We’re in the US Marines, boys and who could have guessed that it would be so much fun? I often wondered how the real life members of The Corp think about Gomer Pyle. It would have made a great extra. I remember one of the F Troop sets offered a look at members of the real unit. With only another season to go I hope
Gomer Pyle began life as a one of the down home residents of Mayberry, where Andy Griffith held court as the sheriff and Don Knotts blundered his way to fame and fortune. It’s no small task indeed to find a way to shine as a minor character who wasn’t even there from the beginning; he replaced Floyd after the second year. But shine he did. Much of the character’s charm and success has to be given to Jim Nabors. The shy naive Gomer worked as an auto mechanic in Mayberry, but for his own series he appeared in one of the most unlikeliest of places, the U.S. Marine Corp. There Nabors found the perfect comedic partner in Frank Sutton, who played his superior Sgt. Vince Carter. The chemistry and remarkable timing these two brought to the Andy Griffith spin-off made it an instant hit. Critics at the time were very skeptical of the move, and most of the predictions called for a swift end to Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. But before you can say “surprise, surprise, surprise”, the series became as popular, if not more so, than the parent series, at least for a time. In syndication the show was always a hit.
The show’s premise was actually quite simple. Gomer has enlisted in the Marine Corp. He is given the toughest drill sergeant in the unit. Carter tries to break Gomer down, but it is always heart of gold Gomer who ends up turning around the tough as nails Carter. The camp was populated with the usual assortment of supporting characters. MASH’s own lovable Padre, William Christopher, played Lester Hummel. Ronnie Schell was Duke Slater, who often involved Gomer in his many schemes. Barbara Stuart was Carter’s girl, Bunny. Bunny often flirted with the guys, much to the aggravation of the jealous Carter. While there were many nice supporting roles, each episode always boiled down to one thing. That was Carter/Pyle. The relationship had everything. There was incredible energy, and the two stars had tremendous give and take. It is unlikely the show could have worked without either star.
<>Season four couldn’t get off to a better start than it does with a visit to the base by Frances Bavier as everyone’s favorite television Aunt Bee. She’s not too happy with how gruff Carter acts toward Gomer and so she lays into him but good in the opening episode A Visit From Aunt Bee. The Recruiting Poster has Gomer and Carter competing to be represented on the Corp’s newest recruiting poster. Could Gomer be a commanding officer? In Leader Of Men, a congressman thinks so and now it’s up to Carter to turn Gomer into officer material, but he’s running low on material and patience. When Gomer gets himself lost he ends up face to face with his Commander-In-Chief in Gomer Says “Hey” To The President. Gomer plays detective in To Watch A Thief and suspects Carter is the base thief everyone’s been looking for. Gomer gets back to Maybury in Gomer Goes Home, only to become involved in bank robber search. While many will likely enjoy them there are too many song and dance episodes in this season for my tastes. I still think there’s a lot to love here so you should add this one to the collection for sure.
<>Each episode of Gomer Pyle is presented in its original full frame broadcast format. It is almost hard to remember you are watching a 40 year old series with this fine transfer. Certainly there is a dead giveaway to age in the softness of the picture, but the prints are remarkably clean. Colors might be soft, but they are well enough defined that I doubt it ever looked better. This was a show in the early stages of television color as it began in black and white. Black levels are only fair, but again consider the age and they become that much more impressive.
<>The Dolby Digital Mono track is serviceable for the kind of a show Gomer Pyle is. You’re in it for the dialog, and it comes through just fine. There is some high end distortion during some of the music, but nothing that can’t be ignored for this kind of material.
Gomer Pyle continued to charm his way into American hearts for a season beyond this one. Jim Nabors would go on to have a singing career after the show ended and it’s likely these song and dance episodes helped to light the way. That Gomer/Nabors could sing was just another example of a season loaded with “Surprise! Surprise! Surprise”.