Warner Bros. // 1965 // 867 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Aaron Bossig (Retired) // October 25th, 2006
"F-Troop all present and accounted for, Sir!" -- Sgt. O'Rourke (Forrest Tucker)
Also known as "F-Troop: The Black-and-White Episodes."
After a small miscommunication, Lieutenant Wilton Parmenter (Ken Berry, The Andy Griffith Show) leads the Union Army to victory -- by accident. His luck gets him prematurely promoted to Captain and put in charge of Fort Courage, where he'll be responsible for a squad of total wash-ups. The lookout is blind, the bugler has a fat lip, and the army translator speaks every language except English. Leading them are Sergeant O'Rourke (Forrest Tucker, The Wild Blue Yonder) and Corporal Agarn (Larry Storch, Out of the Inkwell), two crafty officers who are more concerned with running a rather lucrative side business than with their military duties.
Parmenter is determined to whip the ragtag crew into shape, but his naïve and overly-generous nature allows him to be taken advantage of very easily. As long as O'Rourke and Agarn can keep him distracted, the U.S. Government will never know that O'Rourke is selling whiskey made out of army rations, and that the local Hekowi Indians are too busy making souvenirs to bother going on the warpath.
Reviewing the Facts of the Case, F-Troop clearly has some very interesting and well-defined characters. Their loyalties are split, and ulterior motives abound. However, to dwell on that is to completely miss the point of the show. F-Troop is a farce, plain and simple. Its only purpose is to make you laugh, not get bogged down with character development and continuity. You don't even need to watch the episodes in any particular order, just sit back and have fun.
F-Troop's humor is largely based upon running gags. It's true that most long-running comedies prefer to have a proven joke to lean on, such as Maxwell Smart's "Would you believe..." from Get Smart or the "We were on a break!" discussion from Friends. With F-Troop, however, the running gags were the very backbone of each script. The cannon knocking down the lookout tower, Dobbs' (James Hampton, Sling Blade) distorted bugling, and Parmenter's clumsiness are worked into almost every episode. After watching the first disc of this set (much less the entire series), F-Troop does gain a "paint-by-numbers" feel, where each joke can be anticipated far in advance. Oddly enough, this really isn't a bad thing. Even when the gags are predictable, F-Troop pulls them off with such sincerity that they remain funny. We know that lookout tower is doomed just as we were certain Gilligan would never get off that island -- the fun part was figuring out how to arrive at the same punch line week after week.
The running gags aren't all there is to the show. F-Troop makes the most of its western theme by poking fun at the genre every chance it gets. The troop's saloon drinking is mocked without concern for how it might look to younger viewers. Chief Wild Eagle (Frank DeKova, The Greatest Story Ever Told) complains loudly about the hassle of "sitting with the papooses," preferring to leave that to the squaws so he can go about making black market goods. Forced Indian relocation, possibly one of the most embarrassing and emotional topics in U.S. history, is treated with a very cavalier attitude. In the episode "Iron Horse Go Home," F-Troop has to move the Hekowi to another spot, and the show even makes light of how easily the Indians are persuaded! And, I want to stress, it's all hysterical.
The cast and crew didn't seem to care that F-Troop portrayed most of the U.S. government as crooked or inept, and most Native Americans as buffoons. If it got a laugh, the joke made it into the show. Zero attention is paid to historical accuracy or political sensitivity. For that reason, I'm thankful that F-Troop was made in the 60s. While it did get some criticism for how it portrayed Native Americans, it's a sure bet that F-Troop would never have survived on today's airwaves. How does the show manage to be lighthearted in spite of the harsh reality that was the real wild west? Aren't there some things that just shouldn't be funny?
Just like Hogan's Heroes made you laugh in a Nazi prison camp, when watching F-Troop, we laugh at the situations, not the historical context. History is just window dressing for the jokes: When we laugh at Chief Wild Eagle running a shrewd deal, we're not laughing at a joke about shifty Indians, we're laughing at someone who appears to be a goofball, yet manages to become very smart whenever money is concerned. We all know someone like that. Likewise, when we laugh at Agarn watering down the saloon whiskey, we're not making a moral judgment about the white man's conduct in the Old West. We're laughing at that part of us that likes to do something bad if we know we won't be caught.
So yes, F-Troop is funny. Really funny. For that alone, it's a great show to add to your DVD collection. F-Troop was previously released in a "Best-of" collection, but this set is the first comprehensive release of F-Troop on DVD. This first season contains all the black-and-white episodes. It's been said that comedy tends to be funnier in black-and-white, and the first season of F-Troop is certainly convincing evidence.
F-Troop is over 40 years old. Anyone considering purchasing this set is probably already familiar with the show and its particular humor. The primary concern is going to be on the presentation itself. I'm pleased to report that F-Troop looks fantastic in digital form. Either the show has been very well preserved, or some restoration has taken place. Detail is sharp and the silver tones of the black-and-white show are very clean. A few minor specks and scratches can be seen, as you would expect of any show this age, but it's never distracting. In fact, it's just a little bit charming.
Likewise, for a show of this vintage, I can accept the lack of extras. My favorite extras tend to be documentaries or commentaries, and with much of the principal cast having passed away, making those won't be an option. It also would have been nice to see promotional material or commercials from the initial run of the show, but those are often difficult to locate after so many years, so their absence also doesn't bother me. I loved this show when it was on Nick at Nite, and have missed it greatly since it was removed from their lineup. It's back, it looks better than ever, and it's only $30. I'm happy.
The troops at Fort Courage have been found guilty of being hysterically incompetent, and are sentenced to death by firing squad. As the firing squad is their own canon, their continued safety is assured.
Review content copyright © 2006 Aaron Bossig; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 867 Minutes
Release Year: 1965
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Ken Berry's Site
* Melody Patterson's Site
* F Troop (Television Favorites Compilation)