Friday, March 08, 2019

F TROOP Fridays: "Iron Horse Go Home" (1965)







F TROOP Fridays: Episode 19 









F TROOP: "Iron Horse Go Home" (1965 ABC-TV/Warner Brothers) Season One: Episode 16.  Original Air Date: December 28, 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 Angelica Thrift, Frank deKova as Chief Wild Eagle, James Hampton as Bugler Dobbs, Bob Steele as Duffy, Joe Brooks as Vanderbilt, John Mitchum as Hoffenmueller, Ivan Bell as Duddleson.  Guest Star: Allyn Joslyn as Colonel Jupiter Parmenter.  Written by Ed James and Seaman Jacobs.  Directed by Charles R. Rondeau.


How rotten has business been at the Fort Courage saloon?  The men are ordered to drink beer in formation during rest period (nickel a beer) and the price on the "free" lunch has been raised from a nickel to a dime.  Things may be bleak at the moment, but the Sarge sees a huge spike traffic coming when the Captain announces the pending arrival of his Uncle, Colonel Jupiter Parmenter.  The Colonel is tasked with providing safe passage for railroad workers through Indian territory, but visions of that first million for O'Rourke Enterprises fade once the elder member of Philadelphia's finest military family confirms that Fort Laramie is the intended destination for the expansion.



"Nominal.  Paleface word for honeyfuggle."

Proving that he can gaslight any Parmenter, O'Rourke persuades the Colonel that Fort Courage is the far less dangerous route, once the "ferocious" Hekawi are relocated.  Convincing Wild Eagle requires more than the planned nominal sum, but the Native leader finds a suitable new home for his Tribe: Fort Courage!


"First peace treaty ever to come with room and board!"

F TROOP brings the 1626 purchase of Manhattan Island in for yet another skewing in Iron Horse Go Home.  Both Parmenters believe that they're modern Minuets, but Jupiter is no more of a match for Wild Eagle than he is for O'Rourke.  True, the Chief doesn't quite get his demand of $3,000 for the 600 acres, but he does get Wilton to move from 4 cents an acre to fifty.  Who's screwing who?  Wild Eagle happily declares: "$300 for land that the Hekawi took from the Buffalo?  It could only happen in America!"


The nagging question that emerged in The 86 Proof Spring was the notion that three Hekawi braves could not only sneak into the fort at night, but could get into the locked NCO Club and take the bulky still out.  While I can't still can't figure out how they got inside the club, it's easy to see how they got past the first hurdle here: Vanderbilt remains on sentry duty, with what has to be his worst showing ever.  The Hekawis reconstruct their entire village inside Fort Courage, and he never sees a thing.  Worse, it happens in front of a visiting Colonel.  But we all know Parmenter is a second chance kinda guy: Vandy remains in the tower long after Iron Horse Go Home.


Seems foolish at first to think that O'Rourke's Hekawi business partner would jeopardize the titular train that could make them all rich.  Well, in this endlessly fascinating partnership, the Chief's scheme to milk more money out of the Sarge is one of his most savvy.  Just keep up his bluff in the face of bad chow and marching drills for a few days, and the profits for that ex-buffalo land could double or triple.  And then of course Wild Eagle goes right back to a greatly enhanced profit share from O'Rourke Enterprises with the troopers none the wiser.   Crazy Cat and Roaring Chicken are missing from his outing, but who needs them when the Chief is coming up with a doozy like this?


But if O'Rourke falls victim to unforeseen consequences in his quest for riches, so does the Chief: he didn't count on the Hekawi maidens spending so much money with at the general store.   Whether it's that or the Shugs' attack on the Fort that drives the newly formed "H" Troop back outside is a point to ponder.  Suffice to say that Wrangler Jane might have been the biggest beneficiary of this ostensible  relocation for the "public good".


An uncredited Rod McGaughy was briefly glimpsed as Colonel Jupiter Parmenter in Scourge of the West, but the aristocratic Allyn Joslyn took over the role for Iron Horse Go Home.  He's subtly dismissive of his nephew's officer status at first, briefly impressed with him after the apparent success of the negotiations, and eventually as exasperated with him as he is of his regimen in the end.  A Pennsylvania native like his character, Joslyn could sputter and fume with the best of them, making him a great choice to play a visiting officer.  Sadly, this was Uncle Jupiter's only visit.


"Ah, the knuckleheads!  They knocked the tower down again!"

Series co-creators Ed James and Seaman Jacobs were responsible for some of the wildest moments of the first season, and also some of its guiltiest pleasures.  Simultaneously both here, but practically every insensitive line is eventually paid back, save for O'Rourke's comments on Vanderbilt.  Director Rondeau is careful to keep Joslyn (then in his mid-60's and nearing retirement) out of harm's way during the slapstickier moments of his inspection, and inventively lets us view the lookout tower's fall from outside Fort Courage for what was the first (and I believe, only) time.


We also get a novel twist on the now-familiar fake Shug attack.  This time O'Rourke and Agarn stage it unassisted--at least that saves them about $20, which is Wild Eagle's usual going price.  Rondeau falters at presenting the two needed night scenes, however.  Fort Courage looks exactly the same at 4 A.M. as it does at noon, and no time difference is going to explain that.


Iron Horse Go Home shows F TROOP in solid stride: minimal sentimentality, maximal selfishness, and money as the root of all motivation.  If not quite perfectly executed (those nocturnal scenes really needed accuracy) visually, the verbal wit is in peak form and the jokes never stop flying.  Most hit the bullseye.


HOW'S BUSINESS AT O'ROURKE ENTERPRISES?

You heard the Sarge.  It's been awful at the saloon after that failed gold rush (Honest Injun) and Lily O'Reilly's attempted hostile takeover (O'Rourke vs. O'Reilly).  But, no harm no foul otherwise: Wild Eagle's payment came from the government, and O'Rourke successfully beat back the Chief's attempt to genially extort more from his business partner.  As for the Hekawi side, they got their $300 but incurred an undetermined amount of leakage to Wrangler Jane--an under the radar winner in barely thirty seconds' screen time.

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

Once.  It is astutely pointed out by Agarn that if they hit someone during the "private war" they start with a staged Indian attack, that dreaded charge would apply.  (They came uncomfortably close with the initial treeful!)


WISE OLD HEKAWI SAYING:

"When thorn of blackberry grow on rock, bullfrog sing like crow in winter."  The Corporal appreciates it at least, since he's a fan of bullfrogs.  Who knew?

PC OR NOT PC?

Agarn's cringeworthy comment about the Hekawi being "the Vanishing Americans" opens Act II, but few can make a paleface pay like Wild Eagle can.  And he does it peacefully, episode after episode.



THE BOTTOM LINE:

James, Jacobs and Rondeau were responsible for many of F TROOP's rowdiest moments, and all three were sorely missed in Season Two.  Iron Horse Go Home was the director's third winner in three weeks, and while a few imperfections place it on the opening season's second tier, that's still a lofty place to be.  (***1/2 out of four)

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Television Review: LOVE THAT BOB: "Bob Saves Harvey" (1958)




LOVE THAT BOB (A.K.A. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW) "Bob Saves Harvey" (1958 Laurel-McCadden Productions/NBC-TV)  Original Air Date: March 18, 1958.  Starring Bob Cummings as Bob Collins, Rosemary deCamp as Margaret MacDonald, Ann B. Davis as Schultzy, Dwayne Hickman as Chuck MacDonald, Joi Lansing as Shirley Swanson, Lisa Gaye as Collette DuBois, King Donovan as Harvey Helm, Mary Lawrence as Ruth Helm, Gloria Marshall as The Model, Jesse White as H.R. "Hap" Henderson.  Written by Shirl Gordon, Paul Henning and Dick Wesson.  Directed by Bob Cummings.


Series overview of LOVE THAT BOB/THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW at this link.


On the morning following the events of Bob Gets Harvey a Raise, henpecked Harvey Helm is convinced that his old WWII buddy Bob Collins has done just that by posing as "Harv" and showing out of town buyer "Hap" Henderson a night on the town with two of his best models.  But Helm shouldn't be spending that income increase just yet.  He still doesn't have Henderson's name on the dotted line, and the overbearing furniture king expects a second round in L.A. that night before giving it.  Meanwhile an exhausted Collins is begging off after the sleepless night before.


Helm's guilt tripping finally succeeds, and with deception becoming as limited a resource as his adrenaline, our lensman playboy plots an early end to the second excursion.  Again enlisting Shirley and Collette as unwitting tag team partners, Bob summons Harvey to The Mermaid Club to seal the deal--not knowing that Helm's wife has caught wind of "Harv"s exploits and is also en route for a firsthand look.


The conclusion comes across like a post-coital wind-down at times, proving that even the seemingly insatiable Bob Collins has his limits.  It takes the first third of Bob Saves Harvey for Helm to finally convince Collins to continue the charade, and over half of it for the lovely ladies to re-enter the picture.  By that time, the tiring shutterbug isn't that interested in two dates for himself--just a deal sealer on the furniture.  Dude seems to want to be in bed alone for once. 


Jesse White doesn't have his trademark cigar in either installment, but he's sufficiently obnoxious without it.  Hilariously so--laughing loudly at his own jokes, backslapping, and trying to loosen up the hopelessly dull "Collins" that Helm nervously presents to him.  But this half of the plot requires less screen time for the future Maytag repairman, another reason Bob Saves Harvey is less frenetic.  And while seeing Henderson's full embrace of Hollywood clothing is good for some chuckles, it can't compare to his aggressive come-ons, graceless dancing and (unintentional, granted) passing out of pornographic souvenirs during the arc's first half.


Both are absent from Bob Gets Harvey a Raise, but Margaret and Chuck make it into Bob Saves Harvey, with the former having little to do besides being brought up to speed to start the episode.  Chuck is one more person to fool in order to keep Henderson in the dark about Helm's ruse, and then unwittingly brings down the hoax by sending Mrs. Helm to the Mermaid.


Mary Lawrence's appearances as Ruth Helm were sporadic and usually brief, but she was very well cast and always well utilized.  Bob Saves Harvey is no different; her priceless minute with Jesse White is arguably the high point of the installment.


While Bob Saves Harvey might not be as uproarious as its better half, it's still pretty funny---as long as you've seen Bob Gets Harvey a Raise first.  That segment is the superior half as it is an absolute riot on its own.  While it might not seem necessary to make this clever story a two parter, Paul Henning did have 39 half hours a year to produce, and he made most of them funny for five full years.  He would continue to utilize multi-segment stories frequently on THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES.


WHO WAS BLOCKING?

Bob faced no obstacles in the opener, and none until Ruth Helm's involvement--which was directed at her husband, not him--here.  Nevertheless, that shiner that "Mother" gave him would have hindered his success on this night.  That said.....


DID BOB SCORE?

....Bob probably didn't have enough gas in the tank to seal that deal on this night anyway. 


After the wild goings-on of Bob Gets Harvey a Raise, Bob Saves Harvey is anti-climactic.  To be fair, that's unavoidable and also fitting.  As Hap put it, a man needs some rest!  While laughs are fewer and less vociferous, Bob Saves Harvey regains momentum once everyone converges on The Mermaid, and the capper is satisfying enough to make you overlook that this is the more subdued (and slightly padded) half of this hour-long romp. (**1/2 out of four)


Both episodes are available for your viewing pleasure on YouTube:

 Bob Gets Harvey a Raise:



....and Bob Saves Harvey:


Tuesday, February 12, 2019

100 YEARS OF TUCK: His Television Best


COLUMBO (1972)

February 12, 1919, one hundred years ago today.  An historic day that saw the birth of acting's G.O.A.T.   That's right: today is the Centennial for The Horn Section's patron saint, Forrest Tucker.

THE GHOST BUSTERS (1975)

In the thirteen years I've been writing here, we've explored much of the man's work.  Some of the greatest of his 99 feature films were covered here when we saluted him on the twentieth anniversary of his untimely passing.   In the years since, we've been pleased to see several of big screen sleepers released on DVD and BluRay.  Particularly so to see BARQUERO and THE QUIET GUN readily available for all to see after decades of obscurity.

With Linda Darnell on CLIMAX! (1957)

Tuck had a fine run in the decade following his SANDS OF IWO JIMA breakthrough, starring in classics ranging from THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN to AUNTIE MAME.  After the latter, he became quite familiar to theatre patrons nationwide, playing Professor Harold Hill in THE MUSIC MAN some 2,038 times from 1958-1963.  When that highly successful run ended, Tuck hosted an instantly popular morning drive time show on WCFL-AM in Chicago beginning in November 1964.

And you thought Howard Stern was the King of All Media.

Tuck's newfound radio career had to be set aside six months into his run when television came calling with what would turn out to be his signature role:  Sergeant Morgan O'Rourke in the enduringly popular F TROOP.  Such was the show's impact that it has overshadowed not just a quarter century of memorable performances on stage and screen, but also the remainder of Tuck's TV resume, which he'd already been busily compiling for over a decade when F TROOP premiered in September 1965.


You're obviously enjoying the F TROOP Fridays installments here at the Section, so I won't dwell on Tuck's most famous contribution to the boob tube today.  In celebrating his Centennial, I'd like to give Tuck the same tribute we paid his frequent co-star Larry Storch last month and highlight just some of his finest moments on the small screen away from the friendly confines of Fort Courage.  A dozen to be exact, plus bonus YouTube links at the end:

WAGON TRAIN: The Rex Montana Story (May 28, 1958) as Rex Montana

Five years after playing Wild Bill Hickok opposite Charlton Heston's Buffalo Bill Cody in PONY EXPRESS, Tuck essays the Codyesque Rex Montana in this drama concerning a Wild West show.  The hero is a womanizer offstage and, as it turns out, living a lie on it.  He's a capable rider and shooter, but one with a past that catches up with him as this Story unfolds.  The first of many television western appearances for future Golden Boot Winner Tucker (he was one of the inaugural class, in 1983).  A tour de force near the end of this classic's freshman season.




CELEBRITY GOLF: March 19, 1961 



Forrest Tucker's prowess on the links could be the subject of its own post.  Hell, maybe it will be sometime.  Fortunately, we have this episode as an artifact of his avocation, in which Tuck battles golfing legend Slammin' Sammy Snead.  How good was Tuck at his hobby?  Snead was on a ten match winning streak against celebrity opponents with intent to make Forrest his eleventh victim.  How did it go?  Mike Connolly had the scoop three months before the episode aired:




That'll learn him to mess with The Sarge.

HOLLYWOOD PALACE:  November 27, 1965

Forrest Tucker, Larry Storch and Ken Berry appeared with host Janet Leigh on ABC's venerable variety series.  Of course, the stars of the network's hottest new show were on for sweeps month.  Ken's dancing was highlighted, Larry did some standup, and Tuck paid tribute to Jimmy Durante and demonstrated some of the singing and dancing talents that had largely been limited to his stage work.



HONDO: Hondo and the Judas (November 3, 1967) as William Clarke Quantrill

"Man can live with one wing, but not with gangrene."

Tuck is the top billed guest star in what might be the best-known episode of the longtime TNT Saturday morning cult favorite (currently being rediscovered on GetTV where it has aired on Sundays since 2015).  While I don't consider this to be one of the stronger installments, Tucker's performance as the Civil War guerilla leader is a bold one, worthy of the larger audience it has attained in reruns.  This dubious Colonel is no one-dimensional villain.  Manipulative yet charming one moment, exploding with rage at his handicap the next, then bravely taking on three gunmen with only one arm to protect a longtime friend just when you think you've figured him out.  Tucker's Quantrill inspires obedience and loyalty from the James brothers, the Younger brothers, the Fords and one Hondo Lane despite some serious fissures in his personality which have intensified since the loss of a wing and a war.


GUNSMOKE: The War Priest (January 5, 1970)

Tuck was a particular favorite on the longest-running western on U.S. network television, making a half-dozen segments between 1965 and 1972.  His most impactful character arrived in the first GUNSMOKE of the Seventies: Sergeant Emmett Holly, a whiskey-soaked racist in hot pursuit of an escaped Native to protect his "perfect record" days before his retirement.  And, eventually, also in hot pursuit of Miss Kitty, perhaps even more intensely.  Holly even returned to woo her in an ill-conceived, farcical sequel a season later.  Some say The War Priest reminds you of his most famous role, which IMO is completely false outside of the uniform he's wearing.  Myself, I wonder if they've actually watched this one, or if they confused it with Holly's second installment.  Tuck carries this one, with James Arness mostly absent (a frequent occurrence during the show's anthology-like final years).



NIGHT GALLERY: Dr. Stringfellow's Rejuvenator (November 17, 1971) as Dr. Stringfellow

"You see, I give them a little peek over the pigsty, a view of heaven."

Another old west con man, this one far less fun than Fort Courage's Sergeant.  Dr. Stringfellow peddles the titular serum from town to town, and while there are hints of a conscience buried underneath the bluster, something clearly died in this man a long time ago.  It's a tribute to Tuck's skill that he is able to instill a man who has no redeeming qualities (this fraud sells false hope to a dying six year old girl) with a hint of humanity here and there.  Forrest Tucker's only journey into Rod Serling-land, which is a shame.



BONANZA: Warbonnet (December 26, 1971) as Frank Ryan

In contrast to his ubiquity on GUNSMOKE, it is truly a surprise that one of the busiest actors in the genre made only one appearance on the second longest running television Western of all time, and not until the show's next-to-last season!  Fortunately, Forrest's lone BONANZA gave him a meaty character to essay, a retired cavalry officer who is not all that he seems to be.  His facade is threatened by the arrival of Chief Dan George, who claims the titular headdress was stolen from him.  A romance with Linda Cristal (HIGH CHAPARRAL) is an added bonus.  Tucker later made another memorable appearance with Michael Landon on LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE in 1975.


WELCOME HOME, JOHNNY BRISTOL (January 30, 1972) as Harry McMartin

Excellent Made-for-TV movie deserves a standalone review, and will get one now that I've had a chance to revisit it.  Martin Landau is a Vietnam POW convalescing in a VA hospital looking for his Vermont hometown--which no one has ever heard of and appears to no longer exist.  Forrest gets to show his avuncular side as a wheelchair bound WWII vet who meets Landau at the hospital and sympathizes with his plight.  Fine acting from all involved, including Jane Alexander, Martin Sheen and Brock Peters.  One hell of a final scene for the venerable star too.



KOJAK:  On the Edge (January 11, 1976) as Detective Paul Zachery

If you could steal an episode of KOJAK from Telly Savalas, you were doing something right.  Tucker played plenty of aging professionals facing mortality literally or figuratively in prime time during the Seventies, and this is one of his strongest.  Nearing retirement, Forrest is a Detective longing to recapture his glory days.  Fifteen years after he received a ton of recognition for cracking a high-profile case, Tuck's thirst for the limelight has led him to alienate wife Verna Bloom personally and Captain MacNeil professionally.  The latter wants Tuck's badge.  For good reason it turns out, since Tuck is willing to break the rules in a big way to go out a winner.  Nuanced performance, both at home and the office.  But once again, Tuck went sadly unnoticed by the Emmys.



ALICE: Flo Finds her Father (April 14, 1979) and FLO: A Castleberry Thanksgiving (November 24, 1980) as Edsel Jarvis Castleberry

Tucker proved such a popular guest star that many of his characters were invited back:  Sergeant Emmett Holly on GUNSMOKE and Joe Snag on DANIEL BOONE were two examples.   Tucker had this opportunity again after his introduction as Flo's wealthy, estranged father on ALICE.



After Florence Jean Castleberry was spun off into her own series, Forrest got a second go-round in a special one hour episode (shown in two parts in syndication and streaming), in which the blustery yet sympathetic absentee father tried to make amends with the rest of the family members he's hurt one year after reconnecting with his daughter.  Practically tailor-made to Tucker's flamboyant, extroverted personality: a good showcase for both Tuck and series star Polly Holliday.  FLO was recently released on DVD by Warner Archive and remains an entertaining series throughout its too-short 29 episode run.




TIMESTALKERS (March 10, 1987 TVM) as Texas John Cody

Forrest Tucker's swan song was released posthumously, in this overlooked but entertaining time travel tale starring William Devane, Lauren Hutton and Klaus Kinski.  It's appropriate that Tuck ended his forty-six year career on the tube and that his character is closely connected to the old West. As "Texas" John Cody, an expert on the subject, Tuck provides some key information for Devane and also finds time to flirt with Hutton.  Hell, who wouldn't?



Happy Birthday, Tuck, and R.I.P.  You can find many of Forrest Tucker's television AND film performances on YouTube, such as this 1957 episode of FORD TELEVISION THEATRE:



And, this 1958 installment of G.E. THEATRE, with Bette Davis and HIGH CHAPARRAL star Leif Erickson.  Happy hunting!


Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Television Review: HONDO: "Hondo and the Death Drive" (1967)






"Your lives are meaningless compared to HONDO!"  








HONDO: "Hondo and the Death Drive" (1967 ABC/MGM/Batjac Productions) Season One, Episode 13.  Original Air Date: December 1, 1967.  Starring Ralph Taeger as Hondo Lane, Noah Beery, Jr. as Buffalo Baker, William Bryant as Colonel Crook, Glenn Langan as Victor Tribolet.  Guest Stars: Alan Hale, Jr. as Ben Cobb, L. Q. Jones as Allie, Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez as Sancho, J. Pat O'Malley as Rufus, Reed Hadley as Morgan Slade, Terry Wilson as Dakota, X Brands as Coro, Ted Gehring as Kemp, Dave Cass as Harper, John Mitchum as Bartender, Bill Catching as Saloon Brawler, Roy Sickner as Cox, Tom Steele as Hudson, Jeff Morris as Galin.  Written by Peter Germano.  Directed by William Witney.


Series overview and introduction to the HONDO episode guide is at this link.


A cattle drive delivering to the Pinto Basin Apache reservation is lost to a stampede in a storm, forcing Colonel Crook to scramble for beef.  Heading the cattlemen's association in the Basin, Ben Cobb tries to extort too high a price to provide it.  Rationalizing that marbled steak and wool provides more overall value and sheep will be easier to keep, Crook purchases 500 head from Slade and orders Hondo and Buffalo to oversee the delivery.  Meanwhile, Cobb plots to stop them from reaching their destination by any means necessary.


Hondo and the Death Drive marks an intriguing change in direction for the series, with Fort Lowell moving from focal point to springboard and the Dows receding into the background.  In fact, both Kathie Browne and Buddy Foster appeared for the last time in Hondo and the Ghost of Ed Dow.  Beefed up is Noah Beery's role, with Hondo Lane and Buffalo Baker receiving road assignments in each of the final five installments.  This time, they head west to the Pinto Basin.


Buffalo: "Colonel, I don't even wear wool socks!"
Crook: "You don't wear any socks!"

The last and best of the trio of episodes directed by William Witney (DARKTOWN STRUTTERS), Hondo and the Death Drive is a tailor made project for the former Republic serial specialist.  The action isn't quite nonstop, but the ambush or round of fisticuffs is always right around the corner.  Jones, Beery, Taeger and Wilson all put up their dukes before the titular journey even starts, with the last two seem mighty close to getting kicked by a horse in their fracas:


Witney really brings his 'A' game once the scouts and shepherds hit the road.  Fistfights give way to strategic ambushes and counterattacks, with weapons ranging from saltpeter to molotov cocktails.  A bottle of Bay Rum comes in handy for Buffalo at one point.  Blustering Cobb has seemingly endless avenues for sabotage: while it's never stated, it sure seems highly possible that the corrupt cattleman had something to do with that stampede that caused Crook's predicament.


Writer Peter Germano (The Art Lovers, for MAVERICK) works hand in glove with the director.  Amidst the well-paced activity, Germano's efficient teleplay allows us to get to know Lane's partners in the unlikely drive.  We learn about various methods that they cope with their losses and longings: Sancho's wife, Dakota's father, Rufus's son.


Slade: "One day, there won't be any need for Indian reservations."
Hondo: "Mr. Slade, there's no need for 'em right now."

Succinctly, Germano also makes pertinent points about the Apache "getting the dirty end of the stick" in both food and shelter.  Taeger's blunt Hondo is the perfect vehicle to deliver them non-intrusively, and the actor's expressions say it all even before his sparse responses to the justifications he hears from Crook and Slade.


Practically every HONDO offers a top notch guest cast, and Hondo and the Death Drive offers another plethora for cultists.  In his first post-Skipper dramatic role, Alan Hale, Jr. really digs into Ben Cobb's avarice and lack of conscience yet remains charismatic enough to believably draw in cattlemen and Native Americans alike in his glad-handing.  Keeping Cobb treacherous with nary a lapse into caricature, Hale's a fine choice to bring him to life.


After guest starring in THE REBEL and BRANDED, the ubiquitous L. Q. Jones completes his Fenady trifecta as Allie, the accomplice who almost learns too late that Cobb doesn't intend to leave loose ends.  The part is somewhat thankless (he takes punches from both principals), but Jones portrays Allie's initial leeriness (greed eventually reassures him) and post-attack P.T.S.D. effectively.


Nearly three decades after starring in ZORRO'S FIGHTING LEGION, Reed Hadley reunites with Witney in what would turn out to be one of his final roles.  X Brands (YANCY DERRINGER) is the renegade Apache hired by Cobb, and David S. Cass makes one of his earliest appearances as Cobb's right hand cowpuncher.  The always looming John Wayne connection is alive and well with character actor extraordinaire Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez (CHISUM) and Terry Wilson having plenty of dialogue fourteen years after doing stuntwork on the 1953 HONDO.


Wilson is joined by a who's who of stunt coordinators: Tom Steele, Wally West and Bill Catching also have speaking parts.  It isn't that big a surprise to see the last two uncredited, but it is mildly surprising to see John Mitchum missing from the cast list.  Glenn Langan is yet another CHISUM alumni here, and his always despicable Tribolet makes a fifth and final series appearance.  Would it surprise you to learn that he and Cobb are fast friends?


"I guess this country's big enough for sheep and cattle, Mr. Lane."
"I reckon they don't build 'em any bigger."

The final showdown offers a neat twist, with Cobb running afoul of his own scheme thanks to Hondo's creativity.  Confronted with the final failure of his scheme, the heretofore verbose magnate can only manage repeated and unheeded commands to "shut up" in the presence of his manipulated minions.  Unimpeded in the least by its worthy underlying statement and boasting solid work on both sides of the camera, Hondo and the Death Drive is a terrific yarn from start to finish.


HOW MANY CANS OF WHOOPASS?

Indicative of the greater emphasis on Beery's role, it's a close competition between Hondo and Buffalo this time.  However, Lane gets a 4-3 edge in the final tally.  Hondo kicks the crap out of initially unruly Dakota after taking over as drive boss, then subdues a renegade Apache in hand to hand combat during the raid and subdues Cobb and his henchman with a single punch each.  Not to be outdone, Baker impressively handles the younger, larger Allie at Fort Lowell's cantina in the teaser.  Later, Baker dispatches a brawler objecting to his sheepish scent at Mitchum's, then scores his own one-punch knockout engineering Hondo's jailbreak.


IS THE CANTINA STILL STANDING?

Before hitting the trail, Buffalo tangles with sheep man Allie in Fort Lowell's watering hole, which only loses a single chair in the skirmish.  Mitchum's barroom is even less scathed later.


A DOG'S LIFE:

The always versatile Sam tries his paw at sheep herding and makes a new girlfriend after meeting Sancho's sheephound Maria.  He damned near stays behind with her at the fade-out, even.  Not that he neglects his usual duties: Sam helps Sancho discover the stashed whisky, and finds that one saboteur (Harper) who is afraid of dogs once again during the attempt to poison the waterhole.


THE BOTTOM LINE:

Does Hondo and the Death Drive sound exciting?  It should.  Top notch old school entertainment, the first of a final quintet of episodes taking Hondo, Buffalo and Sam on weekly road trips is one of the finest installments, period.  Germano's economical writing perfectly complements Witney's ability to stage action sequences.  As rewatchable a segment as any in this long underappreciated series.   (**** out of four)



HONDO airs Sunday mornings at 11:15 A.M. Eastern, 10:15 A.M. Central on GetTV.