Editorial review of McHale’s Navy – Season One
Something of a cross between MASH (it’s set in wartime) and Sgt. Bilko (the emphasis in on ensemble acting, with a ringleader and his band of merry pranksters), McHale’s Navy isn’t on a level with those two immortal sit-coms. But this amiable show, debuting on DVD with all 36 black & white episodes from its first season (1962-63) on five discs, stands the test of time surprisingly well. Not that there’s any important new comedic ground broken here. These half-hour episodes are pretty much all about the same thing: Lt. Cmdr. Quinton McHale (the always reliable Ernest Borgnine), skipper of Navy PT boat #73, and his crew are stationed “somewhere in the South Pacific, 1943.” They’re capable sailors, engaging the Japanese enemy when duty occasionally calls, but most of the time they hang out on their own private island and have a good time–much to the chagrin of their blustery commander, Capt. Wallace Binghamton (Joe Flynn), who’s constantly trying to rid himself of the regulation-defying McHale and his fun-loving band of miscreants.
In that respect, McHale’s Navy is much like Bilko. But unlike the latter show’s brilliant Phil Silvers, Borgnine isn’t really a comedian; with his unmistakable cackle, the actor’s McHale, while not above taking part in a good-natured prank, is a less a Bilko-esque con artist than a regular guy, a kind of cheer- and ringleader intent on looking after his boys. The real laughmeisters on this show are Tim Conway, who brings his whole bag of shticks to the role of the bumbling Ensign Charles Parker, and Flynn, who’s consistently hilarious. Among the crew, Carl Ballantine stands out as fast-talking Brooklyn native Lester Gruber; TV lovers will also recognize Gavin MacLeod in his first extended TV role before moving on to The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Love Boat.
It’s always a bit strange to see war scenes played for laughs–the Pacific Theater in World War II was hardly comedy central, after all. But they are pretty funny. And while the Japanese characters are treated fairly stereotypically, it could have been a lot worse, considering the show’s pre-political correctness provenance; hell, many of the roles are actually played by Japanese actors, which was not a given (then or now), and in one episode (“Movies Are Your Best Diversion”), they speak un-subtitled Japanese. Fact is, McHale’s Navy is just too mild and good-natured to offend anyone. The sole bonus feature is a dull reunion interview with Borgnine, Parker, and some other cast members.–Sam Graham
List of episodes in McHale’s Navy season one
- An Ensign for McHale – Ensign Charles Parker (Tim Conway), newly assigned to the PT 73 crew as Executive Officer, is Captain Binghamton’s (Joe Flynn) last hope to tame McHale (Ernest Borgnine) and his “pirates.” Though Parker is unwelcome at first, McHale sees potential in the young officer, and orders his crew to shape up so that Parker won’t be shipped out.
- A Purple Heart for Gruber – Trouble follows when Gruber, who’s competing with a hometown neighbor for Greatest War Hero, is awarded a Purple Heart for a small cut on his finger, which he got while doing laundry.
- McHale and His Seven Cupids – McHale and the boys go all out to try to help Parker win the attention of a very attractive nurse he’s infatuated with.
- PT 73, Where Are You? – Virgil loses the 73, and McHale and the crew must arrange for a replacement before they can take a week’s R&R trip to New Caledonia.
- Movies Are Your Best Diversion – McHale and the 73 crew avert an attack on a Navy convoy, by employing a clever plan involving John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, and Errol Flynn.
- Operation Wedding Party – McHale, Molly, and the 73 crew must practice some trickery to keep Binghamton at bay, while they arrange for an against-the-rules wedding for Christy and his fiancee; Lieutenant Gloria Winters.
- Who Do the Voodoo? – Urulu (Jacques Aubuchon) puts a curse on Binghamton, when Binghamton refuses to arrange for monetary compensation for damages inflicted on Urulu’s island by the Navy’s “cannon boats.” And Gruber does the famous “mango tree” magic trick to convince Urulu that he’s a greater witch doctor! In real life, “Gruber” (Carl Ballantine) is an accomplished magician.
- Three Girls on an Island – A 3-sister singing act is stranded on a deserted island, and McHale and the 73 crew have an ulterior motive when they volunteer for the rescue mission. But the girls, having had such experiences in the past, are wise to their plan.
- McHale’s Paradise Motel – While out on a recon mission, McHale and the 73 crew discover a deserted plantation, which they turn into a party house where they can enjoy themselves when not on duty. But their activities draw the attention of both the U.S. Navy and the Japanese.
- The Battle of McHale’s Island – McHale and the 73 crew must practice some trickery to keep Binghamton from building his new officer’s club on McHale’s island.
- The Day They Captured Santa Claus – “Santa” McHale must practice some psychological warfare when he, the crew, Binghamton, and a war correspondent are captured by a Japanese patrol while on a mission to bring some Christmas joy to the children of a nearby orphanage.
- The Captain’s Mission – Ashamed of his desk job, Binghamton assumes command of the 73 during McHale’s absence, and takes it out on a combat mission so that he can have a war story to share with his battle-hardened fellow officers.
- Send Us a Hero – Parker and the crew scheme to get McHale chosen for a war bond tour of The States, but when they find out that they won’t be included, they must cook up another plan to get McHale off the hook.
- The Captain Steals a Cook – Gruber has been selling Fuji’s Polynesian dishes to the Taratupa personnel, and trouble develops when Binghamton – having sampled the delicious food – insists that it be served at a dinner for a visiting admiral.
- The Ensign Gets a Zero – Under the impression that Parker is an ace gunner, Binghamton wagers one of his most prized possessions that Parker can out-shoot an arrogant captain’s best gunner. Story by Tim Conway.
- The Big Raffle – A lovely French girl agrees to help the guys out, in a plan to raise expense money for the birth of Christy’s child.
- One of Our Engines Is Missing – McHale and the boys must scheme to procure new engines for their beloved boat, before Binghamton ships the 73 crew out to a new location. And Ensign Parker’s talent for hypnosis doeesn’t help – where can they find the parts they need?
- The Natives Get Restless – Binghamton angers some of the native islanders, then must make amends with them in order to make a good impression on a certain VIP, who is due soon for a visit.
- The Confidence Game – Fed up with a lack of respect from the crew, and low on self-esteem, Parker puts in for a transfer. But complications develop when McHale and the boys work up a scheme to try to make him change his mind.
- Six Pounds from Paradise – A new Navy directive, which states that all overweight combat officers are to be shipped out, prompts Binghamton to see that McHale puts on an extra 6 pounds – enough to put him over the limit.
- Washing Machine Charlie – Complications develop when McHale and the 73 crew go after a certain Japanese pilot known as “Washing Machine Charlie,” who has been attacking the Taratupa base on a daily basis.
- Nippon Nancy Calling – Binghamton suspects McHale and the 73 crew of consorting with the enemy when a Japanese radio announcer broadcasts personal details about Binghamton that only someone close to him would know.
- One Enchanted Weekend – While mixing business with pleasure on an island plantation, Parker must pose as a Frenchman in order to avoid capture while he reports details on a Japanese radio-jamming operation.
- The Mothers of PT 73 – A mix-up with a dictating machine brings a big, but poorly timed, Mother’s Day surprise for Parker, Gruber, and Tinker.
- HMS 73 – Binghamton devises a deceitful plan to have McHale chosen for the position of Liaison Officer at British Fleet HQ in Australia. Parker and the crew unwittingly help McHale to get the job, then must scheme to get him off the hook when they find out that they won’t be going along.
- A Wreath for McHale – With McHale and his Crew presumably killed in action, publicity-hungry Binghamton plays the part of the grieving commanding officer when a war correspondent comes to Taratupa looking for a big story. But when McHale and the crew turn up very much alive and well, Binghamton must cooperate with McHale to work up a cover story.
- Portrait of a Peerless Leader – Thinking that a visiting personnel officer has come to appraise Binghamton for a possible promotion and transfer, McHale and the 73 crew put on a show of their very best behavior. But when they discover that the real reason for the officer’s visit is to appraise McHale for a possible transfer, they must quickly become the most incompetent PT crew in the South Pacific.
- Instant Democracy – Binghamton needs help from Chief Urulu and his tribe to modify the Taratupa airstrip. Urulu – angry over a bad deal with Gruber, involving Navy property – flatly refuses. But, after some lessons on democracy from McHale and Parker, Urulu changes his mind, and drives a hard bargain with Binghamton for the services of his tribe.
- Camera, Action, Panic – When a combat photographer (Artie Johnson) is assigned to the 73 to get some footage of the crew in action, Gruber borrows his movie camera to use in a money-making scheme. Then, when complications develop, McHale and the boys must work up a plan to avoid trouble for both themselves and the photographer.
- Parents Anonymous – McHale and the crew take in a young orphan girl, and go out of their way to make a happy home for her on their island. But their extraordinary behavior arouses Binghamton’s suspicions, and he uses the situation to have the 73 crew sized up as possible “Section Eights” by some visiting psychiatrists.
- McHale’s Millions – During a mission to investigate the crash site of a Japanese transport plane, McHale and the crew recover four million dollars in American cash. Thinking that it is counterfeit, they return to base, where Gruber later trades it to Chief Urulu for some native trinkets. But when they find out that the money is real – stolen by the Japanese from a bank in the Philippines – Gruber challenges Urulu to a winner-take-all poker game to get it back.
- The Monster of McHale’s Island – McHale and the crew are stuck with an Admiral’s spoiled-brat Admiral’s son, who causes quite a bit of trouble for them, noting every violation of Navy regulations for a report to his father, the Area Commander. But McHale is soon fed up with the little jerk, and straightens him out with a bit of his own brand of Navy discipline.
- Uncle Admiral – Binghamton makes Parker his personal aide, in the hope of impressing Parker’s uncle – an admiral on the Promotions Board (played by Harry Von Zell). But the admiral is uncomfortable with the fact that his inept nephew also functions as a combat officer, and orders Parker to pack his bags for a safer position in the States. He changes his mind, however, when he sees how dedicated McHale and the crew are to Ensign Parker, after they put themselves at risk to rescue him in the Bay during an air raid.