F TROOP Fridays -- Number 22
F TROOP: "Old Ironpants" (1965 ABC-TV/Warner Brothers) Season One, Episode 8: Original Air Date November 2, 1965. 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, Bob Steele as Duffy, James Hampton as Bugler Dobbs, John Mitchum as Hoffenmueller, Harvey Parry as Charley. Guest Star: John Stephenson as General Custer. Directed by Charles Rondeau. Written by Arthur Julian.
While the cat's away, the rats will play. Four score and seven weeks after his Fort Courage arrival, Captain Parmenter has been called away for a two week course in military strategy. The absence of any supervision (however marginal it may be) inspires O'Rourke to add another side hustle to his Enterprises by getting into the mail order bride business.
The men are in dress uniforms expecting the arrival of their blushing brides on the noon stage when they are greeted instead by General George Armstrong Custer--and his new protégé, Captain Wilton Parmenter! Custer's en route to his new assignment at Little Big Horn(!) but Wilton is staying, and he's just not the same boy they sent to camp. Sporting a Van Dyke and holding off Janie with his riding crop, Parmenter vows to close the saloon, banish town drunk Charley and turn Fort Courage into a real Army post.
Ken Berry didn't technically get his stab at the evil twin trope until Wilton the Kid, but the personality change in Old Ironpants might as well qualify. Besides, it is the funnier segment by far. Custer did graduate dead last in his West Point class, so it isn't much of a stretch that the least of the Parmenters might bond with Autie, also promoted in "right place, right time" fashion. While Wilton isn't able to grow those flowing locks in two weeks as well as the facial hair he impressively sprouts, he nails the lack of regard for input from subordinates down solidly.
Apropos for an episode featuring the flamboyant Boy General, Rondeau directs exuberantly. The impressive ballet-like letter reading in Bye, Bye Balloon is foreshadowed as our Custerized Captain hilariously lands on his feet in stride after a nasty-looking stumble across his porch, into a post and over the hitching rail--disciplined clumsiness! Rondeau slyly fits more MAD-esque sight gags into his backgrounds. To name two of the biggest guffaws, General Grant is subtly replaced on the Captain's wall and the water tower continuously gushes in the background for over a minute while a key scene continues.
"Now if you'd like to go for $25 attack, five Redskins bite dust!"
While taking a backseat to Parmenter's newfound rigidity, O'Rourke Enterprises is still alive, if not particularly well. But it could be worse: the mail order bride expansion becomes an utter fiasco, but the all-important saloon is saved from Ironpants' planned closure. The highlight is another negotiation with Wild Eagle, who milks that upper hand cannily. Surely the Chief isn't promising literal corpses at a dollar a death, is he? Or is he?
Sergeant O'Rourke's failed expansion aside, the wily President proves he hasn't lost his touch when it comes to putting one over on the "old man". Got to admit the Sarge is taking a bit of a chance here with the Hekawi attack; what if a disciple of Custer doesn't see himself as the man he once was? Fortunately, betting on the humanity underneath the facade works out and O'Rourke Enterprises remains unscathed.
Well, almost. Harvey Parry makes the last of his three appearances as saloon staple Charley, so maybe Ironpants Parmenter did run the drunk out of town before his metamorphosis back to Wilton. When Charley returned in the first season's finale, Frank McHugh took over the role. Custer's casting is a real treat for animation fans: he's played by John Stephenson, better known as the voice of Mr. Slate on THE FLINTSTONES and Luke/Blubber Bear on THE WACKY RACES, to name two of dozens.
For the sixth consecutive week, F TROOP ranked 22nd in Nielsen's ratings, giving ABC its first winner at 9 PM on Tuesdays since THE RIFLEMAN had reigned during 1959-60--amazingly, even one-time stalwarts like HAWAIIAN EYE had failed to make a dent in RED SKELTON in the five years between. With laugh filled installments like Old Ironpants, that success was deserved.
WHAT YOU LEARNED:
The troopers' respective tastes in women come to the fore when the brides are ordered. Agarn and Dobbs think blondes have more fun, while old Duffy likes those redheads. Hoffenmueller likes a little cushion for the pushin'--then again, since Dobbs specified "a whale of a figure" with the others in agreement, maybe all the troopers do! Save Vanderbilt, who wants a girl named Shirley, Leslie Nielsen be damned.
NUMBER OF TIMES O'ROURKE COULD HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH TREASON:
The Sarge does consort with the enemy on battle plans, but since it is to coordinate an eventual win for the troopers, he probably gets to slide this time.
WISE OLD HEKAWI SAYING:
"You show me squirrel with acorn, and I show you happy moose!" Maybe the biggest non sequtiur yet.
PC, OR NOT PC?
Wild Eagle's quote in the review text is certainly the latter, though he won those negotiations with his soldier partners decisively. And while the cameoing Custer isn't a bumbler, the script doesn't make him a hero either, with a parting line reminding us of his eventual defeat.
Ken Berry's performance is one of his absolute best, pre and post indoctrination. Rondeau's ebullient direction provides the best collection of sight gags since The Phantom Major came to Fort Courage. Despite some verbal corn sprinkled here and there (a Julian weakness) Old Ironpants stays buoyant throughout, with something boffo always right around the corner. (***1/2 out of four)