Warner Home Video presents
F Troop: The Complete First Season (1965-66)
"There must be something in the manual about 'Forts, How to Get Back Into'."- Captain Wilton Parmenter (Ken Berry)
Stars: Forrest Tucker, Larry Storch, Ken Berry, Melody Patterson
Other Stars: James Hampton, Bob Steele, Joe Brooks, John Mitchum, Frank De Kova, Edward Everett Horton, Donald Diamond, Bernard Fox, Don Rickles, Jack Elam, John Dehner, Lee Meriwether, J. Pat O'Malley, Jackie Joseph, Henry Gibson, George Gobel, Andrew Duggan, Pat Harrington Jr., Zsa Zsa Gabor, James Gregory, Paul Petersen, Jeanette Nolan
Director: Charles R. Rondeau, Leslie Goodwins, Seymour Robbie, Gene Reynolds, David Alexander
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (slapstick violence, politically incorrect humor)
Run Time: 14h:26m:27s
Release Date: 2006-06-06
DVD ReviewOne of my favorite television shows of the 1960s was F Troop, which lasted a scant two seasons, one in black and white and one in color. I approached this review with some trepidation, since I hadn't seen it in decades and feared it might not live up to my fond recollections of it. But my fears were misplaced; the show is just as entertaining and comic as it was 40 years ago, and due to its period setting it holds up much better than a lot of other programs of its era.
The setup is pretty straightforward. In the closing days of the Civil War (which was highly topical at the time, due to the centennial observations), inept soldier Wilton Parmenter accidentally orders a charge by sneezing and reverses the fortunes of the Union army. Promoted to captain but recognized as the bumbling fool that he is, Parmenter is assigned to a western outpost, Fort Courage, in command of F Troop. That troop is a sad accumulation of misfits and dimwits, such as Trooper Duffy (veteran cowboy star Bob Steele), only survivor of the Alamo; tone-deaf bugler Hannibal Dobbs (James Hampton); near-sighted and deaf lookout Vanderbilt (Joe Brooks), and the fort's interpreter, Hoffenmueller (John Mitchum), who unfortunately doesn't speak English. Keeping things in line are Sergeant O'Rourke (Forrest Tucker) and Corporal Agarn (Larry Storch), who value Parmenter as their pigeon and the best commanding officer to allow their O'Rourke Enterprises to flourish. Among their efforts are using the local Indians, the Hekawi, led by Chief Wild Eagle (Frank De Kova), to distill firewater for the saloon and to wholesale native souvenirs for the tourist trade and the folks back East.
The casting is truly inspired, starting with Berry, who uses his graceful abilities as a dancer to good comic effect, giving his pratfalls and various mishaps a balletic quality that underscores the comedy. Tucker is appropriately bombastic and brazen, while Storch makes a terrific second banana, and in a few episodes gets to really let loose with disguises and impersonations, including General Grant, Agarn's Mexican cousin, and numerous Indians. Melody Patterson is the requisite romantic interest, Wrangler Jane Thrift, in love with Parmenter but unable to convince him to act no matter how hard she tries. One of the most liberated women on television in the era, she not only is the best shot in the fort, the best rider and smarter than nearly everyone, but she also has an open and frank sensuality that is pretty surprising for 1965. The character seems to be self-consciously lifted from that of Jane Russell in The Paleface; Wrangler Jane's theme music even quotes Buttons and Bows, the signature tune from that movie. One of the niftiest casting coups is veteran actor Edward Everett Horton as Hekawi medicine man Roaring Chicken in the first dozen or so episodes; he's just so utterly incongruous in the part that he inspires laughter even before saying or doing anything. A raft of B-list guest stars is present, with such oddball bits as Don Rickles as Wild Eagle's son Bald Eagle and Zsa Zsa Gabor as a visiting gypsy.
The program doesn't take long at all to established its themes, with virtually everything in place by the end of the pilot episode, and the characters spring out quite fully developed. If this first season has a flaw, it's that too many of the episodes fall into one of two formulae. The first ten or so have a recurrent plot thread about O'Rourke and Agarn thwarting efforts to have Parmenter reassigned to another post so that they can have him as their useful stooge. This gets a bit tiresome when they're viewed in close succession. The second formula relates to the threat of the inspector general coming to the fort and uncovering the latest of the schemes of O'Rourke Enterprises. While the show is driven by the scams and deceptions of O'Rourke and Agarn, too much of this would have made the program into "Sgt. Bilko Goes West". By the second half of the season, the writers seem to have recognized that these two notions were getting stale, and it's when they were forced to adopt some serious creativity that the show really gets entertaining. Highlights include Me Heap Big Injun, in which Agarn joins the Hekawi instead of re-enlisting; Wrongo Starr and the Lady in Black, featuring Henry Gibson as a jinxed soldier mixed up with a murderous merry widow; and The Day the Indians Won, in which O'Rourke manages to sell out Fort Courage to the Hekawi.
Despite some duplication of themes (and a few repeated gags about Manhattan Island and 24 dollars), the show has an ingenuity and vibrancy that still carries it along. It's hard to imagine how this program ever got the green-light, but it's still a classic of television comedy. There's plenty of postmodern humor here, as the Old West is posited to be nothing more than a shell game used to dupe the rubes, with the Hekawis in on the gag. Such episodes as Dirge for the Scourge serve as complete subversions of John Ford's West, as Sam Urp (the always dependable Jack Elam) comes after Parmenter determined to kill him, requiring Jane to give the captain shooting lessons. Another high concept bit of weirdness is The Phantom Major, in which a British officer is sent to Fort Courage on grounds that they're both fighting Indians; never mind that the British struggle is taking place on the Indian subcontinent. There are also some direct parodies, including Spy Counterspy Counter-Counterspy, which pokes fun at the then-new program Get Smart (which ought to be on DVD too). With 34 episodes, a healthy quantity even by 1960s standards, this first season contains a good deal of period fun.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The full-frame picture generally looks excellent. The source prints are in good condition, with occasional speckling and the odd scratch the only serious defects. Grain is a bit on the sparkly side. Aliasing is visible on the curved edges of hats throughout. The greyscale is excellent, and there's plenty of detail and texture. On the whole, the set is quite satisfactory.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The 1.0 English track is very clean, with only very modest hiss throughout. Dialogue is always quite clear. William Lava's score and the classic theme song sound fine, though the range is as one would expect somewhat limited. There are quite a few scenes that have ADR, which sticks out on a modern sound system rather than a single 1" television speaker, but it's not too obnoxious.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 34 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English (closed captioning only), French, Spanish with remote access
Extras Review: There are no extras, which is too bad considering Ken Berry is still around and active. There are "play all" buttons for each of the six discs, but each episode is just a single chapter, making finding a particular segment in any episode less than handy.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsHave no fear, our friends at Fort Courage are just as funny as they were 40 years ago, and the transfers are excellent. Hopefully we'll see some extras in future season releases.
Mark Zimmer 2006-06-14