Friday, February 17, 2017

The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., The Gallant Men, Thundarr and Sugarfoot

The decades of the 1950 and 1960s hold a special place in my heart. It was during these decades that I grew from a young boy to a young man. 

While a number of people and events shaped my life TV provided a huge contribution to my maturing views on morality, honor and purpose.

While most early 1950’s TV shows tended to offer a somewhat sugarcoated, morally coherent and simple view of life along the vein of Leave It To Beaver and Father’s Knows Best, the late 1950s TV shows started to stir the pot.

Mature Westerns, Crime, Family, Medical and other shows sbegan to introduce societal problems and more ’real life’ situations.

Of course violence was relegated to innuendo, clever camera tricks and never, ever showed blood, as it would have actually appeared. Cuts and bruises, the occasional slight bloodstain or dead body would appear, but nothing even remotely horrific.

Still the caliber of writing (for the most part) was superior and the acting (while a little over the top) was first-rate.

One TV Western that premiered at the tail end of the 1950s was Sugarfoot starring Will Hutchins as Tom Brewster (Sugarfoot) as a wandering frontier lawyer who sought after adventure and somehow always managed to find himself in the thick of things.

Possessing a real talent for being at the wrong place at the wrong time Sugarfoot managed to help the poor and defenseless, right wrongs and avoid gunplay as much as possible-all with a sense of humor.

Sugarfoot alternated every two weeks with another Warner Bros. TV Western: Cheyenne.

The entire First Season, along with the pilot episode, is included in a Warner Bros. Archive Collection. Take a moment to see if you can spot future Western TV stars.

My friends and I were big fans of the G.I. Joe action figures and all their accessories. We lived and breathed war and imagined ourselves as stoic WWII veterans battling the nasty Nazi and dirty Japs.

Barely 20 years after WWII various TV war series reminded everyone of the horrors of war-albeit in cleaned up versions. There was plenty of gunplay and explosions but the true horrors of war were only alluded to and not really shown in gory detail.

The 1960s began to see a pivotal turn in American TV. Censorship was relaxing and grittiness and realism were slowly being injected into TV series.

While nothing like today’s plethora of violent, overly sexual and morally questionable TV fare, the 1960s TV drama series began to view life as it was, with doses of censorship.

I loved watching War TV series. Among my favorites were Combat, Twelve O’clock High, The Rat Patrol and ABC’s The Gallant Men.

Set during WWII The Gallant Men offered a unique perspective of the war. Narrated by a war correspondent, the TV shown the war as seen through the eyes of combat, ground troops and the many dangers, trials and decisions they experienced everyday.

Often depicting soldiers as weary, dirty, afraid, perplexed and homesick the series spotlighted ordinary Joes who only wanted to finish their mission and go home.

Centered on the war in Italy, The Gallant Men entire series only lasted one season at 26 episodes, but its groundbreaking story-telling technique would influence other TV series for decades to come.

Like Combat TV series I loved Spy series. My favorites included The Blue Light, Mission: Impossible, I Spy, The Wild, Wild West and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

When the The Man From U.N.C.L.E. became popular it was only natural that a spin-off TV series would be created.

Lasting only one season The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. starred Stephanie Powers as April Dancer, the super-slick, sophisticated and sexy spy from U.N.C.L.E. Along with her male partner Mark Slate (played by actor Rex Harrison’s son Noel Harrison) traveled the globe thwarting dastardly deeds mostly initiated by U.N.C.L.E.’s nemesis THRUSH.

Played as tongue-in-cheek, the series failed to garner the fan base of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. but as the years progressed it became a cult classic.

All 29 episodes are included in Part One and Two of The Complete Series.

The TV series is pure camp with heavy doses of sixties sensibilities including fashion, transport, hairstyles and the like.

When legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby became fed up with both Marvel and DC Comics he opted to return to animation, where he originally got his start at the Fleisher Studios.

At the time leather and fur clad barbarians with big swords were popular at the movies and in literature.

Capitalizing on that trend Kirby helped create the characters and concept behind the animated Saturday morning TV series: Thundarr The Barbarian.

Warner Bros. presents The Complete Series on 4 discs as part of its Hanna-Barbera Classic Collection.

Taking place almost a thousand years after the Earth and the Moon are nearly destroyed by a passing planet, the story finds Thundarr and his compatriots traveling the globe serving up justice via muscle, sword and sorcery.

Cutting edge at the time, Thundarr The Barbarian was a step above most Saturday morning cartoon fodder and is considered a classic by cartoon fans.

The Entire Series of 21 episodes is included on the DVD set that redefined what TV animation could aspire to.