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Friday, September 29, 2023

F TROOP Fridays: "Go For Broke" (1966)

 



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."



THE NIELSENS:

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. 

BOTTOM LINE:

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) 

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Television Reviews: LOVE THAT BOB: "Bob Helps Martha" (1959)/"Bob Helps Von Zell" (1959)



LOVE THAT BOB a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW: "Bob Helps Martha" (1959 NBC-TV/Laurel-McCadden Productions) Original Air Date: May 26, 1959.  Starring Bob Cummings as Bob Collins, Rosemary deCamp as Margaret MacDonald, Ann B. Davis as Schultzy, Guest Stars: Elena Verdugo as Rosita Ballestero, Rose Marie as Martha Randolph, Harry Von Zell as himself.  Written by Paul Henning and Dick Wesson.  Directed by Bob Cummings. 


LOVE THAT BOB a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW: "Bob Helps Von Zell" (1959 NBC-TV/Laurel-McCadden Productions) Original Air Date: June 2, 1959.  Starring Bob Cummings as Bob Collins, Rosemary deCamp as Margaret MacDonald, Ann B. Davis as Schultzy, Guest Stars: Elena Verdugo as Rosita Ballestero, Rose Marie as Martha Randolph, Harry Von Zell as himself, George Burns as himself.  Written by Paul Henning and Dick Wesson.  Directed by Bob Cummings. 

Introduction to the LOVE THAT BOB/THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW episode guide and overview of the series is at this link.

Schultzy's friend Martha Randolph has 'borrowed' the Spanish costume from Bob's studio without the Boss' knowledge, and had a chance meeting with a television star while wearing it--GEORGE BURNS SHOW announcer Harry Von Zell.  Von Zell thinks he's really met a Senorita, and plumber's secretary Martha tells a teeny white lie to lead him on.  Namely, that she is one of Bob's models.  Unfortunately, Martha can't continue the ruse because Bob needs the costume to photograph the much more culturally appropriate professional model Rosita Ballestero for an ad campaign.


Rosita is also much sexier (no offense, Martha) and much, much more jealous and hot tempered.  Despite Schultzy's warning that Rosita won't take the gig without a little romance from Bob, our playboy is willing (even eager) to do whatever it takes to get the job done.  What a pro!


But you know what they say about the best laid plans (or plans to get laid--however you look at it).  Von Zell drops by Bob's office, hoping to see the Senorita Bonita sans mask and veil.  Naturally Rosita is confused with Martha by the snooping Harry and sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, as Harry ends up with Rosita as his evening's date after the smoke clears.  Martha is angered and Bob is none too happy either but plots to put things back in place before the night even gets young. 

"You mean he traded me like a sack of flour???"

A Paul Fonda (or even a Bill Lear for that matter) wouldn't have been so innocent in creating the misunderstanding with Rosita, but the fictionalized Von Zell of the BURNS AND ALLEN universe is certainly clueless enough to seem unintentional.  For sure, "turned you over to me" should have been offensive enough wording to shoot both Von Zell and Collins down in Rosita's eyes and Von Zell doubles down: "I got you for nothing!"



"She is a doll, you are a dog, and he is my new sweetheart!"

Yep, ignorance is bliss, and Von Zell doesn't even realize he's being used by Rosita to get back at Bob.  The first half of this Henning/Wesson two parter has an amusing springboard that builds for a while as the action moves back to the Collins household as our playboy attempts to get the right puzzle pieces in place for the evening: Bob with Rosita and Harry back to Martha.  Lucking into outkicking his coverage doesn't give Harry a clue: he arrives for his date dressed like a mariachi guitarist.  (At least Von Zell does have a musical background.)  Bob knows how to play to one's strengths, and he gets Martha and Harry together by surmising that the way to Von Zell's heart is through his stomach.  


"Between the flippin', flatterin' and flamenco-in', I'm too pooped to park!"

In the star studded (and gimmicky) final season, Elena Verdugo made three appearances in all, with these episodes following Bob and the Ravishing Realtor.  She was Bob's special guest star for a reason, hot off PANAMA SAL and her own long running CBS series MEET MILLIE.  Verdugo as Bob's latest model was a real coup, but it's too bad her material wasn't better; the earlier segment was marred by improbable silliness better suited to less sophisticated sitcoms, and this two parter really seems padded out--particularly in its second half hour.


As a standalone, though, Bob Helps Martha has its moments, with the confusion at the Collins studio providing the best laughs.  The slapstickier Act II at the home front suffers in comparison--as game as Cummings is with the physical humor, Martha's inedible pizza is one more fifth season setpiece that doesn't live up to the standards of the show's prime.  Second part Bob Helps Von Zell shifts the focus to the playboy's effort to get Harry to make his moves on Martha, but unfortunately has fewer laughs and more obvious padding.  Even the planned payoff of George Burns' guest appearance (stealing Schultzy away to replace Gracie!) doesn't really deliver.  Both episodes are thankfully sans Tammy Marihugh (a.k.a. this series' Cousin Oliver) but have the other problems all too common in 1959 LOVE THAT BOB segments: an overreliance on meta guest stars, all-too-conventional situations and Dwayne Hickman's M.I.A. status.  Wesson and Henning still have some verbal wit in them but the end is in sight.  (Bob Helps Martha: **1/2 out of four; Bob Helps Von Zell: ** out of four).


DID BOB SCORE?

How we really know LOVE THAT BOB is nearing the end, just five episodes from it: Collins' aforementioned line about being too pooped to park.  With Elena Verdugo????  Dude....Lothario is losin' it.

WHO WAS BLOCKING?

Von Zell, inadvertently, though Bob loses interest after removing the unwitting obstacle.  What show is this again?  (The fictional Von Zell of the BURNS universe was single, but the real Von Zell had been married to wife Minerva for 34 years(!) at this point, and remained so until his death in 1981.)

END OF AN ERA:

For McCadden Productions for sure.  LOVE THAT BOB was nearing the finish line and THE GEORGE BURNS SHOW had already aired the final installment of its one and only season a month earlier.  Burns was making his second appearance of this season (Bob Butters Beck, Beck Butters Better was the other) but all the crossovers didn't help Burns and Von Zell keep their show going sans Gracie Allen.  

If you'd like to watch this two parter for yourself, here it is, courtesy the YouTube channel of yours truly:




Friday, May 12, 2023

F TROOP Fridays: "A Fort's Best Friend is Not a Mother" (1966)

 



F TROOP Fridays: Number 37                  





F TROOP: "A Fort's Best Friend is Not a Mother" (ABC-TV/Warner Brothers 1966) Season One, Episode 31.  Original Air Date: April 19, 1966.  Starring Forrest Tucker as Sgt. O'Rourke, Larry Storch as Cpl. 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 Duffy, Joe Brooks as Vanderbilt, Ivan Bell as Dudleson, Ben Frommer as Papa Bear.  Guest Star: Jeanette Nolan as Mrs. Parmenter.  Written by Ed James and Seaman Jacobs.  Directed by Seymour Robbie.

The latest visitor to Fort Courage is the wife of General Thor X. Parmenter, sister in law to Colonel Jupiter Parmenter, and of course mother of one Captain Wilton Parmenter.  Mrs. Parmenter intends to stay with her son for a few days en route to California, but after getting a good look at Wilton's quarters and girlfriend Wrangler Jane the General's wife decides to extend her stay--to keep her son away from things "far more dangerous than wild Indians". 


"I made a General out of your father and I can make a General out of you!"

With twin goals to pursue: bringing son Wilton equal in rank to her husband and thwarting Jane's attempts to get wifed by Wilton, Mrs. Parmenter digs in with gusto.  Side by side with her son from reveille and performing twice as many inspections (i.e. mess hall, barracks, Duffy's mustache), the General's wife wakes up sleepy little Fort Courage.  It's only a matter of time before her snooping uncovers O'Rourke Enterprises, so the Sarge decides to convince her that the Fort is a powder keg that can go off at any second.  As always, O'Rourke half solves the problem--Momma Parmenter is headed off on the next stage, but she's alerted the family friends in D.C. that the Captain is to be transferred with her!


"She wants us to dig a moat!  Who we fightin', Robin Hood??"

After a visit from the Captain's Uncle in Iron Horse Go Home, we find out this time that A Fort's Best Friend is not a Mother, as the Parmenter matriarch proves to be the biggest threat of all potential family members to the Fort Courage status quo.  As played by Jeanette Nolan (later to headline her own western sitcom, GUNSMOKE spinoff DIRTY SALLY), Mrs. (no first name) Parmenter is smothering mother one line, stern disciplinarian the next.  With her husband's stature, even O'Rourke is wary of her wrath, as she can go places that no officer encumbered by military decorum can. 


"Horace Greeley had a terrible sense of direction!"

A mother's touch can only go so far, though, and General Custer was far more successful in turning Wilton into a feared figure (Old Ironpants).  The General had the advantage of getting Parmenter away from the men for two weeks--with home field advantage here, the Captain exasperates Mom by being "entirely too familiar" with his subordinates.  O'Rourke is correct in figuring her prim and proper Philadelphia sensitivities will be overwhelmed by a "wild" west town, but doesn't figure on her discomfort taking The Great White Pigeon away.


"The town needs you, I need you, the whole West needs you!"

"You're right.....but what'll I tell my mother?"

Not to worry, the Sarge figures out a way to satisfy his adversary's ambition while assuaging her fears with another well-placed Hekawi attack.  Or more precisely, plans for one.  The Council of War is one of the show's funniest sequences, and Corporal Agarn is to be commended for having the stones to impersonate Geronimo so soon after claiming to have killed the warrior almost resulted in the Corporal's own demise (Our Hero, What's His Name?).  


In the end, Captain Parmenter impresses Mom sufficiently with his forcefulness to reclaim his command from her, and apparently one trip out West was enough for her as Nolan was another one and done guest star.  We later learn she has a daughter though, as Wilton's sister Daphne visits for the second season's Miss Parmenter


But that's in the future.  F TROOP's initial season displays a show at its peak with three episodes left in that batch, but about to lose its co-creators: this was the penultimate episode for James and Jacobs (The Day The Indians Won).  While they lost their power struggle with producer Hy Averback, the writers went out with several high notes.  A Fort's Best Friend is Not a Mother is F TROOP at the height of its comedic potency, marred only by the rather tiresome re-use of DODGE CITY footage for the staged "brawl" at O'Rourke's saloon.  The move to color would fortunately take away the temptation away to do it again (and Warner's almost certainly would have without it).


HOW'S BUSINESS AT O'ROURKE ENTERPRISES?

That sure looked like considerable damage done to the saloon just to scare the Captain's mother into leaving.  A new mirror and, well, every bit as much damage to the watering hole as was done in O'Rourke vs. O'Reilly (and of course, the film DODGE CITY).  Plus, the scheme backfired, so whatever the cost to repair the place (mirrors, glasses, etc.) was all in vain.


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

Despite obvious consortion with the enemy, the Sarge is probably in the clear thanks to the deflection of allowing himself to be burned at the stake by the savage Chiefs.  Who would suspect a man endangering himself like that?


THINGS YOU LEARNED:

Vanderbilt's enlistment was purely accidental, Duffy remains a bachelor, and most of all, buglers do NOT tell General's wives what to do.

PC OR NOT PC?

Wilton's mother certainly looks down her nose at the "wild" natives, but to be fair, she's that way with everyone.  She calls Fort Courage the most peaceful town she's ever seen though, so maybe things are spicier back east than we could have surmised from Lucy Lanfield's visit.  


Jeanette Nolan gets the same room to run that was given other 'name' guest stars, and has a field day with some wonderfully loony lines from James and Jacobs.  Clumsy stock footage during her town tour is really the only drawback here, and the Council of War is just one of the highlights--others are Jane's subtle tug of war with her future(?) mother-in-law over an oblivious (as always) Wilton and Nolan's scrutiny of the troops.  It all adds up to another hilarious first season outing.  (***1/2 out of four) 

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Television Review: LOVE THAT BOB: "Return of the Wolf" (1955)



LOVE THAT BOB a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW: "Return of The Wolf (or: Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonda)" (1955 NBC-TV/Laurel-McCadden Productions).  Original Air Date: June 19, 1955.  Starring Bob Cummings as Bob Collins, Rosemary de Camp as Margaret MacDonald, Ann B. Davis as Schultzy, Dwayne Hickman as Chuck MacDonald, Lyle Talbot as Captain Paul Fonda.  Written by Paul Henning and Bill Manhoff.  Directed by Rod Amateau.

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

"I just landed...but now that I hear your lovely voice, I'm right back up in the clouds again!"

No, that isn't Bob on the phone with Shirley or Collette.  It's Paul Fonda calling Margaret to let her know he's back in town.  The Return of the Wolf is enough to give Bob second thoughts about taking Chuck on a planned fishing trip and leaving Margaret alone in town with his old Army co-pilot.  As Margaret surmises when Bob calls Fonda a wolf, it takes one to know one.


Our playboy shutterbug bounces from home to office to lakeside cabin and home again attempting to stop the liason, just missing Margaret and the big bad Wolf at each stop.  He enlists Schultzy to provide the workplace distraction and his beloved nephew to thwart the rest, all the while insisting that the latter is way too young for such things.


Simple first season setup puts the shoe on the other foot in Lyle Talbot's titular return after a brief attempt to play matchmaker for Margaret in Choosing Miss Coffee Break and its sequel.  Understandably, she finds Fonda more exciting than Hal Peary's giggling politician and chafes at brother Bob's hypocrisy.  There's no models to be found and the plot and premise is already familiar: Bob to the Rescue aired just two months prior.  But Return of the Wolf improves considerably on its more generic predecessor.


LOVE THAT BOB excelled at dream sequences: The Sheik and Bob Tangles with Ruthie are two of the best examples reviewed here previously.  Like the former, Return of the Wolf features fantasy inspired by the silent era, complete with title cards.  It's a perfect fit for Cummings and Talbot as they receive free reign to see who can overact most outrageously.  Amazingly, Ed Wood alumni Talbot seems to win that battle in hilarious fashion--and deCamp hams it up commendably as well.


Bob's Dream--or Unhand my Sister You Cad! is the climax and undisputed highlight of Return of the Wolf, but the uncomplicated, bare bones plot has other charms.  The charms of Charmaine Schultz are used to distract El Lobo while Bob scrambles to cut him off at the office, but predictably Fonda treats the would be seductress as one of the guys.  Yes, just like Bob.  I guess Schultzy is powerless to land the poon hounds but has the nice guys (a la Frank Crenshaw) to herself.  Naturally, she prefers the "cads", and despite the constant admonishing from her younger brother, so does Margaret, apparently.   


Despite his cheesy entrance line, Fonda says he's a changed man--though his reaction to Margaret greeting him in a wedding dress indicates he still has lothario tendencies in common with his war buddy.  Hey, Paul's still single when the series ends and so is Bob.  Who says you can't have your cake and eat it too?  Packing for the fishing trip and the lack of success on it offer secondary pleasures, keeping the smiles coming until the belly laughs of the finale commence.  It all adds up to a lot of fun being had for actors and audience despite the dearth of models.


WHO WAS BLOCKING?

Bob was!  Yes, it's funnier when he's the blockee instead of the blocker, but variance is welcome in small doses.


DID BOB SCORE?

See above.  Wasn't even trying, so you know it's still early in the show's run.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Three segments from the end of LOVE THAT BOB's freshman season, Return of the Wolf displays a sitcom emerging from its infancy and rounding into form.  Talbot would continue popping up for the next four seasons, and remained Bob's best male foil throughout.  Soon, Henning and friends would find ways to keep Collins and Fonda on the chase at the same time (Bob Meets Fonda's Sister) but with at least two memorable setpieces, Return of the Wolf is a great showcase for the show's regulars and its most frequent recurring character.   (*** out of four)

To watch this one on YouTube, click on this link


Friday, February 10, 2023

F TROOP Fridays: "Captain Parmenter, One Man Army" (1966)

 




F TROOP Fridays: Number 36






F TROOP: "Captain Parmenter, One Man Army" (1966 ABC-TV/Warner Brothers) Season One, Episode 26: Original Air Date March 15, 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 deKova as Chief Wild Eagle, Don Diamond as Crazy Cat, James Hampton as Bugler Dobbs, Bob Steele as Duffy, Joe Brooks as Vanderbilt, John Mitchum as Hoffenmueller, Ivan Bell as Dudleson.  Guest Stars: Willard Waterman as Captain Bill "Cannonball" McCormack, Herman Rudin as the Shug Chief, William Phipps as the Scout.  Written by Howard Merrill and Stan Dreben.  Directed by Charles R. Rondeau.

"You mean...we're civilians?"

Fort Courage is visited by its inaugurating CO, Captain McCormack.  The old ramrod was bent up pretty good by his subordinates, becoming a civilian entirely after completing his tour of duty.  But the old Cannonball rolled one over on his tormentors before leaving, swearing them in for another hitch after his resignation.


This revelation makes every enlisted F Trooper sans Parmenter a free agent, and ever enterprising O'Rourke sees another golden opportunity: expanding O'Rourke Enterprises without the need to hide his activities from the army.  The men follow their non commissioned leader, with Duffy (gold prospecting), Dobbs (orchestra tryout), Vandy (the medical field) and Hoffenmueller (a brewery) seeing the chance to pursue long-held dreams.  They aren't the only ones--with Parmenter alone at Fort Courage, the Shugs see a chance to realize their dream--conquering the now very short-handed fort.


In Scourge of the West we learned that Captain Parmenter followed two Captains and a Major who had been dispatched previously by O'Rourke, and Captain Parmenter, One Man Army introduces us to F Troop's first Captain, "Cannonball" Bill McCormack.  Understandably, leading F Troop was enough to drive poor Cannonball completely out of the service, but given the pranks described it's pretty clear that blustery Bill just didn't win the hearts of his Privates the way Parmenter has.  At least McCormack (played by former GREAT GILDERSLEEVE Waterman) enjoys his last laugh heartily.


Even then, defeat is only temporary for O'Rourke.  The Sarge turns this inconvenience into an El Dorado but really doesn't appear to be doing anything as a civilian that he wouldn't be as a non-com.  Previously, O'Rourke Enterprises tried having the VP on the outside with disastrous results in Me Big Heap Injun.  This time there's lots of money made, with the big difference being O'Rourke's presence--clearly, Sarge is President for a reason.  I think quality control would have proven to be a real problem in expanding the 19th Century answer to Men's Wearhouse, however (more on that below).


Stan Dreben and Howard Merrill continue to showcase improved competence for the titular Old Man after his salvage of the pension fund in Go For Broke and his sharp revelation at the denouement of Spy Counterspy, Counter Counterspy.  This is Parmenter's finest moment as CO to date, as he holds off an attack by the code busting Shugs with only Wrangler Jane's assistance.  Wilton's idea to save Fort Courage is lifted from the MAVERICK episode The Ghost Soldiers, but it is never an insult to have your intellect compared to Bret's!  Objectively, Wilton's bluff is even the more convincing of the two (more on that below).  Parmenter wears several hats for the week, and there's also little dropoff at Bugler from Dobbs with the Captain assuming those duties--admittedly, that one is a low bar to clear. 


As for the Shugs, they get mentioned a few more times during the first season, but this attack is their last hurrah as formidable opposition.  New Chief Herman Rudin (replacing Henry Brandon) isn't any more successful than his predecessor at capturing Fort Courage, with little excuse given the troopers' reduction in manpower.  We later learn in The Day The Indians Won that Geronimo reduced the Shugs to a half dozen braves, explaining the reason we never saw nor heard from them during the color season.  The peaceful, mutually prosperous approach wins yet again!

BAITING THE CENSORS:

When Wilton and Jane are left alone in town for the Dodge City trip, Jane tries again to get fresh, but the Captain pointedly chooses to polish the cannon.  Undeterred, Jane suggests he can kiss his girlfriend while polishing it.....kinky!

SOME GUARDHOUSE:

The escape of the Shug Chief in the coda is just the latest: Bald Eagle and El Diablo previously broke out of that cell, which appears to be even less effective than the Fort's cannon.

NAGGING QUESTIONS:

Quite a few.  The biggest: why would O'Rourke just come right out and state "this saloon is only the beginning" when announcing the formation of International Trading Corporation?  I thought Good Old Pete was his frontman?  Even if you're temporarily out of the Army, you've already stated you're coming back, so why risk potential snooping into the ownership later?  Why didn't Dobbs and Vanderbilt just change suits during the fitting?  And finally, who played the saloon girls celebrating the troopers' freedom?  Two have speaking parts--both attractive, yet also uncredited. 


HOW'S BUSINESS AS O'ROURKE ENTERPRISES?:

Briefly booming, though the quality control indicates the Hekawis are far better at making blankets than suits.  Presumably the saloon lost all the troopers (including the owner) to Dodge City for a weekend, but sure seemed to benefit from the same regular customers celebrating their newfound freedom.


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

Since he and Agarn were legally out of uniform most of the episode, there weren't any chargeable offenses this time.  As was the case in Here Comes the Tribe, the non-coms prove remarkably effective behind enemy lines, but the lack of an official commission at the time of the heroics leaves them with no official recognition for it.  Considering their side hustle, it's probably best to keep flying under the radar anyway.


PC OR NOT PC?

A Hell of a lot more PC than the aforementioned Ghost Soldiers.  The Shugs weren't able to get very close to Fort Courage thanks to the the number of bullets fired by Jane and Wilton, so falling for Wilton's ploy is far less insulting than Maverick's titular 1959 ruse.  Elsewhere the Shugs successfully break the telegraph code and their Chief escapes from his captors, so they are intelligent, resourceful foes--note it was Geronimo and not F Troop that eventually did them in (as we learned in The Day the Indians Won).  And as always, Wrangler Jane remains the best shot in the territory by a wide margin.  Thank God she didn't go to Dodge for the weekend!

THE BOTTOM LINE:

About par for the season's course, with the civilian clothes alone providing a lot of laughs.  Dreben and Merrill go light on the usual pratfalls and generously distribute funny lines to the supporting cast along with a less roisterous helping of sight gags.  Parmenter's growing competence doesn't extend to sniffing out the secrets of O'Rourke Enterprises or ending his clumsiness, but he does a nice job literally holding the Fort while we get a glance at what the troopers would be doing if not enlisted.  It's too bad we couldn't peek at that weekend road trip.  (*** out of four)