Monday, June 7, 2010

Mayberry Mondays #4: “Help on the Farm” (10/14/68, prod. no. 0104)

Okay, so maybe last week’s Mayberry R.F.D. was a little disappointing. So maybe casting Aunt Bee as a horse fancier isn’t all that damn funny. Well, buck up, little buckaroos—not only is “help on the farm,” as this week’s episode is titled, but “help is on the way”; look at what we have in the opening credits!

And the crowd goes wild! No more lame excuses about Sheriff Andy Taylor (Griffith) being at a convention in Raleigh, or whatever the hell those Mayberrians concoct as an excuse to explain that Andy’s shaken the dust of that crummy little town off his boots and he’s off to see the world. (And yet, as we will see—there is a dark underside to this episode…but more on that in a bit.)

Andy and Emmett Clark (Paul Hartman) are having a stroll down Mayberry’s main thoroughfare as this episode gets underway; they’ve just been to the movies and Emmett—Mayberry’s resident cineaste—is torqued off because the film they’ve just seen, Full Moon Over Fort Apache, is “a sloppy love story.” “Not once in the whole picture did you see an Indian shoot a flaming arrow—did you notice that?” bitches Emmett. But this fascinating conversation on the state of cinema in Mayberry will have to wait; Andy notices a light on in the town council office and peering through the window (the sheriff’s a Peeping Tom?—tell me that’s not disturbing), notices that head councilman Sam Jones (Ken Berry) is busy burning the midnight oil inside:

ANDY: Working kinda late, aren’t ya?

SAM: Yeah…I figured I’d better get some council work done while I can—I’ll be spending all my time at the farm the next few weeks unless I can get some help out there…

Oh, so that’s why he’s always goldbricking around at Emmett’s shop…it’s so hard to get good farm help these days.

ANDY: Oh, yeah…the corn crop’s comin’ in, huh?

SAM: Yeah...say, you don’t happen to know where I can get a couple of farmhands, do you?

ANDY: Hey…

SAM: What?

ANDY: How would you feel about hiring a couple of ex-prisoners?

EMMETT: Prisoners?!!

ANDY: Ex-prisoners, Emmett…ex-prisoners…I was talkin’ to the warden over at the county prison…and he says they’re always lookin’ for jobs for men that they’re fixin’ to release—you know, help them get on their feet?

SAM: Yeah…hey, that’s a thought…

ANDY: Yeah, see…they release these men, give ‘em a few bucks…and if they don’t get a job right away they could get into trouble again…

SAM: Now this would be only be for a few weeks…

ANDY: Everything helps…see, a lot of people aren’t willin’ to give these fellas another chance…and that’s exactly what they need…

SAM: Yeah… (After a pause) Gee, I hope one of them can drive a truck…

EMMETT: Hey…maybe you’ll be lucky and get a hijacker

I guess since Goober Pyle (George Lindsey) isn’t in this episode, Emmett is filling in as the town idiot. Sam is amenable to the idea of using ex-cons as labor…but there’s just one small hitch in Andy’s clever little scheme…and her name is Beatrice "Aunt Bee" Taylor (Francis Bavier)…

The scene shifts to the kitchen at Rancho Jones, where Aunt Bee is prattling on about the fundraising efforts of the Women’s Club to raise the scratch for a community swimming pool—she put Millie Swanson (Arlene Golonka) in charge, and she was able to wrest fifteen dollars from notorious town tightwad Elmo (played infrequently on the show by character great Vince Barnett…though he doesn’t appear in this episode). Sam then decides that this will be a great opportunity (he’s always thinking, that one) to bring up the idea of hiring the ex-cons as farmhands to Aunt Bee:

SAM: If you’ve paid your debt to society, you oughta have another chance…

AUNT BEE: I know…you know, if we can’t forgive each other, where are we?

SAM: Right…right…

AUNT BEE: You know, I saw a perfect example of that in a movie last week…George Raft, he got out of prison and he wanted to go honest…and nobody would help him…so he rebelled…and he became king of the rum-runners…his friends were just crushed

SAM: I’ll bet…anyway, I’m glad you feel that strongly about ex-prisoners, Aunt Bee…

AUNT BEE: Of course I do…bless their hearts…

SAM: Good…because Andy said he could line up a couple of ex-prisoners to work on the farm…

AUNT BEE: Wonderful!

One, two, three…wait for it…suddenly, NIMBY-ism rears its ugly head as Aunt Bee realizes that there will be ex-cons running about the place, waiting for the moment when she’s alone and vulnerable and then grabbing her shoulders with their rough, ex-criminal hands and…okay, maybe I should just stop there. Let’s just say she’s not too keen on this progressive idea anymore—but then again, what do you expect from a woman who debated an entire episode as to whether or not she should lift a chicken?

AUNT BEE: Uh…well…I…I…I would love to have them, uh…it’s just that…you know, I haven’t told you but I plan to pick some of the corn crop…and, uh…Mike here, he should follow in your footsteps, he can help, and…I can drive a truck!

SAM: Look, Aunt Bee…

AUNT BEE: I’d love to have them, but it doesn’t seem necessary…does it?

SAM (firmly): Yes…I need a couple of men…believe me…

Um…I’m not going to speculate on that last sentence…except that apparently Millie isn’t getting the job done, if you know what I mean…and I think you do. Nevertheless, Aunt Bee nervously gives her approval, and we fade to Andy introducing Sam to his new employees…Harry Davis (the great Herbie Faye, who’d been through Mayberry previously in The Andy Griffith Show episode “The Tape Recorder” [10/30/67]—in which Opie and his friend Sheldon surreptitiously a conversation between suspect Faye and his lawyer as to where Faye’s hidden some stolen loot, thus violating about 57 varieties of civil liberties) and Charlie “Fingers” Wilson (Lewis Charles). (“Charlie?” asks Harry. “I’ve known you for twenty years—I didn’t know that was your name.”) Andy explains to Sam that Charlie is known as “Fingers” because “he, once in a while, would find his hand in somebody else’s pocket.” Harry also has a nickname—“Lucky,” because of his predilection for gambling:

SAM: Either of you fellas know anything about farming?

CHARLIE: Oh, you mean growin’ stuff and all that kind of thing? Oh, sure…sure…

HARRY: Yeah…we love it…

SAM: Well, good…good… (He fumbles around in his shirt pocket for a bullet piece of paper and pencil) Uh…I’m going to need your Social Security numbers…

HARRY: Uh…I’ve been meanin’ to get one of them…

CHARLIE: Me, too…

ANDY: You mean neither one of you guys got Social Security cards?

CHARLIE: Well, it’s just one of those things we never got around to…you know how you keep puttin’ things off…

Yeah, that’s something to which the people running the Big House don’t pay a great deal of attention. Back at the ranch, Mike (Buddy Foster)—Sam’s constantly grinning idiot son—is jumping up and down with delight at the prospect of having as guests these former “wards of the State.” Aunt Bee admonishes him to be very careful not to say anything they might be sensitive about. Sam introduces Harry and Charlie to Mike and Aunt Bee (“How do you do, Mr. Lucky…Mr. Fingers…”), and Bee decides to stick to safe topics of conversation, like the weather. Sam then tells the two ex-cons that he’ll rustle up some work clothes for them, since Bee has their room all prepared:

AUNT BEE: I hope you don’t mind bunk beds…

CHARLIE: Oh, no…we don’t mind…we’re kind of used to them…

As Harry and Charlie follow Sam upstairs, Aunt Bee realizes that she’s committed a dreadful fox paw…and cue the muted trombone effect (wah wah wah wah)…

In the next scene, Harry and Charlie are busy harvesting Sam’s crop—it’s hard work, but they really don’t mind as they marvel at the miracle of planting and growing and picking and processing and “before you know it, you got a bottle of bourbon,” Harry observes. But this homespun philosopher is worried that picking all that corn has qualified him for workers’ comp—he notices that “his dealin’ hand is gettin’ stiff.” Charlie tells him that it won’t make any difference but Harry deals a hand for practice and, sure enough, he’s dealing from the top of the deck. Sam’s arrival on the scene puts an end to the poker seminar—he asks the two men to take the pickup filled with corn down to the processing plant, and to also stop by for some gas (he gives them a double sawbuck)…with a side trip to Emmett’s fix-it shop to pick up a steam iron. (Hey, the boss puts off his chores by hanging out there—why should the hired help be any different?) “How do you like that?” marvels Harry to Charlie. “He gives us the truck and twenty bucks and tells us how to get to the highway…”

Harry and Charlie arrive at Emmett’s shop where Mayberry’s own fix-it savant informs him that he’s still repairing Sam’s iron—or as he puts it, “I’m working on the caper now.” (It’s funny—you occasionally see Emmett in the process of repairing things…but you rarely see him complete any of these tasks.) He’s interrupted by the ringing of the shop’s telephone, and after a brief conversation he hangs up and tells the two ex-cons to keep an eye on the store because he’s been summoned on an emergency service call: he needs to repair Clara Edwards’ heating pad because her sciatica is acting up again. “If somebody comes in to pick up something, just give it to them…take the money and put it in there and give ‘em the change,” Emmett points out helpfully, opening up the cash register drawer. “Oh, and if you need some big bills for change,” he further demonstrates, “they’re under here—sort of a secret compartment…can’t be too careful.”

As Emmett exits, Harry remarks to Charlie: “This town has got to be a put-on…” Charlie looks at his pal and then slowly closes the drawer. Meanwhile, back at Sam’s, Millie is seated at a table counting money as Aunt Bee looks on. The total is five hundred and twenty-three dollars…just a little shy of the thousand dollars needed for the down payment on the community swimming pool.

MILLIE: Better get that to the bank as soon as possible…

AUNT BEE: Oh no, I don’t think I can today—it’s closed…I’ll have to wait til’ Monday…

MILLIE: Oh, I think it’ll be safe with all the men you have around here…

Aunt Bee thinks about this statement, knowing that the population at the Jones Farm has increased by a pair of ex-cons, who are just waiting for the moment when she’s alone and vulnerable and then grabbing her shoulders with their rough, ex-criminal hands and…sorry…derailed my train of thought again. She moves about the living room, looking for a place to stash the king-sized wad of pool dough when she’s startled by Sam’s sudden arrival. Sam chides her, telling her that she’s just nervous about Charlie and Harry’s being around and suggesting she put the money in the desk…but Bee has a much better idea…she’ll hide it in a cookie jar in the kitchen.

Time passes (though not nearly as fast as someone watching this episode would hope) and our two ex-cons are seated at the table the next morning, drinking coffee and discussing what they should do today, since it’s their day off. Harry asks Charlie if he’d like a cookie—“Probably homemade,” he muses—and upon opening the jar…BINGO! He’s found Bee’s stash. He pulls out the wad of bills and as he thumbs through them Charlie wails: “What are they trying to do to us?”

“They put it right in front of your nose,” responds Harry. “You gotta be made of iron to hang around this town.”

But before the two men can take the time to figure out how wild a time they could have in Mt. Pilot with all that mazoola, they’re interrupted by Sam and Aunt Bee…who are dressed to the nines, as they are planning to attend Sunday services at the local church. The two ex-cons are invited to come along—Sam even suggests that they take the truck and meet them there because they’re still wearing their work clothes and they’ll need the extra time to gussy up. But Bee wasn’t born yesterday—she knows that cookie jar money would be mighty tempting for a pair of former crooks, and she announces that they’ll wait until Harry and Charlie change into a more proper set of duds.

The Jones family gets to the church on time—Aunt Bee, Mike, Sam (with Millie on his arm), Harry and Charlie enter and receive hymnals from Deacon Emmett. (Charlie fumbles around in his pocket upon getting a hymn book, and Harry admonishes him: “Pay later.”) As Emmett is closing the church doors, he’s helped by Andy, who’s just now arriving—and when Emmett asks where Opie is, Andy gives him some fable about his son having a cold and being nursed by Helen. (He’s not fooling anybody—he’s beaten both of them, and the two of them are afraid to be seen with bruises and contusions in public.) How do I know this? Take a look at this picture:

Notice where Andy is stationed and where Aunt Bee is sitting? The woman cooked and cleaned for him for eight years, and he can’t even sit in the same pew with her. The secret is out, folks. The past eight seasons of The Andy Griffith Show were all a sham, a terrible prevarication perpetuated on a gullible television-viewing public. (I apologize for bursting anybody’s bubble.)

Sam asks the Reverend (William Keene) if he’d be so good as to introduce his guests—Harry and Charlie—to the congregation:

REVEREND: Where are you gentlemen from?

CHARLIE: You…you mean just lately or…or like from before?

REVEREND: Well, I, uh…

SAM (interrupting): They, uh, move around a lot, Reverend…

AUNT BEE: There’s no longer any restrictions on them…

The Reverend then launches into his sermon, which he entitles “The Brotherhood of Man.” Fortunately, we’re spared the whole enchilada with a dissolve (Emmett, on the other hand, is fast asleep beside Andy in their pew) but the gist of the Reverend’s talk is one of helping out one another unselfishly and through the goodness of one’s heart. The congregation then launches into that oldie-but-a-goodie, Bringing in the Sheaves—and Harry and Charlie are encouraged to join in. The Reverend caps off his Sunday lecture by reminding his flock of the Women’s Club’s efforts to raise funds for the swimming pool, and he encourages everyone to give till it hurts…and then give some more. “Reach into that cookie jar and take it out,” he advises those in attendance…clearly not the most appropriate choice of words.

You can see here in this photo on the right (apologies for the poor quality, but you have to expect that sort of thing on Ioffer.com) that Andy is none too happy about having to exchange pleasantries with Aunt Bee, further evidence of the terror that reigned in the Taylor household until Bee was let go upon his marriage to the now-suffering Helen. But when Andy heads for the exit and the danger passes, the talk returns to that of Harry and Charlie—because Millie has asked Sam and Aunt Bee to stick around and help her collect pool contributions, Sam hands his employees the keys to the car and tells them to go on home…they’ll join them later. “Oh, Sam,” twitters Bee, “I’m so ashamed of myself…for not trusting Mr. Wilson and Mr. Davis. Did you see them singing? Perfect angels.”

Entering Casa Del Jones from the back door that leads into the kitchen, Aunt Bee is ecstatic because the money they collected at church has netted them a grand total of six hundred simolians. But she’s got a surprise waiting for her—her “angels” have raided the cookie jar and made off with the proceeds! Mike enters the kitchen, too, to inform his father that there’s no car in the garage. Dejected, Sam grabs the phone and asks “Sara” to connect him with Sheriff Taylor…

Now we’ll get some action! (Bad boys, bad boys...whatcha gonna do...) As Andy discusses the theft with Sam and Aunt Bee, Sam remembers that Harry mentioned earlier a big poker game taking place in Siler City under the auspices of a “Big Louie” Fletcher (character veteran Dan Seymour). “Oh yeah,” Andy nods. “He’s a gambler.” (Probably met him on a warm summer’s eve…on a train bound for nowhere.) Sure enough, the two men are shown in the next scene getting out of Sam’s car and headed for Big Louie’s digs at the local hotel. “There’s no chance of blowing this dough, is there?” Charlie asks his friend. “With Big Louie?” retorts Harry. “I must have played him fifty times…no competition. Don’t worry.” (Clearly, Large Louis is not much of a gambler…which makes you wonder why he enjoys the reputation he does.)

In Big Louie’s hotel room, the high stakes poker game is underway. But Harry’s debilitating corn-harvesting injury is hampering his deal, prompting Big Louie to ask: “How ‘bout giving us some from the top?” Harry feigns ignorance, but when Louie and fellow gambler Aces Malone (another man from the acting trenches, Val Bisoglio) move menacingly towards Harry and Charlie, the two men do some fancy talking to try and explain:

HARRY: Maybe I was dealin’ a little fancy…but it was for a reason…it was for a reason, honest…

CHARLIE: Yeah…it’s…it’s for a swimming pool…

LOUIE: A swimming pool? Why not a yacht?

HARRY: Not for us…for the kids in Mayberry…a pool for the town…

CHARLIE: Y-Y-Yeah…th-th-they couldn’t even raise the bread for a down payment…

ACES: Well, what’s in it for you two?

HARRY: Nothing! I-I-It’s the people…th-th-they treat ya nice…

CHARLIE: Yeah, they t-t-trust you like you was never in stir…

HARRY (after a pause) Aw, you guys wouldn’t understand…

LOUIE (grabbing Harry by his tie): What do you mean, we wouldn’t understand? What makes you think you’re better than we are…?

HARRY: B-B-But you…

LOUIE: You think you’re the only guys that can be nice? You think I’ve never been a kid? You think I don’t know about swimming?

Louie’s trip back to his halcyon youth years is interrupted by Andy and Sam, who bust into the gambler’s room like a pair of rogue Untouchables determined to close down the Uptown Poker Club. Sam is really disappointed in Harry and Charlie, and their explanation that they were doing a little independent “fundraising” falls on deaf ears. But Big Louie vouches for the two men, and peels off five hundred big ones from a wad in his pocket, handing it to a surprised Andy. “I just want to show these punks who’s got class,” he confides to Mayberry’s long arm of the law. Andy’s not quite certain of the ethics of Big Louie’s contribution because it’s gambling money—but Louie, Harry and Charlie convince him that it’s legit because the game never got underway.

As the episode draws to a close, Aunt Bee and Millie stop by Sam’s office to let him (and Andy) know that the bronze plaque ordered by the Women’s Club has arrived. It will be placed by the new swimming pool, and it thanks the efforts of Charlie, Harry, Louie and Aces for providing the fundage so that the little Mayberry tykes have a place to swim. (Awww…) As for "Fingers" and "Lucky," they've moved on to Noo Yawk for further adventures...and yet, everyone in Mayberry has learned a valuable lesson ("It's a two-way street, really...they learn from us and we learn from them," Sam acknowledges). This beautiful moment is then ruined by Sam's idiot son Mike, who grins and challenges his father to "cut" a deck of cards to see who feeds the chickens. Sam then tells his son they'll be going around to Sheriff Taylor's place for a "little discipline." (Okay, I made that last part up.)

Aunt Bee is in this episode, which makes a total of three episodes as registered by the patented Thrilling Days of Yesteryear Mayberry R.F.D. Bee-O-Meter™. Curiously, in addition to Goober’s disappearance (which I mentioned earlier), this marks the second episode in which county clerk Howard Sprague (Jack Dodson) is also nowhere to be found. While “Help on the Farm” benefits from the appearances of old pros like Faye (who achieved television immortality as Corporal Sam Fender on The Phil Silvers Show), Andy Griffith’s guest appearance as Sheriff Andy Taylor seems really out of place here…it’s almost as if he were a “rank stranger,” to borrow a term from the old Stanley Brothers standard:

Everybody I met seemed to be a rank stranger

No mother or dad not a friend could I see

They knew not my name and I knew not their faces

I found they were all rank strangers to me.

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4 comments:

Stacia said...

Yay! I specifically checked back to see if the Mayberry Monday showed up. This is more fun than actually watching the episodes.

Stacia said...

P.S. The screencap is a little off-center, but it's not you! Blogger screws up pictures when you center them. Someone on the Blogger help group gave me this helpful tip: When writing the post, click on "Edit HTML" and look for the HTML code for the picture. Where it says:

text-align:center; cursor:pointer;

add "float:none;" after "center", so it looks like this:

text-align:center; float:none; cursor:pointer;

If there's another way to correct this Blogger "feature", I don't know how.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Yay! I specifically checked back to see if the Mayberry Monday showed up. This is more fun than actually watching the episodes.

Yeah, I had planned to have this done much, much sooner...but I had a few unplanned interruptions here at Rancho Yesteryear. But I'm glad you came back!

Thanks also for the correction tips--I changed it like you recommended.

rockfish said...

Terrific stuff. I haven't seen these shows in a long time, so i can only summise by your wittisms that it remains as fresh as new shorn corn.
You should tape these and sell it.