Sunday, June 25, 2006

DVD Review: F TROOP: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (1965-66) PART 2 OF 2









F TROOP: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (1965-66) Warner Home Video/ABC-TV Starring Forrest Tucker, Larry Storch, Ken Berry, Melody Patterson, Frank deKova, Don Diamond, James Hampton, Bob Steele and Joe Brooks. Produced by Hy Averback. Executive Producer William T. Orr


PART 2 OF 2 (here's Part One):

Episode by Episode review, with Key episodes in Orange:


SCOURGE OF THE WEST ***1/2 Hits the ground running with a superb pilot, establishing the situation very quickly, with a few of the usual awkward “introductory” speeches. They aren't too much of a distraction from the numerous belly laughs.
 
DON’T LOOK NOW, ONE OF OUR CANNON MISSING ****  Larry Storch does his first celebrity impersonation, old-time western star Donald “Red” Barry has a cameo, and O’Rourke loans Chief Wild Eagle the fort’s cannon. Also, Melody Patterson’s real age is apparently still a secret, as she has some pretty affectionate kissing scenes with Berry.




THE PHANTOM MAJOR ***1/2 "Dr. Bombay" Bernard Fox guest stars in a side-splitting bit of weirdness as a British "living legend" assigned to teach F Troop "the art of infiltration through camouflage"--thus making the fort obsolete and jeopardizing O'Rourke Enterprises. A few too many groaners in Arthur Julian's script, but this one is commendably droll, directed by London's own old school vet Leslie Goodwins.


CORPORAL AGARN’S FAREWELL TO THE TROOPS ** The first clunker, with a tired, conventional plot concerning Agarn thinking he has days to live, when in fact the medical information he overhears concerns O’Rourke’s horse. It’s been done elsewhere, and never very well anywhere. Look for Vic Tayback in a cameo.

THE RETURN OF BALD EAGLE *1/2 For some strange reason this episode kept turning up in prior, alleged “Best of” releases. Perhaps it’s the “name” casting of Don Rickles, but his performance is a laugh-killer, and this is not one of Arthur Julian’s better scripts, to put it mildly. One of the worst of the season.

DIRGE FOR THE SCOURGE ***1/2 Jack Elam is great as badman Sam Urp, who is seeking to shoot it out in the middle of town with Captain Parmenter. “There’s only room for one Scourge, and that’s me!”  First appearance by Don Diamond as Crazy Cat.


THE GIRL FROM PHILADELPHIA ***1/2 Parmenter’s old, status-seeking fiancée is the latest threat to expanding O’Rourke Enterprises, as she wants to take “The Great White Pigeon” back to Philadelphia, using her family connections to get him transferred. 

OLD IRONPANTS ***1/2 While Parmenter goes off to military school for two weeks of intensive training, O’Rourke and Agarn begin a mail order bride business. And remember: “Good luck on your new assignment at Little Big Horn!”. Resolution is too abrupt; until then, a hilarious showcase for Ken Berry.  Also includes one of the funniest Wild Eagle-O'Rourke negotiations.


ME HEAP BIG INJUN **1/2 Some overly corny lines here, even by the vaudeville standards established. Agarn spends his furlough with the Hekawis at O’Rourke’s insistence, then decides he likes Hekawi life better than army life.


A GIFT FROM THE CHIEF ** The night maneuvers are funny, but this plot, with Chief Wild Eagle giving Parmenter a Hekawi baby as a gesture of goodwill, is way too conventional for F TROOP. Last appearance by Edward Everett Horton as medicine man Roaring Chicken.

SHE’S ONLY A BUILD IN A GIRDLED CAGE *1/2 A stretch here. The sharp O’Rourke jumps to the conclusion that Bugler Dobbs is engaged to Laura Lee, the famous dance hall girl. She’s played by Patrice Wymore, formerly married to Errol Flynn and also a Season Two F TROOP guest star. A dull episode, way too soft in all respects.

HONEST INJUN ***1/2 John Dehner made a living playing con men, and memorably tangled with Bret Maverick in the classic MAVERICK episode “Shady Deal at Sunny Acres”. Here he is Sergeant O’Rourke’s latest rival. Watching Tucker and Dehner go at it makes for a very entertaining episode.

O’ROURKE VS. O’REILLY **** Another formidable rival arrives for O’Rourke; Lee Meriwether, who wishes to end O’Rourke’s saloon monopoly by opening up a new one across the street! Classic line: “We’re not doin’ anything wrong! Just putting the chaser IN the bottle.”


THE 86 PROOF SPRING **** One of the most surreal, and hilarious of all F TROOP episodes. Parley Baer guest stars as a Colonel investigating reports that the Hekawis are getting whiskey. How to keep the still away from him?  Keep it moving.....


HERE COMES THE TRIBE **** F TROOP’s take on Romeo and Juliet, sort of. Tucker and Storch really shine in this one, with some great lines and one of the series’ best tags. Inexplicably, each of the last two episodes were unreleased by Columbia House on the 30 episode set released in 1998. They were two of the biggest oversights.

IRON HORSE GO HOME ***1/2 O’Rourke schemes to get the railroad to come through Fort Courage. One problem: he’ll have to convince Wild Eagle to relocate the Hekawis.  Which the Wise Old Chief does....settling into the fort! Marred a bit by unconvincing day for night footage in a key scene.


OUR HERO, WHAT’S HIS NAME? ***1/2 Jackie Joseph, Mrs. Ken Berry at the time, plays Betty Lou, Agarn’s oft-referred to fiancée. Here, she’s written him a Dear John letter, and O’Rourke schemes to help his heartbroken buddy by claiming he killed Geronimo. One problem: word gets around! Not the most credible premise but inspired lunacy from beginning to end. Mike Mazurki also guest stars.

WRONGO STARR AND THE LADY IN BLACK ***1/2 F TROOP’s most famous guest star: Henry Gibson as Private Leonard “Wrongo” Starr, the jinxed cavalry trooper. He arrives in town at the same time as “The Happy Go-Lucky Widow”.  Gibson was so popular he was brought back to reprise the character in Season Two.

EL DIABLO ***1/2  Larry Storch plays 5 different relatives in this one, including the title character, whose real name is Agarnato. We would later meet several other eccentric Agarn relatives, but this was the first.


GO FOR BROKE **1/2 George Gobel guest-stars as Wrangler Jane’s inventor cousin. Meanwhile, O’Rourke turns out to be no Bilko in his poker match against Dapper Dan. Like Bilko in “The New Recruits”, he doesn't know he's being cheated.  UN-like Bilko in the same episode, he has no qualms about gambling with the troop’s pension fund!

THE NEW I.G. **** Andrew Duggan is one of F TROOP’s all-time funniest guest stars, as hard-nosed, deadpan Major Chester Winster, inventor of the “Chestwinster 76”, the gun that will win the West. Unfortunately O’Rourke has loaned it to the Hekawis to make toy replicas, the newest souvenir for O’Rourke Enterprises! Some of Don Diamond’s best work as Crazy Cat.

SPY, COUNTERSPY, COUNTER, COUNTERSPY ***  Long before ONE DAY AT A TIME, Pat Harrington Jr. gets his opportunity to parody Don Adams, as superagent B. Wise, a master of disguise. Fun, with plenty of good natured digs at GET SMART!

THE COURTSHIP OF WRANGLER JANE **** O’Rourke’s latest scheme: build a steam room. But he’ll need the captain off the post to do it. Hmm. Married officers live off the post, as Agarn keeps reminding us.


PLAY, GYPSY, PLAY ***1/2 Agarn gets his opportunity to run O’Rourke Enterprises while O’Rourke is away. Some guys are VICE President for a reason. Zsa Zsa Gabor guest stars.

REUNION FOR O’ROURKE **** Gets an extra half star for the classic explanation on the Hekawi tribe was named. Agarn tries to keep a surprise party for O’Rourke secret.

CAPTAIN PARMENTER, ONE MAN ARMY ***1/2 With a nod to the classic MAVERICK episode “The Ghost Soldiers”, Parmenter finds himself stationed alone at the fort due to an error in paperwork. Willard Waterman, once “The Great Gildersleeve”, guest stars as F Troop’s first Captain.

DON’T EVER SPEAK TO ME AGAIN *** F Troop is being cited for having the highest morale by the Secretary of War.  In this episode, the repetition gets a bit annoying.  If you’ve seen that fantastically dirty F Troop blooper reel in circulation, you’ll recognize that a lot of the bits came from the filming of this episode.  Would rate a star higher with that footage!

TOO MANY COOKS SPOIL THE TROOP **** The first of 3 great appearances for James Gregory (BARNEY MILLER) playing Major Duncan. When Duncan pulls rank and requisitions Fort Courage’s cook, O’Rourke smells another money-making opportunity---if he can just get Agarn in Cookie’s place.

INDIAN FEVER *** Victor Jory guest stars, and Agarn’s bout with the title disease is the latest threat to O’Rourke Enterprises. But does he really have it? “When I had the German Measles, I didn’t see any Germans!”


JOHNNY EAGLE EYE **** Talk about treason: O’Rourke schemes to get Sitting Bull’s son into F Troop as an “Indian Scout”, because he’s a crack shot, sure to win the army marksmanship contest. Some of Joe Brooks’ best bits of business, and one of F TROOP’s most side-splitting situations.


A FORT’S BEST FRIEND IS NOT A MOTHER ***1/2 Jeanette Nolan as Parmenter’s overly protective mother, who can’t stand the thought of her son being called a “scourge”. She wants him transferred---can O’Rourke outwit a general’s wife?  The "council of war" sequence is one of the season's finest moments.


LT. O’ROURKE, FRONT AND CENTER **** James Gregory returns as Major Duncan, looking for officer material. In this episode, we see one of the Hekawis’ most profitable solo businesses, their Playbrave Club, in which O’Rourke has membership card # 1. Marilyn Fisk, a.k.a. Mrs. Forrest Tucker, has a cameo.



THE DAY THE INDIANS WON **** Arguably the funniest episode of the entire first season, which is saying a lot. The Council of Indian Nations is furious with the Hekawi for not going on the warpath. Meanwhile, Major Duncan is getting suspicious because the Hekawi have been quiet for too long. Great, great lines and one of the funniest half-hours of television I’ve ever seen, period.


WILL THE REAL CAPTAIN PLEASE TRY TO STAND UP? ***1/2 O’Rourke plots to get the town drunk into F Troop for a day. Heart of gold taking over? Nah, it’s to win a bet, of course!

The 34 episodes are all presented full frame, but not broken into individual chapters within the episode itself. French and Spanish subtitles. All episodes are presented uncut; there are no syndicated versions here.


EXTRAS:

Sadly, there are no extras, the only gripe I have with the Season One set. James Hampton, Joe Brooks, Larry Storch, Ken Berry, Don Diamond and Melody Patterson are all still with us, and though Storch is 83, he’s been astoundingly active in recent years (most recently, a commentary on the Sgt. Bilko boxed set, an appearance in THE ARISTOCRATS, and Broadway stints in SLY FOX and ANNIE GET YOUR GUN). Still, Season Two could use the extras as a selling point more, so hopefully they’ll correct this next time out.

BOTTOM LINE:

**** Disappointing lack of extras, but the 34 episodes on this set are so strong, it is more than well worth purchasing. One of TV’s all time funniest seasons of comedy, period. Should be in just about any classic TV collection. Warners, give us some extras with Season Two—and that’s an order!!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

DVD Review: F TROOP: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (1965-66)


(This is the first of two parts!)

F TROOP: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (1965-66) Warner Home Video/ABC-TV. Starring Forrest Tucker, Larry Storch, Ken Berry, Melody Patterson, Frank de Kova, James Hampton, Bob Steele, Don Diamond and Joe Brooks. Produced by Hy Averback,
executive producer William T. Orr



In the December 25, 1965 issue of TV GUIDE, Roger Youman utilized the writings of over 40 newspaper critics in his article “The Critics Speak” to form a consensus on the 35 series making their debut in the Fall 1965 season. Although the critics of the day were reserved about the season as a whole, to modern eyes it’s a very impressive list of premieres: multiple Emmy winners GET SMART! and I SPY, long-running dramatic favorites THE WILD, WILD WEST and THE F.B.I., perpetually rerun comedies GREEN ACRES, I DREAM OF JEANNIE and HOGAN’S HEROES, low-rated critical favorites THE LONER (from Rod Serling) and TRIALS OF O’BRIEN (starring a pre-COLUMBO Peter Falk) and the very popular DEAN MARTIN SHOW.

And with over 80 percent of the television critics in its corner, the most critically acclaimed new show of the 1965-66 season was: F TROOP.

“F TROOP?” you ask. “That silly show with the tower always falling over and all the politically incorrect humor and lowbrow slapstick? That got better reviews than GET SMART and GREEN ACRES???? I don’t believe it!”


Believe it. F TROOP: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON shows just why the critics of the day loved it, and why the show has maintained a loyal cult following for the past 40 years. The classic first season is jam-packed with hilarious episodes and wonderfully subversive humor that flew under the radar, veiled by the lowbrow physical gags and vaudeville shtick.

F TROOP begins with the accidental promotion of Private Wilton Parmenter, who is to his distinguished military family what Zeppo was to the Marx Brothers and Joe Besser was to the Three Stooges. With one lucky sneeze that sounds like “charge”, Wilton finds himself promoted to Captain, and assigned to Fort Courage in the Midwest.

Once Parmenter arrives at his new post, he finds that reveille is played at 10 AM “because of the time difference” and that even though rations and pay allotments are drawn for 30 men, only 17 are stationed at the fort (the other 13 are allegedly “Indian scouts out on patrol”). Sgt. O’Rourke, the ranking NCO of the Fort, has run off two captains and a major before Parmenter's arrival. The shrewd O'Rourke immediately realizes that the new Captain is “the pigeon he’s always dreamed of”, a commander who is no threat to his O’Rourke Enterprises, which involves all sorts of dealings with the Hekawi Indians, running the local saloon, and several other illegal, even treasonous, but highly profitable ventures. He and his second-in-command, Corporal Agarn, continually keep the captain in the dark and maintain both his nominal position as commander and the façade that Parmenter is the “Scourge of the West” to all outsiders.

As for the rest of F TROOP, well, just like Bilko’s platoon at Fort Baxter, very few of F TROOP’s soldiers would pass a physical in real life. The bugler can’t play, the lookout has 20/900 vision in each eye, and the slightly senile Trooper Duffy regales anyone who will listen with tales of his days at the Alamo (he apparently was the only survivor). Fortunately, the Hekawis are just as (un)ferocious (according to Chief Wild Eagle, they invented the peace pipe), and, unbeknownst to the Captain, only want to live in profitable peace and partnership with O’Rourke and Agarn.


F TROOP was the best of the variations on THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW, which is pretty impressive considering that HOGAN’S HEROES and McHALE’S NAVY are among the others.

In some ways F TROOP even did Bilko one better. Deep down, Sgt. Bilko was a softy with a heart of gold when the chips were down. But Sgt. O’Rourke was truly selfish and even treasonous at times, willing to loan the Hekawis the cannon (and once, the entire fort!), induct Sitting Bull’s son into the army to win $1,000, gamble with the troop’s pension fund (Bilko resisted doing this in his pilot episode) and to replace the captain with the town drunk in order to win a bet. His main henchman, Corporal Agarn, was just as devious, but nowhere near as bright. Also, while Bilko's schemes usually failed in the end because he was a softy, O'Rourke and Agarn were often seen counting and keeping their ill-gotten gains (a brilliant twist on the formula, IMO).

O’Rourke’s Hekawi counterpart, Chief Wild Eagle, was just as heartless (“Now, if you’d like to go for the 25 dollar attack, five Hekawi bite dust!”) and shrewd, with an equally devious second-in-command in Crazy Cat, who constantly spoke longingly about the “sad, sad day” when the Chief would go to the “Happy Hunting Ground” (and Crazy Cat would ascend to the top spot).

The selfish, “what’s in it for me” edge to much of F TROOP’s humor anticipated the more cynical era that would produce MARRIED WITH CHILDREN, SEINFELD and other sitcoms with self-serving, even heartless, yet strangely likable lead characters that were two decades away from being even the exception to the rule in 1965.

In addition to lacking Bilko’s conscience, O’Rourke, as played by Forrest Tucker, was much more physically imposing than the owlish, bespectacled Phil Silvers. Tucker suddenly emerged as a comedy star satirizing the dead-serious western and military roles he’d been doing for 25 years, much like Leslie Nielsen later would in AIRPLANE! The unique Larry Storch had the role of his career as Corporal Agarn. He was given ample opportunity to display his knack for dialects and mimicry, playing as many as 5 different roles in an episode ("El Diablo"). Ken Berry, with his experience as a dancer, made his pratfalls look downright graceful and had a clueless expression to rival Paul Ford's. The entire cast was strong, with Frank de Kova and Bob Steele also veterans of numerous serious western roles.

Ken Berry as Captain Parmenter as "Beauregard Clayton"..

Unfortunately F TROOP would decline a bit during season two, as Parmenter became smarter, Agarn became much dumber, and O’Rourke developed Bilko’s “heart of gold”. Not that the second season was bad--just disappointing after the superb collection that preceded it, and way too conventional.  Combined with a time slot change (following a fading BATMAN), and a lack of support from its studio (Warner Brothers) it was too much to overcome and F TROOP ended its run in 1967.

But F TROOP: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON is very impressive and shows why critics and fans loved it. The show hits the ground running with 3 wildly funny episodes outlining the initial setup. In episodes 4 through 12, there are some growing pains as the show develops the character of Crazy Cat (and phases out medicine man Roaring Chicken) and has some too-conventional scripting, even a couple of ill-advised forays into semi-sentimentality. Fortunately, these are few and far between.

From the 13th episode on, though, F TROOP hits its stride and goes on an incredible run, hitting the ball out of the park almost every week through the end of the season.


COMING UP IN PART TWO: ALL 34 EPISODES IN MORE DETAIL, WITH FULL REVIEWS!