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Monday, September 26, 2022

35 Years Ago Today: J.J. STARBUCK (1987-88)

J.J. STARBUCK (1987-88 NBC TV/Stephen J. Cannell Productions) Starring Dale Robertson as Jerome Jeremiah "J.J." Starbuck, David Huddleston and Jimmy Dean as Charlie Bullets, Shawn Weatherly as Jill Starbuck, Ben Vereen as E.L. "Tenspeed" Turner.  Created by Stephen J. Cannell and Lawrence Hertzog.

J.J. STARBUCK aired for the first time on this date 35 years ago today, Saturday, September 26, 1987.

Jerome Jeremiah Starbuck is a gregarious San Antonio billionaire, chairman and founder of Marklee Enterprises (named for his son Mark and wife Lee).  With a heavy drawl, ten gallon hat and the impeccable manners of a country gentleman, he takes his 1961 Lincoln convertible (subtly fitted with a bull's horns on the hood) around the country solving baffling mysteries and helping those in need.  

Is he doing this for the Hell of it, a la millionaire police captain Amos Burke (BURKE'S LAW)?  No, he's trying to be a better person (a la THE EQUALIZER's Robert McCall and later MY NAME IS EARL's titular Hickey).  A tragedy made Starbuck realize he'd prioritized work at the expense of his family: Mark and Lee were flying to surprise him at work when a crash killed them both.  With money's real importance in the big picture now sadly apparent to him, J.J. turned the day-to-day operations over to right hand man Bullets and decided to use his influence, money and pure old fashioned horse sense to help others avoid his mistakes.  And sometimes, to help bring justice to those who were using their riches to avoid it.

Mostly inspired by a catastrophic fatality from Cannell's own personal life (his 15 year old son Derek was killed in a beach accident) and partly by NBC President Brandon Tartikoff's vision of a "Charlie Bullets" who drove around with steer horns on his auto, J.J. STARBUCK didn't get a warm greeting from the day's critics, who found Starbuck to be a bit cartoonish (Robertson also disliked the outlandish hood ornament; Cannell felt it part of the package luring the guilty into a false sense of security) and the homilies (about six in the pilot, but cut down to a more reasonable two or three per episode after) too corny.  At least they didn't find much wrong with "Gone Again", the theme song by Ronnie Milsap:

Cannell's colorful touch is in evidence throughout, and while it's hard to argue STARBUCK was a lost classic, it deserves a look.  For one thing, J.J. is pretty much a loner despite the presence of Dean and Weatherly in the credits.  Weatherly is really recurring, and Dean literally phones his role in, spending a couple of minutes per show on the phone with J.J. going over Marklee bidness and helping his boss connect with contacts needed to carry out the week's mission.  (Huddleson is a bit more ambulatory in the pilot, FWIW.) There's no Mark Shera or Joe Penny around to provide a youthful counterpart to our senior sleuth--64 year old Dale Robertson pretty much goes it alone.  (At the outset, that is--more in a bit.)  With an older lead, focus is more on mind games (billionaires have a long, long list of contacts in a lot of different fields) and people skills than action.  Robert McCall was far more ready to shoot or fight, but he was a decade younger.

She wasn't in every episode, but Weatherly deserves a screencap, right?

There's also the presence of TALES OF WELLS FARGO star Dale Robertson, handpicked by Cannell for the lead.  He'd largely been missing from Hollywood since completing his DEATH VALLEY DAYS stint in 1970 and purchasing a large ranch in his native Oklahoma near Yukon.  Robertson never formally retired, taking brief runs on DYNASTY and DALLAS for a few episodes each, but mostly tended to his ranch until Cannell came calling.  He's excellent in the lead, really selling J.J.'s wisdom and courtesy (even "Hell" or "Damn" will get an admonishment not to cuss!).  And no, I'm not just saying that because he was from my home state.

That said, it might have been a mistake to open the series with four consecutive murders to be solved.  Each affluent culprit played by a special guest star committed the crime in Act One, showing us the meticulous steps taken to cover up the killing.  Each seemed impossible to convict, and each underestimated the ol' country bumpkin poking around in his affairs--who grated on the suspect and ingratiated himself with everyone else.  Yes, seen in succession, the first four episodes give critics calling it a COLUMBO clone (or, COLUMBO played by McCLOUD) plenty of ammo.  There would be a wider range of stories after that, but with it was over a month before we saw any variance in the formula.  Detractors citing the show's derivative aspects certainly appeared to have a point.

J.J. STARBUCK was kind of star crossed from the get-go.  Following MATLOCK on Tuesday nights meant the show was scheduled against MOONLIGHTING, which was at its ratings zenith and gathering as much press as any show could in 1987.  Then, Dale Robertson broke his hip in an accident on his ranch during a break in filming that October, making it necessary to bring in assistance for the convalescing star to keep filming on schedule.  While Cannell had an inspired idea for that, bringing in Ben Vereen to reprise Tenspeed from his much loved but short lived 1980 flop TENSPEED AND BROWN SHOE, it unfortunately cost Starbuck his loner mystique and took away something that made the show stand out in the process.  Finally, NBC couldn't really decide whether J.J. STARBUCK should air on Tuesdays or Saturdays, so it was hard to know when it would be airing.  It all added up to a short 16 episode run, and Robertson went back to his ranch for good.  He passed away in 2013 at age 89.

Thanks to the wonderful YouTube channel Murder, She Watched, episodes of J.J. STARBUCK have been uploaded to enjoy for the first time in, well, 34 years to my knowledge.  I'm also thankful the channel has some CRAZY LIKE A FOX segments, which means I'll be resuming that episode guide shortly.

I've been right plum busier than a termite in a sawmill, but I reckon I can rustle up a little time to review some of them thar J.J. STARBUCK episodes at this here blog.  Be a lookin' fer 'em in the near future, and remember, ten percent is what ya make it and ninety percent is how ya take it!  

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Television Review: LOVE THAT BOB: "Air Force Calls Bob, Grandpa Answers" (1957)

LOVE THAT BOB a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW: "Air Force Calls Bob, Grandpa Answers" (NBC-TV/Laurel-McCadden Productions 1957) Original Air Date: September 24, 1957.  Starring Bob Cummings as Bob Collins and Grandpa Joshua Collins, Rosemary deCamp as Margaret MacDonald, Ann B. Davis as Charmaine Schultz, Dwayne Hickman as Chuck MacDonald, John Hoyt as General Tallman, Ingrid Goude as Miss Sweden.  Written by Paul Henning, Phil Shuken, Shirl Gordon and Dick Wesson.  Directed by Bob Cummings.

Introduction to the LOVE THAT BOB/BOB CUMMINGS SHOW episode guide is at this link.

The show's fourth season opens with Bob Collins in the studio with Goude, having talked her into modeling after Bob Meets Miss Sweden.  Schultzy gleefully reports that's all he's talked her into--the Swedish beauty is convinced her photographer is nothing but a playboy (perceptive!).  But fate intervenes courtesy of the U.S/A.F.  Bob's girl Friday dutifully brings a telegram calling reservist Major Collins in for active duty, which sufficiently impresses his newest model enough to offer cooking from her homeland the following evening.

Recognizing this setup as a familiar ruse they've pulled before, Bob is ecstatic with Charmaine's quick thinking.  Unfortunately for our shutterbug, this telegram isn't a phony--so he calls Grandpa to fly out and help Margaret during the two weeks he'll be away.  Hijinks ensue when Grandpa Collins thinks the Air Force assignment is his, and the former calvalryman reports to General Tallman while Bob plans to frolic in the pool with Ingrid.  

For the second season in a row LOVE THAT BOB opens with a beauty pageant winner and a trip to Los Angeles for Grandpa.  The stakes are certainly higher this time, with Bob potentially losing his commission instead of a date with Zsa Zsa Gabor.  One look at "Major Collins" convinces Tallman (not so affectionately known as Old Ramrod) is convinced that Bob's hard living has caught up with him.  But then Grandpa starts to ace every test--familiar humor that Henning would repeat with Granny in THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES many times.  

Bob Collins has subtly become more lecherous in a year's time.  Grandpa Meets Zsa Zsa saw our photographer eschewing young pageant contestants in order to pursue the titular icon.  Miss Sweden?  The same age, but a much different matter.  Twenty year old Ingrid Goude is half Gabor's age (and less than half Bob's) but he pulls out all the stops to change her mind--not just here but throughout the 1957-58 season.  Yes, Goude's sophomore LOVE THAT BOB marks her addition to the regular cast as the one model The King just can't conquer. 

A can't miss Christmas party, a Miss Perfect Body contest, even a trip to the moon(!)--Bob tries literally everything he can think of to score with the 1956 Miss Universe runner-up.  To no avail, of course.  But at least he usually gets her into a bathing suit for our enjoyment--and Chuck's.  Ingrid Goude didn't return for the fifth and final season, instead moving on to THE KILLER SHREWS and then a lower profile as a housewife (to department store mogul Jerome Orbach).  She's still with us at 85 but hasn't acted since 1961.

General Tallman is the anti-General Shoop, recognizing Major Collins as a "good pilot" but holding Bob's personal life in disdain.  He is respectful of Grandpa's performance at age 90 (ten years older than reported in other segments) but seems gleeful at the prospect of directing Bob's two week hitch after the unfortunate misunderstanding.  The later Bob in Orbit gave us a likely look at the nitty-gritty of that 'training'.  Too bad Bobby boy didn't get a Swedish meal from Ingrid before the start of it.

Cummings' 22nd segment behind the camera was his first attempt to direct himself in a dual role.  As was rapidly becoming the norm with his heavier workload, he acquitted himself nicely wearing three hats.  Chemically enhanced or not, the star's 1957-58 direction was Emmy worthy.  He directed several inexperienced guest stars to comedically sharp performances while continuing to deliver the goods in his own nominated one.  Outside of BILKO no peer brought the energy like LOVE THAT BOB, and Air Force Calls Bob, Grandpa Answers shows it kicking off Season 4 in its prime.  


Once again Bob Collins' biggest obstacle is his own grandfather, who pretty much steals his date for the second season opener in a row.  To be fair, Joshua was called out west by Bob, so you could make the case that he blocked himself.


First base is achieved in two minutes as Bob's USAF assignment gets him a kiss along with that date.  But, perspective--Ingrid Goude is guest starring and Grandpa appears, so we have two of the surest guarantees that Bob will remain stranded there at the end of the inning.  Tough start to the season!


LOVE THAT BOB would go to the Grandpa well a tad too often in the gimmicky final season, but Bob's octogenarian alter ego had been missing for an entire year before this one.  As is usual with his appearances, there are some groaningly contrived misunderstandings.  I mean, Grandpa was a Rough Rider in the service and there was no Air Force yet!  Cummings hadn't yet allowed this shtick to become overused and the show had its best writing team out in full force, so Air Force Calls Bob, Grandpa Answers still scores even if its titular shutterbug doesn't.  The show's one hundredth installment, BTW. (*** out of four)

Mike Kenney has several LOVE THAT BOB episodes on his YouTube channel, including this one.  Enjoy!

Sunday, July 10, 2022

F TROOP Fridays: "The Ballot of Corporal Agarn" (1966)

F TROOP Fridays: Number 34

F TROOP: "The Ballot of Corporal Agarn" (1966  ABC-TV/Warner Brothers) Season Two, Episode 42: Original Air Date 10/27/66.  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 Private Duffy, Jimmie Horan as Trooper Hogan.  Guest stars: Lew Parker as George C. Bragan, Tol Avery as Derby Dan McGurney, Luana Patten as Mindy McGurney.  Directed by Seymour Robbie.  Written by Austin and Irma Kalish

This special weekend edition couldn't wait until Friday, since I didn't want to wait that long to honor the legendary Larry Storch, who passed away at exactly 99 1/2 years old on July 8. Nope, not waiting several more days to pay tribute.  No way!  He wants his eighteen gun salute!  Corporal, for all the laughs over so many years, The Horn Section salutes you.  Now go hit Dobbs with your hat, he's been completely unsupervised up there for over a year now

During mail call, Corporal Randolph Agarn receives his absentee ballot for the mayoral race in his hometown of Passaic, New Jersey.  Feeling that casting his "one little vote" would be a waste of time and money, Agarn laughs off suggestions that he perform his civic duty.  Meanwhile, the horse race back home between "Derby" Dan McGurney and song and dance man George C. Bragan is still tied after several recounts, with only one absentee ballot outstanding--Agarn's.

Sensing that the personal touch will secure the decisive margin, Derby Dan arrives at Fort Courage on the noon stage accompanied by his attractive niece Mindy.  Her charms appear to be working on the Corporal, until Bragan's subsequent arrival lets the cat out of the bag regarding the importance of Agarn's decision.  Sensing "the sweetest deal that we have ever run across", Sergeant O'Rourke counsels his Vice President to start a bidding war between the two candidates in exchange for Agarn's tie-breaker.

With their second (of eight) second season installments the Kalishes bring political intrigue to Fort Courage.  Agarn is an inspired choice to represent the voting public as the cigar smoking career office seeker competes with the neophyte "song and dance man" (notably named Bragan, at a time when Ronald Reagan's gubernatorial campaign was a week away from succeeding) for the serviceman's decisive tally.

Naturally, savvy Sergeant O'Rourke is more than a match for the candidates when it comes to wheeling and dealing.  Wielding the real power behind the throne at Fort Courage makes guiding Agarn's decision is right up the Sarge's alley, and he successfully sews up a sweet deal including a hundred acres of land, a Vice Mayor position for the Corporal, and government jobs for his remaining relatives in the city (which, incidentally, wasn't officially chartered until 1873--seven years after most of season two takes place per other episodes).  Hey, Passaic only had 6,000 people in 1880, so Agarn couldn't have that many kinsmen to cover. 

Alas, the stitches come loose thanks to the weakest link in O'Rourke Enterprises, albeit unwittingly.  Adept at inadvertently giving people ideas, Agarn's consolation prize results in a rather costly one for the election's loser.  Maybe that's why they say he's so dumb!

It isn't much of a surprise that the ever-villainous Tol Avery is presented as the greater of two evils in this contest.  Derby Dan considers election fraud in the teaser, but temporarily takes the high road.  Once he ends up second best in negotiations, he resorts to blackmail.  Bragan relies on a more charming personality without the hardball, but his negotiating shows he's picked up on the practicalities of politics.

Nearing the end of her career, former Disney child star Luana Patten is another eclectic guest star for F TROOP as Derby Dan's opportunistic niece.  Agarn's infatuation with Mindy indicates that Betty Lou is well out of the picture, which begs the question: who did Agarn's ex vote for?


Once, though not for any specific actions during this installment.  Derby Dan McGurney stumbled onto the general knowledge that O'Rourke and Agarn were consorting with the enemy in their business dealings, using the threat of exposure for bidding leverage.  Fortunately for them and O'Rourke Enterprises, the shrewd career politician didn't learn about their saloon ownership.  Speaking of....


They might have been foiled in their efforts to secure a hundred acres of land and a Vice Mayor position to go with Agarn's Vice Presidency of the Enterprises, but our non-coms do benefit from McGurney's desire to have a premature celebration as he throws a big party at their saloon on "election day".


Chief Wild Eagle certainly gets his shots in, surmising that voting means "taking land from the Indians" when O'Rourke calls it one of the processes of American democracy.  Crazy Cat is intrigued, thinking that voting is better than Wild Eagle's declaration that the position of Chief "should be handed down from father to son!".

Nagging Question: Based on what we learned in The Return of Bald Eagle, wouldn't that make this man Wild Eagle's eventual successor?


The resolution here is a bit rushed (little far-fetched too--it's an absentee ballot, what Election Day?) but the maneuvering in The Ballot of Corporal Agarn is top notch, allowing Storch another opportunity to really shine in his Emmy nominated season.  Seemingly every successful sixties sitcom had to tackle the topic, and F TROOP does it as well as any of them.  (***1/2 out of four) 

We will pay further tribute to Larry Storch later this month.  R.I.P. to a genuinely great American. 

Yours truly with Mr. Larry Storch, August 2000

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.  But as you'd expect, Silvers dominates the half hour with his impeccable timing.

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 this 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. 


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, Brady 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.

In what can only be described as great news for all humanity, the entire run of THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW--all 143 episodes--is now available for viewing on YouTube.  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?"


(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!


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.


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


"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.


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.