F TROOP Fridays: Number 38
F TROOP: "Go For Broke" (1966 ABC-TV/Warner Brothers) Season One, Episode 20; Original Air Date January 25, 1966. Starring Forrest Tucker as Sergeant Morgan O'Rourke, Larry Storch as Corporal Randolph Agarn, Ken Berry as Captain Wilton Parmenter, Melody Patterson as Wrangler Jane, Frank de Kova as Chief Wild Eagle, James Hampton as Private Dobbs, Bob Steele as Private Duffy, Joe Brooks as Private Vanderbilt, Ivan Bell as Private Dudleson. Guest stars: Del Moore as Dapper Dan Fulbright and George Gobel as Henry Terkel. Written by Howard Merrill and Stan Dreben. Directed by Seymour Robbie.
The Inspector General is on his way to Fort Courage yet again, this time to check on F Troop's pension fund of $2,000. Too bad that Dapper Dan has beaten him to town, getting into a poker game with Sgt. O'Rourke in which our crafty Sarge has lost the $2,000---and then some.
Scrambling to find a replacement stake to fortify O'Rourke's short stack, Agarn finds little help from the troop, Wild Eagle, or Jane. The Corporal also sees little immediate assistance from Jane's visiting cousin Henry, who has a knack for invention. Until Henry also shows a knack for counting cards, something that would balance the books once it is discovered that the Dapper One is cheating with the help of an accomplice. But how to get the mild mannered innovator into the game and our hapless Sarge out of it?
"Play slowly. That way you won't lose so fast!"
Since F TROOP is THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW's spiritual brethren and shared its locations with MAVERICK, it is somewhat surprising that Go For Broke was the show's only real foray onto the poker table. But it's easy to see why: he might be more successful in the business world, but O'Rourke is definitely no Bilko at cards. So-called "easy mark" Dapper Dan could re-name the business Fulbright Enterprises before the end of Act One!
Yes, we do learn in the second half that O'Rourke is being cheated (and even the great Bilko displayed this same blind spot in his pilot, The New Recruits), but it still diminishes his character somewhat. The sharp operator of other installments should have had a inkling of the situation long before losing over $2,000 AND his beloved saloon. He's also being cheated inside his own saloon, a cardinal sin (see the MAVERICK motto further down).
"Why do you think Indians always ride bareback? Dapper Dan win all the saddles!"
With O'Rourke having his worst outing of the black and white season, it's up to Agarn to save the day in Go For Broke. While we're still several months from the debut of the iconic catchphrase, you won't know why everyone says Agarn is dumb. He exhausts every plausible possibility, finally gets caught red handed by Parmenter, then convinces the Captain into a temporary alliance aided by Terkel and a timely glance at a crate of sorghum cookies:
"Perhaps you didn't catch my name. I'll throw it again: Beauregard Clayton, sir!"
A Captain Parmenter masquerade is our second novelty in this Merrill-Dreben script, and a highly plausible lampshade is provided for why Agarn can't do this one. Dapper Dan would recognize Agarn behind a ruse but hasn't seen the Captain yet. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Parmenter sets his by-the-book approach aside to save the troop's pension fund. True, it's a gamble that they'll be able to talk The Old Man out of a military court later, but the Sarge is generally able to talk him out of anything, right?
Besides, Parmenter's disguise provides Go For Broke with its biggest laughs, with Berry's performance rivaling his conditioned Custer in Old Ironpants in that department. The crash course in poker takes, and the highly unlikely scenario of Captain Parmenter running the conman out of town at his own game is another commendable curveball in an episode not only full of, but driven by them.
Great as it is to see the creativity, the execution is too sloppy for Go For Broke to soar with the eagles. O'Rourke stands up in front of everyone and declares he'll bet the saloon at one point, an exposure that goes against everything we have learned before and everything that happens after. O'Rourke does overplay his hand in other installments (i.e. Yellow Bird, Will the Real Captain Please Try to Stand Up?) but stays conscious of the need to conceal the business at all times.
When the Sarge is quickly rebuffed by Dan ("you lost that an hour ago") and scrambling for cash only to come up with enough for one chip, it seems highly unlikely that the Dapper One would stick around with nothing left to win. How'd O'Rourke keep playing? And along the lines of the last paragraph, the most nagging question of all: how to conceal the Enterprises after Dapper Dan runs out of winnings and table stakes at the end? Isn't Parmenter now the owner of the saloon? At the very least, wouldn't he now know who Dapper Dan won it from?
"I could use an extra cane!"
Beauregard Clayton is quite the creation--I would have welcomed a return visit at some point. A notable difference from Berry's previous alter ego: even while under the influence of Custer in Old Ironpants, Wilton couldn't mask his clumsiness. As Clayton, this pushy Parmenter intentionally destroys mugs with his cane on the way in, far more bumptious and arrogant than even his officer siblings. The ability to completely disappear into character is impressive--he gives even the Corporal a run for his money.
George Gobel ended up with this gig at Forrest Tucker's recommendation after lunch at the Lakeside Country Club (Tuck often lunched there as it was a stone's throw from the F TROOP set) and he's a perfect fit for Cousin Henry, who like many other Fort Courage visitors was just a little ahead of his time with embryonic versions of the automobile, telephone and radio. The assertion that the folding table was inconceivable in 1866 is shakier, since they are documented to have become common by the Colonial Era.
Hy Averback's elevation to de facto executive producer (made official in Season Two) after William T. Orr lost his power struggle at WB resulted in reduced involvement from series creators Ed James and Seaman Jacobs (only 3 shows after Orr's removal). The Dreben-Merrill team got a heavier workload after the shakeup--after only two credits in the first 16 episodes, they penned six of the final 18 first season teleplays. Captain Parmenter displayed more competence in their scripts (see reviews for Captain Parmenter, One Man Army; Corporal Agarn's Farewell to the Troops among others) but the writers were usually adept at staying faithful to the show's characters while getting creative. Go for Broke has its moments but joins Farewell to the Troops as one of the few Dreben-Merrill misfires. Parmenter losing his clumsiness, O'Rourke his secrecy, and a villain sticking around with no motivation to do so results in a wobbly structure for some admittedly good gags.
CREDIT WHERE IT IS DUE:
The poker action is sparse but what's here avoids cliche and passes muster. Shortly after it is agreed they will need "Jacks or better to open", "Beauregard" opens the betting and troubles Dan for one card. Then turns over "2, 3, 4, 5, Jack"---all the same suit for a flush. Plausible under the guidelines, and very trusting of Henry's direction, since Parmenter discards a pair of Jacks to draw at it! It's easily the right call, too. He's roughly 20% to hit that flush versus 12% (assuming three discards) to hit a set, and the set won't help him anyway against Dan's straight. Nicely researched.
SPEAKING OF CLAYTON:
There is indeed a Clayton, Louisiana, near the Mississippi border. Population 584 in the 2020 census!
HOW'S BUSINESS AT O'ROURKE ENTERPRISES?
Until the Vice President saves the day (for once), the worst it's ever been: O'Rourke loses the saloon, all of the recent profits, and all of the working capital!
NUMBER OF TIMES O'ROURKE COULD HAVE BEEN TRIED FOR TREASON:
Zero, but there's plenty of court martial worthy crimes for O'Rourke to worry about without it. Embezzlement gets you twenty-five years, and Agarn's suggestion of desertion ("I just saved us five years!") would net twenty. Neither as bad as the hangman's noose, but still.....not good.
WISE OLD HEKAWI SAYING?
Two, and both of them are uncharacteristically lucid. "Man who gamble with few dollars always end up on short end of buffalo horn." Can't argue with that, and Sarge provides plenty of proof of the second: "Man who play with fire have better chance than man who play with Dapper Dan." Speaking of our one shot sharpie, one of Pappy Maverick's proverbs rings clearest: "Never play in a rigged game unless you rig it yourself."
Go For Broke registered a 20.3 rating, slightly below the show's 21.1 average for the season to date as of the halfway mark. George Gobel would guest star on F TROOP's competition, THE RED SKELTON SHOW, the following week on Feb. 1st, but the Troopers were pre-empted by a Sammy Davis Jr. special.
Always great to see new wrinkles, and particularly hilarious moments by Gobel and Berry, but Go For Broke is too carelessly scripted to really score--these variations on F TROOP themes were more successfully explored in more meticulous written installments faithful to its characters. For a better exploration of O'Rourke Enterprises making a big gambling bet with its working capital, check out Johnny Eagle Eye. (**1/2 out of four)