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Friday, March 23, 2018

F TROOP Fridays: "The Day The Indians Won" (1966)

This edition of F TROOP Fridays doubles as The Horn Section's contribution to the 4th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon, hosted by Terence at A Shroud of Thoughts.  This is also the fourth consecutive year that The Horn Section has contributed to this March tradition. 

For the First Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon back in 2015 I highlighted my favourite colour episode, Our Brave in F Troop.  This year, I will bookend my debut by putting the spotlight on my favorite F TROOP installment in glorious black and white.  Both episodes involve a successful invasion of Fort Courage by Chief Wild Eagle, and coincidentally, each was the penultimate segment of its respective season.

I admit that some of my affection for this particular episode stems from sentimental value. F TROOP began airing on KTVT Channel 11 locally in January 1981, but at 9 A.M. every morning--an impossibility for a 7th grader in the Winter.  Fortunately, Spring Break arrived in March, and I was able to acquaint myself for the first time with what would become my desert island TV show.

No, this wasn't the first F TROOP I ever saw: that was Play, Gypsy, Play.  It didn't even air during my scheduled week off.  But on Monday, March 16, 1981, everyone else went back to school--yours truly did not.  As luck would have it, I really was sick, extending my vacation until St. Patrick's Day.  Yes, one more day with the Fort Courage foul-ups before I had to return to pencils, books and teacher's dirty looks.  The Day the Indians Won was KTVT's offering that morning, making my already incredibly sore sides even more inflamed from uncontrollable laughter.  Little did I know it was also the last I would see of F TROOP for over a year.  Channel 11 replaced it with RICHARD SIMMONS before our summer vacation.   No doubt ratings plummeted.

But I digress.  This introduction has become long-winded enough.  Without further ado, the episode that turned a stomach virus into one of my fondest childhood memories:  

F TROOP Fridays:  Episode 17

F TROOP: "The Day the Indians Won" (Season 1, Episode 33: Warner Brothers/ABC-TV 1966) Original Air Date: May 3, 1966.  Starring Forrest Tucker as Sergeant O'Rourke, Larry Storch as Corporal Agarn, Ken Berry as Captain Parmenter, Melody Patterson as Wrangler Jane, Frank deKova as Wild Eagle, Don Diamond as Crazy Cat, James Hampton as Bugler Dobbs, Bob Steele as Duffy, Joe Brooks as Vanderbilt, Ben Frommer as Papa Bear.  Guest star: Lou Krugman as Snake Eyes.  Written by Ed James and Seaman Jacobs.  Directed by David Alexander.

Sensing a Hekawi uprising because they've been "quiet too long", Captain Parmenter dispatches Sergeant O'Rourke and Corporal Agarn to the native's camp, where, conveniently, the principal shareholders of O'Rourke Enterprises already have a board meeting scheduled.

The Sarge and his V.P. get the best laugh they've had all week out of the Captain's suspicions, but bloodthirsty Inspector Snake Eyes ("Council of Indian Nations - West!") doesn't find the Hekawi record so funny.  The incredulous investigator ticks off the record that is so dismal in the eyes of his superiors at C.I.N./W: "Not one massacre, not one town wiped out, not even one wagon train attacked.  For twenty years you not even fight Indians!"

The native examiner discounts Crazy Cat's victorious quarrel with his wife (Apache on her mother's side) and is unmoved when Wild Eagle points out their always timely dues payments:

Snake Eyes: "Money NOT everything!"
Wild Eagle: "Boy, have YOU got wrong tribe!"

Snake Eyes orders the Hekawi to stage an attack within a week ("Get mad!") or lose their membership in the Council.  The tribe apparently needs continued good standing in the Council pretty badly, since Wild Eagle resolves to attack their old enemies, the Shugs--recently weakened enough to give the Hekawi an almost Alamo-like numbers advantage.

The tribe's business partners from O'Rourke Enterprises offer their assistance in training (that is, once O'Rourke reminds Agarn of the potential impact on profits), but the ensuing exercise in futility results in a bunch of groaning, exhausted braves and O'Rourke's studied analysis that even the Shug's grandmothers would prevail in the hypothetical battle.  Chief Wild Eagle agrees, and offers an alternative: a Hekawi attack on Fort Courage--with the Sarge fixing the fight, of course.  With O'Rourke Enterprises also facing rapid bankruptcy in the event of a Hekawi wipeout, the Sarge has a true dilemma: his country, or his wallet?

Well, the decision takes about two seconds.  Guess which one wins out?

Crazy Cat: "O'Rourke, you very good friend.  Indians finally going to win!"
Agarn: "Just don't make a habit of it."

The final episode penned by series co-creators (with Jim Barnett) Ed James and Seaman Jacobs, The Day the Indians Won is a hilarious reversal of the typical threat to the F TROOP universe.  Typically it's a visiting Army officer (i.e. The New I.G.) who threatens to upset the peaceful co-existence at Fort Courage by wiping out the bloodthirsty "savages".  The tables are turned this time, with Snake Eyes positively infuriated by Wild Eagle's pacifist ways.

O'Rourke is usually stuck negotiating a price with the Hekawi chief for a phony attack to impress the brass; this time the Sarge gets to charge Wild Eagle for the "cost of this little uprising".  Hard to begrudge the soldier, since he earns his money.  First, he and Agarn spend hours attempting to train Crazy Cat and his fellow braves, who are just as inept at tomahawks and archery as their F Troop counterparts are at marksmanship.

Not where they were aiming, needless to say

Then, O'Rourke and Agarn really earn their pay by making Fort Courage ripe for the taking on Friday ("a good day for a defeat"), the day before Snake Eyes is set to return.  With a phony new treaty (complete with "no massacre clause") for Captain Parmenter to turn in to territorial headquarters, the business partners manage to get rid of the C.O. and half of the troop needed for escort.  Most crucial of all to the success of the scheme, they manage to get the best deadeye in the Fort--Wrangler Jane--to go along on the trip.

O'Rourke: "He's right, Agarn.  What are friends for?"
Agarn: "Anybody knows that.  To help you make money."

Although we're told there are four hundred Hekawi, Wild Eagle only brings a fifteen or so to mount his surprise assault on Fort Courage, which itself is down to nine men after Parmenter takes his escorts.  With Vanderbilt in the tower, "all is well" at 3:00 P.M. as Wild Eagle saws through the front gate, and the Chief delivers his ensuing victory speech with a mop bucket covering his left moccasin.  As hilarious as the training setpiece was in Act One, Alexander tops it with an even more furious barrage of visual gags to compete with the onslaught of the verbal ones from James and Jacobs.  It all adds up to a frenzied, satisfying payoff after all that buildup.

Wild Eagle: And use double knots on O'Rourke!
O'Rourke: (sotto) Wild Eagle, you don't need to tie me up, you know that!
Wild Eagle: (also sotto) Sorry, Sarge, got to make it look good!"

There is one NAGGING QUESTION left after one watches The Day the Indians Won, however, and it has to do with Snake Eyes' rather muddled motivation.  After Fort Hekawi is established, the inspector instructs Wild Eagle to massacre F Troop and burn the fort down.  "How else Indian get country back?"  Okay, fair enough, but if that's the case, why would the Inspector want the Hekawi to attack another tribe as he did earlier, just for the sake of fighting?  If, as Snake Eyes implies (as does the name of his Council), all the Natives are working together to get the U.S.A. back, wouldn't killing each other be detrimental to that ultimate goal by diminishing their numbers?

Still, that's a defect that you won't be thinking about until the episode is over.  It's a gratifying F TROOP swan song for Ed James and Seaman Jacobs.  Which begs the question: why did the writers of Here Comes the Tribe and A Fort's Best Friend is not a Mother (to name two great entries) become personas non gratas during Season Two?

Seaman Jacobs shed a little light during his seven part interview for the Archive of American Television in 1999.  Long story short: the co-creators wanted to also co-produce the series, but lost out to Hy Averback due to their lack of a production track record.  (FWIW, about that track record: none of Averback's three prior series in that capacity had made it to a second season.)  Averback understandably favored the less ambitious writer Arthur Julian over the men who wanted his job, and once Executive Producer William T. Orr lost his power struggle with Ben Kalmenson at Warner Brothers, Averback gained even greater control over F TROOP halfway through the first season.  Which meant more script assignments to Julian, and fewer to the originating J.J.'s. 

James and Jacobs wrote only three of the initial season's final 17 entries, and were completely eliminated from Season Two after Averback officially ascended to Executive Producer.  Meanwhile, Julian was solely credited with 16 installments during that 1966-67 season, and while The Singing Mountie and Reach for the Sky, Pardner were among the best color episodes, fatigue was clearly evident as Julian produced some of the weakest F TROOP segments ever (i.e. That's Show Biz; Marriage, Fort Courage Style) down the stretch.  Julian would have been much more effective with about three or four fewer teleplays on his workload IMO.

While consistently solid Nielsen ratings showed that F TROOP's popularity continued unabated, the show was diluted creatively in year two by the loss of its founders--also two of its best writers.  With frequent power struggles at its studio (series television lost its greatest champion at WB with Orr's ouster) and on the set, it's a wonder in hindsight that F TROOP survived its truncated network life to become such a durable syndication staple.

But rather than lament what might have been, I prefer to enjoy the mostly delightful sixty-five episodes that we do have.  Unapologetically boisterous, The Day the Indians Won is near the very top of that list.


This marks the final staged "battle" of the first season.  The troopers prevailed in Scourge of the West and Old Ironpants, while the Hekawis "won at last" in The New I.G. on their own turf and took Fort Courage in this one.  So it's a 2-2 tie, though the Hekawi might get a little extra consideration for the only "road win" in the series.


This one has to be the most traitorous episode of all: lending Fort Courage to the Hekawis certainly surpasses loaning them the cannon.  Naturally, the boys are aware of it:

Agarn: "It's my conscience, Sarge!  A little voice keeps saying, Agarn--you're a Benedict Arnold!"
O'Rourke: "I got a little voice tellin' me somethin' too.  It keeps saying, O'Rourke--you're gonna get rich!"
Agarn: "I like your voice better."


The word "Injun" gets thrown around way too much here for modern sensibilities--even by Snake Eyes.  Speaking of, while he's just as bloodthirsty, the Native inspector has even less foresight and more cowardice than the Army I.G.'s that preceded him.  (In true F TROOP fashion, the Secretary of War can match him in the latter, given his reaction to seeing Geronimo in the flesh.)   On the other hand, pacifism continues to win out over hawkishness on both sides.


I guess there's little time for proverbs when you're preparing for battle, so it's up to Snake Eyes to give us a saying that apparently is even older than we thought: "Nice guys no win hunting grounds!"


While it doesn't matter that much for a chosen favourite episode, this is one fond childhood memory that holds up to the greater scrutiny from adult eyes--it would be one of my favourites no matter when or how I discovered it.  The Day the Indians Won is a riotous coda for series creators James and Jacobs, with some of the show's guiltiest pleasures and cheapest belly laughs.  For F TROOP, each statement says a lot.  Like Our Brave in F Troop, it's easily one of the ten best segments of the series, and despite the lack of Hekawi wisdom, one of the most quotable as well.  (**** out of four)

Be sure to check out all the great entries in that March tradition, the Fourth Annual Favourite Episode Blogathon hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts!


Caftan Woman said...

Guilty pleasures and cheap belly laughs are much to be desired. Thanks for this wrap up with the personal touch.

Hamlette (Rachel) said...

My kids and I are currently in love with F Troop -- we haven't gotten to this ep yet, but you've got me really looking forward to it :-D

Terence Towles Canote said...

You know my love for F Troop and this is one of my favourites. I love the role reversal--for once the Hekawis have to attack F Troop!

Thanks so much for taking part in the blogathon!