Bivins, John Litel as Matt Towner, Ray Teal as Emmett Dalton, Jack Lambert as Ringo.  Written by Horace McCoy and Norman S. Hall.  Directed by Allan Dwan.

The Daltons are concerned to see Brother Bob riding up to their Oklahoma hideout (owned by Mac and native Ringo) with fugitive Belle Starr.  With good reason--Bob just rescued her from a necktie party after she was widowed in a shootout.  The Dalton brothers are targeted for apprehension by banker Towner and saloon owner Bradfield, with the latter agreeing to use "The Bird Cage" (for $100,000) to trap the brothers.




Taking the saloon's safe full of cash as bait, the Daltons plan a heist, excluding the owners of the hideout and Belle.  The Cherokee discover the hideout while the brothers are away, and Belle, Mac and Ringo are forced to flee.  Thinking they were double-crossed, the trio promptly beats the Daltons to the punch on the Bird Cage robbery, forming competition that they feel can fly under the radar with the better known gang in the law's crosshairs.  Belle adopts the alias Lucy Winters and a blonde look to case the joint with her new partners, but the masquerade brings a new, unknowing associate--Bird Cage owner Bradfield ends up losing $25,000 to "Lucy" at blackjack, making her half owner in his saloon.  



Judging from contemporary photographs, Belle Starr was always played by actresses far more photogenic than she was in real life.  Jean Willes memorably played Starr on MAVERICK, Gene Tierney got the titular film in 1941, and in MONTANA BELLE, the outlaw is played by an actress as iconic as Starr herself--Jane Russell.




Russell was under contract to Howard Hughes throughout much of the 1940's, and the notoriety from her debut in THE OUTLAW and scarcity of her film appearances should have made MONTANA BELLE an event: seven years had passed since THE OUTLAW was filmed and Russell had only made two films in between, YOUNG WIDOW and the not-yet released THE PALEFACE (soon to be a 1948 holiday smash).  



MONTANA BELLE sat on the shelf for four years it was filmed in the Fall of 1948, during which it changed hands from Republic to Fidelity to RKO (purchased by Hughes in the interim).  The reason for said dust-gathering?  Ever conscious of image, Hughes himself kept MONTANA BELLE on the shelf, thinking that this more modestly budgeted Western would be seen as a step down for his protegee if it followed her popular teaming with Bob Hope.  In addition, following Calamity Jane with Belle Starr could have had the unintentional effect of pigeonholing the star into an unwanted niche.  Hughes sat on it 'til the time to release it was "right", which unfortunately had BELLE pegged as a D.O.A. dud when it finally arrived in 1952.



Which is a shame, since veteran Allan Dwan (THE WILD BLUE YONDER) embraces the increasingly contrived situation created by the McCoy-Hall script.  Russell certainly gets the star treatment--every man wants Belle, with Tucker and Brady fighting over her and Brent ga-ga enough to (intentionally!) lose $25,000 to her at blackjack ($669,000 today, not exactly chicken feed).  Best of all, Dwan gives Belle's fair-haired alter ego two musical numbers, and seeing Russell strutting her stuff to The Gilded Lilly is the film's undisputed highlight and Jane's first chance to sing onscreen.



Action was usually Dwan's forte, but the McCoy-Hall script supplies precious little of it and the director isn't at his best when the rare opportunity arrives.  The intended climax of the bank robbery falls completely flat--you'll wonder how the hell the Daltons were ever successful at this crime thing ("We'll just walk out of this town"--uh, yeah, that's gonna happen...).  MONTANA BELLE shows a feminism well ahead of its time as Starr's partners defer to her judgement, but some of those decisions warrant a bit more questioning and the film ends abruptly after the less than thrilling heist.



As complicated as its history and certainly more complex than it needs to be, MONTANA BELLE is nevertheless an opportunity to enjoy Jane Russell in her absolute prime.  Fortunately, the smoldering star is in top form and appears to have great fun as "Lucy", on and off stage.  She's helped by several western stalwarts either on the road to stardom (Tucker and Brady became big names in the interim between filming and release) or delightfully chewing the scenery (Devine).  Lacking action and logic in equal measure, MONTANA BELLE isn't good--Russell called it "dreadful" years later.  But I think she was being too harsh.  Russell keeps it watchable through the artifices, and the film goes down easy enough in Trucolor.  Good luck remembering anything except Jane afterward, though.




So....why isn't it on DVD/Blu?

MONTANA BELLE was widely perceived as a flop (the box office was actually decent as Russell was a big draw in 1952) due to its lengthy time gathering mothballs and frequent change of hands.

Why it should be on DVD/Blu:

Hey, it's Jane freaking Russell, folks.  Her films were limited (in part by her Hughes contract) as she starred in only 18 during her 1946-1957 prime, so we certainly should have the opportunity to enjoy them all.  This one might not have a good script, but it has a great supporting cast and a star living up to her stature.  MONTANA BELLE last surfaced on TCM in 2020, so a return trip isn't out of the question.

Friday, July 30, 2021

F TROOP Fridays: "What Are You Doing After the Massacre?" (1967)

 



F TROOP Fridays: Number 29    





F TROOP: "What Are You Doing After the Massacre?" (ABC-TV/Warner Brothers 1967) Season Two, Episode 20.  Original Air Date: January 19, 1967.  Starring Forrest Tucker as Sgt. Morgan O'Rourke, Larry Storch as Corporal Randolph Agarn, Ken Berry as Captain Wilton Parmenter, Melody Patterson as Jane Angelica Thrift, Frank deKova as Wild Eagle, Don Diamond as Crazy Cat, James Hampton as Bugler Dobbs, Marilyn Fisk as Kitchy Kitchy Coo, Dorothy Neumann as Mrs. Arrow.  Special Guest Star: Phil Harris as Flaming Arrow.  Written by Austin and Irma Kalish.  Directed by Phil Rawlins.


Ancient Chieftan Flaming Arrow, noblest of all Hekawis, serves notice via literal flaming arrows that he is coming back--soon.  Perhaps the oldest person to come down from the mountain since Moses, the 147 year old leader has been up there for the last fifty of those years according to Wild Eagle.  Perhaps his long absence is explained by a humiliating defeat circa 1817--"last time he came down stirred up big fight between palefaces and Indians!".  Ah, but he's surely mellowed in half a century, right?

PARMENTER: "We come in peace!"

WILD EAGLE (shrugging): "What else?"


If you guessed that Flaming Arrow's flashy entrance was a bit of psychological warfare, you're right--he's determined to get the entire United States back, starting with Fort Courage.  Forget the possible end to O'Rourke Enterprises this time--the F Troopers find their very lives at stake for once.  How can these 19th century soldiers reach a peaceful resolution with an ancient Chieftan who hasn't trusted a single paleface since the Revolutionary War era nearly a hundred years past?

AGARN: "Remember, he who quits and runs away will live to quit another day!"





Working with his childhood hero Phil Harris a second time (after THE WILD BLUE YONDER) had to be a joyous experience for Forrest Tucker.  As a teenager Tuck watched the future radio icon turn a "dispirited and desolate" Chicago audience into "a happy and hopeful congregation" in the Depressed mid-1930's.  Tucker credited that afternoon with his own entry into show business, and Harris later impacted Forrest's career a second time by suggesting Tuck to Morton da Costa for the role of Professor Harold Hill in THE MUSIC MAN--a role Tucker would play 2,038 times onstage from 1958-1963.


FLAMING ARROW: "Beware of paleface bringing gifts!"

PARMENTER: "No, that's Greeks bearing gifts.  Remember, the Trojan Horse?"

FLAMING ARROW: "Me old--but me not THAT old!"

In a series with too many colorful guest stars to count in its truncated run, Harris establishes himself near the hilarious top of the heap.  Flaming Arrow has been a veritable Forrest Gump across two centuries, close to George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Betsy Ross and "Silly Ben" Franklin among others.  Usually the most gregarious of personalities (it's easy to see his influence on Tucker's comedic persona), Harris is atypically deadpan and truculent here--and it's an inspired approach, enabling him to make the most out of every absurd line Team Kalish gives him.

AGARN: "Sarge, if I'd thought there was going to be any fighting, I'd have never joined the army!'


In-jokes and easter eggs abound for fans of the guest and F TROOP regulars alike.  Wild Eagle references the aforementioned MUSIC MAN early, and bandleader Harris starts the war drums as only he can.  Marilyn Fisk (The New I.G. and Lt. O'Rourke Front and Center), a.k.a. Mrs. Forrest Tucker, makes her third and final series appearance as a Hekawi maiden bringing Flaming Arrow the berry juice that appears to be his personal key to longevity. 

FLAMING ARROW: "They not make palefaces like that anymore!"

So you have one of the loopiest F TROOP premises (which is really saying something), a surfeit of hilarious lines delivered matter-of-factly, another Larry Storch historical impersonation (for my money, just a notch below his General Grant) and inspired use of one of the show's most memorable guest stars. So what's not to like?  Well, What Are You Doing After the Massacre unfortunately has that biggest of problems--one involving willing suspension of disbelief.



CRAZY CAT: Why not attack tonight?

WILD EAGLE: Indians afraid of great spirits.

FLAMING ARROW: That not real reason.  Indians...afraid of dark!

After all we've learned about Hekawi history (lovers not fighters, inventors of the peace pipe) it is just too big a stretch to buy this tribe's icon as a bloodthirsty warrior who ends their pragmatic ways and transforms these Natives into savage conquerors who don't care about money.  Surely Wild Eagle would be surreptitiously undermining Flaming Arrow as much as any other threat to his peace and prosperity--I mean, come on the ancient leader's campaign would mean living off the land all the way to Washington D.C.!  One simply can't buy these chicken hearted lovers of the easy life chunking the O'Rourke Enterprises gravy train on anyone's whim--not even Flaming Arrow's. 


It's a pretty big wound in the middle of everything, but not fatal, not with all the goodies in abundance surrounding it.  What Are You Doing After the Massacre? is overall another inventive segment from the Kalish team, and probably the best effort from Phil Rawlins once the longtime assistant director graduated to helm 7 installments during the color season.  Rawlins went on to helm multiple episodes of ADAM-12 and THE HIGH CHAPARRAL after establishing himself with Fort Courage's finest.

NAGGING QUESTIONS:

Flaming Arrow's failure to take land back had to take place around 1817, and he's been in seclusion on the mountain for fifty years since.  So how exactly did he get close to Abraham Lincoln near his 120th birthday (1840-ish), since he's hated the white man for at least that long?

Also: why didn't the venerable warrior utilize a blockade the first time around, instead of the direct attack that cost him so many braves?  If Flaming Arrow was that close to the Father of Our Country, he should have had a front row seat for the highly successful 1781 Siege of Yorktown, or at least discussed it.  Why not try that approach against a superior force while it was fresher in his then-97 year old mind?


MAN, THAT'S ACTING:

Flaming Arrow smashes two full bottles of whiskey without even flinching.  If that isn't (86) proof of Phil Harris disappearing into his role, I don't know what is.  (Incidentally, Phil Harris AND Forrest Tucker on the set all week?  I bet the tapings after lunch rivaled the late week MATCH GAMEs of the Seventies....)

HOW'S BUSINESS AT O'ROURKE ENTERPRISES?

Non-existent, and almost defunct until its Vice President overcomes a shaky start and saves the day.

NUMBER OF TIMES O'ROURKE COULD HAVE BEEN TRIED FOR TREASON:

Zero, though it was his idea to have Agarn impersonate a General for the second time.  Is it really prosecutable when that officer has been dead 68 years?

WISE OLD HEKAWI SAYING:

"When crow lay egg in treetop nest, then he who plant corn on hillside facing sunrise will play with deer and not with antelope."  A bit long-winded, but Parmenter found it interesting.


PC, OR NOT PC?

Sure can't accuse the writers of any ageism.  At 147 years young, Flaming Arrow learns new tricks in battle and successfully outmaneuvers a Captain who is over a century younger.  Agarn's observation that he is "feeble but not feeble minded" is apt--it's sentimentality, not senility that finally subdues the venerable warrior.  The old Chief and the old Commander-in-Chief were blood brothers, a bromance long before anyone coined the term: Flaming Arrow even calls Yankee Doodle "our song"!

THE BOTTOM LINE:

There's as many funny lines in this script as any from the sophomore season, and it's pure gold watching the scene stealing Harris interacting with Storch and Berry.  Unfortunately, Austin and Irma Kalish stray too far from the show's established universe (a common problem for the color segments) for this one to reach peak F TROOP.  A very flawed premise executed to perfection--even the lampshading of Agarn's impersonation (he really does look more like Jefferson) is hilariously transparent.  Ultimately the sheer chutzpah and the number of laughs upon rereview has me raising my original rating to.... (*** out of four)

F TROOP airs weekday afternoons from 1-2 P.M. Central on Channel 370 CircleTV on DISH Network.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Television Review: GET CHRISTIE LOVE!: "A Few Excess People" (1975)



GET CHRISTIE LOVE! "A Few Excess People" (ABC-TV/Universal 1975) Season One, Episode 21: Original Air Date: March 26, 1975.  Starring Teresa Graves as Detective Christie Love, Jack Kelly as Captain Arthur Ryan, Michael Pataki as Sergeant Pete Gallagher, Dennis Rucker as Detective Belmont.  Guest stars: Phil Silvers as Uncle Harry Phenergan, Rose Marie as Mitzi Trousedale, Robert Donner as Bernie Karp, Bob Random as Willie Beamon, Val Bisoglio as Joe Thurston, Herbert Jefferson Jr. as Louis Turner, Troy Melton as Security Guard.  Written by Peter Allan Fields.  Directed by Bruce Kessler. 

Unwilling to be put out to pasture, Gallagher's Uncle Harry has bolted the Sunset Retirement Home in Newark to travel cross-county and see his nephew.  First problem--Harry thinks he's visiting Captain Gallagher of the LAPD.  Second problem: Detective Love and Sergeant Gallagher are the closest to respond to a warehouse alarm--with Harry as a passenger, giving the elder civilian a chance to elbow his way into a dangerous case.  Not something that is going to ingratiate him to the real Captain--Ryan.


While many prefer Murder on High C, which reunited Teresa Graves with several of her LAUGH-IN co-stars, I think the brief, gimmicky Glen Larson Era reached its comedic apex with A Few Excess People.  As fun as it was to see Arte Johnson driving the action in the former, we get the King of Chutzpah himself this time around, and Silvers doesn't disappoint.  Did he ever?


Long time freelancer Fields got his start on THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and obviously did his homework, making sure to give the guest star plenty of Bilkoesque material.  Uncle Harry seizes credit for a license plate number from a fast-thinking security guard, takes over the real Captain's office (first inadvertently, then advertently), bluffs information out of seedy Karp and flatters Rose Marie's department store clerk out of her car (twice) and into a date.  For starters.  


It's all wonderful fun whenever Silvers is onscreen, and neither Fields nor director Kessler (RIPTIDE) can be accused of not utilizing him to the fullest.  Unfortunately, the writer goes a little overboard when Uncle Harry steps further into peril than seems logical by going to the robber's hideaway alone.  Not only out of character in terms of what would seem an acceptable level of risk to Harry, but also defeating what seems to be Harry's primary motivation up until then (even more than proving himself)--assisting the young Sergeant in reaching his full potential in the ranks.  Gallagher can't get any credit if he's not there, right?


Speaking of our Sarge, at least he isn't blurting out important case secrets on live TV this time.  It's still readily evident to us if not to his proud Uncle why he Pete is stuck in the ranks.  And while it was often lost after the mid-season tonal change, David Wolper's original intent for the series is subtly on display.  Harry waxes eloquent on his nephew's progressive qualities as a Captain, but only in reference to Christie's gender--her race goes unmentioned.  (That was usually the case on Silvers' own show, too, a rare 1950's sitcom to consistently cast African-American actors.)


Silvers' dominance usurps center stage from our star, something that became a problem more than once after Larson brought more contrivances to the show.  Christie Love again loses her maverick cop status, being reprimanded only for indulging her elder with nary an undercover assignment in sight.  Our star is reduced to constantly reacting to Mr. Phenergan's antics along with everyone else. 


But hey, Silvers was one of a kind, and is especially amusing when he's onscreen with Rose Marie, who makes the most of her scenes and gets the titular dialogue verbalizing Harry's need to prove he isn't ready to be discarded by society.  That certainly had to resonate with Silvers, who first saw a still-popular BILKO cancelled and then saw his prime time appearances getting scarcer in his middle sixties after failing to land another hit.  In fact, A Few Excess People is probably his lengthiest and most enjoyable prime time appearance in the years following his 1972 stroke.   Seeing one of the medium's comedic geniuses in fine form is well worth our star ceding the spotlight on this one occasion.


ONE LUMP OR MORE?

Louis Turner is the only one who gets sugared, when he is incredulous to find out Love is "the Man".

MISSED OPPORTUNITY:

Too bad we couldn't fit a poker game into the plot.  Who wouldn't want to see Bart Maverick heads up against Sergeant Bilko?


THE BOTTOM LINE:

As far as the Larson installments go, A Few Excess People mixes a worthy message with  sometimes wobbly execution in its second half.  Still, the police work doesn't suffer as much as it had in other high concept segments, and Silvers was capable of turning any appearance into a pseudo-PHIL SILVERS SHOW no matter the series.  It's a unique blend here for sure, predictably with far more laughs than usual and a case that holds up a bit longer than you might have predicted.  (**1/2 out of four)


If you'd like to see A Few Excess People for yourself: