Friday, April 26, 2013

'The Possum' Passes Away

If we all could sound like we wanted to, we'd all sound like George Jones.

Waylon Jennings

I'm not the country music fan that some of my friends are.

Sure, there are some country performers that I like to listen to — if I'm in the right mood. None of the modern stuff, though. I prefer country singers like Merle Haggard or Waylon Jennings or Hank Williams Sr.

George Jones, who died in Nashville today at the age of 81, was in that category, too, but he was never my favorite, and I rarely listened to him.

That may seem contradictory. I grew up in the South, and country music was always playing on the radios in the barber shops, gas stations and hardware stores where I went with my father as a child.

And one of my earliest memories is of hearing the rockabilly song, "Root Beer," being played on one of those radios in one of those businesses. I guess I ought to remember more, but I don't. Fact was, in my then–small hometown, the only real difference between those businesses was the products they sold or services they provided.

Otherwise, they were pretty much the same. And so were most of the country songs I heard — or at least they seemed that way to me.

(Which reminds me ... I worked with a guy once who had been employed as a cameraman for a company that taped weddings and receptions. He once told me that he taped a Latino wedding that lasted for four hours, and a Tejano band provided the music.

("They played for four hours," he told me, "and it was the same song the whole time!")

Anyway, I guess that was the kind of music for which Jones was known initially, but he evolved into a balladeer, and that is how I knew him as I got older. In those days, I guess I would have thought of his first #1 hit, "She Thinks I Still Care," whenever his name was mentioned.

But I was more interested in Southern rock — Lynyrd Skynyrd or ZZ Top. George Jones and his ilk seemed more suited for people of my parents' generation. At that time in my life, rock music seemed to be about the joy of living whereas country music was about sadness and death.

In addition to his drinking — which was legendary — Jones was also known for his duets with his one–time wife, Tammy Wynette, who died 15 years ago this month. They had a tumultuous marriage but a popular recording partnership, and I guess that was one of the things that attracted people to him. It never really appealed to me, though. Maybe I missed out on something.

I didn't miss out on what turned out to be his iconic hit, 1980's "He Stopped Loving Her Today," although I guess I sort of did at first.

I was in college when the song was released, and I really didn't pay much attention at the time, but I did later, and I had to agree with the conclusions of several surveys — it may well be the greatest country song of all time. It's hard to say that, I suppose, when there are so many worthy nominees, but it's hard not to say it after you've heard the melancholy tale of a man who loved a woman all his life, who never gave up on the hope, however slim it may have been, that they would eventually be together — until he died.

And Jones had the perfect voice for it. He thought the song was too morbid to be successful, but he was wrong.

For a long time, I've heard Jones called "The Possum," but I never knew why until after he died. It's because his nose and general facial features resembled the creature.

Personally, I never saw it. And I don't think that is a bad thing, either. Of course, I'm seeing a lot of things about Jones after his death that I never gave much thought when he was alive.

I doubt that I will ever see him as a possum.

But it is tempting to equate "He Stopped Loving Her Today" with a line from "The Natural," which was in theaters nearly 30 years ago.

In that movie, Robert Redford's character observed, "Some mistakes we never stop paying for."

Jones made his share of mistakes in his life — just like the rest of us. But even though he had his reservations about recording "He Stopped Loving Her Today," time has proven that it wasn't a mistake for him to record it.

Nor was it a mistake for him to record the other songs in his library, from "Root Beer" to "He Stopped Loving Her Today" and everything in between.

He stopped living today, but he still lives through the miracle of recordings. No mistake there.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Pull Down Your Pants and Slide on the Ice

Hawkeye (Alan Alda): Sydney, what's the psychiatric basis for gambling?

Dr. Freedman (Allan Arbus): Sex.

Hawkeye: Why?

Dr. Freedman: I don't know. They told me to say it. Sex is why we gamble, sex is why we drink, sex is why we give birth.

Hawkeye: Thank you, doctor.

Dr. Freedman: I'm taking a $5 chip. That was a house call.

It is hardly a revelation to say that M*A*S*H was an iconic television series with an ensemble cast that ran circles around any other ensemble cast on any other TV show before or since.

The ensemble changed over the years. It was quite different at the end than it was at the beginning, but that was not a bad thing. McLean Stevenson, Larry Linville, Wayne Rogers and Gary Burghoff were missed but not terminally. The special genius of the writers was to create characters that were different and yet similar to the ones they replaced.

That might not have worked so well for other shows. But M*A*S*H was special. Anyone who ever watched it knows how special it was.

But it is far more rare to hear praise for the recurring characters who truly helped make it what it was. Without them — characters like the unit's early benefator, Gen. Clayton; the paranoid intelligence officer, Col. Flagg, and the affable psychiatrist, Dr. Sydney Freedman — I seriously doubt that M*A*S*H would have lasted 11 years.

With the noteworthy exception of a sluggish first season, though, the show was in the Top 10 for nearly its entire run.

It has been 30 years since M*A*S*H's still record–holding final episode. Many stories were told that night — and there were times when it was a tearjerker, especially in the last half hour — but the most moving may have been the one in which Sydney treated Hawkeye, who was in a psychiatric hospital following the death of a Korean child for which Hawkeye blamed himself.

Allan Arbus played Sydney with just the right mix of wisdom, compassion and humor in a dozen episodes, including the last one. He appeared in other things during his life — which ended last Friday but was confirmed publicly today — but, if fans linked him to any of the roles he played during his life, it was his role as Sydney Freedman. Hands down.

I doubt that anyone else could have played that role as well as he did. It was as if the role had been written with a picture of Arbus hanging on the wall for inspiration. He really looked the part.

But he also acted the part.

Arbus was 95 at the time of his death, but he will always be the middle–aged psychiatrist in khaki for the millions who watched him at the time — and the millions of fans M*A*S*H has gained in the last three decades — due, in no small part, I am sure, to Arbus' contribution.

The last time we saw him as Dr. Freedman, he was giving the folks in the O.R. the same advice he had given them in an earlier episode:
"Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice. Pull down your pants and slide on the ice!"

That's still pretty good advice.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Theodoric of York's Debut

On this date in 1978, Steve Martin was hosting Saturday Night Live.

That wasn't a big deal, really. SNL was not quite three years old at that time, but Martin had already been the show's host on four different occasions.

On this night in 1978, however, he made his first appearance as Theodoric of York, a Medieval "barber" (read: doctor) whose preferred prescription for any ailment was a bleeding.

(Well, I think it was Theodoric's first appearance. I haven't seen any mention of that character in Martin's previous stints as host.)

Steve Martin was hysterically funny as Theodoric. In fact, I actually preferred his lampooning of the Middle Ages to his jabs at Eastern European people, as in his recurring Festrunk brothers skits with Dan Aykroyd.

The Czechoslovakian brothers may have been more popular (they were the "wild and crazy guys"), but Theodoric had a "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" feel to it that I really liked. Theodoric's logic always reminded me of the witch scene in "Holy Grail."

And, like the "Holy Grail," this is something I can watch endlessly and always be amused.

How could anyone not be entertained by Steve Martin and the original Not–Ready–for–Prime–Time–Players ensemble?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

What a Friend We Have in Ethel

Mrs. Trumbull (Elizabeth Patterson): (reading the lease) 'It is expressly understood that at no time will children be allowed to live in said building.'

Ethel (Vivian Vance): Little Ricky!

Lucy (Lucille Ball): He's a children!

In fact, the episode of I Love Lucy in which Little Ricky was born had been broadcast about three months before the episode "No Children Allowed" was first aired 60 years ago tonight.

If you have ever had children — or if you have merely known people who had children — you know how chaotic and just downright noisy the adjustment to an infant in the household can be.

And, in an apartment building, it is virtually impossible to keep such a development a secret.

I know that from firsthand experience. I have lived in apartments all my adult life, and I have always been aware when there were newborns in other apartments — even if those apartments were not next door to my own.

Consequently, it was just a little implausible that a fellow tenant would not have said something for three months — until Lucy had a particularly difficult night with Little Ricky.

It seemed the neighbor, Mrs. Trumbull (played by Elizabeth Patterson), had just discovered the child's presence. Mrs. Trumbull complained that Little Ricky's presence was a clear violation of the lease agreement. That always struck me as hard to accept. I mean, Mrs. Trumbull obviously was familiar with the terms of the lease. She knew what it said about children. And the audience was supposed to believe she raised no objection earlier? She didn't notice Lucy's belly swelling during her pregnancy? Come on!

Mrs. Trumbull threatened Ethel. If the Ricardos weren't evicted, she said, she and all the other tenants would leave. Even as a child, when I saw the episode for the first time, I was skeptical about that. I had neither seen nor heard anything that suggested Mrs. Trumbull had spoken to any of the other tenants, and I thought her threat was probably a lot of hot air.

Well, despite flaws in the story, "No Children Allowed" was a great character study, as the episodes in I Love Lucy often were. I'm sure they have inspired characters and story ideas for other TV shows.

There was the grumpy, sourpuss neighbor, of course — the antagonist. And there was the chagrined Lucy, who wanted only to care for her child and keep peace among the tenants.

And then there was Ethel (Vivian Vance).

Ethel was Lucy's friend as well as landlord, and she stood up to Mrs. Trumbull. She rushed to Lucy's defense, proclaiming that her friends meant more to her than any lease, and Lucy was suitably impressed. It was truly a noble moment.

The trouble was that Ethel wasn't content with that. She wanted everyone to know what she had done, and she began repeating the same story countless times.

And, as grateful as Lucy was for Ethel's support, the whole thing began to wear on her. When Ricky first heard Ethel's tale, he could not contain his gratitude and admiration for what she had done.

"Wasn't Ethel wonderful?" he asked Lucy — and was amazed when she showed no enthusiasm.

"You don't sound very appreciative," he said, and Lucy protested that she was.

"I'm up to here with appreciation," she replied, holding one hand just below her chin, and she recited for Ricky the many times Ethel had repeated the story. "Ethel acts as if she discovered penicillin!"

Lucy tried to keep her distaste to herself, but finally she could take it no more and began reciting the story with Ethel — who was, of course, offended.

"You don't care how many tenants I lose," Ethel retorted, "but you get awfully excited if I tell a couple of people about it!"

"A couple of people?" Lucy asked incredulously. "Ethel, that scene has had more performances than South Pacific."

Patterson made her first — but far from last — appearance as Mrs. Trumbull in that episode. When the Ricardos and Mertzes got into a fight over Ethel's good deed — prompting Mrs. Trumbull to come to the rescue of the distraught baby — a recurring character was born.

Patterson was nearly 80 when "No Children Allowed" was first shown, but it was her second appearance on I Love Lucy. During the first season of the series, she played the wife of the justice of the peace who re–married the Ricardos in what, I am sure, she regarded as a one–time–only thing.

Her appearance as Mrs. Trumbull started a three–year run for her on I Love Lucy. Admittedly, in those days, there were fewer choices on TV so ratings tended to be higher.

Still, for the entirety of its run, I Love Lucy ranked in the top three television shows.

Talk about a great career break.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Peering into the (Now) Not-So-Distant Future?

"It's the year 2022 ... People are still the same. They'll do anything to get what they need. And they need SOYLENT GREEN."

Theatrical tagline

Five years ago, after Charlton Heston died, I remember hearing radio accounts when I was driving to work.

Those reports focused mainly on the high points of his acting career, as such reports tend to do when a prominent actor or actress dies — "Ben–Hur," "The Ten Commandments," "Planet of the Apes" and "Soylent Green."

It was the last two that contributed the most recognizable sound clips, and I heard them over and over. Especially from "Soylent Green."

In case you never saw the movie, let me try to briefly summarize it for you.

Set in an overpopulated future in which many, if not most, natural resources have been depleted, the key to survival is consumption of processed food, notably a product called Soylent Green.

The movie was set at a time that was roughly 50 years in the future. Since today is the 40th anniversary of the movie's release, it is safe to say that it was describing a future that is now less than a decade away.

Clearly, it may not be true. But we are closer to finding out. Much closer.

If it is true, population growth in the coming decade will be astonishing. In the movie, set in the year 2022, New York City is about five times larger than it is today. If that math holds up across the board, the U.S. population will be well over 1 billion people in nine years.

No wonder the earth's resources were mostly depleted.

The story began as a police investigation into a murder, but it rapidly morphed into a science fiction tale.

The murder victim was the director of Soylent Corporation, the maker of Soylent Green and its predecessors, and Heston played the investigator in the case. Among the first people he interviewed were the victim's kept woman, played by Leigh Taylor–Young, and his bodyguard, played by Chuck Connors.

Heston suspected the murder had been planned, that it was not a burglary that went horribly awry. There was no indication that anything was missing. The security cameras and the alarm system had not been triggered as they would have been if there had been an intruder.

And the bodyguard was away at the time, escorting the kept woman to a place that sold meat under the counter.

In the course of his investigation, Heston discovered that Soylent Green, which was supposed to be made from plankton from the sea, was, in fact, produced with human remains. His elderly roommate (Edward G. Robinson in his final movie role) couldn't live with that knowledge and his memories of what life had been like. So he chose assisted suicide.

It was a fascinating world that was depicted in "Soylent Green" — fascinating as much, I suppose, for what it did not say as for what it did.

Made at a time that was arguably at or very near the dawn of the modern feminist movement, it did not paint a very rosy picture for the future of feminism. The dead man's mistress was called "furniture."

That was the slang term for a concubine in the 21st century — according to this particular account.

And it says so much about how society viewed women in this vision of the future.

Granted, Taylor–Young was quite beautiful — and, in 1973, she was hardly a household name although she had been in more than half a dozen movies since bursting onto the scene five years earlier with an endearingly quirky performance in "I Love You, Alice B. Toklas" — but being known as "furniture" really doesn't leave much room for personal growth, does it?

I guess feminism went out the window along with the food supply in the fictional 21st century. If "Soylent Green" is going to prove to be prophetic, though, feminism is going to have to decline considerably in the next decade.

Robinson gave a touching performance, and that, I thought, added a much–needed emotional understatement, especially standing, as it did, in stark contrast with Heston's rather hammy overacting — on display in his delivery of the line everyone remembers from this movie ...

"Soylent Green is people!"

Friday, April 12, 2013

Life Without Jonathan Winters

My parents always appreciated great comedians, and they passed that appreciation along to me.

In a way, I guess you could say I was indoctrinated.

As a child, one of my earliest memories is of watching I Love Lucy reruns with my father.

As I got older, I remember watching TV comedies and funny movies with my parents.

They introduced me to all the great comedians — and I am sure they must have been the ones who introduced me to Jonathan Winters, who died last night at the age of 87. I just don't remember the occasion.

I do, however, remember watching Winters with my parents frequently and laughing at anything he did.

Over the years, I have admired many comedians, usually for certain strengths they possessed. Some were great standup comedians. Others were great TV stars or great movie stars. Very few excelled at all three.

But Winters did.

He could do it all, but he was especially entertaining in improvisational comedy, and he had a stable full of recurring characters that amplified his zany side, notably Maude Frickert. Winters described Maude as a cross between Whistler's Mother and Norman Bates' mother.

That was about right.

Jack Paar once introduced Winters this way: "If you ask me who are the 25 most funny people I know, I would say, 'Here they are: Jonathan Winters.' " He really could do it all.

As Ann Oldenburg observes in USA Today, Winters inspired many contemporary comedians, including Robin Williams, with whom he appeared on the Mork and Mindy TV show.

In modern times, there may be no other improvisational comedian who better approaches Winters than Williams, and Williams freely gives Winters credit as his inspiration.

And he always brought out the silly side in anyone with whom he was paired on a TV show — no matter how serious that actor or actress might be in most settings.

Winters wasn't just funny as an improvisational comedian or a TV comedian. He was a great addition to any comedic film in which he was cast.

As great as he was, though, he never seemed to be appreciated as much as he deserved, and that is a bit of a shame. He may have been the most versatile comedian of his time, known to have inspired many of today's most entertaining performers, but he isn't as recognized as he should be.

That may not have mattered to Winters. It may have been enough for him merely to know how versatile he was.

In 1961, he co–starred with Jack Klugman in an episode of Rod Serling's Twilight Zone.

In the episode, he was a pool player, the best in a particular neighborhood who was still revered even though he had been dead for awhile. Klugman was a young pool player, eager to be regarded the best, and he challenged Winters' ghost to a match. At stake was the reputation for being the best.

In the end, Klugman won the match, but Winters' character clearly demonstrated that one can win by losing. It wasn't necessarily a funny episode, but Winters' character delivered a monologue that seems appropriate now on the occasion of Winters' death.

In the episode, Winters' character suggested that Klugman should get out and enjoy life. Klugman replied that wasn't how Winters got to be the best, that he spent a lot of time playing pool.

"Of course I did, but I took time out to live, too," Winters said. "I've been places where they never heard of billiards. ... I may not look the part, but I made love, walked up hill, swam in the ocean."

It isn't hard for me to imagine Winters saying something like that. It wouldn't even surprise me if it was something he contributed to the story.

And it wouldn't surprise me if Winters took time out to live. He clearly enjoyed life, relished its ironies. In that sense, he reminds me of my mother. She, too, enjoyed life, and she relished its ironies.

That must be why she found Winters' routines so appealing.

And it seems likely to me that it was while Winters was taking time out to live that he came up with much of his best stuff.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

An Implausible Proposal

David (Woody Harrelson): I thought we were invincible. But now I know that the things that people in love do to each other, they remember. And if they stay together, it's not because they forget. It's because they forgive.

I recall hearing a story about a social gathering that Winston Churchill attended.

Churchill was talking to a young socialite. In the course of their conversation, he asked her if she would sleep with him for a huge sum of money — let's say the equivalent of $1 million.

Presumably because she was getting into what she thought was the spirit of the conversation, the socialite said she would. Churchill then asked if she would sleep with him for a ridiculously low sum (let's say a nickel).

Indignantly, the socialite demanded, "What kind of girl do you think I am?"

Churchill replied, "We've already established that. Now we're just haggling over the price."

I couldn't help thinking of that story when I watched "Indecent Proposal" — which made its theatrical debut 20 years ago today — for the first time.

Essentially, the story was about a young struggling couple, David (Woody Harrelson) and Diana (Demi Moore), sweethearts since high school who had all the annoying traits that are typical of young couples as well as a few that were uniquely theirs. For example, they had the sickeningly sweet habit of calling each other "Dee."

Anyway, they needed money to finance David's real estate project so they journeyed to Las Vegas hoping to win it.

They lost, of course.

Enter a billionaire (Robert Redford), who was so smitten with Diana that he offered $1 million for one night with her. Unlike Churchill, he never tried to bring the price down.

That, you see, was one of the things about this movie that I found impossible to believe — and I'm the kind of movie viewer who, under almost any circumstances, will bend over backwards in my effort to suspend my disbelief.

But I figured that a guy who looked like Robert Redford and was worth $1 billion could just about have his pick of female companions.

And it wouldn't cost him anywhere near $1 million for a single night, either.

But that is a rather cynical way of looking at things, isn't it? Redford's proposal really created a crisis in the previously blissfully happy relationship of the Dees.

At the time, I really was amazed at the absence of protest from the feminist element of society. Redford's character offered the money to David, not Diana. Diana was treated not as a person but as a commodity, no better than the property David hoped to sell in his real estate company.

Redford offered an amount of money that would provide, as he put it, "[a] lifetime of security ... for one night." And David took it.

That begs the obvious question: What would you do?

Given the responses of most of the critics, the answer is that few cared. But enough people went to see the movie at the theater to point to a rather obvious conclusion — most of the people who went to see it did so expecting that either the steamy previews they had seen or the title of the movie promised nudity and realistic, if not explicit, sex scenes.

In fact, the movie delivered very little of either.

In the case of the Dees, David's decision led to such an erosion of their marriage that they separated, and Diana drifted into a relationship with Redford. Still, David tried to win her back and, after many implausible speeches about morality, finally did.

But the film squandered an opportunity to take a good, hard look at greed and infidelity and wound up pandering to the lowest common denominator.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Thumbs Up for Roger Ebert

"Of what use is freedom of speech to those who fear to offend?"

Roger Ebert (1942–2013)

If he wasn't the most widely read and quoted movie critic of all time, he was damn close.

Roger Ebert, who died today at the age of 70, was in poor health for the last decade of his life. But he didn't let that stop him from pursuing his passion — movie reviews.

And Ebert — both with and without his sidekick, Gene Siskel — reached what must be the pinnacle for a reviewer.

A "thumbs up" from Ebert could boost a movie into the stratosphere — and a "thumbs down" could break it just as easily.

But nothing lasts forever, and time ran out on Ebert, who recently revealed that his cancer (which had been believed to be in remission) had returned. A couple of days ago, in his final blog entry, Ebert told readers he was taking a "leave of presence," but he insisted that "I am not going away."

He gleefully told his readers, "I'll be able at last to do what I've always fantasized about doing: reviewing only the movies I want to review."

And he wrote with apparent excitement about the relaunch of his website, Ebert Digital.

"Stepping away from the day–to–day grind will enable me to continue as a film critic for the Chicago Sun–Times, and roll out other projects under the Ebert brand in the coming year," he wrote.

Judging from that, I would assume that he did not expect to die at this time — but maybe he did, and he just didn't want his readers to know. Perhaps he wanted his readers to think that he expected to continue to live his dream of being selective in his movie reviews and of running his revamped web site.

I regret never getting to meet him in person, but I, like so many others, felt as if I knew him from reading his columns and watching him and Siskel on TV. There were many movies I saw that I probably would not have seen had it not been for his recommendation.

I can choose which movie I want to see without his assistance, of course. But I always felt more confident of my choices when he confirmed them.

And I never quite felt justified when I deemed a movie to be a loser unless he felt the same way.

I had a great deal of respect for his intellect. I trusted his judgment. I enjoyed reading what he wrote.

And I shall miss him as only another writer can.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

An Artistic Treat

As was usually the case when I was growing up, "2001:A Space Odyssey" did not come to my central Arkansas hometown when it made its theatrical debut 45 years ago today.

In fact, I'm not precisely sure when I saw it for the first time. I am fairly certain that it had been out for quite some time when I saw it, but when I did see it, I saw it on a big screen, not on a TV screen.

And I give all the credit for that to my father.

He taught religion and philosophy at a small liberal arts college when I was a child, and he was on the committee that selected films to be shown in a series on campus one year. As a member of that committee, he lobbied for "2001" to be one of the movies on the schedule, and, apparently, he was persuasive because it was included.

The night that it was slated to be shown, he took the whole family — my mother, my younger brother and me — to the campus to see it.

I was impressed with it.

I wasn't old enough to understand some of the aspects of the story, but I remembered the name of Stanley Kubrick, whose directorial career may have hit its peak with "2001."

Perhaps not, though.

Three years later, he made "A Clockwork Orange" and followed that with "Barry Lyndon" a few years later. He made "The Shining" and "Full Metal Jacket" in the 1980s.

Clearly, he had more to say as a director after 1968.

He had a lot to say in "2001," for that matter.

Of course, that doesn't take into consideration movies he made before "2001" — like "Lolita" and "Dr. Strangelove."

But never had Kubrick been so free to experiment with special effects — and the work he did in "2001" was groundbreaking. Cutting–edge stuff.

There are things in "2001" that probably could not be duplicated today, one of which was the remarkable development of an inanimate character, the manmade HAL 9000 computer. The American Film Institute ranked HAL 13th among movie villains, ahead of all other non–humans (like the shark in "Jaws").

I've never been a fan of science fiction movies, but even I knew Kubrick had redefined the genre. Sci–fi flicks that were made before "2001" were largely about monsters and alluring women, "2001" was more mentally stimulating.

A decade later, movies like "Star Wars" took sci–fi special effects in new and not always productive directions. But the effects in "2001" contributed mightily to the effectiveness of the story.

"2001" was an artistic treat.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Car Shopping With Barney

I suppose it was appropriate that the episode of The Andy Griffith Show titled "Barney's First Car" was first aired on April Fool's Day half a century ago.

Because only a fool would make the deal Barney (Don Knotts) made.

He agreed to give his life's savings of $300 (which isn't a whole lot in 2013 but it was a lot in 1963) to a little old lady (delightfully played by Ellen Corby) for her used car. It was the old story — little old lady who supposedly only drove the car to church on Sundays — but, in reality, she was a hustler, and the vehicle she was trying to sell Barney had worn out gears — along with other problems — that, unknown to Barney, had been temporarily restored to their former glory with sawdust in the transmission.

Corby was so convincing she even persuaded gullible Barney that he had the same name as her dear departed husband and, consequently, if Barney bought the car, it would be like someone in the family had it, not a stranger. Andy cautioned Barney to think about it, to at least take the car to a mechanic who would look it over before any money changed hands.

And Corby — in a sly maneuver — suggested the same thing.

But Barney was determined to get a car come hell or high water. Against Andy's advice, Barney bought Corby's story — and the car — and he made plans to take the gang — Andy, Opie, Aunt Bee, Thelma Lou and Goober — for a ride so he could show off his new wheels.

It was on that ride in the country that the car finally broke down, and Barney had to admit that he had been taken.

And it was after they finally got the car back to Mayberry that Gomer took a look under the hood and discovered all its problems.

That was all the convincing Andy needed, and he and Barney set out to return the car to the little old lady. But it broke down before they could get there.

Andy volunteered to walk back to a store to call Gomer to bring a tow truck, but someone else came upon the scene and, not seeing Andy and Barney asleep in the back seat, hooked up the supposedly abandoned car and towed it to a garage.

The tow truck turned out to be part of Corby's fleet. In a brilliantly funny conclusion, Andy and Barney arrested the gang — but not before Corby tried to bribe Barney with the offer of a used car that he said "sounds like what I've been looking for."

A gem of an episode.