Saturday, May 31, 2014

Government Agents vs. Phantom Legion – Chapter 5: Deadline for Disaster

After a week’s hiatus, we’re back with another installment of Serial Saturdays…and if you were with us last time on Big Gubmint Agents vs. Phantom Legion, you’ll remember that henchies Regan (Dick Curtis) and Cady (Fred Coby), having overheard a two-way radio conversation between Hal Duncan (Walter Reed)—Special Government Agent!—and his gal Friday Kay Roberts (Mary Ellen Kay), snuck into the Interstate Truck Owners Association offices to look for a reward payoff of $50,000.  Hal’s number two (heh) man, Sam Bradley (John Pickard), was placed in charge of guarding the fifty large but suffered a beatdown at the hands of the two bad guys…and it was really all for naught, anyway, because the money wasn’t actually there, as the two thugs discover to their disappertment.  They do spot, however, the silhouette of Mr. D on a glass door as he returns to the ITOA and fire at it…but I don’t have to tell you that Hal survives the encounter.

Regan and Cady beat a hasty retreat out the same window they came in…and as Hal enters the office in pursuit, the camera covers the bad guys’ departure only as far as the fire escape before we fade in to another dull ITOA meeting.  (You never learn if they made it back to their lair or not.  For all we know, they could still be trapped on the fire escape.)

But you have been with this serial long enough to know that each week, Hal explains to the other four members—Armstrong (Pierce Lyden), Crandall (Arthur Space), Thompson (Mauritz Hugo) and Willard (George Meeker)—that he’s painfully inept in bringing not only Regan and Cady to justice but their boss, the mysterious individual known only as…The Voice.  This is because unbeknownst to our hero, one of the four is that no-goodnik, incognito…we just don’t know who.

HAL: So I was able to save the reward money…but the shipment of electronic instruments was completely destroyed…
WILLARD: That certainly won’t help our reputation with the government…why, they’ll be afraid to use our trucks after this!

To be honest, I’m puzzled as to why they still keep any of you on the payroll…unless some Senator has recently been receiving hefty contributions to his re-election campaign.

WILLARD: Especially with that uranium!
HAL: Well, not necessarily…they still want you to go on moving critical supplies to the national stockpile—but they’re imposing certain conditions…so from now on, all government shipping orders will be given to me…and I’ll hand them out, one at a time, to your different companies at the last minute…

“So let the sucking up to me commence!”

ARMSTRONG: Just how much business are we going to get?
HAL: Well, I can’t give you any details…but there’s a considerable amount of refined uranium to be moved to the central stockpile…as the consignments are ready, I’ll hand out shipping orders to each of you…
CRANDALL: Well, that sounds perfectly reasonable…

“Aw, bite us, Crandall,” the others are probably thinking…though Thompson isn’t shy about his opinion, saying “Well…we’d better get plenty of business to pay for being treated like this.”  The action then shifts to the Metz Building—where inside, The Voice brings his goons up to speed on the fact that Hal will now be calling the shots with regards to the shipments.

VOICE: So the only shipping orders I will be able to see are the ones issued to my own company…and if we should take any of those cargos, I would immediately be under suspicion…but I must have a supply of uranium for my foreign customer!
REGAN: Is there any chance of getting those schedules from Duncan?
VOICE: Possibly…if we did, he’d just order them cancelled…unless we had some other hold on him…
REGAN: What do you mean?
VOICE: Miss Roberts, the Association’s secretary, is our best chance…if we were holding her prisoner—I believe Duncan would do anything we asked…

I doubt that very much.  Secretaries are a dime a dozen, and Hal has a pocket full of dimes.  But since that’s going to be this week’s plot, let’s run with it.

REGAN: How do we work it?
VOICE: She doesn’t leave the office until dark…so get there just before six…

Jeebus, she sure has to work late.  If activity at the ITOA is virtually at a standstill, what the hell is she doing there all that time—playing Minesweeper?  The scene fades to Kay’s tidying up of the office just as she’s preparing to go home to her lonely single gal existence, where she’ll dine on Stouffer’s Mac-and-Cheese and then later design outfits for her cats.  Salvation arrives in the form of Regan and Cady, who burst into the office like they own the joint.

REGAN: Now just take it easy, Miss Roberts…and you won’t get hurt…where are those government shipping schedules?

“If they were up your ass, you’d know…”

KAY: Why—I don’t know…Mr. Duncan has charge of them and I don’t know what he does with them…
REGAN: Oh?  Well, we’re gonna take a look around and you’re gonna help us!

“Goody!  I’ve always dreamed of trashing my own office!”  As The Voice’s hired help gives the ITOA a going-over, the action switches to Hal and Sam, who are en route to the office after a long day of…well, whatever the hell it is they do.

HAL: We better get to the office…I want to pick up my mail before Kay leaves…
SAM: Suits me…

“Hey—it’s a good thing she works a dead-end job with so little hope for advancement…huh, pal?  Otherwise you’d have to wait until tomorrow on your mail!”  A dissolve finds us back in the office, with Cady keeping an eye on Kay as Regan looks through paper in her desk.

REGAN (throwing down the papers): Where else can we look?
KAY: I tell you I don’t know—maybe Mr. Duncan has them with him…
REGAN: Okay, let’s go… (As he heads towards the door, he grabs Kay’s arm) We’re gonna keep you with us until someone gives us those schedules!

As Hal and Sam pull in, the two men notice Regan and Cady shoving Kay into their sedan.  “It’s Regan and Cady…they’ve got Kay!” exclaims Sam, drawing his weapon and getting ready to fire out the passenger window.

Hal holds him off.  “No—you might hit her,” he tells his partner.  (“Maybe not…maybe I’ve been practicin’…”)  Duncan decides to let the two men drive off, and he and Sam will trail them with their car.

The car chase begins with another dissolve, and as Regan motors down a familiar stretch of highway Cady gets a look behind them.  “Hey—it looks like somebody’s trailing us,” Cady observes.  “You better step on it!”

At one point during the chase, it looks as if Kay tries to lunge for Cady’s gun…but after a brief tussle he knocks her unconscious.  This amused me because in this screen cap…

…it looks like Kay just decided to take a nap during a long trip.  (“Kay?  Honey?  Put your shoes on…we’re at Grandma’s…”) “Here goes,” declares Hal in the other car.  “I’ve gotta crowd ‘em off the road without a smash-up.”

“Who’s pushin’ who off the road?” cracks Sam the Smartass.  Duncan’s second attempt also ends in failure…he and Sam wind up stuck in a ditch with their back wheels spinning.

Back at the ITOA…

SAM: Any news?
HAL: Yes…I just got this ransom letter…”If you wish to see Miss Roberts again, bring duplicates of the uranium shipping schedules to Apartment 27, 954 Clayton Street…say nothing to anyone until we have time to get the uranium…then Miss Roberts will be released…”
SAM: So we give ‘em all the dope and then sit back and wait for ‘em to hijack all the stuff?

“No—we let them keep Kay.  I’m sure she’ll understand, seeing as this is national security and all that nonsense.  But I’ll need you to put an ad in the classifieds.”

HAL: Yeah…and then trust them to turn Kay loose…
SAM: So are you gonna do it?
HAL: Not quite…I’ll take the papers to them…and then we’ll try a trick of own, too…

Oh, Dunky…you clever little sod, you!  As is so often the case in serials, Hal will give Sam the details along the way…so a dissolve finds our heroes pulling up at the address in the letter.  Fortunately for what will eventually take place, the villains’ car is also parked directly outside the apartment building.

SAM: That’s their car…
HAL: It sure is…I’ll go on in and see what gives…you do your stuff and then get out of sight…
SAM: Okay…

Hal enters the building, and there’s a cut to Regan inside the apartment—fortifying himself with a slug of Scotch.  Hal knocks on the door and Regan walks over to answer it, gun at the ready.  (“Helllooo…Duncan…”)

REGAN: Anybody with ya?
HAL: No… (Regan shuts the door, then turns to Hal) Where’s Miss Roberts?
REGAN: We’ll talk about her later
HAL (after a pause): All right…what’s the proposition?
REGAN: Gimme those shipping schedules now…if they’re okay, and nobody bothers us…Miss Roberts will be turned loose as soon as we get the uranium…
HAL: That’s what you say…

Oooh, Regan!  Ya burnt!  “You better believe me,” replies Regan, “if you ever want to see that girl again.”  Hal drops his pathetic tough guy bluff and admits defeat, as he pulls the schedules out of his vest pocket.

Regan grabs the schedules greedily and puts them in his own pocket.  “You stay here till I get away,” he warns Duncan.  “And don’t get any ideas about following me.”

But Hal is already several chess moves ahead of Regan.  For as Regan leaves the building and gets into his badass sedan, Sam watches him, concealed in the bushes.  It would appear Sam left Regan a little surprise in his radiator…

HAL: Looks like it worked, all right…
SAM: Yeah…I put the calcimine in the radiator, and opened the pep cock a little…he’ll be easy to track till he runs out of water…
HAL: Let’s get going!

So with Regan leaving a trail of whitewash like Hansel and Gretel left breadcrumbs, our heroes have no difficulties following Regan’s ride to the hideout where Cady is keeping Kay under wraps.  Regan eventually stops at a familiar-looking farmhouse, and upon getting out notices his radiator is about to blow over.

CADY: Howdja make out?
REGAN: Okay…I got the schedules all right, nobody tried to follow me here…but my radiator’s boiled dry—fill it up for me, will ya?

I guess Cady is the mechanic out of the outfit.  The henchman leaves to do the other henchman’s bidding as Regan pores through the uranium schedules.  In the distance, Hal and Sam pull up in their auto far enough to keep from being detected.  “We’d better leave the car here,” intones Hal to his chum.  (Well, where the hell else would you leave it?)

As Hal and Sam inch slowly toward the farmhouse, they observe Cady tending to the dry radiator.  “Hey,” Sam nudges his pal, “he’s liable to see that stuff in the radiator.”

“If he does, he’ll be expecting us,” Hal assures Sam.  “Let’s circle around and try the back door…”  Sure enough, the sharp-eyed Cody notices that there’s been some whitewash deviltry afoot…and rushes back to report to Regan.

CADY: Say…somebody put whitewash in your radiator, then opened the pep cock…probably figured to trail you here…
REGAN: Watch that door—I’ll put a gag on the girl…

Not so fast, my greasy friend!  Hal and Sam enter the barn through the back entrance!  “Hold it!” Duncan warns.  “Drop that gun!”  As the two of them come closer, Regan grabs Kay (with gag in mouth) and places his pistola to her temple.  “Now drop your guns!”

Regan orders Cady to rustle up some rope, then begins to gloat as only Dick Curtis can.  “Well, Mr. Duncan—you’ve outsmarted yourself this time,” jeers Gloaty McGloat.  “You two are gonna live just long enough for me to make certain that these schedules aren’t phonies!”

If you’re thinking—“Hey…we’ve almost gone through this entire chapter without a Republic fistfight©”—I will not disappoint you.

"Saracen pig!"

"Spartan dog!"

As the four men continue to roughhouse, Kay remains tied up on the sidelines.  “Mmm-mph!” she says, which translated means “Kick his ass, Hal!” 

Predictably, Sam is of little help.
As the fight nears its conclusion, Cady throws a pickax blade at Hal and it winds up lodged in one of the barnstall walls…and echoing a similar scene in The Adventures of Frank and Jesse James, Hal is thrown into that very wall and onto the blade!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Guest Review: John Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy – Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950)

By Philip Schweier

With the recent passing of classic film icon Shirley Temple, I got to thinking about any of her films I may have seen, but only one came to mind: Fort Apache (1948), in which she co-starred with Henry Fonda and John Wayne under the direction of John Ford.

It was the first entry into what has been referred to as John Ford’s “Cavalry Trilogy,” all centering on the same theme of the army out West. Though I’d come across passing mentions of the trilogy, I’ve never taken the opportunity to sit and examine the three films together.

Join me… won’t you?

John Ford’s Westerns often feature the sweeping vistas of Monument Valley, as well as various members of the legendary “John Ford Stock Company”: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Victor McLaglen, Ward Bond and Harry Carey Jr., among others. The Cavalry Trilogy is no exception, beginning with Fort Apache.

Loosely based on Custer’s infamous “Last Stand,” Henry Fonda plays Lt. Col. Owen Thursday, a career officer now posted to Fort Apache, an assignment he obviously sees as woefully beneath him. But like a good soldier, he follows orders. Joining him in the transfer is his teenage daughter Philadelphia (Shirley Temple), fresh from a finishing school in Europe. She doesn’t mind the assignment to way out West; she’s just happy to be with her father.

At the stagecoach’s last stop, 35 miles from the fort, they encounter a young Lt. Michael O’Rourke (John Agar in his film debut; he and Temple were married at the time). Soon afterward, a handful of soldiers arrive to pick him up. It’s clear from the greeting that they are old family friends, played by Pedro Armendariz, Victor McLaglen and Jack Pennick. Thursday is dismayed that they haven’t been sent for him.

Arriving at the fort, Thursday is further disappointed that the party being held is not for him, but instead in honor of Washington’s Birthday. So he is informed by Capt. Kirby York. Meanwhile, young Lt. O’Rourke, fresh from West Point, is reunited with his father, Sgt. O’Rourke, played by Ward Bond in what is perhaps the most sedate family reunion ever captured on film.

I chalk it up to the overall “Irishness” of the film. Being a descendant of the Old Sod meself, I have the greatest respect for their contributions to the growth of these United States. And I’m well aware of director John Ford’s fondness for his heritage, but watching this film, one might come to believe the West was tamed largely by Sons of Erin, while others, like Lt. Col. Owen Thursday, fell victim to a combination of their own egos and Indian arrows.

Lt. O’Rourke and Philadelphia soon strike up a budding romance, until an early morning ride amidst concerns over Indian attacks requires the colonel put an end to it. At best, he tolerates the young lieutenant, mainly because he’s the only one to adhere to military decorum despite their remote posting. Most of his other officers and NCOs are much more relaxed.

When news arrives of Cochise being on the warpath, Capt. York (Wayne) and Sgt. Beaufort (Armendariz) are dispatched to seek him out in the hopes of convincing him to return peacefully to the reservation. They manage to do so, and learn the source of Cochise’s grievance is a corrupt Indian agent named Meacham (Grant Withers). Cochise and his band seem willing to discuss terms, which include Meacham’s removal.

However, Col. Thursday has other plans. With Cochise’s guard down, Thursday is all too willing take advantage of the opening to run the Indian’s to ground. York urges him not to, and is ordered to hang back with his men while the colonel and his loyal – soon to be dead – officers engage the enemy. The volume of Indians that overrun Thursday and his command is insurmountable, and York is forced to observe the massacre as it happens.

The film’s coda takes place a few years later, as reporters interview the now-Lt. Col. Kirby York regarding his heroic commander. As with a later John Wayne film, he is content to let them print the legend. Philadelphia is now married to Captain O’Rourke, though at this point in the film, Shirley Temple’s appearance seems superfluous. Her character had lost its purpose once the focus shifted to the battle between the Indians and the cavalry.

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) takes its title from the tradition of women wearing yellow ribbons in their hair to signifying their beaus being in the cavalry, as indicated in song throughout the film. The female lead, Joanne Dru, does so, but it regularly remains a question as to whom the yellow ribbon is for.

The story begins with the news of Custer’s Last Stand, or by loose association, that of Col. Thursday in Fort Apache. Everyone is anticipating a renewed Indian war, and at Fort Stark, Capt. Nathan Brittles (John Wayne) is less than a week from retirement when he is ordered out on patrol.

Sent along with him are the wife and daughter (Mildred Natwick and Joanne Dru) of the fort’s commander. Brittles assignment is to see them safely to the stagecoach station for passage east and out of harm’s way. Complicating matters are two squabbling lieutenants, Cohill and Pennell (John Agar and Harry Carey Jr.), both interested in the major’s daughter.

Ben Johnson plays Tyree, an army scout who warns the troops of the movements of the collecting Indian nations. Tyree also keeps Brittles apprised of the actions of Rynders, an Indian agent who is providing guns and ammunition to the Indians.

Brittles’ mission, which comprises much of the center of the film, ends in failure. He is forced to leave a small company under the command of Lt. Cohill behind to cover the retreat of the rest of the expedition. Returning to the fort, Brittles has one day left before his retirement. Unable to allow his final mission to end badly, he rejoins Pennell on his way to collect Cohill.

The three men lead the cavalry to rout the Indian forces in typical John Wayne fashion. Joining Wayne in the production is Victor MacLaglen as his sergeant, Quincannon. While both MacLaglen and Johnson will play characters with the same names in the follow-up, Rio Grande, it should be noted that they may or may not the same characters. I found it helpful for my own sense of continuity to watch the three films out of order, but your mileage may vary.

Rio Grande (1950) is more of a direct sequel to Fort Apache, focusing on Wayne’s character, Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke. He is now posted to the Texas frontier, frustrated by constant skirmishes with Apaches who are quick to flee across the Rio Grande beyond his reach.

Further complicating Yorke’s command is the arrival of his son Jefferson (Claude Jarman Jr.). Having just flunked out of West Point, the young man has enlisted, and by chance has been posted under his father’s command. Neither has laid eyes on the other for 15 years, and both are determined not to allow their family relation to influence their roles as soldiers. Trooper Yorke is befriended by two other recruits, Tyree (Ben Johnson) and Boone (Harry Carey Jr.).

As if this isn’t trouble enough, the estranged Mrs. Yorke arrives (Maureen O’Hara), determined to buy her son’s discharge and return with him to Virginia. Her reunion with her son has overtones of “Let me kiss it and make it better,” but to his credit, he is committed to his service.

Meanwhile, Tyree is accused of manslaughter, stemming from an incident involving an insult to his sister. He manages to escape the stockade, stealing the colonel’s horse in the process.

As Col. and Mrs. Yorke begin to renew their marriage while at the same time sparring over their son’s future, the colonel is handed a tough assignment. Gen. Sheridan (J. Carrol Naish) tasks him with crossing the Rio Grande – effectively invading Mexico – in pursuit of the Apaches, to run them down once and for all.

Tyree comes upon Col. Yorke’s troops as they head into Mexico. But the Apaches they’re in search of have captured a wagonload of children headed to the safety of Fort Bliss. Tyree has already reconnoitered the Indians’ camp, where the children are being held in an old church. He convinces Col. York a small group of men will have a better chance of rescuing them than a full-scale assault. He asks for two volunteers: troopers Boone and Yorke.

At the church, they manage to free the children, where one loud-mouth, Margaret Mary (Karolyn Grimes, best remembered as Zuzu in It’s a Wonderful Life) signals for Col. Yorke’s attack by ringing the church bell (“Get me. I’m giving out wings!”). Col Yorke is wounded in the battle, and following his recovery he witnesses the award ceremony as his son receives a commendation for his service.

This was the first of five films featuring the on-screen couple of Wayne and O’Hara. Their next project was The Quiet Man (1952), also directed by Ford. Legend has it that Republic convinced Ford to make Rio Grande to make up the money it expected to lose producing The Quiet Man, only for the latter film to become a box office hit.

Modern audiences might find the three films uneven, due to the fact they don’t form one cohesive story. But it should be remembered they were never intended as such.  All three portions of the Cavalry Trilogy were based on stories by James Warner Bellah, who would later write the screenplay for the previously-referenced The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). The characters he crafted were often tough, heroic but often flawed; well-suited for John Wayne to flesh out on screen, especially under the master direction of John Ford.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Guest Review: Metropolis (1927)

By Philip Schweier

This is it, kids. The grandfather of all science fiction films. It may not have been the very first, but its influence is so overwhelming it can’t be avoided. Upon its release, it is reported to have cost 5 million marks, which translates to approximately $200 million in today’s dollars. The film’s run time is 153 minutes, lengthy for even modern movies. But as a silent, it was beyond epic. Most feature films of the day were an hour at the most.

It is the story of a futuristic city, split between the haves, who enjoy a life of leisure, and the have-nots, who toil away in the depths for hours on end and keep the city functioning. One day, a young woman, Maria (Brigitte Helm), brings a group of children to one of the pleasure gardens. “These are your brothers,” she tells them. The group is chased away by the authorities, but one young man, Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), is intrigued.

Freder is the son of Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel), the architect of Metropolis, by whose design the privileged enjoy a life of luxury at the expense of those less fortunate. Freder follows Maria don into the depths of the under-city, where he witnesses first-hand the hardship and suffering of the people who make his pampered life possible. Idealistically, he approaches his father in an effort to win them some reprieve.

Fredersen is indifferent to his son’s pleas, and Freder goes so far as to return to the workers and take the place of one who collapses at his station. He sends Worker #11811 (Erwin Biswanger) to his apartment, but Slim, Joh Fredersen’s lackey, has been keeping an eye on Freder, and quickly learns of the young man’s interference. Freder later follows his fellow workers to the underground cathedral, where Maria preaches of the day when a mediator will bring the two social factions together in harmony.

Fredersen, meanwhile, pays a visit to the home of Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), a crazed inventor. The two were once rivals for the same woman. She chose Fredersen but died in childbirth. Rotwang shows Fredersen his automaton, and the master of Metropolis schemes to have the mechanical creature take the place of the revolutionary Maria.

Rotwang follows through on Fredersen’s plan, kidnapping Maria and turning his robot into her duplicate. But the mechanical version owes more to the whore of Babylon than her altruistic namesake. Men fight duels, commit suicide, and generally go off their collective rockers in an effort to win her for themselves. The robot Maria is also tasked with stoking the fires of evolution. She encourages the workers to rebel, and effectively starve the machines, and by extension, the upper world.

Eventually, the two factions clash, but in so doing the deception is revealed. Freder challenges Rotwang in a fight atop the cathedral, and becomes the Mediator – i.e., messiah – the workers have been waiting for.

To say the film has overtones of Biblical proportions is putting it mildly. Director Fritz Lang was Jewish, though Hitler was so enamored of the film he chose to overlook the filmmaker’s Semitism. Legend has it Lang left for Paris immediately.

The film immediately began to influence those that followed, and its impact continues to ripple down through the decades. The story has become old hat by modern standards, and its age makes it easy to judge the movie as being overly long and boring. A silent film more than two and a half hours in length is a lot to foist on a modern audience. I had to watch the movie in fragments in order to maintain interest.

This particular version (on Netflix) was cobbled together from various sources, as long lost prints and negatives had been discovered in various locations over the past decade or so. Previously, audiences could only see about 60 percent of the original footage, though I can’t say very much was missing from the overall narrative.

It’s an important piece of movie history, one I recommend all film enthusiasts see, but personally I found it challenging to sit through. Though not as much as the horrible Giorgio Moroder cut of the 1980s.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Doris Day(s) #19: “The Tournament” (02/18/69, prod. no #8530)

Previously on Doris Day(s)—in the episode “Buck’s Girl,” to be precise—we were introduced to Cotina’s veterinarian-in-residence, “Doc” Carpenter, played by character veteran Walter Sande.  In that episode, Doc and Buck Webb (Denver Pyle)—laird and master of stately Webb Farms—compete with one another for the affections of smokin’ hot manicurist Verna McIntosh (played by Kay Stewart, the show’s dialogue coach) because they’re both lonely, horny old men.  In the end, Buck graciously steps aside to allow his old chum a little manicurist happy-ever-after…though I strongly suspect Verna might have turned down Buck’s proposal of marriage when she realized she would have to spend a lot of time around his idiot grandsons.  (That was probably edited out for syndication.)

As this week’s episode commences, Buck and Doc are entertaining themselves with a game of horseshoes because the Cotina Town Symphony concerts don’t start up again until the fall.  Okay, I’m just snarking about that—actually, they’re in competition for a yearly horseshoe pitching contest because this is a pastime common in rural areas (they did this on Petticoat Junction one time, in an outing entitled “The Ringer”).

DOC: I tell ya—I got it this year…I just got the feeling that we’re goin’ to win the whole thing this year…
BUCK: Yeah…we’d won it last year if Burt hadn’t hit that lucky streak… (Chuckling) You know, I still think we should have demanded the slide test…

I’m gonna have to agree with you there, Buckaroo.  Everybody in Cotina knows that Burt was taking “the clear.”  Elsewhere on the property, handyman Leroy B. Semple Simpson (James Hampton) is washing windows—I guess the family’s domestic Juanita (Naomi Stevens) doesn’t do them—and conversing with Juanita and her boss, the Widder Martin (Doris), as the two women prepare refreshments.

LEROY: Boy, that lemonade sure looks good, Juanita…
DORIS (laughing): I think you’ve got a customer…

Hey…on the salary Doris is paying her, girlfriend’s got to make ends meet however she can.  Doris pours Leroy a generous glass of Country Time, and then hands him a tray with two more glasses and a pitcher to take out to Buck and Doc.

DORIS: Take it easy now, Leroy—you know they’re practicing…so don’t disturb them…
LEROY: Oh, you know me, Miz Martin…

And there’s the familiar Doris side-eye.  Well, you good people have seen enough of this show to know that Leroy can’t help but imitate Goober Pyle—he brings the lemonade to Buck and Doc, and in the process makes enough noise to constantly throw Buck off his concentration.  Finally, Buck tells Leroy to do something productive (ha!) like feed the chickens…and when the sound of Leroy’s putting seed in a metal can causes Buck to explode with a Gildersleeve-like “Leroy!” the farmhand slams down the feed bin cover…right on Doc’s hand.  (Good thing he’s got a wife at home.)

BUCK (too scared to look): Pitchin’ hand?
DOC (resignedly grasping his hand in pain): Yeah…

Leroy then beats a somewhat amusing hasty retreat, spreading out seed and calling “Here chick chick chick chick” as he falls over his feet and into a nearby rocking chair.  I have to be honest here—I’m not entirely sure why Doc would have his hand so near to the feed bin in the first place (which was also positioned behind him).  I think we need to assign most of the blame to him, not Leroy.  But, for the purposes of this episode, Buck doesn’t see it that way…he takes out his frustrations on a piece of leather in the barn in the next scene.

DORIS: Worse things have happened, you know…
BUCK: Sure…and Leroy’s been involved in all of them…only this time, he outdid himself…

Oh, Leroy…will you ever win?

BUCK: He cost me a partner…
DORIS: I think you should just be grateful that Doc didn’t break his hand…
BUCK: That’s about the only thing we can be grateful for…but don’t tell Leroy—he’ll try again…
DORIS: Oh, come on…you make him sound like Calamity Jane

That’s just silly, Doris.  Everyone knows you’re Calamity Jane.  (“Once I had a secret love/That lived within the heart of me…”)  Doris suggests to Buck that he get a new partner—none other than Doris Martin, Esquire.  As it turns out, Doris was a one-time Cotina Grammar School horseshoe champion…though she won that title in eighth grade, so it’s been a while.  Buck argues that she’s too rusty to get back in the pitching competition, but Doris stubbornly tells him that she’s going to start practicing and get that old magic back.  I did chuckle at the screen cap below—she hands Buck the paintbrush that she’s been using to paint a chair in this scene, brush end first.

A scene shift finds Doris making good on her promise; she starts tossing a few shoes as her sons Billy (Philip Brown) and Toby (Tod Starke) look on.  “What school was that, Mom?” asks the older, smart-assed one.

“Cotina…same one you go to,” Doris replies, throwing another horseshoe.  Billy is skeptical about her story, but she explains “Of course, if you don’t keep it up…you get rusty.”  (That’s what she said.) 

Inside the house, Buck is on the telephone—trying to scare up another partner at the last minute with miserable results.  Because it’s a one-sided conversation, we’ll skip over the particulars except to point out that the chat closes with Buck repeating something his friend “Eddie” apparently says on his end of the phone: “Always a bridesmaid…ha ha…”  Buck hangs up the phone and dismisses Eddie with a Bob Newhart-like “Same to you, fella.”

Doris continues practicing, and one of the tossed horseshoes lands near Leroy, who is pounding the fence with a hammer.  (I was going to say “fixing the fence,” but I know better than that.)  When Doris asks Leroy if he can heave it back to her, he picks up the shoe and goes through a ridiculously cartoonish wind-up motion before he lets it fly…then a comical whizzing sound can be heard on the soundtrack as Leroy scores a perfect ringer.

Doris and Sons are flummoxed.  Dor asks Leroy if he can do it again, which he does (with the same wind-up and whizzing sounds) after Doris maneuvers Nelson the Swiped Sheepdog (Lord Nelson) out of the way.  Leroy winds up scoring another ringer.  And another.  And another.  Leroy, it would seem, is some sort of horseshoe savant.

DORIS: Leroy!  Where did you ever learn to do anything like that?!!
LEROY: Oh, I could always hit whatever I throwed at…
DORIS: I’ve never seen anything like it!
(Leroy looks embarrassed)
TOBY: Is he better than the kids in the eighth grade, Mom?

Well, he should be—he’s had four years to practice.  Doris proclaims Leroy to be a champion…and what’s more, he’s going to be Buck’s partner in the tournament.  “Oh, gosh, Miz Martin,” Leroy says sheepishly, “I don’t think Mr. Webb would like that very much.”

“He hasn’t seen you pitch!” proclaims Doris, as she orders Billy and Toby to go inside and collect their grandpa so that he might witness Leroy’s phenomenal horseshoe prowess.

BILLY: We’ve got a new horseshoe partner for ya!
TOBY: He’s real great!
BUCK: Yeah?  Who?
BILLY: Leroy!

“What have I told you two kids about chewing on that strange patch of grass out there behind the chicken coop?”  Buck is understandably skeptical, but he agrees to accompany young William and Tobias out to the yard.

LEROY (with a wave of his hand): Hey there, Mr. Webb…
BUCK: Leroy…
LEROY: I ain’t seen ya in a couple of days…
BUCK: Be glad

Yes, I did laugh out loud at that.  Doris tells him “Pitch it, Leroy!”  So Leroy goes into his little wind-up stance again but before he can throw Buck asks him “What are you doin’?”

“This is the way I throw,” explains Leroy, embarrassed.  Buck walks away and in the direction of the house…but stops when he hears Leroy’s shoe hit the stake.

BILLY: He made a ringer, Grandpa!
BUCK: Well, I saw it…anybody can make one ringer…

Doris hands Leroy another shoe, and as Buck is telling his grandson “I wouldn’t have Leroy as a partner if he’s the last…” Clang!  Leroy makes another ringer.  “Well…if you boys insist,” Buck says with a change of heart.

BUCK: Where’d you learn to throw like that?
LEROY: Back home…on my daddy’s farm…
BUCK: No, I mean that crazy wind-up
LEROY: My daddy taught it to me…do you want me to change it?
BUCK: Oh, no!  No…don’t change a thing

Doris hands Leroy yet another shoe, and Leroy continues his pitching dominance.  (Which raises an excellent point—if Leroy “could always hit what I throwed at,” what in the name of Major League Baseball is he doing slopping hogs instead of working on his E.R.A?)  Another ringa!

DORIS (to Buck): What do you think?
BUCK (extending his hand to Leroy): Partner!

Aww…group hug, everybody!  The scene then fades so that Ralston-Purina can pay the bills, and as Act Two gets underway we find Buck on the telephone talking to a party that’s eventually revealed to be Doc Carpenter, bragging on his boy Leroy.  “Of course, he’s got the craziest wind-up you ever saw…but it’s just one ringer after another!”  Buck urges Doc to get over to the ranch right away because “you’ve got to see it to believe it!”

A scene shift finds Leroy in his room in the barn, exercising his arm.  Okay, before you start pushing one another aside to be the first to the comments section, I will provide the screen cap:

Doris knocks on the door, and Leroy takes time out from pumping iron to open it…she enters with a lunch tray, joshing “Hot off the training table for the champion!”

DORIS: Beef broth, liver…and a raw vegetable salad…

What—no Napoleons?

DORIS: Now eat…
LEROY: Liver…
DORIS: Yeah…the coach says it puts iron in your arm… (She nudges him in the shoulder) Oooh…
LEROY: Well…I’ll do my best…I sure don’t want to disappoint Mr. Webb…
DORIS: Leroy…disappoint him…well, you made it possible for him to enter this tournament!  I’m grateful to you…
LEROY: Shucks, Miz Martin…I’m just glad I can do somethin’ that makes him happy…

Doris reminds Leroy to eat every bit of the splendid repast that she’s sat before him, and that Buck will probably want to practice again that afternoon.  When Doris exits, Leroy grabs the piece of liver and offers it to Nelson…who sniffs it, licks it, and then runs off as if to say “I don’t think so, sh*tkicker.”

The scene then changes to Doc pulling up in his jeep in front of Webb Manor, and he toots his horn to get Buck’s attention.  Buck comes running out of the house and starts yelling for Leroy.  “Wait ‘til you see this,” he tells Doc.  “And you’re not going to believe it even after you see it!”

BUCK (as Leroy emerges from the barn): Well, there he is—the best goldanged horseshoe pitcher in the country…

Buck!  You watch your phraseology!

DOC: Well, I hear you’re really something, Leroy…
LEROY: Aw…thank you, Doc…way they treat me around here, you’d think I was the world’s champion or somethin’…
BUCK: Uh, Leroy…come on…let’s throw a few for the Doc, okay?

As Buck sets up the horseshoes, Leroy is thoughtful enough to ask Doc how his hand is.  (“Hurts like a son of bitch, Leroy…thanks for asking.”)  So Leroy throws three shoes in a row, and never misses a ringer to Doc’s astonishment.  “Buck,” he says quietly, “I’m going to miss being with you this year.”

BUCK: …and I got a place all picked out for that trophy…right in the middle of my mantle, where everybody can see it…
DOC: Ohhh…
LEROY: Mr. Webb… (Chuckling) What if we don’t win?

“Then one of us is going to be walking along the Cotina Expressway, hitchhikin’.  And since I own the damn place that should narrow down the candidates some.”

BUCK (after staring at him for a moment): What do you mean?
LEROY: Well…I mean…I’m sure we will…but…what if we don’t?
BUCK: Don’t even think that way, boy!  I’m…I’m countin’ on you!  We gotta win!  And I know you’re not gonna let me down…

Buck has apparently forgotten that Leroy managed to crush the metacarpals and phalanges of the right hand on his best friend through the simple act of closing the cover on a feed bin.  Buck tells Leroy just to keep on practicing, then turns to Doc and says “I’ll buy you a cup of coffee” as they both start toward the house.  (I guess that lemonade concession isn’t working out too well for Juanita.)

Buck’s “win or go home” attitude unnerves Leroy a little, but it’s reinforced further when Toby the Idiot Boy watches Leroy as he practices.

TOBY: How’s the arm?
LEROY: Oh, first-rate, Toby…first-rate…
TOBY: You ever been in a tournament before, Leroy?
LEROY: Nope!  (He tosses a horseshow with his wind-up, and scores a ringer)
TOBY: I bet it’s scary
LEROY: Why should they be scary?
TOBY: I don’t know…

“I like cheese!”

LEROY: Well, what’s the diff’rence between throwin’ ringers here or throwin’ them for the championship?
TOBY: I guess you’re right… (Leroy throws another ringer) I sure hope you don’t miss in the tournament…

Leroy throws a third shoe…and his streak of ringers is broken.  Speaking of broken, Toby is concerned that if Leroy should miss in the tournament, “it sure would break Grandpa’s heart.”  Leroy pitches another shoe…and it lands on top of the yard fence.

“If you missed…he would probably kill you,” says the cheese-loving spawn.  And that’s when Leroy nervously pitches a shoe right through the dining room window, where it lands smack dab in a pie that Buck and Doc are having with their coffee.  (I bet Juanita throws in the coffee if they pay for pie.) 

Buck runs over to the window and starts yelling at Toby: “You quit playin’ with those horseshoes—they’re too heavy for ya!”  “I didn’t throw it,” wails Toby.  Leroy did!”  Leroy, standing around like a doofus, is unable to bring his arm down to his side. 

Buck turns to Doc.  “Leroy?” he asks.  “Uh-oh,” Doc returns, as the two of them run out to the yard. 

BUCK: What happened, boy?
LEROY: Well…I don’t know, Mr. Webb…my arm locked and I lost my control!
DORIS (running up): What happened?
DOC: Oh, Leroy threw a horseshoe through the window…
DORIS: Through the…?  Oh, Leroy…

“I guess the ol’ machinery’s breaking down,” Leroy whines as he futilely tries to keep his arm at his side.  He apologizes profusely to Buck, who announces solemnly “There goes the horseshoe tournament.”  Damn it, Leroy…this is why we can’t have nice things.

Doris places a large rock in Leroy’s right hand, which adds enough heft so that his arm is by his side again.  But it’s clear to all that psychosomatic magic has worked its charms on the idiot farmhand, and he feels just terrible about letting Buck down.

DORIS: Well, it’s not your fault—for heaven’s sake…
LEROY: Well…to tell you the truth…this thing’s been buildin’ up inside of me…I can’t sleep nights, and my stomach’s all tied up in knots…

Might be your liver and beef broth diet, Leroy.  I’m just sayin’…

LEROY: …and when Toby said what he did…well…it was just the last straw
DORIS: Toby?  What did he say?
LEROY: Well…just before I threw that horseshoe through the window…he said that if we didn’t win the tournament…well…Mr. Webb will probably kill me…

“Oh…I thought he might have said something to upset you.  Because, yeah, I can see my father doing that.”  Doris sends Leroy to his room, which will allow me to cut to the quick on this thing.  She explains to Buck that he’s put so much pressure on Leroy that the stiff arm is all in his head—just an ailment he developed in order to get out of the tournament.

DORIS: He sure thinks the world and all of you, you know…I think he’d do anything for you…
BUCK (quietly, after a pause): Seems like I’m the one that’s been lettin’ him down instead of the other way around…
DORIS: Well, he’s pretty miserable…I know that…
BUCK: Why don’t I go out and have a talk with him…?

Buckley, my man…you’re one of the good ones!  Buck goes out to Leroy’s crib and after asking him if his arm is any better, explains to him that he’s kind of glad about the situation.  Not that Leroy’s hand is messed up, you understand, but that he’s relieved that he won’t “have to compete for that dang trophy.”  (Language, Buck…)

LEROY: Well, I thought you wanted it real bad…

That’s what she said.  (Okay, I’ll stop now.)

BUCK: Well, yeah…but…sometimes you can want somethin’ so bad that it just gets blown plumb out of proportion…
LEROY: Yes, sir…
BUCK: Now take that trophy for instance…I made winnin’ that so important that…well, I just…well, I had to flat out lose

Buck is pretty effective at turning all this around on himself; Leroy is now upset that Buck was convinced they might lose.  “You know,” Buck muses, “there’s only one thing I’m sorry about—and that’s that all those people won’t get a chance to see what a good horseshoe pitcher you are.”  As he continues his halftime locker room spiel, Buck notices that Leroy is tossing Doris’ rock from one hand to the other.

Buck goes back to the house to find Doris at the dining room table, puttering around with a toaster.  It would appear that Buck had promised to fix it for her sometime back but really had no intention of doing so; the entire scene is pretty dull but I only mention it here because the broken appliance made me wistfully think of those halcyon days of Mayberry Mondays and the hours whiled away at the humble establishment known as Emmett’s Fix-It Shop.  The writers of this particular Doris Day Show episode were Dick Bensfield and Perry Grant; it would be their second and last contribution to the series (their other collaboration was the premiere episode, “Dinner for Mom”) because they were pretty busy concocting wacky plots for R.F.D. at the time (they would eventually pen 33 scripts for that show, more than any other writer or writing team).  Bensfield and Grant also wrote for such classic sitcoms as The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (probably their best-known gig), The Partridge Family, The Odd Couple and One Day at a Time.  The team were also responsible for creating one of the worst TV series of all time—the dismal Hello, Larry starring future Doris Day Show cast member McLean Stevenson.  Their last project was the Marla Gibbs laugh riot 227 (on which they were also executive producers); Perry left this world for a better one in 2004 but Dick will celebrate his 88th birthday this June.

Anyway—since the sheer inanity of this episode is starting to get to me—Buck explains to Doris that he told Leroy he’s not interested in the silly old tournament because it dawned on him in mid-conversation that it really doesn’t matter a great deal in the grand scheme of life.  But Buck’s philosophical “screw-the-contest” pep talk has the opposite effect on Leroy—he tells Doris he’s worried that Buck might be afraid of entering the contest (after Doris notices that Leroy’s arm has healed) and so it’s his turn to give him a little rah-rah.

LEROY: Mr. Webb…life’s a funny thing…if a man can’t get up in the mornin’ and look hisself in the mirror…why…he just as well stay in bed…
DORIS: He’s right…
LEROY: …a man can’t be ruled by fear…you take a bronc rider…now, he gets throwed…uh…he’s gotta get right back on before he gets chicken…
BUCK: Bronc rider?  Now wait a minute, Leroy…
DORIS: Or a horseshoe player…or…
BUCK (realization kicks in): Oh…oh, yeah…yeah…
DORIS: Uh…Leroy told me how nervous you were about playing in the tournament…
LEROY: She bein’ your daughter, I figured it would be okay…
BUCK: Oh, yeah—that was all right…

Leroy then goes on to parrot precisely what Buck told him earlier in his room, namely that “the fun is in the playin’” and that if they don’t win—“They can’t hang us for it, can they?”  (Oh, just let me dream, Leroy…just let me dream.)

To make a long episode short (though it might be a little bit late for that), Leroy’s arm is all better and he’s ready to partner with Buck in the contest.  And it appears that Buck fixed the toaster…well, that is until a slice of toast goes sailing to the ceiling, producing one more side-eye from Doris…

If I downed a shot every time Doris did that, I’d probably pass out and never remember any of these episodes.  (Not a bad idea, now that I think about it.)

Coda time: The family are gathered around the mantle oohing and ahhing over the trophy—and Billy asks “Where’s Leroy’s?”  (This is not like your T-Ball league, where everybody gets a freakin’ blue ribbon, son.)  The trophy, it’s explained, belongs to both men…yet Buck insists on sharing all the glory with his handyman, who waves him away in embarrassment.

BILLY: Wait till next year!
DORIS: Yeah, that’ll be the greatest—boy!
LEROY: What about next year?
DORIS: Well, you and Grandpa are the defending champs, Leroy!
BUCK: Sure!  You think the pressure was on us this year…next year will really be tough!

Cue the problem with Leroy’s arm again!  (“I’m warning you, Dobbs!”)  The family help the incapacitated Leroy to the couch, and I take a drink without seeing Doris’ side-eye.

Next time on Doris Day(s)—the show apparently couldn’t get Strother Martin to reprise his role as “Tyrone Lovey” for a third time, so they settle for a substitute in another veteran character actor (whom some of you might remember as “Perkins” in the Spin & Marty serials on The Mickey Mouse Club) to pinch-hit.  It’s the not-at-all-uproarious-in-the-slightest “Love Thy Neighbor”…and while I’m thinking about it—apologies for not getting a chapter of Big Gubmint Agents vs. Phantom Legion up on Saturday, but the CMBA Blogathon took longer than I had planned.  (It will return on the next Serial Saturdays.)