Archive for the ‘McHale’s Navy’ Category

DVD Review: ‘McHale’s Navy’ Double Feature

February 14, 2016

McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force

It’s one thing to turn TV series into movies long after the fact (Get Smart, Bewitched, George of the Jungle, 1997’s McHale’s Navy), but in the ’60s, some such spinoffs were made and released while the series still aired.

Take 1964-68’s The Man From UNCLE, which added footage to existing episodes for two feature films, and 1962-1966’s McHale’s Navy, which shot two all-new features.

Both of the latter are on a single-disc DVD due Tuesday from Shout! Factory, which also has released the zany WWII naval comedy’s four seasons and 138 episodes.

The first film, 1964’s McHale’s Navy, show the pros and cons of splashing small-screen shows onto big-screen canvases. Though production values are higher — starting with using color, unlike the b&w series — they aren’t that high.

The film clearly is a backlot So Cal production, using obvious process shots to show ships at sea. Yet it’s still nice seeing Oscar-winner Ernest Borgnine’s PT-boat commander, McHale, and his rascally boys amid more expansive on-land locations and in wider views.


Bridges shines then — ‘My Three Sons’ — and now — ‘Desperate Housewives’

January 19, 2009

The more things change, the more they stay the same. And with Beau Bridges, that’s a good thing.

The veteran actor appeared twice in my home Sunday night: first in an  episode of My Three Sons which my wife and I happened to be watching via the Season One Volume Two DVD set from CBS/Paramount, due out Tuesday. (OK — so I’ve got connections.) And right afterward, there Beau was again — almost 50 years older — playing perhaps the strongest guest role ever on ABC’s Desperate Housewives, a once tediously negative show that’s hit its stride this season with richer characterizations and stronger stories.

Bridges’ one-shot was as Eli Scruggs, beloved handyman of Wisteria Lane. Via flashbacks, we saw how Eli greatly impacted the lives of the series’ principal women, often in warm and meaningful ways.

For too long, “warm” and “meaningful” weren’t terms you could use in the same breath with Desperate Housewives, but the show is now a far better balance of the darkly desperate and the spiritually hopeful.

As an actor, Bridges, too, has been affecting people since he first ventured into telly, around the time dad Lloyd Bridges starred on his Sea Hunt series. When Beau began emerging as an actor circa 1960, he was a natural to play clean-cut youths on shows such as My Three Sons, where he appeared three times, or Mr. Novak. It was only later that he segued to adult roles for the big screen (The Landlord being a strong early example).

I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Beau several times in Houston, where he worked on shoots for a TV movie (Without Warning: The James Brady Story) and a theatrical film (Sidekicks). He was always a down-the-earth gentleman who seemed to enjoy the process. Brother Jeff Bridges, coincidentally, also was in Houston on a movie shoot, for Arlington Road, when their father passed away.

If you missed it, Housewives’ superb 100th episode, in which Beau guest starred, won’t be on DVD until next year. But in the meantime, beyond his many more recent movie and TV roles, you catch his work on the aforementioned My Three Sons, where he’s forever young — about 19 — while playing a young fellow, in sharp contrast to so many productions since then which have high school kids played by actors in their mid-20s. (Take 1978’s Grease.) Bottom line: Wherever you find Beau, you’ll find a fine actor who’s still enriching our lives as he eases into retirement age — and thank goodness he isn’t retiring.

Back to My Three Sons: Is there any more distinctive vintage sitcom? And I’m not talking about its then-new element of having a single parent (Fred MacMurray) raising offspring, a setup that’s since then become cliche. I’m talking about the show’s widely varied stabs at storytelling in terms of style, tone and narrative elements. While comedic and amusingly chaotic on the surface, My Three Sons also often involves mystery, romance, strongly dramatic plots and then-topical themes. The show’s creators didn’t settle for a set narrative form. They experimented.

With most sitcoms, you know exactly what you’re going to get: Jed and his country bumpkin family will experience — and spur — more culture shock on The Beverly Hillbillies. McHale and his misfit crew will indulge in more shennanigans on McHale’s Navy. Randy New York young adults will lie about something — over and over — thus sparking comic complications on Friends.

But in My Three Sons, you never know what’s going to happen, which makes the show more surprising and even challenging than TV series’ usual easy-to-swallow version of comfort food. And in a medium known for so much galling repetition, that, in itself, is a blessing.

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.

DVD Review: Would you believe? ‘Get Smart’ is still fun

November 4, 2008

Everything is relative, as they say, which is why another big-screen version of a ’60s TV show, Get Smart, looks so good now. After all, it’s not Nicole Kidman and Will Farrell’s Bewitched or Tom Arnold’s McHale’s Navy. But like that Bewitched, at least to some degree, it does reinvent a franchise while placing it in current times.

The reinvention comes courtesy of Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) being smarter than Don Adams’ Max ever was, while still being reliably hapless in a comic way. Beyond that, this new Max is an underling agent, not one of CONTROL’s chief operatives. Also different is Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), who’s really the top-dog agent that Max aspires to be. In the original TV series, Barbara Feldon’s 99 was second banana to Max.

I’m not saying these tweaks don’t work, but they do seem to negate much of the zany comic mayhem that fueled the original. In its place we have an almost soulful Hathaway — one of my favorite actresses can’t help herself but deliver such emotion — and a rather winsome and sweet side to Carell as an earnest new agent who pines for respect — and Agent 99.

Indeed, this movie spin of Get Smart, while definitely a comedy, is less of a knee-slapper than a straight-ahead spy caper at times, even with sly comic turns by Alan Arkin and Dwayne Johnson as Max’s fellows in CONTROL. The plot involves bombs, Russia, double agents and lots of scenic silliness, with a threatened performance hall ending that somehow feels straight out of 1978 hit Foul Play.

Get Smart’s new two-disc set from Warner Bros. has ample extras, but its means of showcasing extra footage isn’t the best. To access about 20 more minutes of material, you basically have to watch the entire movie over again (provided you first went for the purity of the theatrical cut), and then cut away to alternate or extra footage when directed. How about grouping it all together, as on most DVDs? It works for those, and we’re not talking about special expanded editions of The Lord of the Rings here.

Still, the film can be a stitch, as in funny, and there are enough familiar bits — from the theme music to “Would you believe . . .?” — to please longtime fans. So shed your Cone of Silence, slip into your secret phone booth and get Get Smart. As lively lunacy, it’s agreeable, not overbearing, and like Carel’s Smart, its heart is in the right place.

‘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.