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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Television Review: THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW: "Bilko's Perfect Day" (1957)



THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW: "Bilko's Perfect Day" (1957 CBS-TV) Original Air Date: May 21, 1957.  Starring Phil Silvers as Sgt. Ernest Bilko, Paul Ford as Colonel Hall, Harvey Lembeck as Corporal Barbella, Allan Melvin as Corporal Henshaw, Maurice Gosfield as Doberman, Bernard Fein as Gomez, Joe E. Ross as Sgt. Ritzik, Herbie Faye as Corporal Fender, Terry Carter as Sugarman, Billy Sands as Pappareli, Paul Lipson as Patsy the Bookie, Ben Lackland as Horatio Fink, Parker Fennaley as MacGregor, Bob Hastings as Lt. Johnson, Bert Thorn as Forbes, Billie Allen as WAC Billie, Beatrice Pons as Mrs. Ritzik.  Written by Nat Hiken, Billy Friedburg and Terry Ryan. Directed by Al de Caprio.

"There comes one day in each man's life when the Gods of chance ordain that he out of the millions in the world shall have his day.  The day when his every wish becomes a reality."

"Today, the gods have chosen a Master Sergeant in the United States Army.  His name: Ernie Bilko."

Yes, the day of his dreams has finally arrived for Sergeant Bilko.  Unfortunately, the Sarge is slow to realize today will be flawless since the day it follows was excruciatingly terrible--yesterday brought nothing but losers (0 for 26!) at the track and an accident in the Colonel's staff car on the way back that almost certainly resulted in a positive identification of our Sergeant.  Soon to be Private?


Fortunately, it's Bilko's Perfect Day, and the lucky breaks come fast and furious, getting him out of the latter.  Unfortunately, awareness is lacking--the Sarge recognizes this lone burst of good fortune but fails to pick up on clues hinting at a much bigger picture.  He's so shell-shocked from the day before he's convinced a fate worse than the guardhouse awaits after his narrow escape!  It's a race against time to see if they can have the revelation that will make Ernie shoot for a big score.  Is it really true that he'll Never Get Rich, or will he wake up in time?


Bilko's Perfect Day is the bizarro Bilko: the titular period does result in one brief windfall ($200 in the one poker hand he gets into) for the shark, but the real benefactors are the usual marks around him.  Hapless Doberman gets $100 from a hardware store contest; Lieutenant Johnson graciously accepts Bilko's conveniently timed excuse that saves him from losing his bars; even eternal loser Ritzik finds a $500 pearl in the mess hall oysters.  The largest net gain by far is made by the humble hardware store proprietor MacGregor.  Temporarily $100 poorer from paying Doberman's prize, but gets repaid literally a hundred fold by being in the right place at the right time--the post office, meeting embezzler Fink seconds after Bilko gave the wanted man the brushoff!


"Hello, Mr. Fauntleroy?  I'm turning in my library card!"

Johnson's well-timed pickup temporarily has the Sarge thinking his luck has turned, but a phone call from debtor bookie Patsy sends him right back into the belief he is cursed.  Bilko can't bring himself to let it ride on the horses, electing to stop digging after getting $100 in the hole.  


"It's a law of nature.  The smarter you are, the unluckier you are."

Of course, the Sergeant also realizes that his oft-impure motives might be a factor, talking to God for a reason.  Fortunately his thoughts don't turn too dark during his twenty four hours of wish fulfillment, though he does get the bookmaker struck by a car.  He teeters on desiring misfortune on Mrs. Ritzik, but mercifully stops short.  


Naturally, almost everyone's windfall from the cardsharps disappears when Bilko finds one last racetrack still running with a highly improbable 160 to 1 shot left on the board in Melbourne, Australia.  With Ritzik and Patsy roped into the "sure thing", everyone but MacGregor is back at square one when the clock strikes midnight.  Well, OK, except for Doberman, who is ahead at least one liverwurst sandwich from the cardsharps (plus a PB and J from Bilko) who took his $100.  While Maurice Gosfield's Doberman was more popular during the BILKO years, future CAR 54 stalwart Joe E. Ross is the funnier slob to modern eyes.  Always best in measured doses (at least, off-screen for Hiken) Ross steals the occasional scene from Silvers and every scene with long suffering wife Beatrice Pons is a gem regardless of episode.  


BILKO's second season was just a notch below its first, which is very impressive considering that 1955-56 season was a landmark in sitcom quality.  Nat Hiken was just three segments away from handing full writing responsibility to his staff, but he went out swinging with his oft-surrealistic entry that anticipated the looser atmosphere of later seasons, particularly the fourth.  No gimmicky guest stars, just a large, talented ensemble making excellent material sing.  The first two seasons were stuffed to the brim with (**** out of four) installments like this one. 


POKER OBSERVATION:

Ernest T. Bilko is a strong contender for the title of television's greatest poker player.  For sure, it comes down to him or one of the Maverick brothers.  (Sorry, Grady Hawkes.)  That said, the Sarge could take lessons from Bret and Bart on steam control.  He's still on tilt from yesterday's bad day on and off the track, and it repeatedly keeps him from seeing the charms right under his nose.  The true greats never get too high or too low--there's another hand being dealt in fifteen seconds, Sarge!  Yeah, this is a more anarchic show than MAVERICK, but still, don't let the vigor affect your play, Ernie.

The entire run of THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW is now available for viewing on YouTube, great news for anyone who loves Silvers, comedy or television.  Here's Bilko's Perfect Day:



Tuesday, June 14, 2022

LEON ERROL Series: "The Wrong Room" (1939)

 


THE WRONG ROOM (1939 RKO Pictures Short Subject)  Starring Leon Errol as Professor Errol, Veronica Lake (credited as Connie Keane) as Mrs. Stevens, Charlotte Treadway as Mrs. Errol, Eddie Dunn as Casper Stevens, John Laing as the Hotel Clerk.  Written by Stanley Rauh and Lou Brock.  Directed by Lou Brock.

Introduction and overview to our Leon Errol Salute Series is at this link.

This time it's Professor Leon Errol, thank you.  He's an authority on charm, and apparently the secret is to get yourself inebriated since Leon has already had a few too many when he arrives at the Oceanview Hotel.  The entrance of Mr. Errol follows that of newlyweds Mr. and Mrs. Stevens, there for a honeymoon destined to be interrupted by the groom's duties as junior partner in his law firm back in New York.


Stevens is predictably called away by his boss, and loopy Leon staggers into their adjacent room while the young bride is asleep.  In his decidedly un-professorly state, Errol ends up startling the waking bride, who faints away and leaves Leon with the sobering thought that he must have married her bigamously.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Errol is concerned about her inability to reach her husband, so naturally she's on her way to the hotel.

"You're Mrs. Errol?"

"Yes!"

(sotto) "He must have been drunk."


Typical furiously paced Errol farce has the sixty-ish star doing his own pratfalls, ambulating shakily and carrying an oft-unconscious Lake around like a rag doll (at one point, almost on her Shirley Temple hairdo into the linen room) like a comedian twenty years younger--or at least, thirty pounds burlier.  I'm consistently astonished how sprightly Errol is in these RKO shorts--by 1939 the man was well into his fifth decade of show business!  The venerable comic doesn't go so far as to perform the antics on the fire escape and ledge himself: you never see his face outside.  I can't fault him for deferring when he's twice the age Harold Lloyd was filming SAFETY LAST.


Credited here as Connie Keane, Veronica Lake is as wobbly-kneed as our star, falling off her unsteady feet at A) a stranger in her room; B) a perceived attempt by him to poison her; and C) the mere sight of him (Errol) in the hallway.  While Mrs. Stevens comes across as thanklessly flighty with little else to do, one can't help but think poorly of Mr. Stevens judgment.  I mean, dude: you just married Veronica Freaking Lake (granted, the peek-a-boo was still a couple of years away) and you're spending your wedding night seeing clients?  As the new hubby, forty-three year old Eddie Dunn looks a decade older than that while bride Lake was still two months away from her seventeenth birthday.    


Professor Errol spends the entire short in the same outfit from THE JITTERS (sans broken cigarette) and pretty much carries the first reel single-handedly: wobbling through the lobby, hallway and titular hotel room while trying to remember the night before.  Naturally he's given the wrong idea by wedding souvenirs, and ends up hiring the wrong attorney.  In the end, he has a choice to jump or face the music with Mrs. Errol.  Another wrong choice for the charming prof?  Director Brock fades out before we find out.


Brock helmed only seven two reelers, working mainly as a producer, but he also directed Errol in MOVING VANITIES and MAJOR DIFFICULTIES and co-wrote 1943's CUTIE ON DUTY.  He shows a talent to rival Leslie Goodwins' at directing the comic, capturing Leon's tipsy tics in all their glory and generally giving the star free reign.  Maybe too much at times, since the ongoing monologue gets a tad tedious after six minutes.  Still, the screenplay by Brock and co-writer Stanley Rauh (LOVE ON TAP) is mostly a great fit for Errol, who gives a class in Inebriation 101 that even Foster Brooks could have learned from.  


In her only outing as Leon's wife, Charlotte Treadway isn't the ideal Mrs. Errol.  For example, can you imagine Dunn delivering that insult above to Dorothy Granger or Vivian Tobin?  The groom would have had something broken over his head for sure!  As it turned out, this was Treadway's only two reeler.  She's adequate, but near the bottom of the list for Leon's screen wives.  Her husband's transgressions are limited to the bottle this time, though Mr. Errol practices his chivalry on an uncredited lovely in the hallway.  Hey, he is supposed to be the World's Foremost Charmer!


Modern audiences will likely find THE WRONG ROOM most noteworthy for the always photogenic Lake's first credited role (not her screen debut--SORORITY HOUSE arrived four months earlier).  She's given little to do here but pout and lose consciousness, but she was headed for major stardom by the time was she out of her teens.  Treadway, Dunn and Laing pretty much stay the hell out of Leon's way, but THE WRONG ROOM works perfectly fine with the star doing the heavy lifting.  Hell, wasn't that the case for most of his shorts?  Not all that imaginative, but furious, funny and tailor made for old Rubberlegs.   (*** out of four)

THE WRONG ROOM is available for viewing on YouTube:



Friday, May 27, 2022

F TROOP Fridays: "Spy, Counterspy, Counter Counterspy" (1966)

 



F TROOP Fridays: Number 33





F TROOP: "Spy, Counterspy, Counter Counterspy" (ABC-TV/Warner Brothers 1966) Season One, Episode 22. Original Air Date: February 15, 1966.  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, Bob Steele as Private Duffy, Joe Brooks as Vanderbilt, William Woodson as the Secretary of War, Robert Lieb as Jenkins.  Guest Stars: Pat Harrington, Jr. as B Wise, Abbe Lane as Lorelei Duval. Written by Stan Dreben and Howard Merrill.  Directed by Charles R. Rondeau. 


"That'll teach 'em to get smart with B. Wise!"

A communique arrives to notify Captain Parmenter that as a result of the superb troops under his command, F Troop has been chosen to test a top secret new military weapon.  Uh, on second thought, perhaps it was chosen due to the Fort's remote location?  That's part of the upside, true, but the Secretary of War also notes the limited downside in the eyes of the Army.  Failure of the device (a bullet proof vest, though they are practicing on it with arrows in D.C.) could result in the loss of some members of F Troop!


Arriving on the same stagecoach as the highly confidential package: 'new schoolmarm' Lorelei Duval, who is in turn being shadowed by secret agent B. Wise.  Wise fears that Duval could be involved in counterespionage, and she certainly shows a great deal of interest in Parmenter's plans.  If she's  disguised as a teacher, her camouflage pales in comparison to B's, a self-described man of thousand faces.  If B Wise's name doesn't bring a certain operative on a rival network to mind, he also showcases  weapons hidden in his shoes and suspenders.  But should the Troopers be wary of Lorelei's feminine wiles, or simply beware of B Wise?



WISE: I'm a man of a thousand faces!

PARMENTER: I find that hard to believe.

WISE: Would you believe eight hundred and fifty?

Fellow freshman GET SMART comes in for a ribbing courtesy of Stan Dreben and Howard Merrill, who penned Stakeout on Blue Mist Mountain for that series in addition to their busy slate (eight segments) that season for F TROOP.   B. Wise's array of disguises might recall Artemus Gordon more than Maxwell Smart, but it's all SMART from there: Don Adams' clipped speech, 19th century equivalents of 99's gadgets, and even verbatim catchphrases are lifted.  Fortunately, STEVE ALLEN vet Pat Harrington, Jr. is up to the task, deadpanning his way to one smile after another.  For my money, he's a better infiltrator than The Phantom Major, but your mileage may vary.


Harrington is on target, but he has unfair competition.  Abbe Lane might well be the series' most enticing female guest star--high praise when one considers that the competition includes Leticia Roman, Laurie Sibbald, Julie Newmar and Lee Meriwether.  Ms. Duval's schoolmarm ruse might pale in comparison to Wise's abundance of aliases, but sometimes less is more: she avoids pratfalls while deftly lifting the plans from the Captain.  Granted, that's like taking candy from the proverbial baby, but so what?  You either get the job done or you don't, and she did!


After taking over as company barber the previous week in The New I.G., Dobbs continues with his new duties by getting Agarn ready for his date with Lorelei.  All the bay rum in the fort can't help Randolph score, though merely getting tossed aside for the more connected Captain is a step up from the rejections Betty Lou (Our Hero, What's His Name?) and Hermoine Gooderly (Wrongo Starr and The Lady in Black) laid on him.  While it doesn't sound good, don't worry about Jane--Ms. Duval is just doing her job.  She's all business, which means the Sarge shouldn't fret his own strikeout with her either.  And hey, Ms. Duval manages to get Wilton away from cherry phosphates at the saloon, so take note Jane: maybe getting him tipsy would loosen him up.....


The writers land most of their verbal volleys, but director Rondeau is uncharacteristically sloppy during a poorly thought out tag.  Yes, it's entirely predictable that none of the Troopers can hit Agarn from ten feet.  (They'd miss him again under more perilous circumstances in The Day They Shot Agarn.)  But testing the vest inside the men's quarters?  And somehow knocking the tower down with bullets without shattering the windows or putting holes in the walls?  Arguably the show's biggest groaner of a tag, and could have been easily solved by merely moving the testing of the vest outside.  There's no reason to fire those rifles inside--it'd be dangerous even with decent marksmanship with the standards of bullet resistance of the time!


HOW'S BUSINESS AT O'ROURKE ENTERPRISES?

The saloon looks to be having an average night during Agarn's "date" with Lorelei, and O'Rourke successfully sells 8 pairs of Hong Kong-made moccasins to the Chief and Crazy Cat.  Never fear, the Sarge keeps production of the whiskey and souvenirs close to home.


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

Zero, though B. Wise appears to be headed for a firing squad at the end of this one.  Ruined his whole day.


WISE OLD HEKAWI SAYING?

"Chinese moccasin feel good when you put them on, but one hour later, feet hurt again!"  Well, Hong Kong was ceded to the British at the time under the Convention of Peking, but maybe Wild Eagle wasn't up to date on his empire news.

PC, OR NOT PC?

The reserved female spy turns out to be Washington D.C.'s top agent, and she is more effective than her flashier male counterpart.  Yeah, just like 99 in comparison to Max, but a full century earlier!  Once again, F TROOP is far more progressive than its detractors would ever admit. 


Amusing spoof is the show's most elaborate of a competitor, and well written with a typically eclectic cast.  Too bad Wise's capture certainly made it impossible for Harrington to reprise the role, since the future Dwayne Schneider is in fine form here.  Abbe Lane doesn't get to sing, but you can't have everything.  The worst execution of a tag in the show's entire run isn't enough to spoil everything, but it should have either been restaged or cut altogether.  Par for the first season course, which is more than good enough.  (*** out of four)


Gratuitous shot of Abbe Lane showing leg.  You're welcome.


Monday, April 11, 2022

MAVERICK Mondays: "Escape to Tampico" (1958)






MAVERICK Mondays: Number 32 








MAVERICK: "Escape to Tampico" (Warner Brothers/ABC-TV 1958) Starring James Garner as Bret Maverick, Gerald Mohr as Steve Corbett, Barbara Lang as Amy Lawrence, John Hubbard as Paul Brooks, Paul Picerni as Rene Gireaux, Tony Romano as Chicuelo, Louis Mercier as Raul Gireaux, Ralph Faulkner as Ziegler, William D. Gordon as Sam Garth, Nacho Galindo as Carlos.  Written and Directed by Douglas Heyes.

A lengthy case of runbad on a riverboat trip to New Orleans leaves Bret Maverick flat busted and open to an intriguing business proposition from Rene Gireaux, who offers a $1,000 advance, to be quintupled later.  Gireaux needs an American citizen, of "exquisite tastes, but bankrupt" to bring Steve Corbett, murderer of his son, to justice.  No, not at gunpoint: Bret's task is to merely persuade Corbett back to U.S. soil from Tampico, where he runs a casino.



The opportunity to replace his full bankroll and then some sends broke Bret across the Gulf of Mexico to La Cantina Americana in the titular city.  After finding employment in the genial Corbett's establishment, Bret also finds himself believing the expatriate's claim of innocence and nullifies the agreement with Gireaux.  Maverick's expertise assists Corbett in weeding out cardsharps and disloyal employees who are cheating the proprietor, and grateful Corbett rewards the gambler with a fair share of the savings.  When sultry singer Amy Lawrence entices Corbett to follow her to Corpus Christi, Bret is left in charge--but also smells a trap, leaving Maverick with a difficult decision.  Should he stay or should he go?



Gifted writer-director Douglas Heyes wrote a MAVERICK styled noir for each lead during the second season: Prey of the Cat for Jack Kelly and Escape to Tampico for Garner.  The former is far grimmer but surprisingly the more successful of the two.  Part of the problem is the setup: while Bart is the femme fatale's victim in Cat, giving us a much higher emotional investment in the proceedings, Bret is essentially a spectator in his installment which really highlights a cynical Gerald Mohr in a role that plays off the actor's resemblance to Humphrey Bogart.



Visually, Escape to Tampico looks like Heyes' version of a MAVERICK CASABLANCA, even using the same sets as that 1942 classic.  Steve Corbett operates a nightclub/casino, wears a white suit, refuses to ever drink with the customers and can't return to his homeland.   Sounds familiar--but that last problem really points towards this episode's larger inspiration: ALGIERS.  In the 1938 American version, Charles Boyer's Pepe Le Moko (title of the original French film) is a wanted man elsewhere turned pillar of the local community.  His Achilles heels? Longing for both the France he can't return to and the visiting femme fatale who reminds him of it.  (Mohr fits only the second qualification for most of Escape to Tampico--more on that below.)



Heyes doesn't entirely do away with humor in Escape to Tampico: Bret pulls a humorous con to get the casino job originally refused him and has a ready quip for each crooked patron he dismisses from La Cantina Americain.  That's about it, though, and as Bret's immediate problem of bankroll health subsides, Steve's unrequited love moves to the fore.  We eventually learn that Steve killed Victor, but he hints it was justified, and it seems out of character for Bret to make himself the last line of defense against a man who saved his life earlier.  Bret he also proves his erstwhile self description as the "second slowest gun in the west" inaccurate as he outdraws the expatriate.  With less than convincing incentive to play the hero and an often peripheral role here, this is arguably the least satisfying Garner solo episode of the usually stellar 1958-59 batch. 



Steve would likely sniff out the trap if he questioned the patron who triggered Amy's sudden departure, since it appears the customer really has no connection to the American beauty.  It appears that Steve's cool is being melted by desperation and loneliness (again, paralleling Boyer rather than Bogart) but on the whole all motivations (save Gireaux') are nowhere near as delineated as in Prey of the Cat.  Does Steve have a death wish?  He might--after all, was it inexperience that had his dealers pulling the wool over his eyes or distraction?  Corbett gives the impression of being grateful for Bret's help, which would seem to indicate his life still has meaning to him.  Corbett's closing line also rings a little false: stating he didn't want to die in Mexico hints of a longing for the U.S.A.  It's another clear homage, as Bogart's Rick fought for the losing side of the Spanish Civil War.  But Corbett smuggled services for the losing side of the U.S. Civil War for a Confederacy that no longer exists, so that parallel doesn't translate so smoothly.  



Mohr's the focus here but actually had a better showcase in You Can't Beat the Percentage a season later, an episode more faithful to the MAVERICK universe than this one.  Escape to Tampico isn't terrible, just a couple of steps down from Heyes' usual contributions--it could have been an episode of just about any straight-faced Western of the period.  For MAVERICK or for Douglas Heyes that's a letdown.  Hey, nobody's perfect. 



HOW'D BRET DO AT POKER?

Disastrously.  He lost $2,311 at the tables on his Riverboat trip from Memphis to New Orleans (plus the $47 he spent on the trip), then the $1,000 dollar bill safety pinned in his coat at the table in The Big Easy.

BOTTOM LINE:

It's a close race between Hargrove and Heyes as to who had the better MAVERICK track record.  Heyes had success with several atypical installments, but the reduced emphasis on Bret and uncharacteristic lack of clarity makes Escape to Tampico the weakest of his second season contributions.  Not terrible but in the end unsatisfying.  In a landmark season, average looks worse than it is.  Still worth a look for the typically strong contribution from Gerald Mohr and even more references to the cinema classics above than I listed--it'll take more than one viewing to catch them all.  (**1/2 out of four)

 
MAVERICK currently airs at 5 A.M. Central on Heroes and Icons (Dish Channel 293) and 9 A.M. Saturdays on MeTV (Dish Channel 55).

Friday, March 25, 2022

F TROOP Fridays: "El Diablo" (1966)




 F TROOP Fridays: Number 32   





F TROOP: "El Diablo" (ABC-TV/Warner Brothers 1966) Season One, Episode 19.  Original Air Date: January 18, 1966.  Starring Forrest Tucker as Sergeant Morgan O'Rourke, Larry Storch as Corporal Randolph Agarn and Pancho Agarnato, 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 Vanderbilt, Benny Baker as Pete and Tony Martinez as Felipe.  Written by Arthur Julian.  Directed by Seymour Robbie. 


While the troop is going through annual physical exams, word breaks that the Mexican bandit El Diablo has been spotted in the area.  The news puts everyone on edge, but especially our Corporal: El Diablo's real name is Pancho Agarnato and he's Agarn's cousin from south of the border.


Will Agarn face scorn from the family for turning his cousin in?  Quite the contrary--even Pancho's sister thinks he's a bad seed.  The Captain reluctantly grants his Corporal permission to hunt El Diablo down and clear the family name.  You guessed it: shortly after Randolph departs, his Mexican relative arrives--taking Parmenter, Jane, Dobbs and the Sarge hostage in the Fort Courage saloon.


One of the most popular and quotable F TROOP installments is the first of three that would feature a second Storch.  Well, scratch that--El Diablo pulls out all the stops by giving us Storch in quintuplet, with Granny Agarn, Uncle Gaylord Agarn and the aforementioned Rosita Agarnato joining the titular cousin in this supreme showcase for the show's gravy comedian.


Storch gets mere seconds to essay the first three relatives but Pancho Agarnato sets the tone for later alter egos by getting the majority of the actor's screen time in El Diablo.  Storch slices slightly less ham as Pancho than as Randolph (it's close) and the master of dialects has improved this one considerably in the seven years since GUN FEVER.  Hell, he's more menacing here than as Amigo in that 1958 flick (which is still worth checking out, BTW).  The crazy seems calculated to intimidate, and succeeds--El Diablo certainly has the edge on The Scourge of the West, thwarting almost every attempt to get the drop on him at Fort Courage's cantina.  Pancho is also quite impressive with that revolver when he's not firing it into the air.


While Pancho's hard knock life seems to serve the self-described "Little Red Robin Hood" well, his genetic line is what does him in.  Yes, he's still an Agarn--and in addition to using his hat as an attention getter he also shares his cousin's hypochondria.  That's the Achilles heel that lands him in the guardhouse, with no F Trooper gullible enough to let him out.  Well, that is, except one.


Pancho Agarnato is a real criminal, unlike the falsely accused Lucky Pierre.  But despite his life of crime, El Diablo doesn't judge him too harshly.  He's at the top of his (admittedly shady) field, nobly refuses to rob the poor (though he's inconsistent on this, since he "needs the practice"), has an entire town cowering in fear of him and (in)fame that extends into the Native American camps a thousand miles from the Mexican border.  Hell, Chief Wild Eagle laments that he's in business with the wrong cousin!


While the titular alter ego predictably looms largest, El Diablo gives us other opportunities for merriment.  Vanderbilt passes his eye test, somewhat.  Wrangler Jane makes the most of the situation, sneaking a peek at the shy, shirtless Parmenter and later enjoying a Mexican Hat Dance with her crush despite his consternation at Pancho's coercion to do it.  Between Survival of the Fittest, The Day they Shot Agarn and this one, our Corporal shows he should not be chosen for any special assignments outside the confines of the Fort. 


Hal England left enough of an impression as the territory's new military doctor to be invited back as the Army dentist in Our Brave in F Troop.  And yes, that is Tony Martinez of THE REAL McCOYS as Agarnato's most vocal henchman.


NAGGING QUESTIONS:

How's that $10,000 reward going to be split if/when El Diablo is turned in?  Was there a reward for his sidekicks too?  And most glaringly: why didn't the Bandito just rob the now deserted Fort Courage bank while leaving the henchmen to hold the hostages at the saloon?


HOW'S BUSINESS AT O'ROURKE ENTERPRISES?

Not a good week.  First, Fort Courage is deserted once El Diablo and his entourage are spotted in the territory, with even good old Pete forgoing his salary until the crisis blows over.  Then, the banditos help themselves to food and drinks at the saloon, unknowingly doing so on O'Rourke's unwilling dime.  Perhaps a share of that $10,000 reward could soothe the wounds, but our Vice President blows that one too during the tag.

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

With Agarnato being the Hekawis' only visitor, this installment is free of betrayal.  Yes, even to family, since Randolph has the entire Agarn family on his side against his no-good cousin.


PC, OR NOT PC?

Either Rosita's unprintable opinion or Granny Agarn's reminiscence of Pancho would be enough to put El Diablo in the latter category.  For his part Pancho indulges in about as many cliches as he skewers, though he does triumph when all is said and done.  

THE BOTTOM LINE:

It's always a good time when Storch takes center stage, and El Diablo falls into the same category as Bye, Bye, Balloon: not quite highest tier F TROOP but justifiably very popular.  At the time of this writing it is tied as the highest rated segment over at IMDb.com and is superior to the episode it is tied with (V is for Vampire).  On its own terms, a certifiable riot.  (***1/2 out of four)

F TROOP is on hiatus presently at Circle TV, but hopefully will move back into the weekday rotation soon. It's still on their list of shows, which is a good sign. 

Monday, March 14, 2022

Made4TV Movies: HUNTERS ARE FOR KILLING (1970)

 



Why the Hell isn't this on DVD/Blu Yet? -- Number 107





HUNTERS ARE FOR KILLING (1970 CBS-TV)  Original Air Date: March 12, 1970.  Starring Burt Reynolds, Melvyn Douglas, Martin Balsam, Suzanne Pleshette, Larry Storch, Peter Brown, Jill Banner, Ivor Francis, A Martinez, Angus Duncan.  Written by Charles Kuenstle.  Directed by Bernard Girard.


Nine years after a vehicular manslaughter conviction that killed four (including his brother) and three years after his release from prison for it, former football hero Reynolds returns to his northern California home town.  Burt gets a mixed reception.  Martinez and Banner idolized him as kids and fellow winery child Brown thinks he was innocent; stepfather Douglas, police chief Balsam (also the father of Burt's ex Pleshette who has married), Banner's father Francis and shady club owner Storch are among those far less thrilled to see Burt return days before his thirtieth birthday.


Douglas blames Burt for the death of his "real son" who was killed in the crash (shades of Pa Cox!) and Balsam doesn't want Pleshette's "happy" marriage threatened by the man he sees as beneath his daughter.  The latter is right to feel threatened, as we can clearly see Pleshette is Burt's alpha widow.  She may have competition from Banner, whose bad boy syndrome has Francis' nerves on ice.  So is Storch, who was pressured to help put Burt away in the first place.


It's a pre-mustache Burt in the second of his made for TV movies, months away from his second stab at TV series stardom (DAN AUGUST) and given a juicy role as Douglas' long-estranged son.  Reynolds' charisma keeps HUNTERS ARE FOR KILLING afloat despite a sometimes shaky script (this was actor Kuenstle's first, and only two followed) and a sometimes bombastic Jerry Fielding score. 


Here Burt lives up to Martinez' assessment that he was born under a bad sign almost immediately: targeted for a robbery before he even reaches town, he finds himself accused of assault and grand theft auto by Balsam before he even finishes his first cup of coffee in it.  Brown learns that even offering honest employment results in harassment by the cops and when one of Reynold's detractors turns up dead, guess who Balsam's first suspect is.  So much for gridiron heroism.


Burt's motivation for returning is an inheritance that his late mother kept secret from her husband (60 acres of wine country) via a dummy trust, but Kuenstle leaves too many incentives unsolved.  Why didn't Reynolds return for his mother's funeral if he's been out three years?  Kinda makes him seem like the mercenary that his foes say he is, yet nothing in his character other than stoicism suggests him as such (i.e. he's a teetotaler and won't touch a married woman or the much younger Banner despite both readily making themselves available).  Why did she have such affection for Reynolds when he wasn't even her natural son?  The revelation of Douglas and Reynolds' real relationship before the final act sheds some light, but opens up more questions than the script can answer. (One also has to think Storch was really visionary, if his discotheque has been in business as such for nine years in 1970!)


It's mostly heavy drama, not always convincing, until the final twenty minutes when Burt finds himself the subject of a manhunt.  While not living up to the action promised by its title, HUNTERS ARE FOR KILLING boasts a great cast like many of the fine made for TV films of its era.  Douglas and Balsam are both in fine form, with the former months away from a Best Actor nomination (I NEVER SANG FOR MY FATHER) and the former four years after an Oscar win.  Storch is far sleazier than in any of his LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE guest appearances, and naturally missed after his three scenes.  Pleshette is the woman Burt left behind--why, Burt, why?


Not to be overlooked is Judy Banner as jailbait tempting both Burt and Storch--having far more success with the latter with tragic (offscreen) results.  She is unfortunately better known today for her untimely death (in 1982, only 36) and relationship with Marlon Brando than for her too-brief (1967-72) acting career but showed real potential in THE PRESIDENT'S ANALYST and SPIDER BABY on the big screen.  This is a rare chance to catch her work (only 15 imdb.com credits)--she's not just a one-note troublemaker here, but isn't given much more to do than that.


HUNTERS ARE FOR KILLING is watchable with fine direction, but bogged down by confusing scripting and fails to transcends the limitations of its era on the small screen.   Wine country locations a solid plus in what is ultimately an agreeable enough time-waster.  


So...why isn't this on DVD/Blu yet?

It was rather ubiquitous throughout the 1970's and 1980's on local stations thanks to Reynolds' later superstardom (he only made three made for TV films before DELIVERANCE and FUZZ elevated him to the big-screen full time) but as its star faded, so did those once readily available Movies of the Week from local stations.  

Why it should be on DVD/Blu:

It's still well worth seeking out for fans of Reynolds, Douglas or Banner and a real hoot for us Larry Storch fans.  Banjo lessons--really, Larry!