Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Television Review: CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Fox and the Wolf" (1986)

CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Fox and the Wolf" (CBS-TV/Sony 1986) Original Air Date: January 5, 1986.  Starring Jack Warden as Harry Fox, John Rubenstein as Harrison Fox, Penny Peyser as Gail Fox, Robby Kiger as Josh Fox, Patricia Ayame Thomson as Allison.  Guest Stars:  Gene Barry as Nicholas Roland, James McEachin as Briggs, Charles Levin as Sidney, Katherine Moffat as Courtney, Lora Staley as Bonnie, Anne Howard as Juliet, Byron Morrow as Littlefield, Lillian Muller (credited as Yuliis Ruval) as French Maid, Joyce Meadows as the Clerk, Traci Rae as Gillian, Kelly Andrus as the Fencer, Joseph Whipp as the Detective.  Written by Steve Greenberg and Aubrey Solomon.  Directed by Paul Stanley. 

Introduction to the 1984-86 CBS series CRAZY LIKE A FOX is at this link.

Flamboyant, free-spending movie star Nicholas Roland faces a competency hearing forced by his daughter, and his estate lawyer Harrison has the exasperating task of keeping the legendary actor out of the tabloids until the controversy is resolved.   Keeping an eye on Roland proves to be a task challenging for even the senior Fox, who finds the schedule (including fencing, spa days and mysterious private trips every Thursday) exhausting.

"Nick" manages to persuade his new keeper to stay after Harry solves his staged kidnapping, but the star's eccentric behavior is increasingly hard to explain, even for longtime chauffer Briggs.  If the threat of losing his financial independence isn't enough to start the explanations coming, the murder of Roland's business manager will have to be.

Opening with a montage establishing Nicholas Roland as Hollywood royalty of several decades, Fox and the Wolf is CRAZY LIKE A FOX at its breeziest.  Gene Barry's bon vivant effortlessly sweeps every lady he meets off her feet and pampers himself and those around him, putting Harry in the unfamiliar position of mother hen.  And the equally foreign position of quitter.  Yes, bulldog Harry Fox gives up--not once, but twice!  Fortunately the emergence of a baffling mystery--even more enticing than Roland's promise of weekly manicures--keeps the grumbling old Fox around.

Which can't be easy, since Fox and the Wolf is Barry's show, with our usual exasperator Harry elbowed out of the way to become one more exasperated adult in Roland's life.  He joins his own son, Roland's two daughters, and the star's accountant in that category--only chauffer Briggs takes everything in stride.  We learn very early that the shoe will be on the other foot, with Roland actually asking Harrison "what could possibly happen?" in his first scene.  The hammy actor even bests Harry behind the wheel, escaping his watchdog and triggering that second resignation from the elder Fox.  Not that this change of pace is a bad thing: the ever-versatile Warden handles his one-time switch to straight man smoothly, and the role of Roland fits the always debonair Gene Barry like a glove.

It doesn't hurt that this especially poised episode has several enjoyable left turns and a mystery that holds water.  Seeing Harry more ruffled than Harrison for a change is just icing on the top.

While on the topic of added bonuses, Nicholas Roland is constantly surrounded by beautiful women, and we can be just as impressed as Harry is.  Teri Hafford and Theresa Ring are among those attending to our men in the spa (and yes, Mr. Fox has a smoking cigar sticking out of the towel on his face--what else did you expect?).  Kelly Andrus is Roland's fencing coach, and best of all, 1976 Playmate of the Year Lillian Muller (credited here as Yuliis Ruval) is the movie star's French maid.

In a season that saw the premieres of THE GOLDEN GIRLS and THE EQUALIZER and highly rated reunions for PERRY MASON and THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW there was much written about the "graying of prime time".  Seeing a 67 year old Gene Barry plausibly woo over a half dozen women half his age while swashbuckling his way through this highly enjoyable hour epitomized the venerability of 1985-86 television as well as any of those success stories. 

While Fox and the Wolf ranked a very respectable 24th in the weekly Nielsens (19.0 rating, 27 share), it came in second in its time slot to the highly promoted opener of BLACKE'S MAGIC, which starred two more of those comeback veterans: Hal Linden and Harry Morgan.  Sadly, it would be the final Sunday airing for CRAZY LIKE A FOX, and not coincidentally the final time that the show placed in the top 25.  Too bad, because the one-time Amos Burke was a prime candidate for a repeat visit to the Fox universe.  This fast-moving, highly enjoyable outing from TV lifer Paul Stanley (HAWAII FIVE-O) is one of the season's best.  (***1/2 out of four)

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Television Review: HONDO: "Hondo and the Comancheros" (1967)

"Your lives are meaningless compared to HONDO!"

HONDO: "Hondo and the Comancheros" (1967 ABC-TV/Batjac/MGM) Episode 10: Original Air Date: November 10, 1967.  Starring Ralph Taeger as Hondo Lane, Noah Beery Jr. as Buffalo Baker, Kathie Browne as Angie Dow, Gary Clarke as Captain Richards, Buddy Foster as Johnny Dow, William Bryant as Colonel Crook, William Benedict as Willie.  Guest Stars: Fernando Lamas as Rodrigo, Marie Gomez as Teresa, Glenn Langan as Victor Tribolet, Bruno VeSota as Biddle, Tom Hennesy as the Poker Player, Makee D. Blaisdell as Paco, Kelton Garwood as Kyle, Peggy Stewart as Mrs. Malcolm, Jerry Brown as Kruger.  Written by Frank Paris.  Directed by Michael D. Moore.

Series Overview for HONDO: TV's Unlikeliest Cult Hit at this link  

Acting on an erroneous tip from henchman Kyle, Comanchero leader Rodrigo attacks a stagecoach thought to be carrying a gold shipment.  But bullion isn't included in the cargo: just Angie Dow, Hondo Lane and D.C. emissary Biddle, en route to Fort Lowell.  After killing Biddle and the driver, Rodrigo decides to salvage something from the failed mission by holding Angie a ransom of $3,000, payable to him at his natural fortress in Val Verde Canyon.

"I don't have the authority!"

An international incident is a concern, as Captain Richards is disallowed under U.S. treaty with the Mexican government to cross the border with troops.  With extradition even for Biddle's murder out of the question, Hondo gamely tries to raise the seemingly impossible amount.  Meanwhile, Buffalo rides to Tucson for a direct appeal to Colonel Crook, and Rodrigo insinuates to his captive that he isn't planning to honor his own terms.

"She belongs to somebody, eh?  Maybe you, amigo?"

During the series' all-too-brief fun, Hondo Lane dealt with three different kidnappings involving those closest to him, with Angie Dow's abduction in Hondo and the Comancheros being the first.    Fortunately, Buffalo can help here, with both the fundraising and the personal appeal to Colonel Crook.  And while Captain Richards' hands are tied militarily, he still contributes his own money to the cause--as do his subordinates, who all gave "what they have, and some they didn't".  Even town drunk Willie (one of four HONDOs for long-time Bowery Boy Billy Benedict) is willing to forego his next three drinks for the cause.

"I got a lucky feelin', Mister."

While this isn't quite the helpless and urgent situation Hondo would face in Hondo and the Gladiators, it's still a dicey one.  The time allotment is only marginally more favorable (roughly 36 hours--"tomorrow before sundown"), and $3,000 is an impossible amount given the window and location.  With Rodrigo, the latter is almost certainly intentional.

"It's a large tent, amigo!"

Frank Paris' script has some racy elements for the series (and the era).  Rodrigo's avarice isn't limited to money: in fact, he hints strongly that he'd prefer a nightly threesome with the widow Dow and his buxom girlfriend Teresa to the sizable ransom.  Rodrigo even implies that Angie might become the "new number one"--but only when he's out of Teresa's earshot.  With good reason: Teresa responds to Rodrigo's suggestion in predictable fashion ("I will not touch her!!") and the jealous Latina becomes the biggest threat to Angie's safety.  Suffice to say that Lamas is the show's lustiest villain.  Well, verbally, at least.  (The only close competition is Nick Adams' almost mute Apache Kid.)

Fernando Lamas puts his effortless charm to good use here as Rodrigo, whose perpetual smile brings little comfort--he drops it to send a message (by murdering Biddle) for only a few seconds, then flashes it again once the body hits the ground.  We keep expecting his carnal desires, greed or arrogance to be his undoing, and Paris keeps you wondering which character flaw will ultimately be the fatal one for Rodrigo.  Lamas' jovial menace was also memorably effective a month later in one of the highlights of THE HIGH CHAPARRAL's first season, The Firing Wall.

"All it takes is money.  And we won't have to beg for it."

Lamas and a reliably fiery Gomez are the obvious front-runners in the larger-than-usual guest cast.   Glenn Langan returns as Tribolet, making the same snarky comments about Hondo's relationship with Mrs. Dow and adding a curt dismissal about Lane's lack of collateral. 

For the only time, Tribolet doesn't meet the chief antagonist, but they'd have gotten along swimmingly--Tribolet's money hunger far outstrips even Rodrigo's.  Curiously, Benedict is uncredited, a fate that often befell longtime stuntman Tom Henessy, cast here as a burly cardsharp.


Emberato punches heartless Victor Tribolet after the freighter, sensing a great opportunity to pick up the Dow store, refuses to loan him the ransom money despite having it many times over.  Later, the attempt at raising the funds brings Hondo Lane to the poker game, where he is forced to kick the living crap out of that poker cheat at Joe's.  Speaking of...


For once, Joe the bartender actually complains about the damages, which is odd because his watering hole is pretty much unscathed but for a single broken chair--probably the brawl requiring the least furniture replacement to date!


Hondo restricts Sam to Fort Lowell for the duration, to serve as Johnny's therapy dog during his mother's absence.


Long-time Horn Section readers know how yours truly feels about the latter, but there is no wrong answer to this one, right guys?

Hmm...Marie might disagree.

I keep reading that we're currently enjoying the Golden Age of Television, but on a Friday night in 1967 you could watch Marie Gomez and Kathie Browne have two catfights within an hour--with bosomy Ms. Gomez throwing in a sexy flamenco dance for good measure.  If that doesn't prove there was must see TV a half-century ago, I don't know what would.  Fernando Lamas excelled at bringing smiling scoundrels to life, and his flamboyant performance further enhances this entertaining and well directed segment.  (*** out of four)

HONDO airs every Sunday morning at 10:15 AM Central on getTV.  The complete HONDO series is also now available on DVD through Warner Archive.

Oh, and Happy 50th, HONDO!  The first episode aired on ABC-TV fifty years ago this Friday!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Television Review: CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Motor Homicide" (1985)

CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Motor Homicide" (CBS-TV/Sony 1985) Original Air Date: February 3, 1985.  Starring Jack Warden as Harry Fox, John Rubenstein as Harrison Fox, Penny Peyser as Gail Fox, Robby Kiger as Josh Fox.  Guest Stars:  Bo Svenson as Chuck Dobson, Patrice Chanel as Saleswoman, Paul Koslo as Maggot, Ed Bakey as Earl Stanton, Susan Bjurman as Evelyn Blaine, Al Ruscio as Manager.  Written by John Baskin, Frank Cardea, George Schenck and Roger Shulman.  Directed by William Asher. 

Introduction to the 1984-86 CBS series CRAZY LIKE A FOX is at this link.

En route to a Fox family camping vacation, Harry swears he's witnessed a murder in a neighboring R.V.  Eschewing their existing reservation, Harry follows the culprit to the not-so-aptly named Heavenly Hideaway, a campground that young Josh accurately describes as a "dump".  Meanwhile, Harry waits for the body to drop.

After an unauthorized search of the RV lands Harry in hot water, the "corpse" turns up alive, well, and very shapely.  After the senior Fox's suspect turns out to be a physically imposing twenty-five year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department, one has to ask: did Harry's instincts finally failed him?  Well, that lifeless arm we see dangling from the vehicle's roof has to belong to someone.

The first ingredient of the comedy/mystery hybrid is crisply executed in Motor Homicide.  Harrison Fox was seldom more reluctantly involved than in this one.  First, a two week family vacation is shot to Hell before it even begins, with prime reservations lost while dead fish, poison ivy and bee stings are found--along with a murderer, and a (thankfully friendly) motorcycle gang. 

The sabbatical truncated, Harrison then hopes to enjoy a San Francisco Giants game with his father--only to have the investigation trail heat up again, costing the junior Fox a chance to see a once in a lifetime event at the old Candlestick.  John Rubenstein rarely got more opportunities to deliver priceless reactions.

It's no surprise that the humor is so deftly handled by sitcom vet William Asher (BEWITCHED), but the director had been absent from the detective genre for a quarter century (since 1958's THE THIN MAN) and unfortunately doesn't deliver the second key component of the FOX formula as smoothly. To be fair, the script from the series' creators has a few problems also.

You'd think that a long-time cop would know enough to keep his RV locked when he's away, knowing there's a corpse inside.  Certainly you'd think that he'd know not to behave in a way that arouses suspicion: when Harry takes advantage of the first error, Sgt. Dobson is far less outraged than one would expect--and it's that curious inaction that keeps Fox hot on his trail for the rest of Motor Homicide.   Sure, it's fun seeing Harry try to bluff his way out of the Sergeant's motor home unscathed, but as physically menacing as Dobson is (played by Bo Svenson), he's never the truly worthy adversary that his experience should create.

The show's usual charms can go a long way even when the tension is lacking.  In addition to Svenson, Ed Bakey brings his long face and perpetual crooked smile for one of his final TV roles as the failing campground proprietor; Paul Koslo is unusually sympathetic as another of Harry's oddball allies; DAYS OF OUR LIVES co-star Patrice Chanel makes an offer that is hard to refuse as a guns and ammo dealer; and the ubiquitous Al Ruscio turns up as yet again, as Bjurman's former landlord.

Asher's only FOX ended up also being his last episodic TV assignment; he closed out his career with the RETURN TO GREEN ACRES reunion movie five years later.  Motor Homicide continued the show's first-season winning streak in the Nielsens, scoring a 20.7 rating and handily outgunning the network television premieres of FIREFOX and THE VERDICT to win the 9 PM ET timeslot.  The episode might not fully work but Asher's deft touch for comedy is very much in evidence.  (**1/2 out of four)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Television Review: CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Some Day My Prints Will Come" (1985)

CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Some Day My Prints Will Come" (Sony/CBS-TV 1985)  Original Air Date: December 1, 1985.  Starring Jack Warden as Harry Fox, John Rubenstein as Harrison Fox, Penny Peyser as Gail Fox, Robby Kiger as Josh Fox.  Guest Stars: Norman Fell as Vern, Russ Marin as Jerry Clouser, Ja'net DuBois as Idee, Theodore Wilson as Eddie, Harry Moses as Donald Woodley, Al Ruscio as Tony, Barrie Ingham as Crime Boss, Herman Poppe as Henchman, Joe Renteria as Mendez, Joe E. Tata as Ralph Moss, Sandra Gould as the Landlord.  Written by Sid Dorfman, Philip Saltzman, Harvey Weitzman and David R. Toddman.  Directed by Paul Krasny.

Introduction to the 1984-86 CBS series CRAZY LIKE A FOX is at this link.

Working for his son on his latest case, Harry Fox hits the jackpot when he captures photographic proof of insurance scammer Moss not only out of his wheelchair, but running.  Unfortunately his pictures are mixed up with another customer's at Idee's Photo Shop.  Stuck with snapshots of the docked Wanderer at the pier, Harry asks questions to find the owner that he presumes is the holder of his needed evidence.

Unfortunately for the senior Fox, the shutterbug was Mendez, who is investigating drug traffickers tied to the vessel and the disappearance of its original possessors.  Harry's questioning leads the crime boss to surmise that the two investigators are working together, making both of them targets--along with their perceived co-conspirator: the con artist in Harry's prized photographs.

One simple mixup turns a refreshingly mundane (and realistic) case into one more worthy of Harry Fox's talents.  While the twists that follow in Some Day My Prints Will Come might not be all that surprising for veteran FOX watchers, the story goes into slightly grittier territory than usual once drug lords are involved.  Even comedically nimble Norman Fell keeps a tight jaw and a stone face, no matter how annoyed his cop is to learn that there's a Fox on his case.

Not that the humor suffers: on the contrary, Harry's street savvy serves him well in solving the overall puzzle (as even Detective Vern grudgingly admits),  but his smaller hunches hilariously fail him at some crucial moments (famous almost last words: "They'll never know where the shots are coming from!"). 

Harrison and Harry Fox are both on the same case, and both are in their respective day jobs for once--at the outset.  But of course, the junior Fox is forced into the real action, yet again ending up in the middle of gunfire and a wild car chase.  With his father behind the wheel, it's a tossup as to which experience is more harrowing.

It's always great watching the verbal sparring of old pros Warden and Fell, but there are other delights in a guest cast that's deeper than usual.   Joe E. Tata is at his weaselly best as the fraudster (though it is hard to believe he falls for such an venerable trick in the open), and in another surprise, Al Ruscio isn't part of the mob in an episode revolving around it.  Ja'net Dubois' prime time appearances were sporadic in the mid-1980's, so it's a shame she only has two scenes as the harried Idee.

The fate of Some Day My Prints Will Come was a microcosm of the show's sophomore season.  After being pre-empted on consecutive weeks, CRAZY LIKE A FOX returned to its 9 PM time slot on December 1st--the same night and time that NBC premiered the highly anticipated Perry Mason Returns, the week's top-rated program.  The ensuing 15.2 Nielsen rating was the series' lowest to date.  Too bad: those who opted for Raymond Burr and friends (27.2 and a 39 share) missed another fun ride with the Foxes.  (*** out of four)

CRAZY LIKE A FOX airs Monday through Thursday at 9 A.M. Central on getTV.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Leon Errol Series: ONE WILD NIGHT (1951)

ONE WILD NIGHT (1951 RKO Pictures Short) Starring Leon Errol as Leon, Dorothy Granger as Mrs. Dorothy Errol, Jack Kirkwood as Jack, Perry Sheehan as Peggy, Karen Randle as Gloria, Judith Allen as Harriet.  Written and Directed by Hal Yates.

The introduction to our Leon Errol Salute series is at this link.

Mrs. Errol wakes up after midnight on Friday morning to find that Leon hasn't come home yet.  Her husband finally staggers home after 3 AM, wearing two stockings, spilling poker chips and slurring his words.  Confronting her husband about this weekly ritual hasn't done any good in the past oh, ninety two reelers, so Dorothy tries another tack: she decides to dress up and go out on her own the following week.  Come next Thursday, Leon can go his way, and she'll go hers.

A week passes, and Leon suddenly isn't so thrilled with this 'agreement' once he hears that the Mrs. isn't committed to limiting herself to female company for the evening.  He even offers to pass up his night at the club and take Mrs. Errol out!  To no avail---Mrs. Errol leaves, upsetting Leon so much that he decides to stay home, passing up the Insulation Officers' Stag Party!  Best friend Jack 'isn't fooled' by Leon's insistence that he "isn't up to" going out, and brings the party to Leon--with Judith and Karen coming along to the Errol home to cheer the boys up.  It works, as Leon gets into the spirit of things.  And of course, the foursome is still partying strong when Mrs. Errol returns.

One has to marvel at Hal Yates' ability to mine so many variations on the theme of Leon's carousing.  One Wild Night allows the forever foiling Dorothy Granger the opportunity to be enticing for once, as the dresses to the nines for her evening out.  She milks the opportunity to make the Mr. jealous, seductively showing him her ankle bracelet (and the shapely calf above it) before brushing him off for their "no questions asked" evening.  Of course, it's all a bluff--Dorothy Errol spends the evening playing cards with her friend Harriet--but its a welcome change to see the tables turned on Leon for once.  Too upset to go to the men's club?  Now that's what I call a twist.

While that new wrinkle adds a bit of intrigue, the best laugh comes from the most familiar source: inebriated Leon Errol.  Opening the proceedings, he stumbles home in the wee wee hours, first staggering out of Jack's car, then wobbling up the steps to the building.  From there Leon loses direction in the hallway twice, occasionally holds on to the wall for dear life and finally rips his pants before slurring spoonerisms under Mrs. Errol's questioning.   For my money, Leon Errol had the finest drunk act in the history of show business, and it's quite a marvel to behold after being honed for nearly a half century by 1951.  Never gets old, trust me.

At Harriet's urging, Dorothy tries her hand at acting tipsy upon her return to the apartment, but finally drops the ball near the goal line once she smells liquor on Leon's breath.  After seventeen minutes of taking the high road, and even feeling guilty about leaving her poor worried husband behind, the Mrs. loses her temper with the Mister anyway.  When Leon overplays his hand, Jack's ill-timed return to the apartment reveals what the evening was really like.  See, Leon?  Stay home on Thursday night like a good boy, and you still end up with an angry wife smashing a bottle smashed over your head.  Might as well gamble, drink, dance and ogle to your heart's content at the stag parties--or at least, quit while your ahead when the wife is offering to let you go out every Thursday with no questions asked.

Jack Kirkwood, Leon's wingman 
A longtime fixture on radio, Jack Kirkwood made a belated start in feature films at age 53 in 1947.  The Irish comedian was most familiar to filmland as Wally Brown's wingman in a series of RKO shorts that started up in 1949 (the year after Edgar Kennedy's death ended that long running series) but two-reelers were on the way out at the troubled studio and the series lasted only two years.  Errol's death was pretty much the end of the department.

The opportunity to see a second unsung comedy great is an added attraction, and Kirkwood does a fine job as the devil on Leon's shoulder here: driving Errol to and fro' every week, bringing two very attractive young ladies over, going to the liquor store to add bourbon to beautiful Peggy's concoction.  And just when it looks like Leon is in the clear, Jack blows his cover and sets off Dorothy Errol's long-awaited explosion.  Talk about a pied piper....  Kirkwood and Errol also worked together in Humphrey Takes a Chance (1950), Errol's final entry in the JOE PALOOKA series.

Perry Sheehan

Beautiful blonde Perry Sheehan was most notable for her striking resemblence to Betty Grable.  After three years as a Powers model, One Wild Night was Sheehan's Hollywood debut, and she had the showcase role here, leading Leon off the straight and narrow.  It's a lively debut: she dances a spirited jitterbug with our star and comes up with spirit concoctions that have to be overproof.

Sheehan worked only sporadically after her 1956 marriage to Dunes casino owner J. Carlton Adair, and passed away in March 2017 at age 95.  As Jack's "date", Karen Randle had to play second fiddle to the much publicized newcomer, though she does get to harmonize (badly) with Kirkwood while providing the backing music for the rug cutting stars.   The stunning native of Lone Wolf, Oklahoma had her most notable role in HURRICANE ISLAND the same year, but her career was nevertheless winding down.  Randle's final film was only a year away. 

Karen Randle, Granger and Errol
Pretty Judith Allen was also near the end of her career.  A De Mille discovery who had her greatest success in the 1930's, Allen had her last credited film appearance in One Wild Night as Granger's confidant.   Some very familiar but solidly executed laughs in the first half, with Errol's conscience once again fading away in the presence of a pretty blonde and Dorothy Granger getting to break out of wet blanket territory.  While Jack Kirkwood isn't utilized quite as well as he could be, One Wild Night is still an agreeable entry in a reliably amusing series.  (*** out of four)