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Gomer Pyle USMC Season One review (Spin Control in the Twilight Zone)

2208 Views 4 Replies 4 Participants Last post by  deacongreg
I picked up Season One of this silly sitcom I used to watch as a kid both during
it's network run and in syndication. I liked it in small doses since I always got
a kick out of service comedies...while it was safe for me to do so.

What do I mean by that? Well obviously I couldn't be drafted as an adolescent
and the draft ended by the time I graduated high school and it became an
all volunteer force so it's not something I had to deal with. So I can enjoy army
training spoofs from a safe distance. I liked the Abbott and Costello films,
"Buck Privates", "In the Navy" and "Keep Em' Flying" on the tube in the same
era and read "Sad Sack" comic strip. The premise for all of these venues is the
same. A dumb, goofy, clown in the military is driving his drill sergeant and other
military officials crazy with his idiotic behavior.

As for my tag line, "Spin Control in the Twilight Zone", I'll elaborate...

In 1954 there was a best selling novel called "No Time for Sergeants" by Mac Hyman.
This in turn was adapted into a Broadway comedy with the same name starring
a young Andy Griffith who played a hick with Myron McCormick as his frustrated
DI. Then they spun this into a TV adapation in 1955. This in turn was spun into
a feature film in 1956 with the same two players.

Then in 1960, the Danny Thomas Show was spun into The Andy Griffith Show when
Griffith did a cameo as a hick sheriff of a small town. One of the supporting players
was a character similar to what he portrayed in the Broadway show named "Gomer Pyle"
and played by Jim Nabors. This in turn was spun into "The Gomer Pyle Show" with Nabors
playing the earlier Griffith character and Frank Sutton as the McCormick DI. It lasted for
five seasons and switched to color in later ones but the first season is in black and white.

Is it funny? Yes, it is for a show based on somewhat cliched premise if not single joke.
A hick vs. a grumpy sergeant. So where does the Twilight Zone reference I made work in?
Towards the third season of this sitcom, America was entangled in the disastrous Vietnam
war which polarized the nation. But this show takes place in the Twilight Zone because there
is no mention or reference to it. It's as if it took place in post-Korea fifties which was one of
the few decades where the country wasn't in a war although we certainly were in a Cold War.
When I watched the network broadcasts I really wasn't aware of Vietnam. It was very distant
from me and the media didn't turn against until 1967-1968. Up until then it had a fairly bi-partisan
support as a continuation of Truman's containment policy. There weren't too many troops there
but when we weren't able to stabilize the country and kept expanding the troop numbers the public
turned against it as unwinnable as if 'winning it' was the real goal. It was merely a containment action
expanded into a major war.

In any event, I guess it's fairly 'safe' to watch this show today again since Vietnam is long
over and the people and situations in this sitcom are so far moved from reality you can enjoy
the over the top acting and rediculous plots. As I see it, most of the laughs come from Frank
Sutton's 'slow burn' frustration and then explosions from anger. He made me chuckle more
than Gomer's hillbilly routine which had already gotten a bit old in the Griffith show. He's funny
but it's a one note performance with little nuance. Sutton's character is developed a bit more
over the episodes and he even comes off a bit sympathetic.

The first disc contains the boot camp experience and then the location shifts to Camp Henderson
where the remaining series took place. Ronny Schell's secondary role of "Duke Slater" is gradually
given more prominence and as he described in his commentary, acted as a link to the viewer because
he seems quite ordinary compared to the extremes of Pyle and Carter. Of course the Marines was
an elite corps and would never have accepted Jim Nabors as one of their members. Since he enlisted
they probably would've flunked him out but then there would be no series so you have to go along
with this fantasy. As Nabors said they wanted the most absurd situation to put the Pyle character
in so the Marines seems to fit the bill. Nabors is very complimentary and appreciative to his fans and
the public which was touching and far preferable to some contemporary actors who seem to have
contempt for the audience that got them their fame and fortune. Nabors had a great singing voice
and released many records. In later seasons he utilized it within the show but here you hear him
intentionally sing off key in the early episodes. In other episodes he sings with his
real voice so it's a bit disorienting. Nabors decided to leave the show to focus
on his recording career after the fifth and last season. He had a variety show on TV too.

The 35mm elements look very good. The image is sharp, realtively fine grain with good contrast
and acceptable sound. The laugh track is too loud at times but this was a problem for most
sitcoms back then that added them after the fact rather than use a live audience. The only flaws
visually are when they used actual stock footage which is always very grainy and doesn't match
the live action filmed for the show.

Nabors seems like a nice guy and does an intro to each episode giving occasional trivia.
There are clips of his David Frost interview (Frost always had one cheek off the chair
which I remembered) which looks very glitchy and deteriorated along with a clip of
The Jim Nabors Show which has a skit with Frank Sutton. I vaguely recall the show.
Apparently it's from Nabors own copies of it and looks to be in good shape.
Sutton died very young at age 50 so he wasn't around to give commentary. Schell is still performing and his discussion was the best in this box set. Among the tidbits he noted were that they were filming opposite the famous David O. Selznick mansion that was used for his logo. They were also filming on old "Gone with the Wind" sets which was intriquing too. What's also curious is that even though both Nabors and Schell are in their seventies but they sound the same as they did in the sixties. Their voices didn't age unlike Lucille Ball
or Paul Newman which got gravely voices as they got older. There's a clip of the Lucy
Show with Nabors too which has a funny end gag.

In summary, if you like silly service comedies along the lines of what Abbott and Costello did
in the forties, this sitcom is good for a few chuckles providing you ignore the historical and cultural realities of the era it was produced in. When you factor that in, it does seem a bit bizarre.
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Great review Richard! I learned quite a bit from it.

We added the first two seasons of this show to our collection. I really enjoyed it as a child and we bought it for nostalgia reasons, but my boys absolutely love to watch the show. We have ended up lending it to some of their friends and they have really enjoyed it too. There is something about this type of comedy that seems to be able to bridge the gap of generations, and Gomer Pyle is one of those! So is Abbott and Costello!

Jeff Aguilar
Thanks Richard....it's been many years since I watched the reruns as a kid, but Frank Sutton always cracked me up on these.
Thank you both.

I read elsewhere that some of the background music utilized in bars or
restaurants scenes has been changed since they didn't have clearance
rights for DVD although they did have it for syndication. The actual
stock music tracks used for the series is the same. Today contracts
specify rights 'in all media in existence or to be invented' but back then
agreements were limited to theatrical, television broadcast and syndication.

Who would've thought that decades later you could actually own your
own copies of movies and television shows in various formats...legally...
as opposed to the questionable legality of film collecting in 35mm and 16mm
which always existed. Most likely distributors aren't too happy with this
concept although they are profiting from it. Distribution of movies and
TV was origiinally not based on selling the shows directly to the public
but restricting access and charging each time it was shown whether
they charges moviegoers with tickets or television stations for each
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Hello Richard,

Have not heard from you in a while. The Watchman starts today. I read a little bit about the comic book from 1986 on msn. It looks like something to go see. I was wondering if you had any opinions about this new film?
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