...The 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: The growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power and the growth of corporate propaganda against democracy.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Flying Misfits


Greg "Pappy" Boyington is the commanding officer of VMF-214, a group of fighter pilots based in the Solomon Islands during World War II. Pappy often intercedes in altercations (disagreements/fights) at the base, but everyone seems to pull together when they are assigned missions in the air. "Pappy" likes to drink and fight a lot when not flying missions, and owns a Bull Terrier named 'Meatball' (which he claims belongs to General Moore in "Flying Misfits", but General Moore says 'he wouldn't own an ugly mutt like that.')

The series premise was very loosely based on a portion of the real-life military career of Gregory Boyington, known as "Pappy" due to his "advanced" age compared to the younger pilots under his command. (He was 30 when he took command of VMF-214.) Boyington, who was a technical advisor for the series, commented that this was "fiction based on reality" and that no regular character in the series except for himself actually existed. In the documentary film Pappy Boyington Field Robert Conrad shares personal insight about Pappy from their time together during the television series.

Popular character John "Hutch" Hutchinson (Joey Aresco) was killed off in the episode "Last One for Hutch" and replaced as chief mechanic by GySgt. Andy Micklin (Red West), who had joined the squadron a few episodes earlier in "Devil in the Slot".

File:Baa Baa Black Sheep (TV series) "Pappy" Boyington.jpg

The TV series of course takes liberties with actual history. Boyington and the Black Sheep were stationed at Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides (present-day Vanuatu). They also flew from Vella Lavella but there was no island called Vella La Cava or Epiritos Marcos. Although Boyington describes his men as misfits and the series happily plays this up, more balanced later accounts note that the men were more likely stragglers who had been separated from their units or got lost in the general confusion of the war and army bureaucracy. His Intelligence Officer is on record noting that none of the men in the squadron were facing disciplinary action while they were with the unit. When the series aired with his name attached as Technical Advisor, surviving members of the Black Sheep recalled how they ribbed him about it and how he had to apologise. One of the veterans is quoted to have indignantly said, "We never went up drunk. The only thing accurate about the show was that we flew Corsairs."
The exploits of the Black Sheep form about a third of his memoirs. Prior to that, before America's entry into the war, Boyington had served with the Flying Tigers in China. He also served in Burma before Roosevelt declared war and he once again joined the Marines in the Pacific. Following his downing and capture by a Japanese submarine, he spent the remaining 20 months of the war as a POW. In the years after the war, he fought alcoholism, broken marriages, joblessness and ill-health. A line from his memoir sums it up poignantly. As he rode through the ticker-tape parade after receiving his Medal of Honor from President Truman, a well-wisher grabbed him by the arm and said, "Enjoy it today, my boy, because they won't give you a job cleaning up the streets tomorrow." He published his memoirs in 1958. He returned to part-time flying after partially overcoming his alcoholism. He finally died of lung cancer in 1988 at the age of 75. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. A true American hero. But as he himself wrote at the end of his book, "If this story were to have a moral, then I would say, 'Just name a hero and I'll prove he's a bum.'"
NBC's Baa Baa Black Sheep lasted a total of just 2 seasons, the casualty of poor ratings (it was up against Charlie's Angels), and high cost. This was before the advent of cheap CGI effects. Those planes you see onscreen are the real deal, vintage F4U Corsairs put through their paces.
In an effort to milk as much money as possible from this re-release, NBC-Universal has slyly packaged the 2 seasons into what I believe will eventually be 3 premium priced boxed sets. Volume 1 contains just half of the first season. Talk about greed. (For comparison, Universal has just released a boxed set of the first 2 seasons of Quincy ME at the same price.) Universal has crammed all the episodes onto 2 double-sided DVDs. Some older DVD players have problems playing these double-sided Universal DVDs. On one player it just spun uselessly registering a blank screen.
This first half-season consists of the first 10 episodes plus the one and a half hour pilot "Flying Misfits". What has NBC-Universal done to justify the pretty exorbitant price? Well, one thing we can be thankful for is that they have provided a reasonably good restoration of the original film prints. Picture quality is generally very good, clean, clear and sharp (though not as good as on the aforementioned Quincy ME). There are still occasional film nicks and dirt specks but generally the quality of the studio based footage is very high considering this was made in 1976. Archival and older stock footage has not been restored. They look very grainy and grimy in comparison to the footage shot specifically for the series. But this is quite reasonable and even lends a certain authenticity to the episodes. Sound is a basic 2.0 mono but clean and clear. The extras last a grand total of 6 minutes and consists of two interviews with the real Pappy Boyington, one made in 1959 just after the success of his memoirs, and the other in 1976 on the occasion of the premiere of Baa Baa Black Sheep on NBC.

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