Archive for the ‘Ernest Borgnine’ Category

DVD review: ‘McHale’s Navy: Season Four’ bids us arrivederci

December 2, 2008

Was Italy the kiss of death for McHale’s Navy? We’ll never know for sure, but we do know that when the WW II sitcom shifted from the South Pacific to an Italian coastal village, its new digs lasted for just one season, and then its seamen bid buh-bye to series TV.

That’s not to say McHale’s Navy: Season Four, new on DVD from Shout! Factory, is a washout. For the five-disc, 30-episode set, almost all of the original comedy cast stays intact, having shifted from fighting the Japanese to fighting Germans in Italy, where some new regulars join in. But though this shift allowed for more elaborate exteriors — with back roads, towns and a wider range of scenery — it also led to some excruciatingly bad Italian accents and Italian stereotyping.

Granted, such transgressions were common on TV in the ’60s, before globalism and dawning multi-cultural awareness made non-Americans seem less corny, colorful and quaint and more like — well, everyday people. And you must take that into account when viewing a series such as this, which surely had no mean-spirited bones in its four-season, 138-episode body.

Also look for Don Knotts among the season’s guest stars. The actor who kept The Andy Griffith Show in stitches was able to go briefly from that series during its run in order to guest star elsewhere or make a theatrical film. Andy would make some reference to Barney being “on patrol,” and an entire episode would slip by without a sign of the skinny, ever-agitated deputy.

Come to think of it, TV was extremely accommodating in the ’60s. Both My Three Sons and Family Affair were creatively produced (writing scripts far in advance and shooting far out of sequence) in order to allow stars Fred MacMurray and Brian Keith, respectively, to pursue their careers elsewhere at the same time they were top-billed TV stars.

I suppose McHale himself, Ernest Borgnine, could have done the same thing, having come to TV with an Oscar pedigree from 1955’s Marty. But he chose to stick closely to his series for its run, and I don’t believe he was ever absent from an episode.

As for the entire crew of PT 73, we’ll miss ’em, now that this series reaches its end on DVD. But  three theatrical films with this cast are hovering out there somewhere, and 138 episodes isn’t a bad run for savoring such silliness and shenanigans.

Our thanks go to Shout! Factory for following through with the complete TV run, which so often isn’t the case with vintage TV releases. And our thanks go to Borgnine, Tim Conway, the late Joe Flynn and others for making McHale’s Navy — whether waging wacky war in the Pacific or the European theater — a frothy, lively, fun show that’s stood the test of time.

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‘McHale’s Navy’ made military life fun

March 25, 2008

Chances are, we won’t be seeing a sitcom on the wacky adventures of a misfit troop of Marines in Baghdad in the next 20 years. Methinks that spin won’t be in — then or at any future time. Yet in the early 1960s — less than 20 years after World War II — TV used the military for hilarity in McHale’s Navy, a show which ran for four seasons and 138 b&w episodes until it ran aground.

Shout Factory has just issued its third season, and the final one set in the South Pacific. In Season Four, the PT 73 crew shifted to Europe — specifically, Italy — for its fade-out. But the show worked better in tropical South Pacificterritory, as skipper McHale (Ernest Borgnine), Ensign Parker (Tim Conway) and a motley group of party-boys and schemers idled away much of the war playing cards or playing tricks on stuffy Capt. Binghamton (Joe Flynn) while rarely enduring combat.  Hogan’s Heroes would tweak the formula soon after, with fun-loving Americans in a hapless German POW camp, just as MASH would tweak it not long after that — on the big screen, then the small — with the Korean War as a backdrop.

While much of the mischievous military mayhem stays the same, McHale’s NavySeason Three has some notable new guest stars, including Raquel Welch, Marlo Thomas and Yvonne Craig, who drew a year’s worth of leers. The five-disc set has no extras, unlike Season One, which has a cast reunion, and Season Two, which has a Borgnine/Conway interview. What it does have is innocent fun from a time when TV was often a refuge from receding wartime, not a grim reminder of its tragedies.