Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Scrounger’s Cheapjack Christmas Special! #4: Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion

Ladies and gentlemen, POST NUMBER 200! I FORGOT TO NOT COUNT UNPUBLISHED DRAFTS IN MY POST COUNT! So this is really post 196.

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Just Enough Background: Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion, which ran on NBC from 1955 to 1957, is a kid’s adventure series that’s been described as a Western in the desert. Buster Crabbe, a few decades down the road from the Olympic swimming medals that put him on the map and the Flash Gordon / Buck Rogers movie serials we remember him for these days, stars as Captain Michael Gallant, commander of the north African headquarters of the French Foreign Legion. Buster’s son Cullen played Cuffy Sanders, the orphaned son of a Legionnaire and the mascot of the outpost, and Al “Fuzzy” Knight played Private Fuzzy Knight, basically the same sidekick role he played in most of his 180 westerns.

The first season was filmed on location in French Morocco until the political climate got just too dicey. The second and final season moved to the friendlier region of northern Italy.

Before we move on, consider what a loaded last name Gallant has to be. You almost have to be a Legionnaire or some other man of action. Was there a series called Captain Gallant, Starbucks Barista? Damn straight there wasn't.

The Christmas Episode: “The Boy Who Found Christmas.” Originally aired: December 25, 1955.

Our story will begin after these messages…hey, this show has ads in it! Whee!

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LEGOS! WHEE! “The new fun toy from Europe…by Samsonite!” Wait, Samsonite? Well if you want to build something that big, you need a suitcase to carry all the bricks.

Our story begins with a…wait, a snow scene? A once in a generation desert snowfall…they’re really reaching.

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Nah, it’s just Cuffy being all sullen and whatnot in front of a calendar on Christmas Eve.

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Turns out his Uncle Mike had promised to take him stateside for the holidays to see his first ever snowfall, but Mike's substitute didn’t make it and the powers that be put the kibosh on the whole thing. Private Fuzzy’s assurances that snow is overrated don’t help at all…

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…but the Captain’s promise that the next caravan coming in is carrying all the fixings of a really and truly Christmas does help a little. That is, until the caravan gets waylaid and Mike Gallant pulls a real boner by telling the boy that he’s not going to risk his men for “a few trinkets.” That’s enough to turn Cuffy into a sullen little punk.

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I don’t care how sharp you look in the uniform. A sullen little punk in a uniform is still a sullen little punk.

Mumbling something about how Captain Gallant doesn’t care about anything that kids care about, Cuffy saddles up his horse and takes off into a howling sandstorm to find Christmas, telling his Moroccan buddy “Nobody cares about Christmas but me!” Well, you are in a heathen country, pal…

(And yes, I meant that ironically. No angry letters, imaginary outraged audience.)

Once he’s well underway, his pal blows the whistle on him to the Captain, and pretty soon the whole post gives up their holiday to scour the desert for the fella who just couldn’t wait for Christmas…

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No, not that one.

The Christmas Lesson For Today: For the first time in this set (definitely not the last time) the Christmas lesson in the show just happens to be The Christmas Lesson, because when Gallant finally catches up with Cuffy, he tells the boy (in one of those firm but kind voices that you just don’t hear much on children's television anymore) that the first Christmas didn’t have any snow either, because it happened in a desert just like this one. Then he tells the Nativity story, and how Jesus was the first and greatest Christmas gift.

One of my play-fair rules (both in blogland and in life) is that I don’t rail on faith if it seems to come from a sincere place free of hate. I should point out, however, that not long after Gallant wraps up the story, and Cuffy returns to his good boy place--the place where he realizes that Christmas isn’t just about the food and the toys (meaningful emphasis here)--the show cuts to an ad for this awesome Lionel train car with a Mercury rocket that really launches

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Ooooo, it even has a tiny astronaut that you load in the capsule!

…and if you allow yourself to really think about these things, they kind of uncomfortably butt into each other. That happens sometimes when faith hangs out with commerce.

That is a sweet rocket, though. Space age! Whee!

Overall, this was a nice little production, even if it moves a lot slower than the kids would be used to these days. I do have to say that the weak link is Cuffy. Sure, he’s supposed to be the target audience’s entry point, but Buster’s kid or no, as a child actor he had the range of a walkie-talkie with a dying battery. Hope he grew up right. And can take a little good-natured ribbing if he runs across a stranger's blog.

But Don’t Take My Word For It: At this point, I was prepared to link to a place on Amazon's Video on Demand service where you could download the individual episode for $1.99, but really, this whole Christmas DVD set is $5. If you want to throw your money down the well, I’m not going to enable you.

Next: Dragnet! Joe Friday! And one of these stories will leave your jaw on the floor…

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