Monday, June 17, 2019

Television Review: CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Is There a Fox in The House?" (1985)






CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Is There a Fox in the House?" (CBS-TV/Sony 1985) Original Air Date: December 22, 1985.  Starring Jack Warden as Harry Fox, John Rubenstein as Harrison Fox, Penny Peyser as Gail Fox, Robby Kiger as Josh Fox.  Guest Stars: Della Reese as Nurse Flood, Michael Lembeck as Dr. Andy Farr, Peter Mark Richman as Dr. Rafelman, Paul Comi as Mr. Tyler, Daryl Anderson as Mickey, Angus Duncan as Dr. Morgan, Simone Griffeth as Mrs. Morgan.  Written by Elroy Schwartz.  Directed by Paul Krasny.

Introduction to the 1984-86 CBS series CRAZY LIKE A FOX is at this link.


After Dr. Farr's confrontation with Dr. Morgan, who has seized full credit for a surgical procedure that Farr developed, Morgan falls victim to a car bomb and Farr finds himself arrested.  Fortunately, Farr is a longtime friend of Harrison's, who in fact introduced him to Gail back in college.  That reconnection with the Foxes comes in handy when Morgan succumbs to his injuries, upgrading the charge against Dr. Farr to first degree murder.



Getting involved while he mulls over a new car (or a motorcycle), Harry picks the brain of explosives expert Mickey and gets filled in on the politics of the hospital by his old friend Nurse Flood.  Morgan's (noticeably unmourned) death and Farr's arrest combine to cause an unfortunate situation for Tyler, whose wife awaits the procedure that can only be performed by those two physicians--at least, in San Francisco.  Then Mickey is found dead in his ransacked apartment after assisting Harry's investigation.


Instead of getting roped into one of his detective Dad's cases, Harrison needs and seeks his father's aid in helping his old school chum. That aside, Is There a Fox in The House? is quintessential FOX.  Multiple car chases through the streets of San Francisco with a rattled junior Fox in the passenger seat for starters.  Harrison's attempt to mitigate this roller coaster by doing the driving goes awry when circumstances force improvisation: the Foxes end up chasing Harrison's stolen vehicle in an exterminator's truck--with a giant swaying bug on the roof and Harry driving.  Tough luck, kid!


After nursing the Senior Fox back to health during his hospital stay in Fox Hunt, Della Reese's Nurse Flood makes a welcome return to the series in Is There a Fox in The House?   After admonishing the gumshoe for attempting to Bogart a physician's parking space, Flood is much more forgiving of the Fox follies that follow, even assisting the investigation and practically becoming one of the family by the closing credits.  Like Norman Fell's Vern, Reese was headed for recurring status, and returned in Fox at the Races, the season (and series) finale.


Longtime GILLIGAN'S ISLAND scribe Elroy Schwartz (yup, brother of Sherwood) gets the formula down nicely in his FOX debut, serving up leads and laughs in equal measure.  There's no shortage of suspects once Harry notices how unlamented the late Dr. Morgan's death is--the first of many helpful tidbits from Flood.  Adultery, arrogance, and a penchant for theft of intellectual property--the further the investigation goes, the less liked Morgan gets.  By Act III it seems a wonder that Morgan lived as long as he did.


The penchant of lead-in MURDER, SHE WROTE for inverting viewer expectation pops up in Is There a Fox in the House? with the appearance of venerable villain Peter Mark Richman.  Surely there's a skeleton or two in his closet, right?  Well, maybe.  Maybe not.   Having just started his regular gig on CBS' FOLEY SQUARE a week earlier, Lembeck (ONE DAY AT A TIME) gets top billing in the impressive guest cast.



With several opportunities for the comedy team of Warden and Rubenstein to generate laughs, a mystery that is agreeable if uncomplicated, and the always welcome Reese, this is an archetypal crowd-pleasing hour for the series.  Unfortunately, the show's pre-emption driven sophomore slide in the Nielsens continued.  Bumped to 10 P.M. E.T. for a week by A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Is There a Fox in the House? posted a 16.3 rating, good for 30th out of 65 shows for the week ending December 22, 1985.  But that still-respectable showing came in second for the time slot, bested by ABC's showing of THE TOY (18.7, 16th).  Ugh--THE TOY over the FOX?  What the Hell were viewers thinking?   (*** out of four)


CRAZY LIKE A FOX occasionally airs on getTV.  Check the schedule here!


Monday, June 10, 2019

MAVERICK Mondays: "A Fellow's Brother" (1959)





MAVERICK Mondays: Number 26







MAVERICK: "A Fellow's Brother" (1959 ABC-TV/Warner Brothers) Starring James Garner as Bret Maverick, Jack Kelly as Bart Maverick, Gary Vinson as Smoky Vaughn, Diane McBain as Holly Vaughn, Bing Russell as Jed Haines, Sam Buffington as Burgess, Adam West as George Henry Arnett, Wally Brown as Enoch, Jonathan Hole as Marvin, Charles Maxwell as Russ, Robert Foulk as the Sheriff, Billy Benedict as the Desk Clerk.  Written by Herman Epstein.  Directed by Les Goodwins.


The feared George Henry Arnett abruptly abandons a showdown with young Smoky Vaughn when he hears that Bret Maverick is looking for him--which convinces an idolizing Smoky that Bret is a feared gunslinger.  Eagerly becoming Bret's unwanted sidekick, the kid isn't deterred when his new "pal" insists--truthfully--that Arnett ran quickly to avoid paying an old monetary debt.


Bret's attempt to shake this newfound and mistaken reputation isn't helped by the arrival of bounty hunting Burgess, who insists that Maverick is the killer he's after.  While the impatient Smoky attempts to help his unwilling idol break out of jail, Bret has more trouble on the way: Haines, the brother of the man that "Maverick" allegedly killed.  Knowing that brother Bart is nowhere near Canyon City, Bret asserts mistaken identity, implies that they're after his brother, and sends Burgess (and by extension, the corrupt Sheriff) looking in that direction.   Meanwhile, Smoky repeatedly assures Mr. Maverick that he has his back as the Haines posse closes in.


SMOKY: "You wouldn't shoot anyone in the back!"
BRET: "It's the safest place."

Always the most reluctant of all possible heroes, Bret Maverick is more disinclined than ever in the face of Smoky's misguided reverence.  Ironically, sister Holly Vaughn is right--the real Bret would be a very positive influence on the aspiring young gunman.  Smoky's odds of ever growing old seem long from the get-go, since he's willing and able to put his life on the line over a mud splash when we first meet him.  Not something the ever-prudent Bret would let escalate.



"When a fellow's brother gets killed, it's up to the fellow's brother to get the fellow who killed the fellow's brother."

Everyone seems to believe this imperative, except the more pragmatic Bret.  Upon hearing that brother Bart has been gunned down, Bret's response is immediate and decisive: he's going out for breakfast.  Later we receive further clarity on the younger Maverick's location and the impossibility that this "report" could be true.  If it were, though, Bret's reaction later tells us what he thinks of this unwritten rule--he sends the bounty hunter looking for his brother!  After all, that's his problem.



HOLLY: "Stupid, silly pride. A man is coming here to kill you.  Why must you stay here and face him?"
BRET: "Who's staying???"

In the same year that Howard Hawks made RIO BRAVO, Herman Epstein (Maverick and Juliet) came up with MAVERICK's own subtle, cheeky response to HIGH NOON.  Diane McBain (SURFSIDE 6) is our answer to Grace Kelly here (AFAIK not a bad tradeoff at all), looking out in horror from behind windows and getting the lengthy anti-Code speech--which Maverick, of course, promptly agrees with.  Bret doesn't channel Gary Cooper, hiding inside the house until Smoky foils those plans.


Suggesting that it is Smoky, not Bret, who is more isolated in this idolatry of honor, Jeb Haines slowly, menacingly approaches Bret Maverick--and promptly concludes that he has the wrong man.  Haines later picks a much more winnable gunfight and proves to be at least as cash-motivated as any Maverick.  The latter also applies to Burgess and the Sheriff.  So much for nobility.


Few actors have ever been able to play put-upon annoyance like James Garner, and Gary Vinson's wonderfully earnest comedic performance brings it out, providing this show's highlight.  This was the only MAVERICK for Vinson (McHALE'S NAVY), who sadly committed suicide in 1984 at age 47.

Sam Buffington and Garner
Sam Buffington, another talented actor who died way too young by the same method just a year later (he was only 28) marks his fifth and final MAVERICK as the humorless bounty hunter.  Adam West (Pappy) also appears for a third and final segment as the feared (and fearing) gunslinger in the opening minutes.

MAVERICK's third season doesn't quite measure up to the legendary second, but A Fellow's Brother doesn't contribute to that particular failing.  In fact, I'd say it is a more successful skewering of heroic obligations than that season's much better known The Saga of Waco Williams.  Truer to the show's universe from fade-in to fade-out, with nary a wasted line.


HOW'D BRET DO AT POKER?

He appeared to be doing rather well at the local saloon despite the distraction; the one activity Smoky wasn't able to affect in a negative way.  Bart only appears in the closing seconds, and from the looks of things, won't be making it to the tables anytime soon.


WISDOM FROM PAPPY?

"It isn't how fast you draw that counts--it's what you draw and when you draw."  Yep, Pappy was talking about guns versus poker.  Succinct.



Herman Epstein is one of the unsung MAVERICK heroes, providing two of the third season's top 4 installments and two more good ones during the wildly inconsistent fourth.  A Fellow's Brother was also the first (and best) of seven segments for venerable Leslie Goodwins (The Maverick Line), who guides a sensational comic performance from Vinson, so sincere and yet so unintentionally grating--in a good way.  With all the mentions he receives throughout, it's thoroughly predictable when brother Bart shows up for the capper, which works as admirably as everything else preceding it.  (**** out of four)



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


Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Television Review: HONDO: "Hondo and the Hanging Town" (1967)






"Your lives are meaningless compared to HONDO!"









HONDO: "Hondo and the Hanging Town" (ABC-TV/MGM/Batjac Productions 1967) Original Air Date: December 8, 1967.  Starring Ralph Taeger as Hondo Lane, Noah Beery Jr. as Buffalo Baker, Gary Clarke as Captain Richards.  Guest Stars: Dan O'Herlihy as Phineas Blackstone, Gary Crosby as Sergeant Tom Bixby, Morgan Woodward as Colonel Jake Spinner, Denver Pyle as Judge Amos Blunt, Bing Russell as Sheriff Thompson, Quentin Sondergaard as Stoner, Edward Colmas as Father Verona, Jamie Farr as John-Chee, Steve Mitchell as Morrison, Walter Scott as Hoti.  Written by Stanley Adams and George F. Slavin.  Directed by Alan Crosland Jr.

Introduction to the HONDO Episode Guide and series overview is at this link.

En route to Tucson to marry his fiancee, Bixby gets as far as Red Rock before he finds the knifed body of Father Francis.  Catching a glimpse of a fleeing Indian, Bixby goes to alert the local authorities and consequently finds himself charged with the murder and robbery.  Hondo and Buffalo are given the assignment of delivering the Sergeant to the court in San Pueblo for the trial.


"Bushwhackin' a Padre just about heads the list for gettin' up a necktie party."

Taking the prisoner from a leery Sheriff Thompson, Hondo quickly realizes that even a successful delivery to the court will be a daunting task.  Stoner leads a lynch mob seeking justice for the beloved Padre, and would have competition if not for beguiling snake oil salesman Blackstone's distraction of the Red Rock locals with his sales pitch.  Bixby profusely claims his innocence, but hasn't a prayer without a lawyer, the Father's missing artifacts, or the identity of the Indian he saw.  Lengthening the Sergeant's odds: hanging judge Blunt will be presiding over the trial and powerful (Confederate) Colonel Spinner "runs things" in San Pueblo--including Stoner's posse and the legal prosecution.


Making Sergeant at Fort Lowell seems almost as deadly as dating Paul Kersey.  Able (Hondo and the Superstition Massacre) and Daniels (Hondo and the Singing Wire) and an uncredited three striper in the two part opener are among the casualties to date.  Bixby appears all but certain to join them for much of Hondo and the Hanging Town, which interestingly is the highest rated episode of the series by voters at imdb.com.  Delivering wall-to-wall action and compelling courtroom drama, the segment has substantial merit. 


"The war's over, Colonel."

Vigilante justice based on prima facie evidence was already addressed unconventionally in Hondo and the Mad Dog, but this Slavin/Adams script finds another novel wrinkle.  Bixby faces a prejudicial atmosphere because he's a United States soldier in the fiefdom of Colonel Spinner, who in 1870 still wears his Confederate uniform everywhere and angrily condemns Lane for "pandering for Yankee favors".  Steely-eyed Spinner would rather hang a U.S. cavalryman than pause to consider the possibility of an Apache's guilt.  A former Virginia volunteer, Spinner's clothing, profession, speech to Hondo and post-War migration southwest are all indicative of a loose basis on Jubal Early.


Spinner is only slightly more iron-fisted than Justice/Judge/Sheriff Blunt, who proudly "saves the taxpayers a lot of money" by wearing several hats.  Neither is used to much of an opposing force in court, which is where traveling peddler Blackstone comes in.  It's Lane who observes the salesman's curious surfeit of legal knowledge and learns that Blackstone used to be a far more talented prosecutor than Spinner.


Disappearing into snake oil and alcohol after wrongfully sending an innocent man to the gallows in Massachusetts (as John Rutledge, attorney at law) Blackstone has changed his name, forged a far less prestigious avocation, and crossed the country in guilt.  His soul is as empty as that Efficacious Elixir, but the conscience isn't gone--Phineas kindly suggests that the tonic is "best taken at night, for example.


"Mister Rutledge, these are good people.  This is a good town!  All we want is justice."

It takes another man who knows a hollow feeling all too well--Hondo--to persuade the huckster to use that silver tongue for redemption in the courtroom.  While Blunt clearly seems to enjoy passing sentence, he's also taken aback at any suggestion that those taxpayers aren't getting a just court for the money.  Learning that prior defense attorneys fought that ego to no avail, Rutledge feeds it, displaying superior legal knowledge respectfully, gaining critically needed leeway in the process.  Blackstone doesn't entirely disappear: dazzing with brilliance won't be all that's needed in this venue, so the potion pusher's ability to baffle with bullshit also comes in handy.  (About those 'medicinal' terms: Flux is legit, at least.  Gastric lumbar caronitis?  Not so much.)


"How come a smart trader like you would trade a sorry looking burro for a good horse?"

Hondo and the Hanging Town is exciting, but this second installment taking Hondo, Buffalo and Sam on the road isn't quite perfect logically.  Take the critical courtroom revelation by Father Verona, combined with Bixby's description of the horse he saw: wouldn't that mean, since Hokti already had the horse, that he was revisiting the scene of the crime on the mount he'd just traded for?  And if so, for what reason, with the trade already made and the watch disposed of?  Buffalo notices the lopsidedness of that transaction just in time, but listen closely: Beery bloops the line, which is delivered exactly as written at the top of this paragraph.  No one caught this?


A whopping four special guest stars make the opening credits this time around, with O'Herlihy (THE TRAVELS OF JAMIE McPHEETERS) the headliner.  Nevertheless, Crosby (son of Bing, of course), Woodward (who passed away this February at age 93) and Pyle all receive prominent billing.  It's a deep bench when Russell and Sondergaard are relegated to fifth and sixth positions.  Jamie Farr actually guest starred in back-to-back weeks, with his pivotal cameo here followed by a much meatier role in Hondo and the Gladiators.


Hondo and the Hanging Town is actually the series' highest rated episode at Imdb.com.  It certainly has its virtues, providing plenty of the action we've come to expect without skimping on the promised courtroom theatrics.  Perhaps Slavin and Adams tried to do a little too much--the proceedings get hurried at times and a tad contrived on occasion as a result.  It's still a winner, vindicating the new focus on tales taking the scouts outside Fort Lowell.


HOW MANY CANS OF WHOOPASS?

Emberato lets Spinner's fightin' words slide, but he still had to have sore knuckles at the end of this journey.  Lynch mob leader Stoner gets a thorough thrashing when he attempts to relieve Lane of the prisoner; a bartending bully gets a single but decisive punch for gratuitously abusing John-Chee; murderer Hoti meets a grisly end after resisting Emberato's attempted citizen's arrest; and finally, Hondo responds to Morrison's obstruction of justice by completing the quartet of KO's.


IS THE CANTINA STILL STANDING?

To the relief of the locals, the only barroom fisticuffs take place in San Pueblo.


A DOG'S LIFE:

While rarely out of sight, Sam is a bystander for most of Hondo and the Hanging Town.  As always, though, he comes through in the clutch when a shotgun wielding Morrison gets the drop on Lane.


Hondo and the Hanging Town is solid, if a bit too ragged at times for the highest rating.  For his part, Crosland keeps you from pondering any loose ends until after the closing credits.  Still another fine, well-plotted entry overall, with an intriguing story and a typically strong guest cast.  (***1/2 out of four)



HONDO airs every Sunday morning at 11:15 A.M. Eastern Time (10:15 A.M. Central) on getTV.

The complete series is also available on DVD from Warner Archive.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Television Review: LOVE THAT BOB: "Bob Tangles with Ruthie" (1957)


LOVE THAT BOB! (a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW): "Bob Tangles with Ruthie" (Laurel-McCadden Productions/CBS-TV 1957)  Original Air Date: February 14, 1957.  Starring Bob Cummings as Bob Collins, Rosemary DeCamp as Margaret MacDonald, Dwayne Hickman as Chuck MacDonald, King Donovan as Harvey Helm, Mary Lawrence as Ruth Helm,  Jeff Silver as Jimmy Lloyd, Olive Sturgess as Carol Henning, Lisa Gaye as Collette DuBois, Charles Horvath as the Egyptian Soldier.  Written by Paul Henning, Dick Wesson, Shirl Gordon and Phil Shuken.  Directed by Bob Cummings.


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


Playboy Bob Collins is on the phone with tonight's date, unknowingly giving pointers to nephew Chuck and several of eavesdropping teenage friends.  Bob isn't happy about that "accidental" intrusion, but that isn't the violation that gets Chuck grounded later--it's the revelation that he kept his date Carol (Harvey Helm's niece) out until 2 A.M. later that night.



Chuck doesn't stay grounded for long, at least in Uncle Bob's eyes.  Bob learns that Carol has already been forbidden from dating Chuck by Ruth Helm, henpecker of husband Harvey.  Ruth doesn't set a date on Carol's prohibition, but cites Bob's bad influence on Chuck as the sole reason, leading the playboy shutterbug to stand up for the young lovebirds and rescind Chuck's punishment.  And, of course, setting up one more battle of the sexes between alphas Bob and Ruthie.


"In any relationship it's always the man who makes the decision.  Right, Harvey?" -- Ruth Helm

Bob is quite the confident ice-breaker, but even he could learn a lesson in supremacy from Ruth Helm, who has her lengthiest and best appearance in Bob Tangles with Ruthie.  Margaret is a widow, so it is understandable that her brother would be the father figure in Chuck's life.  But where are Carol's parents?  "Aunt Ruthie" apparently rules the entire family's roost, tightly directing Harvey to assert the terms to his WWII comrade.   


"Let those who would not like to have their allowances cut off stand with me." --Ruth

"The King" to nephew Chuck, Bob just doesn't have an answer for a married woman--especially not one who quietly overpowers everyone around her--not just Harvey.  Flattery and flirting are useless with the wife of his longtime pal, so the stud has precious little to bargain with.  Bob's call to arms is admirable, with appeals to freedom, family pride and the rights of teenagers.  Alas, we learn only that silver tongued oratory has little persuasion against a disapproving glare from Mrs. Helm.  If everyone isn't sufficiently intimidated already, Ruthie's iron-clad control of the purse strings in her family (all of it apparently, since niece Carol gets her allowance from Ruth too!) provides the coup de grace.  Bob's support system suffers further from Margaret's agreement with Ruth regarding the big, bad Wolf's influence, so she's infiltrated the Collins household too.  Talk about your bad matchups!


Ruth Helm not only wins decisively (4 to 2) when the sides are chosen (Chuck stays loyal to Uncle Bob, but appears uneasy), but in doing so she even turns this quintessential Alpha Male into a daydreaming Walter Mitty!   Bob fantasizes about turning the tables in the subsequent "Caesar and Cleopatra" set piece.  Unsurprisingly, Harv is a thoroughly whipped Mark Antony in Bob's version.  A tad long at six minutes--Cummings had just begun directing the show a month earlier--but overall it's a worthy followup to Schultzy's fancy in The Sheik.


Perfectly cast, Mary Lawrence's controlled performance as Ruth Helm provided LOVE THAT BOB with a consistently robust opposing force for its titular protagonist.  Quietly overpowering all around her with an unnerving smile and a measured manner, Ruth does provide just a hint of the fury feared by her husband.  (We do eventually see the aftermath once, at the conclusion of Bob Saves Harvey.)

Had to take a screenshot.  This is as rare as a Bigfoot sighting. Pretty suggestive, too....

Bob Tangles with Ruthie is a one-sided rout until the Bob finally finds an ace in the hole: some backbone from hapless Harvey.  No, not directly from the source.  Collins attempts to give him one in absentia with an intentional misinterpretation of Helm's business trip to Reno--the famed divorce capital of the world.  This scheme does succeed in extracting rare vulnerability from Mrs. Helm.  How rare?  Check out the pic above: Ruth is on her knees in front of playboy Bob, begging!  Bringing Robert's reverie to life!  Briefly, anyway.  A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and Collins himself is the only strong connection in this particular fetter.  Given the swiftness with which Collins exits the premises once this ruse is deconstructed, even that sturdiness is relative.


Proving the point made by both Ruth and Margaret, all of Chuck's friends are awed by Bob's success with women and are shown to be emulating him in their own relationships.  At least, what can be ascertained by listening in.  Which is probably the least helpful information to be gained from The Master--Bob's lines seem really corny even for the era.   Gotta admire his stamina and ingenuity, though: Bob has a different date for every night of the week, exhibited by the hilariously organized schedule he keeps (the glamour shot in each day's slot tells our bon vivant who to get ready for).


"You're grounded!  You're going to study every night this week!"
"Every night?"
"From Helen right through Cynth----from Monday right through Saturday!"

Seven different dates for 7 different nights--no wonder Chuck's friends are wonderstruck by his Uncle.  Bob's detractors have a point, though--he's getting so much action he can't even tell the ladies apart without his trusty organizer.  (Bob and Automation would later show an even more advanced "system".)  Funny scene, but gets a little silly--you can't tell me that he wouldn't recognize Shirley Swanson's voice over the phone, and it's also a tad far-fetched to think that those cheesy lines would be effective. That said, Bob Tangles with Ruthie quickly hits its stride after this opener, with two 3-D chess players butting heads all the way to a laugh-filled conclusion.


Even with three seconds onscreen, Lisa Gaye gets a screencap.  My rules, I make 'em up....


WHO WAS BLOCKING?

Margaret, by tinkering with Bob's "schedule" right before Cynthia's phone call.


DID BOB SCORE?

Not onscreen, since "Caesar" was busy fighting his crusade.  Still, with seven upcoming dates, even a .143 batting average gets Bob to home plate this week, right?


Every episode featuring Bob Collins butting heads with Ruth Helm is a winner.  Mary Lawrence was terrific in her infrequent appearances and cast a wide shadow, oft-referenced when she wasn't onscreen.  The situations are even funnier than the lines this time, with a wonderfully constructed buildup.  Just five episodes into his directorial career, Cummings is already getting top-notch work from his actors.   (***1/2 out of four)




Bob Tangles With Ruthie is available for viewing on YouTube at this link.


Friday, April 26, 2019

F TROOP Fridays: "Dirge for the Scourge" (1965)







F TROOP Fridays: Number 20








F TROOP: "Dirge for the Scourge" (1965 Warner Brothers/ABC-TV) Season One: Episode 6.  Original Air Date: October 19, 1965.  Starring Forrest Tucker as Sgt. 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, James Hampton as Bugler Dobbs, Joe Brooks as Private Vanderbilt, Bob Steele as Trooper Duffy, Ivan Bell as Dudleson.  Guest Stars: Benny Baker as Pete the Bartender, Harvey Parry as Charlie the Drunk, Jack Elam as Sam Urp.  Written by Ed James and Seaman Jacobs.  Directed by Leslie Goodwins.


Captain Parmenter witnesses the eviction of an already inebriated Charlie from the Fort Courage saloon before lunchtime, then has a clumsy altercation with a man he presumes to be a second drunk.  With a little prodding from family-minded Jane, the Captain resolves to issue a military order closing the saloon.


Changing Wilton's mind is a problem that O'Rourke and Agarn can handle, but the potential loss of their "Great White Pigeon" is a different matter altogether.  Parmenter has unknowingly run afoul of that second "drunk", who happens to be the menacing Sam Urp--self-proclaimed fastest gun in the West.  The ensuing demonstration of his abilities reveals that Urp isn't exaggerating, and he's also ambidextrous. 


Six installments in, we get the first direct threat to O'Rourke's saloon, which would become a frequent target for hostile takeover (O'Rourke Vs. O'Reilly) and closure.  As demonstrated here, the latter menace was by far the easiest to repel with success merely requiring Parmenter's placation.  The transformation into Tinkerbell's Ice Cream Parlor convinces the Captain that "good old Pete" has cleaned the place up, with the ruse being dropped once "the old man" exits.  Sasparillas quickly turn into liquor, which might well make O'Rourke the first man to operate a speakeasy on American soil--the earliest known use of the word here was in 1889.

"There's only room for one Scourge of the West and that's me!"--Sam Urp



The second problem, however is far more worrisome, and not due to any affection for Parmenter as a person.  Protecting their Captain is essential only because breaking in a new C.O. would be a disastrous downgrade for O'Rourke Enterprises.  At this point in F TROOP's run Agarn still saves his tears for financial tragedies (i.e. errant cannonballs hitting the merchandise-filled NCO Club in Scourge of the West).



On the surface Dirge for the Scourge is one of the more innocuous early segments, but even here it's clear that series co-creators James and Jacobs envisioned an edgier show than BILKO had been.  O'Rourke's attempted interventions going beyond physically disabling Urp and all the way into kidnapping!   Yeah, F TROOP was always far slapstickier than BILKO, but the abundance of pratfalls masked a stealthy, healthy dose of cynicism that few shows outside of MAVERICK had demonstrated by 1965.


Fort Courage has a big name visitor for the second week in a row, with history being made in this case: veteran western tough guy Jack Elam makes the very first of what would be numerous sitcom appearances in Dirge for the Scourge.  Elam plays Urp completely straight, his intimidation palpable without exaggeration.  When we first meet Urp, he's scowling and loudly calling for a beer, but he scarcely raises his voice after, overawing with pistol prowess and an unnerving smile instead of articulation.


JANE: "Oh, Wilton, he's a dead shot!  And this morning you didn't hit a thing!"
PARMENTER: "That's true, but..he's a lot bigger than a bottle."

Elam's measured menace contrasts hilariously with Berry's obliviousness, providing a show not always known for understatement with some of its subtlest laughs of the season.  Within five years, Elam would be predominantly cast in comedic roles, but Dirge for the Scourge is one of his earliest and freshest: no hint of a twinkle in that lazy eye.  Urp is highly formidable with that shootin' iron, but in the words of non-Hekawi Lefty Gomez: it's better to be lucky than good.


Goodwins also keeps a delicate touch with his visual wit.  The lookout tower remains intact for once, with pratfalls mostly avoided outside of Urp's constant struggle with the saloon's swinging doors.  In place of the usual raucousness, we get quieter silliness stemming from Parmenter's losing battle with uniforms (Duffy's, Duddleson's, his own) and the Captain's still shaky marksmanship.  Nevertheless few laughs are lost--if any.

Harvey Parry, a true Hollywood legend

Elam isn't the only noteworthy guest star: veteran stuntman Harvey Parry makes the first of three appearances as Charlie the Drunk.  Sixty-five years old at the time, Parry was still doing his own stunts, gracefully tumbling over a hitching rail and crashing through the saloon window.  (Yes, it's him--it's all done in one continuous shot.)  A genuine Hollywood legend who doubled for Harold Lloyd in SAFETY LAST in 1923, Parry kept at it for another twenty years after his F TROOP stint, completing work on BETTER OFF DEAD and JOHNNY DANGEROUSLY just before his death in 1985 at eighty-five.


Benny Baker makes the first of five appearances as Pete, and Don Diamond is still credited as "Brave" despite being called Crazy Cat in Don't Look Now, One of our Cannon Missing earlier.  Dirge for the Scourge tied with CBS' GILLIGAN'S ISLAND for 22nd place in the Nielsens for the period ending October 24, 1965, with both scoring a 22.0 rating.  F TROOP led ABC to its only victorious night (Tuesday) and was the network's second highest rated show behind 15th place BEWITCHED.

Storch and Benny Baker

THING YOU LEARNED:

The perpetually nervous Pete is compensated very handsomely by Fort Courage standards for bartending and the stress of posing as the saloon's owner: $8 a week.  Compare that to the $17 a month that O'Rourke receives from the Army, or the $15 and $8 monthly salaries of Agarn and Dobbs (The Phantom Major).  O'Rourke Enterprises pays well, no doubt.  Speaking of....


HOW IS BUSINESS?

The saloon looks damned busy throughout, ice cream parlor or not.  Still, O'Rourke suffers some property damage from Urp's shooting (the chandelier), the Captain's trickery (a few beer mugs), and the overzealous ejection of town drunk Charlie (the front window), cutting into the profits.



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

Would Agarn press charges for an accidental kidnapping by the Hekawis?  If not, O'Rourke's in the clear for the second week in a row.



WISE OLD HEKAWI SAYING:

"Beaver cannot fly when horn of young buffalo point at full of moon."  This might well set the bar for the least coherent dose of native wisdom.

PC OR NOT PC?

Little to offend in Dirge for the Scourge.  Nothing derogatory directed at the Hekawi, unless O'Rourke's attempt at a wise old saying gets your dander up.  And, as always Janie proves to be the best marksperson on the show--yes, including Urp.


THE BOTTOM LINE:

Thinly plotted but genial entry that isn't as silly as its two predecessors--at least, not until the decisive shot of the showdown.  Elam is an inspired visitor to the F Troop universe, playing Urp to perfection--it's easy to see here why comedy would become his forte in later years.  If Jacobs and James provide a surfeit of chuckles instead of the usual belly laughs this time, you won't complain, and their script is adeptly handled by Goodwins.  Even the laugh track seems subtler than before.  (*** out of four)