Thursday, October 2, 2014

Tee Cee Em Tonight: The Time of Their Lives (1946)

Thursday nights in October—in keeping with Halloween—The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ will spotlight “Ghost Stories”: films with out-of-this-world apparitions at the center of their plot.  For example, the evening kicks off at 8pm with the 1937 Cary Grant-Constance Bennett screwball classic Topper…but following at 10pm is one of my favorite Abbott & Costello vehicles: The Time of Their Lives (1946).

I know for a lot of folks, Bud & Lou are an acquired taste.  The ‘rents cannot stand them (ooh, there’s a stunner)—indeed, my mother’s late stepmother would spit out their names in the same manner as one might utter the words “Nazi Germany.”  (Naturally, I took it upon myself to put on one of their movies—any one, really—whenever I was visiting at her house and watching TV.  Ain’t I a stinker?)  You will not get any argument from me that the comedy duo was quite fortunate in that they latched onto a pretty good decent routine (“Who’s on First?”) and parlayed that into a lengthy movie career despite a lack of enthusiasm for the filmmaking process (stories are legion about their gambling/card-playing in between set-ups, and apathetic approach to learning lines).  But I will brook no dissension that all that aside, Abbott & Costello made some first-rate film comedies.  The early ones—when they hadn’t become completely jaded by moviemaking—are undeniably the best: Buck Privates (1941), Hold That Ghost (1941), Pardon My Sarong (1942), Who Done It? (1942).  I think some of their later vehicles are fun, too—Buck Privates Come Home (1947), The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap (1947), Abbott & Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951).  Of course, it also goes without saying that I positively adore Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)—a classic that has become a watch-on-Halloween tradition here at Rancho Yesteryear.  If anyone tells you “Oh, it was just an excuse to allow Universal to squeeze one last dime from their faded monster franchise” you have my permission to give them a “thbbbbht!”

If Deanna Durbin saved Universal Pictures’ bacon in the 1930s and Francis the Talking Mule did the same in the 1950s—then Bud & Lou indisputably kept the studio going throughout the 1940s.  Truth be told, the modus operandi of most Universal productions involved cheaply made, formulaic motion pictures that reaped big rewards at the box office…and that describes the A&C comedies in a nutshell.  There would be a bare bones plot, of course, with enough room to hang the duo’s perfected burlesque comedy routines (many of them contributed by longtime collaborator John Grant), and in between the boys’ tomfoolery Universal would showcase musical acts from their stable of performers (the Andrews Sisters, etc.).  But by 1946, the team had become bored with making movies (and additionally, a rift developed between the two of them in 1945 that never really completely healed…yet they managed to maintain their professionalism) and decided to stray from their formula a bit with an outing entitled Little Giant (1946).  In Giant, Bud & Lou interact but not as a team—Costello is a wannabe go-getter salesman and Abbott plays two roles in vacuum cleaner company supervisors (they’re twins—Bud also takes on a third role as the brothers’ grandma).  The movie did okay at the box office, but not nearly as well as their past outings.  And then…there was The Time of Their Lives.

It is 1780, and the Revolutionary War is in full swing.  Horatio Prim (Lou), a poor-but-honest tinker, is smitten with Nora O’Leary (Ann Gillis), a servant in the house of Thomas Danbury (Jess Barker).  Though Horatio is not a wealthy man, Nora very much wants to marry him; the two of them are convinced that if Horatio shows Tom a letter of recommendation from General George Washington himself Danbury will be persuaded to release Nora from her servitude.  Time’s a-wastin’, as a famous comic strip hillbilly might say, for Prim has a romantic rival in loathsome butler Cuthbert Greenway (Bud).

Danbury’s fiancée, Melody Allen (Marjorie Reynolds), learns that her intended is actually a traitor to the cause—he’s proposed an alliance with the notorious Benedict Arnold, and we all know how that turns out.  Danbury has a couple of his goons kidnap Nora—after taking Horatio’s recommendation letter from her and putting it in a clock for safekeeping—as they set their treasonous plans in motion.  Having eavesdropped on all this, Melody prepares to warn Washington’s army with Horatio’s help; the two of them saddle up and set out for his headquarters.

But some American troops—led by Major Putnam (Robert Barrat)—are already aware of Danbury’s treachery and as they approach the Danbury Estate, they are mistaken for Tom’s confederates by Melody and Horatio…who ride off in the opposite direction.  The soldiers, in turn, believes the fleeing couple to be working with Danbury and the two of them are shot and killed in their escape.  Their bodies are tossed into a well and Putnam offers this as a memorial: “Hear me, ye faithless souls…may you lie there in everlasting torment…with but one name to identify your rotting bones—traitors!  And unless some evidence proves us wrong…I curse your miserable spirits to be bound to Danbury Acres…’til crack of doom.”

The soldiers loot the Danbury mansion and burn it to the ground for good measure—which means Washington’s letter, the document that can prove Horatio’s innocence, has apparently gone up in smoke.  One hundred and sixty-five years later, Melody and Horatio are still trapped in their earthly prison…but their situation becomes a bit more optimistic with the arrival of Sheldon Gage (John Shelton) and his fiancée, June Prescott (Lynn Baggett).  Sheldon has rebuilt Danbury Manor to its former glory, and furnished much of the house with the original antiques.  With the help of June’s Aunt Millie (Binnie Barnes), the couple’s psychiatrist friend Ralph Greenway (a descendant of that vichyssoise Cuthbert) and a spooky housekeeper who claims to be psychic, Horatio and Melody just might be able to prove their innocence—after all, he and Nora have been separated for practically an eternity, and as Prim observes, “A girl will only wait so long, and no longer!”

The Time of Their Lives is the Abbott & Costello movie I recommend to people who don’t care for Abbott & Costello movies…just as The Ghost Breakers (1940) is the comedy endorsement for folks with an aversion to Bob Hope.  Lives is an inventive and imaginative romp that showcases the duo to wonderful effect…even though they really only interact with one another in a brief scene at the beginning (for most of the proceedings, Costello’s character is a ghost and cannot be seen by the rest of the cast save Reynolds).  The sad truth is, for all his comedic talent, Lou Costello wouldn’t have recognized a great movie comedy script if it bit him in the inner thigh.  At one point during Lives’ production, he told director Charles Barton that if he couldn’t switch roles with his partner he’d walk.  He did so for two weeks (while Barton worked around his absence), then came to his senses and unceremoniously returned to the set to finish the film.  (Lou didn’t think much of A&C Meet Frankenstein, either, until his own mother told him it was the best film he’d ever made.)

For Abbott & Costello presented an unusual problem in the world of movie comedy.  Their act was little more than old burlesque chestnuts—admittedly performed with gusto—and little attempt was made to create any kind of characters for them in their films other than the fact that Lou was the gullible patsy and Bud his whip-smart partner, ready to take advantage of him at any moment when he stood to benefit.  Abbott’s habit of “slapping” his partner wasn’t something he cribbed from the Three Stooges; it was a stage tradition where the straight man abused the comic in order to generate sympathy for the “funnyman.”  This, sad to say, didn’t work well in their movies—there are a number of scenes in their films where Bud’s abuse of Lou is downright uncomfortable (for example, in Pardon My Sarong, he attempts to convince his partner to commit suicide—putting a damper on an otherwise entertaining comedy).

This is why The Time of Their Lives is such a revelation to fans (and non-fans) of A&C.  Granted, Lou isn’t that much different from the way he’s usually portrayed in their vehicles (a roly-poly, sympathetic sort…and no one ever did comic fright like Costello) but Abbott reveals that he wasn’t too shabby in the thespian department in the role of the harried psychiatrist, Ralph Greenway.  In many of the A&C movies, you kind of get the impression that Abbott is just along for the ride; in Lives, Bud participates in a lot more comedy scenes than is his norm—his shrink is quite similar to I Dream of Jeannie’s Dr. Bellows in that he questions his own sanity when he’s tormented by the ghosts of Horatio and Melody.  “Be calm…be reasonable…” is his mantra throughout the movie.

Paramount’s Marjorie Reynolds was loaned out to play the part of Melody Allen in this film…and because her blonde hair clashed with the special effects she darkened her platinum tresses and pretty much kept them that way for the rest of her career (I have a soft spot for Marjorie, which began when I watched reruns of The Life of Riley on the old Christian Broadcasting Network in the 1980s).  It goes without saying that I love Gale Sondergaard’s presence in this film, and her introduction in the movie produces one of the funniest lines (courtesy of Binnie Barnes): “Pardon me—but didn’t I see you in Rebecca?”  Speaking of Barnes, she gets a lot of the best lines in the movie as well—I like her skeptical reply to Sondergaard’s insistence that the joint is haunted after they discover books strewn all about in the library: “Ghosts…they must have been a couple of interior decorators, looking for a little overtime…”

Shelton and Baggett are serviceable as the romantic interests, and character great Donald McBride is on hand as the cop out to arrest Bud’s character when Greenway steals the antique clock that contains the needed Washington letter.  My pal Cliff at In the Balcony says that whenever he mentions McBride’s name to anyone and is rewarded with a quizzical look that all he has to say is “Jumping butterballs!” (the actor’s repeated exclamation in 1938's Room Service)—and suddenly they’re on the same page.  Lives also features brief bits from serial heroes like Kirk Alyn and Myron Healey as dandies in the opening ball sequence, and stalwart character thesp Selmer Jackson appears as a museum curator.

Lives marked the first time that director Charles Barton worked with Bud and Lou (he’s referenced in an in-joke where Horatio mentions to Nora that he had a run-in with the British at “Barton’s barn”); he’d continue in that capacity for eight more of the team’s vehicles (including The Noose Hangs High and Africa Screams), and Charlie later became a much-in-demand TV director with sitcoms like Amos ‘n’ Andy (he directed all seventy-eight episodes), Dennis the Menace and Family Affair to his credit.  Barton does a splendid job with the material, including the highlight of the movie—a genuinely spooky séance sequence in which the guests of the manor attempt to make contact with the otherworldly inhabitants.  Lives was also the last A&C release before Universal revamped itself as Universal-International; though the company started to shed itself of its B-movie product (like their serials and Sherlock Holmes franchise), they still kept Bud and Lou on the payroll despite the fact that the duo were experiencing a box office slump.  (A&C Meet Frankenstein turned all that around in a hurry.)

So if you haven’t seen The Time of Their Lives, I highly recommend you tune in tonight at 10pm on TCM.  I guarantee that if it doesn’t give you a new appreciation for Abbott & Costello…well, then I don’t know what you expect me to do about it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

On the Grapevine: Little Old New York (1923)

In the 19th century, New York had not yet earned the distinction of being “the town so nice they named it twice.”  But it was populated by some pretty impressive people: business barons like Cornelius Vanderbilt (Sam Hardy) and John Jacob Astor (Andrew Dillon), with the “young bloods” in that burg including author Washington Irving (Mahlon Hamilton) and inventor Robert Fulton (Courtenay Foote).  In fact, Fulton was at that time still developing the steamship that would make him famous…and to accomplish this feat, has called upon young Larry Delevan (Harrison Ford) as a potential investor in what folks are derisively dismissing as “Fulton’s Folly.”

Delevan is counting on an inheritance from his late stepfather to obtain the needed $10,000 for the investment—sadly, life is a funny old dog, and Larry learns at the reading of the will that his steppop has only left him the house and a monthly stipend of $500; the rest of his estate has been bequeathed to his nephew Patrick O’Day (Stephen Carr), of the Ireland O’Days.  Sure, ‘tis the foine broth of a boy himself who prepares to journey to America with his father John (J.M. Kerrigan) and sister Patricia (Marion Davies)…but during the sea voyage Patrick, who’s been at Death’s door for some time now (except Death appears to have been in the shower and didn’t hear a knock), passes away peacefully—and John gets the wacky idea to pass Patricia off as her brother as revenge for his brother’s past slights.  Patricia, who’s about as convincing as the male sex as Miriam Hopkins in She Loves Me Not (1934), starts to develop feelings for Larry despite having pushed him out of the inheritance sweepstakes; it’s only a matter of time, of course, before her masquerade is exposed.

There’s a myth about Marion Davies’ cinematic oeuvre that refuses to die a peaceful death (and it might be because people have a tendency to equate the actress with her fictional “counterpart”—Susan Alexander in Citizen Kane)…and that’s her movies weren’t exactly moneymakers but rather flights of fancy financed by her lover, publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst.  Little Old New York (1923) is just one of Marion’s many vehicles that should put that belief to bed; at the time of its release, New York broke a box office record previously set by Douglas Fairbanks’ Robin Hood (1922), and wound up—according to (the always reliable) Wikipedia—being the seventh most popular movie of 1923 in the U.S. and Canada.

Admittedly, I have not seen as many Marion Davies movies as I’d like; but my experience so far with her output has demonstrated that I prefer her silent films to her talkies.  I’ve watched Not So Dumb (1930), Peg o' My Heart (1933), Going Hollywood (1933) and Operator 13 (1934)…and while each of these films have their moments (particularly Hollywood, which is probably my favorite Marion talkie) they can’t compare to the splendid silent output that is The Red Mill (1927), The Patsy (1928) and Show People (1928), among others.  Davies was a most underrated comedienne who filled a satisfying niche in film comedy…but her companion Hearst preferred her in overblown costume epics.  Hearst relentlessly promoted his mistress via ads in his newspapers—some say to the detriment of her movie career.

Once you’re able to accept Davies as a member of the opposite sex in Little Old New York (one of the laugh-out-loud moments in the movie is when Pat, considered a “nance” by the neighborhood kids, refuses to fight back and Delevan asks via title card: “Boy, what in the world did you do in Ireland?”) she gives a most satisfying performance; her sly androgyny will be of much interest to modern audiences, and in fact Davies is more interesting as male than female (“Patricia” is kind of a boring character, to be honest).  The direction of New York isn’t particularly inspiring (and I think the movie could do with a little trimming—it’s a bit long) but there are some memorable set pieces (as well as first-rate attention to period detail), including a sequence set aboard Fulton’s Clermont and the climax of the film, which involves a boxing match between “The Hoboken Terror” (Louis Wolheim) and “Bully Boy” Brewster (Harry Watson).  Brewster is clearly fighting out of his weight class, but Delevan has foolishly bet the ranch (literally—he’s offered his house as collateral) on the pugilist despite Pat’s misgivings.  It is s/he who stops the fight by turning in a false fire alarm—but when the ruse is discovered by the crowd, Pat is taken to the public square for an intense flogging.  She manages to endure a few lashes before finally breaking down and revealing her true identity to the gape-mouthed gathering.

The name “Harrison Ford” usually conjures up visions of a man sporting a fedora and carrying a bullwhip…but before Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars and all the rest there was another thespian by the same name who had quite a career in the silent era.  Ford made most of his more popular film vehicles with Marion Davies, and this was the first of three—the others being Janice Meredith (1924) and Zander the Great (1925).  Staggeringly popular in his day (he also enjoyed a not-too-shabby livelihood as a stage performer, which he picked up again after only one sound picture, 1932’s Love in High Gear), Ford worked with such leading ladies as Norma Talmadge, Constance Talmadge, Gloria Swanson, Bessie Love, Corinne Griffith, Marie Prevost and Clara Bow.  Sadly, many of his features did not survive the ravages of time and neglect—but I know we’ll be hearing from him again in this space because I have a copy of the Prevost-Ford comedy A Blonde for a Night (1928) waiting in the wings.

Little Old New York was based on a 1920 play by Rida Johnson Young, and in 1940 20th Century-Fox had a go at a remake of the material with Alice Faye, Fred MacMurray and Richard Greene.  The 1940 version eliminates the gender bending angle (and it’s not too hard to suss out why this is the case, particularly since Alice plays the Marion role) and concentrates a bit more on the Fulton steamship story (Greene plays the inventor, and Fred is a sailor who’s concerned the Clermont will put him on the unemployment line).  That movie was released to MOD DVD as part of the company’s “Cinema Archives” brand in November of 2012; for the 1923 original, I’d highly recommend Grapevine’s version even though I wasn’t particularly crazy about the score (sounded like a needle-drop to me).  Motion Picture Magazine observed in a laudatory November 1923 review that Little Old New York was “nothing profound or epoch-making but pleasant entertainment which has been well staged and well acted.”  I think you’ll agree as well.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

From the dusty TDOY archives: Slither (1973)

Paroled from prison after serving a stretch for car theft, easygoing Richard “Dick” Kanipsia (James Caan) agrees to stop by the B.F.E. home of fellow parolee Harry Moss (Richard B. Schull) for a beer before heading down the highway, destination to be determined.  What transpires during his visit with Harry will cement his future itinerary; no sooner have the two settled down in Moss’ living room when shots ring out and Harry is mortally wounded by an unknown assassin(s).  Calm—but clearly about to shuffle off this mortal coil—Harry tells Dick that he needs to head for a town called Fallbrook and contact one Barry Fenaka (Peter Boyle), F-E-N-A-K-A.  Mentioning the name “Vincent Palmer” will lead to financial rewards beyond Dick’s wildest dreams.

And so Mr. Kanipsia’s odyssey begins: a journey that wryly comments he was definitely better off in the joint, since the world has apparently become an asylum in the time he’s been in stir.  On his way to Fallbrook, Dick tangles with a hostile farmer (Seamon Glass) who gives him a ride, and later meets an engagingly flaky free spirit named Kitty Kopetzky (Sally Kellerman)…who decides to rob the diner the two are breakfasting in at two in the a.m.  Once making contact with Fenaka and his wife Mary (Louise Lasser), the three of them hitch up a car to Barry’s Airstream trailer and are off to contact Mr. Palmer—an adventure comprised of sinister accountants driving a pair of jet-black “Rec-V’s”; a suspenseful encounter at a bingo tent; and a shootout at a vegetable stand.

Slither (1973) was the directorial debut of Howard Zieff, who had achieved much critical acclaim as a creator of TV commercials (Alka-Seltzer, Benson-Hedges, etc.).  His movie resume was relatively brief (he stopped directing after 1994’s My Girl 2 due to the effects of Parkinson’s disease) and his best-known film is inarguably Private Benjamin (1980), the popular military farce starring Goldie Hawn.  But in the 1970s, Zieff demonstrated a deft touch for film comedy: his wistfully nostalgic Hearts of the West (1975—which airs tomorrow evening at 1:15am on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™) and acerbically romantic House Calls (1978) stand as some of the finest offerings of that era.

When I sat down with Slither yesterday, I’m pretty certain it had been over thirty years since I’d seen it; I watched it with the 'rents in their pre-Law & Order-obsession days and remembered liking the film, since its poker-faced comedy style appealed to me enormously.  I was worried that it wouldn’t hold up well…but I think I enjoyed it more on my second viewing.  It is most assuredly not for all tastes: it’s a shaggy-dog story with just a bare minimum of plot—most of the humor in the film originates in the perplexity of Caan’s protagonist Dick Kanipsia as he reacts to the various weirdoes he encounters.  Case in point: arriving at Fenaka’s, Dick has a gun pulled on him by Barry and the two of them wrestle for control of the firearm.  Once the two men have worked out their initial suspicions of one another (after Dick tells Barry of Harry’s demise), Dick is invited to meet Mrs. Fenaka…who turns out to be an old classmate of his from high school (though she was two years behind).  As the two of them reminisce, Barry has difficulty concealing his displeasure (and in the hands of Peter Boyle, this is falling-down funny).  Later, Dick and Mary go with Barry to his “job”—he’s master of ceremonies at an event honoring a war veteran (Stuart Nisbet) as “Man of the Year.”

In an August 2008 interview with Bright Lights Film Journal; actor Caan remarked on his “versatility”: “[W]hether I did that thing with Bette Midler [For the Boys, 1991], or Funny Lady [1975], or Kiss Me Goodbye [1982], people would say, ‘Jimmy, we didn't know you sang and danced.’ I said, ‘Well, nobody ever asked me.’”  Slither gave the thesp critically acclaimed at that time for his dramatic turns in Brian’s Song (1971) and The Godfather (1972) a chance to unleash his comedic chops (though you can certainly argue he generated much mirth in El Dorado)…which he indulged in such later vehicles as Cinderella Liberty (1973) and Honeymoon in Vegas (1992).  Caan’s laconic, Mitchum-like approach to portraying Dick Kanipsia makes the role one of his best acting showcases—my favorite moment in the film is when he deadpans “Listen…uh…I think I’d just as soon be sleeping in a bed when you kill us all” after witnessing Kitty’s bat-out-of-hell driving (he’s referring to bedding down in the trailer behind them).  Kellerman’s character is also a lot of fun; her theory that the sinister vans following Dick and the Fenakas are “flying saucers” made me spit out my iced tea.

Oscar nominee W.D. Richter (Brubaker) penned Slither’s script (which later inspired a TV sitcom pilot the following year, with Barry Bostwick in the Caan role); he would later adapt such favorites as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and Big Trouble in Little China (1986) and direct the cult classic The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984).  (I never quite warmed to Banzai—it plays like a serial already in progress—but I do have much love for his sci-fi comedy Late for Dinner [1991].)  The presence of Richter might explain why some folks don’t care for Slither…though strangely enough, I remember that John Simon liked the film—and he hated anything that wasn’t in a foreign language.

As I’ve stated, Caan, Kellerman, Boyle and Lasser are all first-rate in their roles; Richard Shull is sublime as the doomed Harry, Allen Garfield plays one of the accountants with a vested interest in the Kanipsia-Fenaka fortunes and Caan’s fellow Godfather player Alex Rocco (“Moe Greene”) will make you smile as a man juggling ice cream cones whom Dick mistakes as the owner of the mysterious vans.  While I’ll freely admit Slither can’t quite sustain its premise to the end of the film (though the punchline made me laugh), it’s a nostalgic memory that I had a great deal of fun reliving.  The film is available as an MOD DVD release from the Warner Archive (please don't confuse it with the 2006 horror film of the same name).  Happy days are here again!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Doris Day(s) #26: “The Tiger” (04/15/69, prod. no #8518)

Here’s the tragedy that is this week’s Doris Day(s): with a little tweaking of a script written by Norman Katkov (a Ben Casey veteran who probably got the gig because he penned Doris’ It Happened to Jane [1959]), this could have easily been the best Doris Day Show episode ever.  I think you can figure out why within the first few minutes of the show, so let’s get down to brass tasks.  Act One begins with Doris Martin’s (Doris) beloved progeny, Billy (Philip Brown) and Toby (Tod Starke), having a chinwag with the only individual on the Webb Estate that they can match on an intellectual level: cherished farmhand Leroy B. Semple Simpson (James Hampton).

LEROY: Hey, men—what’s goin’ on?
TOBY: We’re working, Leroy…

The cheese-loving rugrat puts just enough condescension into that line to remind viewers Leroy is all thumbs when it comes to his chosen occupation.

BILLY: We have to guard this gate ‘til Grandpa fixes it…
TOBY: The lock is broke…
LEROY: It is?  Well, let me take a look at it here…
BILLY: Better not fool with it, Leroy…
TOBY: You don’t want to make Grandpa mad again…
BILLY: We have to get a new one…Grandpa already fired you twice this week…
LEROY: Well, this will make up for it…

Yes, it’s a stock sitcom situation that we can see for miles and miles and miles, as an English rock group might point out.  Before you can say “Hannibal Dobbs,” Leroy’s let the pigs escape and created complete pandemonium in the barnyard—que lastima!

As you can see in the above screen caps, the Widder Doris and Nelson the Stolen Sheepdog (Lord Nelson) soon join in the round-up; finally, after all of the swine have been collected, Leroy and the kids find themselves standing tall before The Man…represented here by the Laird and Master, Buck Webb (Denver Pyle).

BUCK: All right…what happened?
BILLY: Grandpa…um…
BUCK: Not you… (Indicating Leroy) Him!
LEROY: Well, uh…I hate to see wastin’ money on a new latch…
BUCK: And you decided to fix it…?
LEROY: Yes, sir…and I will, too—just as soon as I get my tools…
BUCK: Don’t bother
LEROY: Oh—it’s no bother, Mr. Webb…
BUCK: Leroy…don’t touch that lock…and you know why…
LEROY: Because I’m fired?

“That’s right,” Buck confirms, “you’re fired.”  And he means it, too, despite young Toby’s reminder that “that’s three times this week!”

Four,” returns his grandfather.  “I fired him once this morning!”  But he’s not kidding around this 4,739th time he’s informed Leroy that Archer-Midland-Webb will no longer require his services.  Naturally, the news does not take long to reach the real boss of Webb Farms: Doris is in the kitchen with ever-helpful domestic Juanita (Naomi Stevens), and she’ll need to do some devious thinking to help Leroy keep such an obviously fulfilling job.

LEROY: I just come in to say goodbye…
DORIS: Oh, Leroy…not again?

“I’m beginning to think my father is right—you are a complete f**k-up…”

DORIS: That’s three times this week already…
LEROY: Four…he fired me yesterday, too…

Maybe I’m talking out of turn here, Simpson old man—but you really ought to look into the idea of joining Local 576, The United Federation of Farmhands and Hirelings.

JUANITA: That’s a new record, isn’t it?
LEROY: Yeah, but this time he says it’s forever…
DORIS: Forever?
LEROY: Them was his exact words…


“He’s already taken my name off my parking space—so I don’t think he’s just blowing sunshine up my skirt.”  The conversation is interrupted by some heated disagreement outside: Buck is hollering at his grandsons that there will be no more discussion—he’s given Leroy his pink slip and that is that.  Doris tells Leroy to run along; she’s fix this situation (and she will, too, because she’s Doris Freaking Day).  When Buck enters the kitchen, Doris and Juanita nonchalantly continue what they were doing before Leroy came in (they were putting together a shopping list); Juanita asks Doris to put “chocolate chips” on the list—I’m guessing she’s mapping out the menu for supper.

BUCK: Now there’s no use in carrying on about it—he’s done, finished, kaput…and that’s final… (Indicating Juanita) And that goes for you, too…

Since Juanita rarely does anything to incur the Master’s wrath—and on the off-chance she has, she quickly pacifies him with pie—perhaps this is a foreshadowing of events to come in the second season of the show.

DORIS: Now what on earth are you talking about?
BUCK: I’m talkin’ about Leroy B. Simpson…”B” for bumbler…this ranch has been in this family for three generations and I’m not gonna let him destroy it in three months

Doris and Juanita shrug collectively and return to their grocery list—but Buck is on to their sneaky feminine ways.  “You’re not gonna talk me out of it this time,” he assures her.

DORIS: We haven’t said one word!
BUCK: I know—but you’re bein’ funny about it…just like those two grandchildren…

Buck…if anything on this show was funny this space would be blank week after week.

DORIS: Speaking of your two grandchildren…maybe you should start thinking about them a bit…
BUCK (eating a cookie and drinking milk): What about ‘em?
DORIS: About Leroy…you know how Leroy loves those boys…
BUCK: So do I—that’s why I’m firin’ him!  So that they’ll inherit somethin’ besides a disaster area!
DORIS: You know how the boys love Leroy…and if you fire Leroy, it’s really going to break their hearts…
BUCK: Well…I’ll buy them another dog to make up for it…
DORIS: That’ll break Nelson’s heart…

I just got a mental picture of Doris sneaking into the Douglas home on My Three Sons and scooping up Tramp…then hauling ass and elbows to her station wagon.  Buck then complains that’s it’s not fair for Doris to use the kids to save Leroy’s job…which she interprets to mean that Leroy has been “un-fired,” and soon there is much merriment in the House of Webb despite Buck’s continued complaints.

Well, we’ve dwelt long enough on the employment woes of Mr. Simpson—we’ve got a lame plot to address, and a dissolve finds Doris at Cotina’s local Stop-and-Rob grabbing those groceries discussed earlier.  Director Gary Nelson pans across a truck with “Cooley’s Country Carnival” emblazoned on the side before we see Doris’ truck…

…and you may be asking yourself “Say…I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the Webb Family truck with a canopy before—for what possible reason could that be?”  I shall not disappoint you with the answer.

Danger!  Wild animals!  And what’s worse, it’s a danger-wild-animals vehicle with a lock that a four-year-old could easily break off and wave around like a trophy…

Good Lord!  It's Rajah, the famous Bengal man-eater!  The tiger leaps out of the carny wagon and into the bed of Doris’ truck.  Wacky!  Now—the reason for the canopy is clearly so Doris won’t notice there’s a freaking tiger in the back of her truck…but look at this screen cap:

If Doris can’t see that, she might pose a greater danger being on the highway because of her poor eyesight.  Well, she drives home with El Tigre in the truck bed (can she not smell the tiger?) and arrives at Rancho Webb…where Juanita, having dished up some Zagnut bars for the boys’ lunch, rushes outside to greet her mistress.  And then this is a thing that happens:

Yes, Juanita drops to the ground like a sack of flour…and Doris tells the boys to slowly head for the house, seemingly aware of Rajah’s renowned man-gobbling prowess.  Billy at first wants to play the hero, but Doris insists that he take young Toby to safety.

Awwww…the tiger is licking Doris’ hand!  Isn’t that precious!  “You’re just a big pussycat,” she trills with Doris-like optimism, and a scene dissolve finds the puddy tat having a nice bowl of milk…though it’s more like a bucket of milk.  As Buck watches with fascination, he yells at Doris in the other room as to the progress she’s making contacting the sheriff; Doris replies “It’s still busy!”—and while I’m not a mind reader or anything, the phone tie-up might have something to do with the fact that there’s a freaking Panthera tigris roaming loose in Cotina.

“How’s Juanita?” asks Doris.  “Oh, she’s fine,” is Buck’s answer, “she’s still locked in her room—says she won’t come out until this tiger is out of the house.”  Or when the tequila runs out…whichever comes first.  Now—I don’t want regular visitors of this space to get the impression that I’m starting to warm up to Doris’ idiot children…but I kind of enjoyed this next bit with Gran’pa Buck:

TOBY: He sure likes our milk!
BUCK: Sure does…drank the total output of every cow on this ranch…

“And then asked me to throw a couple on the grill…”

BUCK: He’s got to go!
(Rajah growls at Buck)
BILLY: I think you made him mad, Grandpa…
BUCK: Nah…he’s just gotta burp…finish your milk…
BILLY: Boy, he sure is hungry!
TOBY: Probably starving
BILLY: If I had a tiger…I wouldn’t let him starve
TOBY: Me neither…
BILLY: I wonder if he belongs to anybody?
TOBY: Probably an orphan…
BUCK: The answer to the next question is no

I did laugh out loud at that.  (“You kids don’t mind if Gran’pa looks at his driver license and…well, whaddya know?  I wasn’t born yesterday…”) “You don’t even know what we’re going to say,” Billy protests.

BUCK: You wanna bet?
TOBY: Well…can we?
BUCK: Nope!  This tiger has got to belong to some circus or carnival or somethin’…
BILLY: But you’re not sure
BUCK: Well, I’m sure I can’t keep a tiger on this ranch…
BILLY: You won’t have to do anything!
TOBY: Yeah, we’ll take care of him!

“Well, that’s what you said about Leroy…and who ended up having to feed him and take him for walks?”  Sorry, kids—while we’ll give you an “A” for effort, Buckaroo ain’t buyin’ the B.S.  “I’m not feedin’ twenty-seven Holsteins grain and alfalfa just to support one tiger,” he explains.  With the chiming of a clock, Buck is reminded that the kids have a Cub Scout meeting to go to…but Billy and Toby want to stick around and play with the puddy tat.  “When you signed up with the cubs you made a deal,” Buck starts…and I didn’t hear the rest of what he said because I was too busy tee-heeing at the thought of both Martin boys in the outfield at Wrigley Field.  (Hey—the Cubs could do worse.)  The Cub Scout meeting is merely a writer’s device to get the kids out of harm’s way…one of many reasons why this episode loses its bid for greatness.

As you can see, Rajah has made a bit of a mess on the living room floor.  (I’ll bet Juanita is chomping at the bit to clean that up.)  Buck heads back into the kitchen, where Doris is still trying to contact the law enforcement that protects the bustling metropolis known as Cotina.

DORIS: How’s our friend doing?
BUCK: Well, he’s tame and all that…but…uh…he’s still a meat eater…and I don’t know how long this milk is gonna keep him happy…
DORIS: Well, we better put him in the barn—he’ll be safe there…
BUCK: He’ll be safe?  Listen, we’ve got pigs, chickens…all kinds of animals on this ranch—I’m worried about them!

Doris, tireless pro-animal crusader she may be, seems to have overlooked the fact that Webb Farms is like an S&S Cafeteria to a former inhabitant of the jungle wilds.  Finally, Doris gets hold of the cops—the deputy answers the phone; he’s later referred to as “Andy,” and is portrayed by Bard Stevens…making his third and last appearance on the program (Stevens played bit roles in the previous “The Relatives” and “The Con Man”).  The sheriff, on the other hand, is a return visitor—though we were first introduced to Ben Anders in “The Matchmakers” (where he was played by TV vet Frank Maxwell), TDOY fave Barney Phillips encores as Cotina’s long arm of the law in his second and last portrayal on the show (he was seen just a couple of weeks ago in “The Still”).

DORIS: Ben, I’ve been trying to get you for one solid hour
BEN: Well, I’m sorry, Doris—I’ve been rounding up a posse and dogs…we’ve got a tiger loose in the county!

Hey—I was right on that score!  (Makes hash mark) Doris explains to Ben that she knows all about the tiger—because “the big pussycat” is on her farm, in her very barn!  She also cautions him that he need not bring out a platoon of men or “the Canine Corps” since Rajah is perfectly tame.  “Well, until I can find out for myself,” Ben answers, “I’m sure you won’t mind if I bring along a little insurance?”  (Does Geico cover tigers?)

As Anders and his posse head out to the ranch, Leroy pulls up in the jeep accompanied by appropriate “bumpkin” music…because you people have watched as many sitcoms as I have, and you just know what’s going to happen next.

“Hmm…sure wish I had some book larnin’ so I could read what’s on that sign…”  Yes, Leroy B. Dipsh*t opens the barn door as wide as you please…and El Tigre decides to go out for a stroll.

Homina homina homina…okay, let’s hear from Ralston-Purina.

Act Two finds Ben, Andy and several eager volunteers pulling up in several cars, accompanied by a pack of barking bloodhounds.  Doris is trying to get everyone quieted down, because Juanita already has a bad case of the shakes after her encounter with Rajah, and loud noises make her even more nervous.

BUCK (angrily): Why didn’t you call out the National Guard while you’re at it?
BEN: Boys, can’t you quiet those dogs?
ANDY: I’m tryin’ my best, Sheriff…they got the smell of the big cat!

Doris keeps arguing that she believes the tiger to be tame, with Ben countering that he needs to find out for himself.  (“Let him sit on your lap and you’ll see!”)  Capturing the tiger really isn’t all that complicated, though; all they have to do is sing Beethoven's Ode to Joy from the famous Ninth Symphony in D minor.  Buck and Doris open the barn door, and out comes Leroy the Dumbass, who’s no doubt soiled himself in the encounter with Rajah.

DORIS: Where’s the tiger?
BEN: If this is some kind of a joke, Doris, I don’t think it’s very funny…
BUCK: It’s no joke and it’s not funny…
DORIS: Leroy, what did you do with him?
LEROY: I didn’t do anything with him, Miz Martin…
DORIS: Well, where is he?
LEROY: …it’s what he nearly did to me!
BEN: Oh…tame, huh?
DORIS: He is tame!  What did you do, Leroy—scare him?

“Scared him?  I’m the one with the soiled underwear!”  Both Doris and Buck are very disappointed with their hired hand, despite his protests that the animal was this close to leaping at his neck, pulling out a vein and killing him.  Sheriff Ben rounds up his men and makes plans to head elsewhere, because several of those guys aren’t going to be satisfied until they’ve killed themselves a predator.

DORIS: Ben, you just can’t hunt down this creature as if it were a wild animal!
BEN: Doris…as far as I’m concerned, that’s exactly what he is…
DORIS: Ben, won’t you listen to me?  I let my two sons…take that tiger into my very own kitchen…and give him a bowl of milk…now doesn’t that mean something to you?

“Yeah…it means I may have to swing back by with some commitment papers…”  Ben empathizes with Doris, but he keeps concentrating on the immutable fact that El Tigre is a man-eater, and once he gets hungry “he isn’t going to stick to being a vegetarian for very long.”

DORIS: Won’t you let me try to get him?
BEN: Doris…you had him…and he got away…now it’s my job to find him before he does any harm…

Saddle up, boys!  If we find this critter before dark there’ll be tiger steaks for ev’rybody!  Buck is going to go along and supervise because redneck, but before leaving he fires this volley: “Now, if you’d let me fire that nincompoop when this happened—we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

That’s the nincompoop, in case you’ve forgotten.  Buck promises to do what he can to save Doris’ tiger…but admonishes “See that he’s gone by the time I get back here!”  Leroy tries his best to console an upset Doris.

LEROY: I sure am sorry…
DORIS: I know you are…

“You’re the sorriest son of a…well, I need to watch my phraseology…”

LEROY: Once that tiger gets up to the hills…maybe the posse won’t find him…
DORIS: How do you know he’ll head for the hills?
LEROY: Oh, that’s where he’ll go, all right…up where there’s trees and caves where he can hide in…away from people and get him some food…the sheriff was right about that, you know—he’ll be needin’ some meat pretty soon…
DORIS: Hey, Leroy…you really know those hills, don’t you?

Now—if Leroy were a native Cotinian or whatever nomenclature they use to describe inhabitants of that jerkwater burg, this might be plausible plot-wise…but as we are well aware, Leroy was a simple country drifter who just happened by the Webb ranch one day, as told in “Leroy B. Simpson.”  The show’s producers have to sell this angle to make Leroy’s actions seem heroic later on, otherwise he’ll be just another doofus who gets lost in a cave.  Doris orders Leroy to fetch a lantern and a rope, because they have work to do.

LEROY: You mean we’re gonna try to find that tiger?
DORIS: You bet!
LEROY: On purpose?

“Look, Leroy,” Doris explains, “would you rather take a chance on meeting that tiger or my father when he gets back?”  “I’ll get the rope and the lantern,” Leroy says dejectedly.

The scene shifts to a cave…and don’t tell Andrew Leal this, but if Goober Pyle just happened to amble by, I’d never be so happy to see anyone in all my life.  Inside the cave, Buck, Sheriff Ben and the others are holding the barking dogs at bay while they discuss their stragedy on how to flush the tiger out.  Ben gets a little agitated at Buck during all this, and at one point tells him: “Buck, why don’t you get off my back—I don’t like this any better than you do…”  The plan is just to sit tight and wait for Rajah to become peckish, since the only exit is blocked by Cotina’s finest sharpshooters and the bloodhounds.

Doris and Leroy pull up in the Jeep not far from the cave entrance…and because they can hear the dogs, they know El Tigre is in trouble.

DORIS: That poor thing doesn’t have a chance
LEROY: Miz Martin…are you sure you got a good look at his teeth?
DORIS: Leroy, he’s so tame…believe me…
LEROY: Well…I believe you, Miz Martin…but I’m just glad I’m not in there with them…

“If there were only another entrance into that cave,” Doris wonders out loud…but she’s just being a big silly—of course there’s another entrance!  The events in the Andy Griffith Show episode “Barney and the Cave Rescue” so concerned lawmakers at the time that Congress passed the Omnibus Television Spelunking Act…which dictates that all caves on the small screen be fitted with both an entrance and an alternative entrance.

DORIS: Leroy?
DORIS: Is there another entrance into that cave?
LEROY: What cave?

Okay, I did chuckle slightly at Leroy’s reticence to impart information about the cave’s “back door” to his boss, because while he may be an idiot…he’s smart enough to know she’s going to insist on going there.  After some hemming and hawing, Leroy reveals that “it might have been a rumor” that there’s another way of getting in “up by Fisher’s Creek.”

As Buck and Sheriff Ben continue to spar over how to remove Rajah from his new home (“You might try some tear gas or a hand grenade, Ben,” Buck jokes), Leroy and Doris arrive at the Fisher Creek entrance and mosey on inside.

“Hewwo, you bad ol’ puddy tat!”  While Leroy soils his second pair of jeans, Doris waits until El Tigre comes over for another petting, and she gingerly slips the rope around his neck.

LEROY: Now…should I go tell your father you caught him?


DORIS: No, Leroy!
DORIS: Leroy…have you ever seen my father as mad at you as he was this afternoon when you let this tiger out of the barn?
LEROY: Yes, ma’am…this morning when I almost let the pigs out of the pen…

What Leroy’s feeble thought processes are having difficulty handling is that Doris is going to let him take the credit for the capture of Rajah.  This could be most beneficial; either Leroy will be eaten by the tiger—and our long national blogging nightmare will be over—or he can use the big kitty as a bargaining chip to get his pathetic handyman job back.  (Though I have to tell you, I’m kind of banking on the first scenario.)  And that’s just what happens…the tiger’s growls can be heard inside the cave as Leroy makes his way to where the others are.  Ben and the posse point their bang-bang guns toward the hole where the tiger will eventually emerge, and somehow Doris has managed to double back to meet her father at the main entrance.

BUCK: Doris…what are you doing here?  When he makes his run—it’s gonna break your heart!
DORIS: Isn’t there something we can do?
BUCK: I tried!
DORIS: I’m sure you did…knowing you, you’d forgive your worst enemy if he would save that tiger—wouldn’t you?
BUCK: I sure would…

Buck!  You were so close, amigo!  Because at that moment, Leroy leads the tiger out of the darkness…past the men with guns, and past Buck and Doris.

Oh, Buck—will you ever win?

I don’t know about you…but I’m done with this episode.  The coda is pretty forgettable; Buck has graciously allowed Leroy a 4,740th chance in exchange for a mouth-watering bribe.  “Is that pie done you promised me?” he asks Juanita, who has been predictably scarred by the whole tiger experience.  Doris assures him it is, and what’s more—there’s ice cream to make that slice o’pie “a la mode.”

As Doris lifts the pie up so that Buck can get a whiff of that heavenly baked goods aroma, Leroy comes crashing into the kitchen and in hitting Buck in the ass with the door, sends the pie to the ground.

LEROY: Never mind, Mr. Webb…it can wait…
BUCK: You know what you are, boy?
LEROY: Yes, sir…I know… (He runs out of the kitchen)
BUCK: You’re a nincompoop!  That’s what you are!

Poor Buckley.  And Doris’ only words of condolence?  “Scrape it up!”

Next time on Doris Day(s)—oh, if I can get through this one it will be recognized as a miracle by the Catholic Church.  While it features one of the greatest character actors from radio, movies and TV…it also shines a spotlight on Juanita, admittedly the weakest character in the entire sitcom.  You’ll need a hardy constitution to survive the perils of “The Date”…but if you’re up for it, I’ll be here in this same space next week.