Friday, February 6, 2009

Essential Bilko

Not long ago, Paramount released a Sgt. Bilko 50th Anniversary DVD collection purported to include all the best episodes of the series. Fans, however, were disappointed that the set failed to include some of their favorites. I can think of at least three episodes missing from the set that are essential to any Bilko fan.

1.) "Bilko's Transfer." Bilko applies for a transfer to shake up Colonel Hall, who has confined him to the base for joyriding in a company jeep. Hall, contrary to Bilko's plan, likes the idea of getting rid of Bilko and arranges for him to be transferred immediately. The transfer does not turn out well for either Hall or Bilko. Sergeant Beecher, the by-the-book officer who replaces Bilko as the head of the motor pool, provides Hall with so many reports that the colonel has to work late every night to get through them all. Even worse, the number of breakdowns in the motor pool has increased because Beecher lacks Bilko's craftiness to cut through red tape and quickly get his hands on the needed repair parts. In the meantime, Bilko finds himself surrounded by so many suckers at his new camp that he has gotten bored taking their money. "This is too easy," he cries. "You're pigeons. I mean, give me a run for it. Make it tougher. At Fort Baxter, at least they gave me a challenge." Bilko is so fed up that, incredibly, he refuses to take any more of their money. "Leave me alone with your money!" he demands. It's something that fans of the series would have never expected Bilko to say.

2.) "Love That Guardhouse." Dimwitted messhall sergeant Rupert Ritzik (Joe E. Ross) wins $1,500 playing roulette in Las Vegas. Ritzik, convinced that he has finally gotten luck on his side, is anxious to get into a poker game with Bilko. Bilko is even more anxious to get his hands on his hopeless poker buddy's Vegas winnings. Standing in the way of Bilko and Ritzik is Ritzik's wife, who convinces Colonel Hall to lock Ritzik in the guardhouse to protect him from Bilko. Bilko is resolved to find a way to get into the guardhouse. At one point, he shows up at the guardhouse with a book, "The Poems of Elizabeth Browning," and a thermos, which he says contains "hot soup." The guard (Tom Poston) upends the book, causing playing cards to fall out from the pages. "That's some bookmarks, sir," explains Bilko. Then, the guard shakes the thermos and hears something rattling inside. "Poker chips?" he asks Bilko. "Bean soup," insists Bilko. Bilko is so smitten with the idea of taking Ritzik's money and Ritzik is so smitten with the idea of losing his money to Bilko that the two men behave like star-crossed lovers. They struggle to pull themselves free from the guards, the whole time calling out to each other longingly. Bilko, trying to get in a bet before he is dragged off, riffles through a deck of cards and pleads for Ritzik to pick a card. Every one of Bilko's failed attempts to reach Ritzik ends up in a struggle with the guards. These scenes become more exaggerated and more silly each time. The final scene becomes so outrageous that Ross can't stop himself from breaking up.

3.) "Bilko Goes South." Bilko is determined to escape the freezing temperatures at Fort Baxter. He sees the perfect opportunity when an all-expenses-paid trip to Florida is offered to the finalists of an all-army singing contest. To assure that his platoon is the only one that enters the contest for Fort Baxter, Bilko sends Private Fender to the mailroom to steal the application forms. Bilko is too much in a hurry to notice that Fender has brought back the wrong forms and he, in fact, ends up having his men sign up for a fatal medical experiment. Bilko and his men show up at the Tropical Disease Laboratory unaware that they are about to be exposed to mosquitoes carrying the caladonious fungus fever. The platoon, still believing they are competing in the singing contest, break into a rousing rendition of "The Last Roundup." They sing, "Gonna saddle old Paint for the last time and ride. So long, old pal, it's time your tears were dried. I'm heading for the last roundup." The laboratory officials get choked up to see how brave these men are in the face of almost certain death.

Silvers was perfect as Bilko. I cannot think of another comedian who can make me laugh more easily than Silvers. With his unctuous, rapid-fire delivery, he could make me laugh just by saying, "How are you?" Expect, when Silvers said the line, it usually came out "Howahya?" In any case, I hope that Paramount releases a second set of Bilko soon.

1 comment:

  1. I was just writing something based on Ritzik's lament: "I knew it, I knew it, I knew it." So I Googled Ritzik and ound your post. Even as I read you summary of the guardhouse episode, I started laughing uncontrollably, just remembering it. Thanks fore letting me know about the DVD. Despite the omissions you mentioned, it would be great to have Bilko around for depressing times. That show never fails to make me laugh.