This show is so funny you often wonder if we had a navy like this, how did we win the war.
McHale's Navy (1962–1966)
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This show is so funny you often wonder if we had a navy like this, how did we win the war.
It just blew me away. There I was - spraying avocado & sprouts sandwiches & salads all over the kitchen in uncontrollable hysteria - 3 or 4 gut-wrenching laughs for every chew-&-swallow.
Never since have I ever seen a show - TV series or feature film - with as great a complement of genuinely riotously talented comedians as McHale's Navy: Tim Conway, Joe Flynn, Carl Ballantine (comic magician on Ed Sullivan), Bob Hastings, Billy Sands. Even Gavin McLeod was on board & Ernest Borgnine gave it authority & glue! It was brilliant; as far as I'm concerned on a par with the Marx brothers & Abbott & Costello. Ageless & priceless!!!
So where's the DVD?
I always made sure I was home from school and seated in time for the show every Monday to Friday to see the wacky adventures of McHale and his crew as they managed to get themselves into yet another 'mess' in their daily battle of wits with their strictly by the book Captain Wallace B. Binghamton and Lieutenant Carpenter.
Ernest Borgnine has always been one of my favourite actors and his portrayal of the long suffering LTCOMDR Quinton McHale was first rate. McHale always seemed to have his hands full trying to keep his 'bunch of eight balls' in line, as well as have to contend with his bumbling Exec Officer, Ensign Parker (Tim Conway).
I thought Ernest Borgnine made the show, being the go-between his men and his stern CO, Capt Binghamton. McHale was always concocting some scheme to get his men off the hook with Binghamton, sometimes himself too, after they got into some mishap or other. Capt, Binghamton was also forever trying to invent some scheme to get McHale and his 'Pirates' shipped out, inevitably this backfired on the good Captain someway or another.
I still enjoy this show, it's as every bit as entertaining now as it was back in those good old days.
I think the series lost a bit of steam when the location was moved from the South Pacific to Italy, and some of the supporting cast was somewhat weak (Gavin McLeod's Happy was especially annoying), but overall it was a very funny, enjoyable show, with some great byplay between Flynn and Conway.
Ernest Borgnine was the nominal star of the series as Lt. Cmdr. Quinton McHale. He was earnest and mostly by the book, but his foil was the very funny Tim Conway who was the bumbling Ensign Charles Parker. Parker was everything that McHale was not, and a good portion of McHale's energy was fixing situations that Parker got them and the crew in.
And finally, Joe Flynn was perfect as their commanding officer, Capt. Wallace B. Binghamton. He was the stereotype, the half wit commander who only vaguely knew what was going on, and while trying to keep tabs on McHale and his crew, was usually in the process of being outwitted by them.
I very entertaining comedy series, I watch old episodes whenever I can catch them. As well as old episodes of the Carol Burnett show where Conway was an even bigger comedy hoot!
McHale's Navy" on the other hand,never insults the intelligence of The Viewer by taking too many broad liberties with history. The Japanese in Mchale's Navy are a serious enemy,(save for the harmless "Fuji" the escaped POW given shelter by McHale and Crew).
In "McHale's Navy", The REAL Enemy is..... THE BRASS!
That's where honest War-Time Comedy is meant to derive from,and where it is at it's best. When you spotlight the overly- officious asininity of The Higher Ranks, you get Genuine Comedy. It's a Truth that Ernie Pyle, Bill Mauldin, Floyd Gibbons and Richard Hooker understood; and that Truth is showcased no where better than in "McHale's Navy".
I am always sad that nowadays, comedians are vulgar and crude and do not need to have ANY talent in order to be popular. True comedy is one of the toughest things for an actor to portray well. Any fool can spew forth obscenities for a cheap laugh, but true comedy requires something more. Joe Flynn and Tim Conway both have that "something more" I am referring to. You will know what I am talking about if you watch any of these old episodes.
What a delightful television show with good writing and decent acting.
All in all, a very engaging, very warm and very funny series with a talented cast. To cut a long story short, wonderful. 10/10 Bethany Cox
It was from this series that MacLeod would go to do other roles as well including a seven-year stint on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show",and from there as Captain Stubbing on "The Love Boat". This series also had singing sensation Billy Sands as "Tinkerbell",and many more. "McHale's Navy",ran on ABC-TV for five seasons from 1962 to 1966 and produced 138 episodes,all in black and white and produced by Revue Productions/Universal Studios in Hollywood. During the show's five year-run,since studios executives at Universal,which produced the series,decided that the cast should make the jump from the small screen to the big screen,producing three theatrical features for the studio,and this time around they were to be produced in color....... "McHale's Navy"(1964),"McHale's Navy Joins The Air Force"(1965),and the final,"McHale's Navy Joins The Army"(1965)while the TV series was still on the air,and the TV series was still in black and white.
What killed McHale's Navy after being a great hit? During the show's final season(1965-1966)McHale,and his crew along with Binghamton and Parker,not to mention Binghamton's second Lt. Carpenter,were all shipped from the operations in the South Pacific to the operations of Europe,where they were shipped to Italy to fight against the Germans. In the Pacific,they were up against the Japanese,but the Germans? That what killed the show,and from there the laughter stopped after five seasons.
McHale (Ernest Borgnine) choose the island because it is isolated from the area's main Naval base and his main adversary Captain Binghamton (Joe Flynn), whose unexplained nickname is "Old Lead Bottom". Binghamton is the Colonel Klink of the series although in this case he and McHale are supposed to be on the same side. McHale and his crew are allowed to stay on the island because it allows them to respond faster to threats from their mutual adversary, the Japanese Navy.
While Colonels Hall and Klink actually seem to like Bilko and Hogan, Binghamton clearly dislikes and resents McHale. The main sources of comedy are the futile attempts of Binghamton and his obsequious subaltern Elroy Carpenter to discredit and discipline McHale and his crew. Of course McHale's crew provides them plenty of opportunities, while their combat performance is excellent their off-duty time is spent on a variety of unauthorized activities.
Only two members of McHale's crew are particularly noteworthy. The bumbling and naïve Ensign Parker (Tim Conway) and money grubbing schemer Lester Gruber (Carl Ballantine), a character loosely based on Ray Walston's Luther Billis in "South Pacific" (1958). Conway was clearly the show's greatest asset.
Season Three was the weakest of the four seasons. By this point the writers were obviously running out of original ideas and in desperation resorted to showcasing Fugi Kobiaji (Yoshio Yoda), an escaped POW. Fugi was a pacifist Japanese sailor being sheltered by the P.T. 109 crew on their island. He had been an "extremely minor character" in the earlier seasons for a lot of good reasons (insert Pearl Harbor here) and whatever comedy potential the idea once had was not well served by the expansion of his screen time.
The series improved a bit in its next and final season when the crew was shifted to the European front and began operating in Italy. Season Four was a classic case of "something so bad that it was almost good", as there was a perverse charm to these surreal episodes which had absolutely no connection with reality.
The series also spawned two feature films, "McHale's Navy" (1964) and McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force" (1965).
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
Ernest Borgnine provides a one-note performance because that is what the scripts require. Tim Conway's comedy talent is underused, as demonstrated by his hilarious work on Carol Burnett's show.
SO it was this path that Ernest Borgnine took while still riding the high waves in his Film career. Mr. Borgnine's career had been a real mixed bag, which included a lot of TV (even as a recurring character on CAPTAIN VIDEO!) and some big bunch of supporting roles in the movies. There were also a few real gems such as: a labour boss-racketeer in THE MOB (Columbia, 1951). There was also some strictly top shelf pieces of work such as Sgt.'Fatso' Judson in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (Columbia, 1953) and his Oscar winning portrayal of the title character in MARTY (Hill-Hecht-Lancaster Prod./United Artists, 1955 ).
We heard the great Actor himself provide explanation by way of his relating of a couple of different personal anecdotes, on two different interviews; once with Johnny Carson years ago and the other most recently with David Letterman. Although the stories were very different (But no less true), the moral of the story in each case was the same. Big Ernie desired a more recognizable on-street status with everyday folks. An Oscar couldn't deliver; but, a weekly Service Comedy Series did.
AS far as the series, McHALE'S NAVY (Sto-Rev-Co Prod./American Broadcasting Company, 1962-66), it got over by virtue of a fine group ensemble of players. The humor and situations were not so different than others on the scene around that time such as SGT. BILKO (Columbia Broadcasting System, 1955-59) HOGAN'S HEROES (Bing Crosby Prod./CBS, 1965-71) and F TROOP (Warner Brothers TV/ABC, 1965-67).
Recalling what we said before; it was the talent of the supporting cast that had as much to do with the success of the series as anything and one glance at the roster shows why. We have the now immortal Tim Conway as Ensign Parker, McHale's stooge and the originating point for so many a gags. Funnyman-Magician Carl Ballentine provides us with the wit and wisdom of a salty, street smart Zoot Suiter from the 'Big Apple', Seaman Lester Grueber.*
The crew of the P.T. Boat that was McHale's Navy was rounded out with George Vinson as 'Christy', Billy Sands as 'Tinker' Bell, Gavin McLeod as 'Happy', Edson Stroll as Virgil Edwards and Yoshio Yoda as 'Fuji', the crews' own personal Japanese P.O.W. and unofficial member. There were others, of course, who came and left during the series run.
The notion of doing this service comedy in the Navy was one that had to come along sooner or later; as all previous Service Sitcoms were Army.** The idea of having the subject of the show the mad-cap carryings-on of a wacky crew of a Patrol Torpedo Boat (hence "P.T.") of the U.S. Navy was a sort of concession to the current climate and history of the United States. It was the Era later known as "Camelot" and it was President John F. Kennedy's time in the White House. Mr. Kennedy had been a Naval Officer during World War II and spent time as the Skipper of a fatally wounded P.T. Boat in the Pacific Theater of Operations. The story was told in the Feature Film P.T. 109 (Warner Brothers, 1963), with Cliff Robertson as J.F.K.
McHALE'S NAVY did the job then in providing laughs both with its situational acumen and with the best of characterizations from the cast. It has enjoyed a long and popular stint in re-runs, and is still a formidable player on the "Classic Rerun" world.
NOTE: * Mr. Ballentine was and is, we're proud to say a son of Chicago, Illinois as are we.
NOTE: ** There was a sort of "Comedy" in the Classic sense about the Navy in Jackie Cooper's HENNESSEY (Hennesey Prod./CBS TV, 1959-62); but this was more of a Dramatic Series or Comedy in the classic, Shakespearian mold. It was surely no Sitcom, by any means.
McHale was a seafaring man he was in the merchant marine before the war and military discipline wasn't going to cramp his style any. The enlisted guys thrived under his lack of discipline. These guys were so bad they were given their own island lest they disrupt the discipline of the rest of the navy.
Always pulling some kind of racket and always their Commanding Officer Captain Binghamton could never quite catch them. Binghamton was played by Joe Flynn with him developing the world's biggest ulcer week by week. He didn't have much in the way of help except for Bob Hastings as Lt. Carpenter possibly the biggest suck up in the history of series television.
McHale's Navy was the first big break for Tim Conway and the pilot episode had Ensign Chuck Parker assigned as second in command to Borgnine. At first Parker was mercilessly taken advantage of by the crew. But gradually they kind of adopted him. He was a klutz and couldn't help being a klutz. Soon he was part of their hijinks and his scenes with Joe Flynn were the highlight of the series.
McHale's Navy ran for four years. Killed by the Vietnam War when all of a sudden military service comedies went suddenly out of vogue. But it was a good series comedy, enjoyed by all who remember it.
The show was not realistic in portraying Navy life. At a TV interview, Ernest Borgine stated that Secretary of the Navy talked to him and stated that McHale Navy helped with the recruitment of young people into the Navy because those young people saw the show and wanted a commander like Commander McHale. I wonder how many of them got a rude, crude shock at what Navy life was really like. First of all, many officers did not care about the men particularly minorities and women since a good number of officers came from prominent rich families. Second of all, you usually did not have a close relationship between officers and men because military regulations forbid it unless you were aboard those riverboats during the Vietnam War. Thirdly, you were not allow to express your views in the military because then you would be charge with disrespect to an officer or to a chief petty officer or have some other phony baloney charge thrown at you just to shut you up or throw you out of the service. It was no wonder why the Navy had very serious racial problems and leadership problems aboard ships,during the Vietnam War. Admiral Zumwalt called in a whole bunch of Navy Admirals and Marine Generals and read the riot act about their failure to provide proper leadership in accepting minorities into the military and treating the enlisted men better respect. The admirals and generals hated Zumwalt's remarks and many of them complain to the press behind his back. One naval officer stated that Zumwalt's style of leadership was long overdue compare to the harsh, choking leadership of yesterday. Finally, you have episodes of the PT-73 crew dancing with the Navy nurses. In real life, such a thing could not exist nor be tolerate because the PT-73 crew was mostly enlisted men while the nurses were always officers; therefore, there was no fraternization between officers (nurses) and enlisted men.
I thought I had seen all of the McHale Navy episodes. I did not know that the last season they had transfer to the European Operations. At least, if they were operating in the Aegean Sea off Greece, they would have been subject to air attacks by the German Luftwaffe and fought gun battles with the E-Boats. The only episode I saw them fight against the Germans was where there was a German U-Boat that came into the South Pacific to be re-fuel by the Japanese Navy. The TV show ratings would have fallen to a all time low because the PT-73 crew could no longer do their illegal operations like running a pearl operation, illegal card games, distilled brooze, or selling real/fake Japanese items when they were in the South Pacific. In Europe, there would be too much competition from the Italian organized crime, other Allied soldiers running their own illgal enterprises, and dealing with the Italian police and Allied Military Police. Even if they ran their own enterprises, if they double cross their clients, the Allied soldiers would either put them in the hospital or the grave. If they tried cheating the various resistance movements in Italy and the Balkans, the guerillas would turn the crew over to the Allied authorities, killed them when the crew was not looking, or would contact the Germans about the PT-73 pending operations, so the Germans killed or capture the crew. I wonder how come the last season, they did not transfer the crew to late 1944/early 1945, where McHale's crew would be involved in the American invasion of the Phillippines? At least, they could do some of the illegal activities while still doing their jobs.