Friday, January 23, 2015

Speak Softly and Carry a Big Gun

Gilligan's Island was only on the air for three seasons, but it almost seemed as if everyone on the planet stopped off there in those three years — and the only people who never got off the island (until a reunion episode more than a decade later) were the castaways.

The folks who stopped by the island simply refused to tell anyone where the castaways were. Something about how they could ruin people's lives and/or careers if their whereabouts were revealed and they told the authorities what they knew. To which I had to wonder — who didn't know where the castaways were?

Most of the time, I thought that threat stuff was overblown, but in the episode that first aired 50 years ago tonight, "Little Island, Big Gun," it seemed to have, well, more authenticity.

The island often seemed to attract unsavory sorts like a magnet. The usual suspects were headhunters from nearby islands, but the island's visitors often turned out to be fairly creative characters. Sometimes they were silly, but other times they had the air of plausibility — at least enough plausibility to allow the writers to explore the situation for awhile before the viewers finally gave up and labeled it too silly to be true.

The episode that first aired 50 years ago tonight featured Larry Storch as the guest star. He was actually a gangster on the run. Believe it or not, the story seemed plausible at first.

Storch, who went on to enjoy some success on another TV series the following season, at first tried to persuade the castaways that he was a doctor doing research — and that the stolen money in his possession actually was donations from benefactors. But once the castaways heard on their radio about the big bank robbery Storch and his colleagues had pulled off, his cover was blown.

The rest of the episode was fairly routine stuff, but it was generally well played by the cast and Storch. If you've ever seen Storch in the F Troop series on which he starred, you would agree that his performance in the episode of Gilligan's Island was considerably muted by comparison.

People came and went to Gilligan's Island in many ways. I suppose the assumption would be that most came to the island by boat or canoe or some such non–submersible seagoing vessel — and perhaps that was the case. I haven't gone back over the show's three seasons to find out which method was used the most.

But I do know that Storch was the first to arrive by boat. The castaways had encountered a couple of folks on the island before Storch's arrival, but one was already there and the other arrived via a submersible vehicle.

Before the castaways left the island, they were visited by people who got there by surfboard, by helicopter, by space capsule — and many came by boat. But Storch was the first.