DAVID BIANCULLI

Founder / Editor

ERIC GOULD

Associate Editor

LINDA DONOVAN

Assistant Editor

Contributors

ALEX STRACHAN

MIKE HUGHES

KIM AKASS

MONIQUE NAZARETH

ROGER CATLIN

GARY EDGERTON

TOM BRINKMOELLER

GERALD JORDAN

NOEL HOLSTON

 
 
 
 
 
The Thinking Man's 'F Troop'
May 14, 2011  | By Eric Gould  | 4 comments
 
F-Troop-Agarn-Arrow-Through.jpg

It's a bit odd to think about the politically incorrect comedies of the '60s, knowing that a show about a Nazi prisoner camp (Hogan's Heroes), or about the American Army fighting the Indians in the Old West (F Troop), couldn't be made today -- but that Jersey Shore and Las Vegas Jailhouse can.

Surely they aren't more distasteful than those deliberately offensive shows are. And consider this Exhibit A: Aside from its dated, shtick-y tone, my current DVD guilty pleasure -- the mild, light-hearted F Troop -- had no lack of wit and ingenuity when subverting hardened stereotypes and sacred cows, all within the bounds of conventional taste and TV standards of the day.

F Troop, which premiered on ABC in 1965, lasted only two seasons, and both are available on DVD. F Troop: The Complete First Season can be purchased HERE, and The Complete Second Season HERE.

f_troop-fort-courage.jpg

The show's premise is as simple, and solid, as a log fort. Slacker Army Troops stationed at Fort Courage, a Kansas outpost, try to wait out the frontier conflicts of American expansionism, alongside the equally passive Hekawi Indian Tribe.

(According to legend, the wandering tribe, constantly lost, got its name, "We're the Hekawi," by a slight mistranslation of its its oft-repeated plea for information, "Where the heck are we?" -- a diluted-for-TV derivative of the otherwise identical old joke about another native American tribe, the Fugawi.)

F Troop is de facto controlled by the ranking Sergeant O'Rourke (Forrest Tucker) and his cowardly sidekick, Corporal Agarn (a great comic and slapstick performance by Larry Storch.) O'Rourke and Agarn conspire to keep as their leader the bungling and unassuming Captain Parmenter (Ken Berry), who's too dim and distracted to interfere with the illicit operation of O'Rourke Enterprises -- the O'Rourke-Agarn souvenir business selling cheap Indian goods manufactured by the mild-mannered Hekawis.

O'Rourke and Agarn are business partners with Hekawi Chief WIld Eagle. Frank De Kova, an Italian-American character actor, known for playing heavies, bronzed up for this role. He gives a great, burlesque-style performance as the harried, grumpy head of the tribe, much a like an out-of-sorts New York garment district owner with indigestion.

(One article cites the Hekawi shtick as based on one myth that the Native Americans are the 13th tribe of Israel, explaining why some of the Hekawis were played by veteran Yiddish actors.)

F-Troop-Rickles-.jpg

And so the wacky antics of two years of shows began, first with Agarn teaching the Hekawis how to war dance, and following with a parade of such guest stars as Don Rickles, Milton Berle, Harvey Korman, Vincent Price and Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Series creators Seaman Jacobs, Ed James and Jim Barnett never missed the chance to show the American military as witless and inept (the modern American military, at the time, was fighting in Vietnam) -- the leadership easily fooled in their expansion west, ignorant of local ways. This wasn't a show about an "A Troop", but about soldiers failing all the way, with an F grade.

The Hekawis, as peaceable and conflict-averse as the troopers of Fort Courage, were such precisely because it was good business. When asked if the tribe could stage a mock attack on Fort Courage to keep the higher-ups fooled that F Troop was up to the job, Wild Eagle says they must do the war dance first. Then, after thinking for a moment, adds, "Hekawi don't remember war dance. We very peaceful."

De Kova had many of the funniest moments on the show, particularly with old Indian sayings he cannot remember the meaning of, such as: "Sparrow fly high, but cannot build dam with tail of beaver."

So, while the locals are tripping on the newcomers, and the newcomers are illegitimately led by wartime profiteers, other roles are reversed.

F-Troop-Wrangler-Jane.jpg

Parmenter's love interest, the beautiful, sharp-shootin' Wrangler Jane (Melody Patterson), literally wears the pants in their relationship, letting Will have the appearance of patriarchal authority, all the while gently steering him in the right direction.

Wild Eagle, concerned mostly with production deadlines, is the driving force of the operation, keeping the entire capitalistic venture on track... another enterprise doing very well, courtesy of the U.S. Treasury. (O'Rourke funnels paychecks for fictitious troopers into the operation.)

F-Troop-Hekowis.jpg

After the successful DVD initial release of a few episodes in 2005, the entire complete two seasons of F Troop were released by 2007.

Made in the days when a half-hour comedy produced 30 episodes per season, there are 60 episodes on eight DVDs -- proving the F Troop credo that in 1967, war was, and continues to be, good business, good for the economy and, for those willing to read between the lines, good television comedy.

When Crazy Cat (Wild Eagle's ambitious assistant) tells him he sees smoke signals, Agarn asks, "What does it say?"

Wild Eagle squints and replies, "Crazy Cat, give me my reading glasses."

 

2 Comments

 

Mac said:

Not a big fan when originally shown, but it passed the time, especially in summer reruns. After Bilko and McHale,the soldier side of the premise seemed like a copycat, even with Storch (a little bit of him went a long way). The Indians did indeed have the best material. Wonder how they would spoof the "Native American" PC world of today? I know Stan Freberg had the best Indian line in his History of the USA LP. Columbus discovers the Indians,and they immediately chime in "What you mean you discover us? We here first! We discover you! It all on how you look at it."
I just did a wiki on some of the actors. Melody Patterson was...16 when she did the show, lying to Warner Bros. about her age. The show was kinda a hit (and her fan base was starting) by the time they found out. Only 18 months older than me. Pre-Daisy Dukes, she definitely had the sex appeal angle (and I think the only woman on the show),but...16.

Comment posted on May 20, 2011 5:21 PM


Hal said:

A terrific show that had a great run on Nick at Nite for five full years in the 90's, pretty outstanding with only 65 episodes to air. Really should be back on the air somewhere; I last remember it on American Life a couple of years back. Maybe Encore Westerns could pick it up; they have a lot of the other WB westerns.

Certainly inspired by Bilko and covered some of the same ground but I think in some ways they did Bilko one better; where Silvers pretty much dominated that show, they gave F Troop's "Bilko" (O'Rourke) an aide de camp in Agarn and also a counterpart/co-conspirator in Wild Eagle who provided a much more solid force than anything Bilko had to run up against. And no Western cliche was spared. I reviewed both DVD sets in detail on my blog a few years back.

Comment posted on June 22, 2011 10:27 AM
 
 
 
 
 
Leave a Comment: (No HTML, 1000 chars max)
 
 Name (required)
 
 Email (required) (will not be published)
 
SDHPH
Type in the verification word shown on the image.
 
 
 Page: 1 of 1  | Go to page: 
4 Comments
 
 
Chris
One of my favorite F-Troop moments is after Wild Eagle or Crazy Cat had just delivered another of wise old Indian saying that gets lost in translation. When every one looks perplexed he says: "Me just say 'um. Me no explain 'um".
Mar 6, 2020   |  Reply
 
 
Doug Stiers
You nailed it on the PC point. Moron TV (MTV) just pumps the outhouse straight to TV, and that's acceptable. God help us if Jersey Shore fans are procreating.

I loved this old stuff. I went to a military school and we call ourselves F Troop, we establish Fort Courage for our alumni weekends.

McHale's Navy was probably my favorite. Joe Flynn and Tim Conway never got the credit they deserved for their comedic genius.
Oct 15, 2016   |  Reply
 
 
Seadaddy
Wonderful carefree memories of 'F' troop. No complications or PC nonsense. Love the show still.
Apr 10, 2016   |  Reply
 
 
Kell
Hey, this was my favorite show as a kid!! It was smart, witty and totally fun - I don't think there is anything on today that could compete, I tell no lie!
Apr 12, 2013   |  Reply
 
EG
Kell - You're going deep into TV History and the TVWW archives! Thanks, much... we're still big F-Troop fans. Unashamedly. –EG
Apr 12, 2013
 
 
 
 
 Page: 1 of 1  | Go to page: