Sunday, February 18, 2018

MAVERICK Mondays: "The Jail at Junction Flats" (1958)


MAVERICK Mondays: Number 22













This special edition of MAVERICK Mondays is The Horn Section's contribution to The Classic TV Villain Blogathon, hosted by The Classic TV Blog Association (The Horn Section is a proud member).  The blogathon started yesterday and continues today, with over a dozen of your favorite television antagonists celebrated.

Dandy Jim Buckley's time on
MAVERICK was truncated when 77 SUNSET STRIP became a hit and made star Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. unavailable midway through the 1958-59 season.  But in only five episodes, Buckley set the template for every charming rogue that bedeviled Bret and Bart after him.  None could match the original, who made his biggest splash in his penultimate MAVERICK appearance.



MAVERICK: "The Jail at Junction Flats" (ABC-TV/Warner Brothers 1958)  Starring James Garner as Bret Maverick, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Dandy Jim Buckley, Patrick McVey as Sheriff Pine, Jean Allison as Madame Higgins, Dan Blocker as Hognose Hughes, Bert Remsen as Deputy George, Claudia Bryar as Mrs. Pyne.  Written by Marion Hargrove and Elmer Kelton.  Directed by Walter Doniger.


Bret arrives in Broken Wheel, Wyoming determined to mind his own business: poker.  Unfortunately, he sees Dandy Jim Buckley when he pokes his head into the saloon, and is unable to duck before Buckley sees him.  It's a small world indeed (Bret's word is "crowded") but one with a new, honest Jim.  According to Jim, anyway.  Yes, the Dandy One insists that he has gone straight, and just needs a $2,000 loan to begin his legitimate horse purchasing business, promising Bret a 100 percent return on investment.  Against his better judgement, Bret agrees to back Buckley's venture.



Aided by a sudden--and phony--gold rush, Dandy Jim wildly exceeds his projection for equine sales with $10,000, but Bret wisely figures those customers will soon be seeking a refund.  With the intention of giving the townspeople their money back, Maverick splits the proceeds with Buckley---and promptly finds himself tied up and robbed when he wakes up the next morning. 


Bret trails Buckley to the titular town and finds the Dandy One in its titular jail, having stashed the $10,000 and needing to be freed from the brick fortress in order to retrieve his money--and Bret's.  Just two problems: Sheriff Pine (still smarting from the legendary escape of "Hognose" Hughes years earlier) has turned Junction Flats' jail into an impenetrable brick fortress, and Dandy Jim is incarcerated for shooting Pine's nephew.


Bret, Bart and Beau Maverick faced a lot of corrupt lawmen, card cheats, and scoundrels during MAVERICK's five year run.  One antagonist stood out vividly, at least for Brother Bret: Dandy Jim Buckley.

Series creator Roy Huggins envisioned the conscienceless Buckley as a true rogue to contrast with our antihero Mavericks.  Jauntily played by Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as a dapper, unabashed cheat with a Harvard accent, he was most accurately described by writer Marion Hargrove's introduction to him on the script's cast page:


DANDY JIM BUCKLEY                         Friend to Dandy Jim Buckley.



Still, Dandy Jim Buckley might seem like a strange choice for this particular blogathon.  Is Buckley really a villain?  He was actually a genuine friend to the younger Maverick brother, providing valuable assistance when Bart was charged with murder in High Card Hangs.  And while Bret considered Jim a nemesis, the Dandy One helped Bart with the sting operation that retrieved Bret's stolen $15,000 in Shady Deal at Sunny Acres.  No question, these are points in Buckley's favor, but any doubter of Dandy's antagonistic credentials can have that dubiety assuaged in The Jail at Junction Flats. 

In fact, this episode is a landmark in television villainy.




"Bret, old boy!  Have you got any money?"

When Buckley debuted in Stampede he was everything Roy Huggins envisioned: Bret was forced to watch his back the entire time as the two recovered stolen money.  Maverick's situational ethics won out at that early stage for the show.  The Dandy One was not only forced to turn in the $40,000 for an honest ten percent reward, but saw his share left with the Sheriff--ending up behind bars at the fadeout. 


Stampede was a fine introduction to the rascally Buckley, but with an ending that made little progress towards Huggins' stated goal in creating MAVERICK: "to invert as many clichés and conventions as possible".  By the time The Jail at Junction Flats arrived a year later, confidence and subversion had both grown considerably, and Marion Hargrove was just the writer to concoct the installment that arguably best achieved Huggins' objective.

One just might subtitle The Jail at Junction Flats "Buckley's Revenge".  He lives rent-free inside Bret Maverick's head from fade-in to fade-out.


"I was minding my own business, which is poker.  One look into the community center and I knew I was in the wrong town."


Even the greatest professional poker player will have that nemesis that simply provides a bad matchup for him.  In the game's parlance, just the mere sight of Buckley puts Bret on tilt.  Maverick's unease in Dandy's presence is immediate and palpable:




With good reason.  As was the case with every episode, Bret just wants to get right down to making an honest living at the poker table--impossible with card-marking Buckley already there.  But things are going to be different this time: Bret never gets closer to a poker game than he is at the end of that opening narration: a brief glance, from outside the saloon.

Jim Buckley is after Bret's bankroll.  And later, Bret's horse, Bret's labor, Bret's time---face it, Bret's show.  And we're subtly invited to sympathize with Dandy throughout.  Buckley makes his entrance jovially and amiably--and pretty much grins for the duration, even singing a cheerful song in captivity.   In contrast, Bret often looks like he's trying to pass a kidney stone. 


With frequent close-ups, director Doniger aids this subversion often.  For example, while Buckley (using the alias "P. T. Barnum" after his Broken Wheel scam) consults with "lawyer" Maverick from his cell in the titular jail, Doniger has Buckley closest to the camera for most of the scene's duration, allowing us to see the wheels turning in Buckley's head instead of Bret's.


And with Bret gripping the bars from the outside,   Buckley doesn't break the fourth wall, but he doesn't need to.  We already know he's about to use Bret's own greed (and to a lesser extent--yes, decency) against him.  Later, when the tables are turned and Bret's the one in a cell, Doniger points his camera at Bret from outside the bars the entire time--it's telling that each two shot is not with Buckley, but the dimwitted Deputy George:



At least Hargrove doesn't take the narration away from Bret--he was saving that particular inversion for Gun-Shy.


"Hard work never killed anyone--who didn't do it"--Pappy

"It would be a pitiful thing if you had to work for a living.  Son, use your wits."--Pappy

With Pappy Beauregard Maverick's fine example set for them, it is any wonder that both Maverick brothers would wisely choose a profession that earns the greatest amount of money for the least amount of work?  But as mentioned earlier, Bret's nemesis has him off his game, and another glaring example is demonstrated when it's time to get Dandy out of that "absurd" jail.


Normally Bret would figure out a less physically taxing way to get Buckley out, but the best he can do here is taking a shovel, lantern and axe into the basement of an adjacent dress shop to dig Buckley's way to freedom.


Perhaps fatigue was a factor in Maverick's dearth of better ideas, since he'd had several sleepless nights restlessly wondering what Dandy was up to.  He could chalk up one more, since the necessary underground tunnel was an all night undertaking.


Contrast this with Buckley's response to the same dilemma later.  Dandy arrives after dark, with the none too bright Deputy George on duty.  The assistant was easily distracted for Jim's escape earlier, even singing along with Jim's spirited rendition of All Quiet Along the Potomac Tonight.  Bret ended up incarcerated for abetting Buckley's escape, given away by the dirt under his fingernails; Dandy arrives wearing his trademark white gloves. 


Disarming George with a schoolyard trick, Buckley cracks the safe holding the keys afterward.  Considerably less strenuous than Bret's escape plan.


The one-upmanship continues for the duration.  Bret invests his $2,000 with Buckley, giving him a 150 percent profit in exchange for five nights of insomnia when the $4,000 turns into $10,000.  Buckley seizes the entire stake in Bret's sleep, and the shooting (in self-defense, as it turns out) lands Buckley in jail.  "Lawyer" Bret wrests the upper hand, gaining a 75/25 split in exchange for his services (granted, Bret works his ass off for it).  With Bret quickly locked up for aiding and abetting Buckley's escape, Dandy Jim gets his opportunity to reassert a 50/50 split, which he does--after leaving the heartbroken Sheriff locked in his own fortress, agonizing over what is now a trifecta of escapes.


And as the "friendly enemies" divide the money for the third and final time, Bret is careful to disarm Buckley and send him in the opposite direction.   Buckley U-turns some distance away, but after spending almost the entire episode playing defense, Bret has anticipated this and misdirected himself to avoid Dandy's pursuit.   We end up even-Steven.

Or do we?


Hey, I promised you a landmark television episode, and after that head fake the real finale delivers.  Having procured a buffalo rifle, ever resourceful Dandy Jim Buckley gets the drop on Bret after a dissolve, robbing him a second time (this time at gunpoint) and leaving with the entire $10,000.

That's right.  The bad guy wins.  In a Western.  Airing at 6:30 P.M. on Sundays.  In 1958.   With no Alfred Hitchcock appearance to reassure us that Buckley actually got his just desserts later.

Our hero Bret Maverick ends up hogtied in the middle of nowhere, out a gun, a horse and $5,000...


...while Dandy Jim Buckley rides away with $10,000, $8,000 of it in decidedly ill-gotten profit, happily singing Weeping, Sad and Lonely.



It's pretty common today, but to say that television audiences weren't used to this six decades ago is an understatement.  Roy Huggins noted that MAVERICK dropped from a 46 share to a 42 the following week, and he received a number of letters from angry viewers.   But any loss of momentum for this one-of-a-kind Western was short-lived: two weeks later, Shady Deal at Sunny Acres (with Buckley returning) drew a 46 share.  Even-steven, just like Dandy Jim and Bret after their second confrontation.

"Weeping Sad and Lonely
Sighs and tears, how vain
When this cruel war is over
Praying then to meet again"

Unfortunately for us, Bret and Dandy never did meet again.  Hargrove originally had him aggravating Bret one last time in The Rivals, but Zimbalist's 77 SUNSET STRIP was a breakout hit in 1958-59 and made him unavailable for further MAVERICKs after his single scene with Bart in Shady Deal at Sunny Acres


Buckley was never far from memory:  Bart impersonated him in Pappy and several ersatz Dandy Jims followed, most notably Mike Road's Pearly Gates (replete with white gloves and refined manner).  But none matched the one-of-a-kind opposing force that Buckley established.

Zimbalist was off to represent law and order on 77 SUNSET STRIP and THE F.B.I. for better part of the next two decades.  Which is too bad.  A missed opportunity, IMO at least, for a Dandy Jim Buckley spinoff series.


"Buckley, you're a crook and a cheat and a double-crosser, but you're not a killer. You could no more squeeze that trigger than quit marking decks."--Bret in STAMPEDE

The Jail at Junction Flats isn't quite perfect.  Bret seems to give up way too easily in the denouement to a man he knows wouldn't kill him, as stated above.  There's also the little matter of the money that Buckley took to the poker room ($75 or so) at Junction Flats that magically reappeared for future divisions of the ten grand.  Nevertheless, when it comes to rewatchable MAVERICK segments, this groundbreaker is right up there at the top.


HOW'D BRET DO AT POKER?

Dandy Jim Buckley gets to play all of the poker--offscreen he makes it to the table in both Broken Wheel and Junction Flats--while Bret has to settle for a game of slapjack with Deputy George in this bizarre world MAVERICK.  Probably a good thing for Bret, who was running badly enough to lose his $2,000 bankroll away from the table.


WISDOM FROM PAPPY?

Dandy Jim Buckley usurps Pappy too, as we are devoid of Pappyisms this time.  Not to fear, Buckley is providing us with the pearls of wisdom that normally come from the eldest Maverick.  The two best:

"You can only feel so bad, Sheriff, and then the essential cheerfulness of a man takes over."

"The way lawyers take money is one thing.  The way thieves take it is another."


THE BOTTOM LINE:

Marion Hargrove takes the creator's stated objective for the series to another level in The Jail at Junction Flats: he inverts several MAVERICK inversions of the norm.  Not that he neglects the show's twisted way of doing business: Bret is punished for not going all the way with his grafting.  A kinder, gentler way to illustrate the fallacy of half-measures a half-century before Mike Ehrmantraut schooled Walter White?  Well, you could read it that way.  For my money, The Jail at Junction Flats is a better parody of MAVERICK itself than the more heralded Saga of Waco Williams, and Dandy Jim Buckley's finest hour.  Hilarious, and too historically important not to rank at or near the show's top tier.  (**** out of four)


MAVERICK airs every Saturday morning at 9 A.M. Central on MeTV.


And, as I mentioned at the top, this post is part of the Classic TV Villain Blogathon!  Click on the link below to check out the other posts in this two-day blogathon featuring your favorite Classic Television antagonists.

https://classic-tv-blog-assoc.blogspot.com/2018/01/announcing-classic-tv-villain-blogathon.html


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Television Review: LOVE THAT BOB!: "Bob Wins the Olympics" (1957)



LOVE THAT BOB! (a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW): "Bob Wins the Olympics" (Original Air Date: 12/3/57) Starring Bob Cummings as Bob Collins, Rosemary DeCamp as Margaret MacDonald, Ann B. Davis as Charmaine "Schultzy" Schultz, Dwayne Hickman as Chuck MacDonald, Ingrid Goude as Herself, El Brendel as Ole Swenson, Hope Emerson as Esther K. Flintridge, Robert Carson as Paul Martin, Ellen Corby as The Nurse.  Written by Paul Henning, Shirl Gordon and Dick Wesson.  Directed by Bob Cummings. 

Series overview of LOVE THAT BOB a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW previously published here for the one hundredth anniversary of the star's birth in 2008 at this link. 

Selecting a model for client Paul Martin's advertising campaign (he sells gymnasium equipment) brings the Miss Perfect Body contest to Bob Collins' photography studio, and the lobby is filled with beautiful contestants.  Great for Bob, Chuck and everyone else who happens to be male, but a pain in the ass for Bob's no-nonsense landlady, Esther K. Flintridge.  Humorless Flintridge is nonplussed by all the extra traffic, and might finally be ready to follow through on her eviction threat after several close calls previously.


Does that look like a woman ready to be swayed by a playboy shutterbug?  Not under normal circumstances, but the old smoothie finds Ms. Flintridge's Achilles heel when he declares her to be just the "solid build" he's looking for.  Unfortunately, Bob lays it on too thick, and "choosing" his landlord over reigning Miss Sweden Goude means that our boy Bob is still trying to reach first base with his most elusive target.  Collins' troubles don't end there: he might have staved off the hunt for a new studio, but he'd better start searching for a new client once Martin steals an early peek at the physique Bob has chosen to promote the gym products.





Twenty year old Ingrid Goude made over a half-dozen appearances during the 1957-58 season after her well-received debut in Bob Meets Miss Sweden.  She proved to be quite a casting coup as the lone unattainable in Bob's veritable harem of models: in addition to her aforementioned 1956 title in her native country, Goude was second runner-up to Miss Universe and first runner-up to Miss Europe the same year.  With that track record, it's little wonder that Goude could out vavavoom Bob's regulars (With the possible exception of the always eye-popping Joi Lansing.)


You really wanna argue with the banner? Me neither.

Goude's acting career never really took off (she retired two years after her signature role in 1959's THE KILLER SHREWS) but she effortlessly made a worthy foil for our almost invincible loverboy.  Bob would feign a "dangerous" Air Force assignment and even a mission to the moon(!) to try and impress her, but to no avail.  Her LOVE THAT BOB episodes may have occasionally been more aesthetically than comedically pleasing, but she's well used in Bob Wins the Olympics.  Losing to Carol Morris or Margit Nunke is one thing, but being bested by Hope Emerson?  Goude's reaction is understandable.  Rather painful for Bob, too, in more ways than one.

Hope Emerson and El Brendel

When Miss Sweden appears, it usually gives us El Brendel as well, as mycket Swedish Ole Svensen, the building's janitor.  While typically relying on Svensen for translation, Collins enlists the maintenance man for double duty here as he attempts to pawn Esther off on him--fat chance, once Ole eyeballs the pageant winner from his homeland.  A staple of Columbia's shorts department in the 1940's (usually playing an "Ole" then as well), Brendel found lots of call for his inimitable dialect on television, providing steady comic relief in prime time until his death in 1964.


6' 2"  Emerson makes it a trifecta of thwarters in Bob Wins the Olympics.  Landlady Esther K. Flintridge usually appeared once or twice per season, always unmoved by Bob and his bevy of beauties.  Flintridge's arrival springs this door slammer into action, and for once, Collins actually succeeds in his attempt to praise the proprietor--predictably, a bit too well.


Things get a little plot-heavy for a half hour installment at times, but Goude's appearances were well placed throughout the fourth season, and she was consistently enjoyable playing her fictionalized self. Kudos again for the inexhaustible Henning-Gordon-Wesson team (responsible for all 36 of the season's episodes) and for Cummings the director, who always has the camera in just the right spot.


WHO WAS BLOCKING?

No one but Bob himself, from beginning to end.  Schultzy seemed too overwhelmed by the sheer numbers to intervene while the contest was on.



DID BOB SCORE?

Collins the Crooner usually struck out when Miss Sweden was around, and this installment was no exception.  Though Flintridge seemed kinda interested when all was said and done....


Too bad, Bob!

THE BOTTOM LINE:

The convolutions occasionally get in the way of the laughs, and Bob's clichéd theatrics are more stilted than usual with Flintridge (did she really buy that?).  Still, watching the indomitable ladies' man fail to land Miss Sweden is reliably amusing throughout, with guest stars Emerson and Brendel adding to the fun.  And yes, that is Emerson's CAGED co-star Ellen Corby as the nurse.  (*** out of four)



Bob Wins the Olympics is available as "Bob's Perfect Body" on DVD from Shokus Video's LOVE THAT BOB! VIII.    The Shokus release has the original "Bob Cummings Show" opening as well as the original Winston Cigarette commercials!

Friday, January 12, 2018

F TROOP Fridays: "She's Only a Build in a Girdled Cage" (1965)







F TROOP Fridays: Number 17







F TROOP: "She's Only a Build in a Girdled Cage" (Warner Brothers/ABC-TV 1965) Season One, Episode 10.  Original Air Date: November 16, 1965.  Starring Forrest Tucker as Sergeant O'Rourke, Larry Storch as Corporal Agarn, Ken Berry as Captain Parmenter, Melody Patterson as Wrangler Jane, James Hampton as Bugler Dobbs, Bob Steele as Duffy, Joe Brooks as Vanderbilt, Ivan Bell as Duddleson.  Guest Stars: Patrice Wymore as Laura Lee, Nydia Westman as Mama Dobbs, Bartlett Robinson as Colonel Griswald, Charles Seel as Abijah Mimms.  Written by Larry Markes and Michael Morris.  Directed by Leslie Goodwins.


Mushy musings from Dobbs' mother are mistaken for a love letter from legendary soprano Laura Lee by a snooping Sergeant O'Rourke, who sees the wrong side of an attached newspaper clipping.  After erroneously "confirming" that Ms. Lee is on her way to Fort Courage, O'Rourke and Agarn scheme to profit off the "final, farewell" show by the Songbird of the South. 


Naturally, said performance will be held at the saloon, with all proceeds going to the (newly-formed) "Enlisted Men's Fund".  Colonel Griswald's subsequent visit creates phenomenal word of mouth for the event: Generals Sheridan, Sherman and Smith all accept the Colonel's invitation to attend.  Then Parmenter learns the truth from the bashful Bugler: "I don't know her from Adam!"


Variety show specialist Larry Markes (writer of over thirty DEAN MARTIN CELEBRITY ROASTS) and veteran sitcommer Michael Morris (THE FLYING NUN, BEWITCHED) co-wrote She's Only a Build in a Girdled Cage.  It would be the lone F TROOP segment for both--and in a most noticeable anamoly, the only episode to feature none of the Hekawis.  Predictably, Wild Eagle and Crazy Cat are missed.


With an acceptable idea for both the central misunderstanding and the latest moneymaking scheme for O'Rourke Enterprises, Girdled Cage starts with some intrigue.  Unfortunately the fatal flaw was a failure by the debuting Markes/Morris team to write the Sergeant effectively and consistently with the standards established by Jacobs, James, Julian and Barnett.


The most traditional of sharp operators, O'Rourke usually verifies diligently before trusting.  His indiscriminate manner in confirming the seemingly unbelievable romantic pairing of Laura Lee and Hannibal Dobbs is a flight of fancy that seems much more likely to befall Agarn.  The Sarge's low key invasion of his V.P.'s territory creates a domino effect, with the good Corporal reduced to the role of lead cheerleader while awaiting the stage's arrival.

"
So we have a fanciful O'Rourke, AWOL Hekawis, and Agarn relegated to the background.  Everything is off-kilter, and not in a good way.  We do get some insight into Dobb's New Orleans background, but if you're waiting to hear how this Louisiana Mama's Boy ended up spending the Civil War years at Fort Courage (or how his middle name came to be Shirley) you'll still be waiting when Ms. Lee exits for her next "final, farewell" performance.


She's Only a Build in a Girdled Cage isn't unconventional enough to give Private Hogan lines, as Jimmie Horan is again mute and uncredited.  But we do have a predictable but still inspired spin on the fall of the observation tower and yet another new Inspector General--Colonel Griswald, whose cordial invitations almost land Parmenter in hot water.  


The biggest saving grace is Ms. Laura Lee herself.   Patrice Wymore's sultry soprano doesn't arrive until the second Act is well underway but proves to be worth the wait.  The self-described ham performs from the masses from stagecoach to stage, planting one on Dobbs in front of his new adoring fans and getting some goo-goo eyes from officers and gentlemen, highlighted by some pricelessly animated mugging by Bob Steele's Trooper Duffy.


Wymore's career was winding down at this time, but she did return in Season 2 for a meatier role in the far superior Is This Fort Really Necessary?  That episode was not only F TROOP's swan song, but Wymore's as well: she retired to Jamaica in 1967, where third husband Errol Flynn had left her a 2,000-acre cocoanut plantation.  Wymore died in 2014.



HOW'S BUSINESS AT O'ROURKE ENTERPRISES?

The newly-established Enlisted Men's Fund is breaking even by about 300-400 percent according to O'Rourke, but things go askew for our enterprisers as Captain Parmenter takes the money the Sarge is counting---one more indication that our freshman F TROOP scripters simply didn't have a good grip on these characters:



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

No enemies around to consort with this time around.

PC, OR NOT PC?

The only people offended are the other ladies in attendance at Ms. Lee's performance.  And not just Wrangler Jane:



I mean, check out the lovely young lady sitting next to Trooper Duffy:


Which brings up our key NAGGING QUESTION:

Why is she so pissed at Duffy's exaggerated response to Laura?  Is she interested in the Fort's  senior soldier?  Do those old Alamo stories turn her on?  What's the deal?

THE BOTTOM LINE:

When the punny title is more outrageous than the proceedings, you have a middling (at best) first season entry.  Conventional gags and character inconsistencies add up to a mediocre outing; just way too soft in all respects.  (** out of four)