The Black Sheep fly again... Fairly good restoration for DVD
dooby | 06/15/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I watched this show when it first came out in the late 70s. Based very loosely on the memoirs of Col. Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, USMC, Ret. (also titled Baa Baa Black Sheep), it tells a fictionalised and highly romanticised account of the exploits of the Marine Corps Fighter Squadron VMF-214 (aka The Black Sheep). This ragtag squadron based in the Solomon islands created headlines when in a span of 12 weeks in late 1943, it accounted for 197 enemy planes destroyed or damaged. That run ended with Boyington's own downing by the Japanese and his subsequent secret internment as a POW. Upon his release at the end of the war, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his role as Commanding Officer of the Black Sheep.
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.
Bloopers: Stock footage of the corsairs is used repeatedly over the entire span of the series. One result is that the pilots' kill score reflected in the meatballs painted below the cockpits change haphazardly between episodes and even within episodes. Some of the archive footage has been used rather indiscriminately, the most obvious are the ones involving aircraft carriers. In the episode "Meatball Circus", the Black Sheep are supposed to land on the WW2 carrier Lexington. The footage however shows them approaching the modern carrier USS Ranger (CV61) with a full complement of jet fighters on deck. In at least 2 scenes we get to see helicopters taking off from the carrier when carriers did not have helicopters till well after WW2.
Note: The Black Sheep still flies today (redesignated VMA-214) as part of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing in support of Marine Expeditionary Forces. They are presently equipped with AV-8B Night Attack Harriers (VSTOL/Jump-Jets). Their last major deployment was to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom."
"Baa Baa" looks sharp and even has an extra!
Wayne Klein | My Little Blue Window, USA | 06/16/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Major "Pappy" Boyington (Robert Conrad) commanded the Black Sheep Squadron during World War II in the Pacific and fought the war his own way taking a team of misfits and turning them into a stellar flying fighting unit. While the TV series about Boyington had little to do with the real heroes that fought in World War II, it made for exciting TV in the 70's.
There are the expected analog artifacts visible particularly during the sequences involving stock footage (which got used quite a bit during the series). Also, some of the footage shot for the pilot and early episodes were recycled to cut costs where possible and, again, these bits of film betray the age of the series much more so than the episodes shot for each individual episode. Universal does a nice job with the picture there's the expected amount of grain for a vintage series. The flesh tones are solid although a bit on the warm side (but that's the way I remember the series when I watched it originally and even in syndication). Color is good throughout and the image is generally quite sharp although there are bits where the images are a bit soft. Audio is presented in the original mono without any embellishments. The mono sound is a bit muddy at times but the dialog is clear throughout most of the episodes. Compare the dirty footage from the pilot episode (granted it's an old videotape of the series pilot) to the digitally cleaned up footage here and you'll see that Universal has done a pretty decent job of cleaning up the show (even the stock footage looks better than I expected in many cases). Color matching is off during some of the stock footage but that was the case with the original series.
A 1976 interview from "The Today Show" featuring Boyington and Robert Conrad is the only extras included here. It's a fascinating glimpse into the past and it's also fun to hear Boyington reminisce about his squad and see his reaction to the footage from the pilot episode. The videotape this is drawn from is in pretty poor shape with a blurry image and indistinct colors. There's also an interview from 1959 featuring Boyington after the release of his book. Curiously, the 1976 segment is presented before the 1959 segment. Together the interviews run about 8 minutes and the latter segment was filmed in black & white. Each episode has the "highlights" trailer that preceded each episode showing key dramatic scenes
No commentary tracks which is a pity. Given that James Whitmore Jr. went on to become a director, it would have been interesting to hear his take on shooting the series. I never realized till much, much later that John Larroquette was a member of the cast during its two season run. Larroquette could also have provided an interesting commentary track as well. A retrospective featurette on the surviving cast members would also have been fun just to catch up with them and have them reflect on the difficult history of the series (it was cancelled and brought back retooled with a new title "The Black Sheep Squardron" during 1977-78).The pilots who flew the planes could provide some hair raising stories about the series I'm sure.
Considering the popularity of this series in syndication, I was rather surprised to see that there were only 37 episodes produced. I never realized there were so few done. Picture and sound quality are quite good while the extras are minimal they do include two vintage interviews one featuring Robert Conrad and Boyington and the other done just after Boyington's original book was published in 1959.
A Classic Returns.........
Glenn Steinhilber | East Hanover, NJ USA | 04/18/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I remember watching Baa Baa Black Sheep when I was a kid and then rediscovering it on the History Channel. I LOVED IT!
It is the stories of the famed WWII Marine Corp fighter squadron VFM-214 better know as the "Black Sheep". The series follows the exploits of this unit in the air and on the ground. The acting is quite good, as is the chemistry among the actors. The combat scenes combine new footage and some actual combat footage from the war. This does look a bit awkward at times but I never found to be that big of an issue. It is very fun viewing and quite family friendly.
Robert Conrad is perfect in his depiction of the hard living, hard drinking commander of the outfit Greg "Pappy" Boyington. Among the series regulars were a very young John Larroquette and Red West, former bodyguard for Elvis Presley. You will doubtless recognize other faces in the cast as many became staples in 80's TV and some can still be seen today.
Watch for the actual Greg Boyington making a cameo as he pins a medal on Conrad in one of the episodes.
Good to see this come back! "
The Terrors of the South Pacific
Jeffrey T. Munson | Dixon, IL | 01/23/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I was a hige fan of this series when it was on television, and I was even more excited to find that Universal had made this great DVD set of the first ten episodes plus the television pilot. Robert Conrad stars as Major (later Colonel) Greg Boyington. Boyington was flying with the American Volunteer Group (The Flying Tigers) in China right after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Mad because he was owed some $3,000 in back pay, he decided to return to the Marine Corps at his original rank of major. After some difficulties with the Marine brass, he finally received his major's commission and set about forming his squadron.
Although the pilots in the series are portrayed as "misfits" awaiting court-martial, in reality, none of the pilots in the actual Black Sheep were up on any charges. Most had become detatched from their original squadrons and hooked on with Boyington. As for the cast of the show, Dirk Blocker (Lt. Bragg), Robert Ginty (Lt. Wiley), John Larroquette (Lt. Andersen), Jeff MacKay (Lt. French), Larry Manetti (Lt. Boyle), W.K. Stratton (Lt. Casey), and James Whitmore, Jr. (Capt. Gutterman) made up the Black Sheep. Dana Elcar starred as the by-the-book Col. Lard, who never trusted Boyington and was out to get him at every turn. Simon Oakland starred as General Moore. He genuinely liked the Black Sheep and ran interference between Boyington and Lard.
The actual combat sequences are very good, overall. Actual F4U Corsairs were used, and real battle footage was interspersed to give the combat sequences a much more realistic look. This unit went on to become one of the most successful units in the South Pacific, racking up a kill record that many other units could only dream about. Boyington himself accounted for twenty eight enemy planes, including the six he downed in China, making him the leading Marine Corps ace of the war. He was shot down and remained in a Japanese prison camp until the end of the war.
This is a great collection. I was thrilled to find it, and I have enjoyed watching each episode again. I was 11 years old when the series premiered on televison, and I watched it every week. Seeing these episodes again is like taking a trip back to my childhood. The DVD quality is extremely high, and each episode is exactly as I remember it. I give this collection my highest rtecommendation. Hopefully, Universal will decide to put out another set which contains the remaining episodes. Until then, watch this great collection and see how a unit of "misfits" became the terrors of the South Pacific. Baa, Baa, Baa."
Hits like a straight right hand . . .
trebe | 03/09/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"As a creator, writer, and producer of numerous TV programs, Stephen J. Cannell is an icon in the action adventure genre. Loosely based on the exploits of WWII hero Major Greg `Pappy' Boyington in the Pacific theater, Baa Baa Black Sheep was one of Cannell's early efforts after The Rockford Files. With an almost all male cast, it was a change of pace from the glut of prime time cop shows.
Charismatic Robert Conrad, best known up to this point for starring in TV's Wild Wild West, was ideal to play a larger than life Boyington, a Marine who did not always follow established military procedure. At 35, `Pappy' was ancient for a fighter pilot. Molded under his leadershjp, the Black Sheep, a hard drinking group of pilots, flew missions not always in strict accordance with military protocol, much to the consternation of a `by the book' Colonel Lard (Dana Elcar) who was gunning for Boyington. Constantly covering Pappy's back, was General Moore, played by veteran actor Simon Oakland.
The adventures of the Black Sheep are straightforward and only loosely based in reality. Things like the numerous escapes from enemy held islands are pure fiction, but the entertainment value of these episodes is still pretty high. Typical for a Cannell production, there is plenty of action, explosions and gunfire, but with minimal bloodshed. One example, in the episode Up for Grabs, a completely unrealistic surrender by the Japanese prevents a massacre.
Conrad was an experienced boxer, and took great pride in the stuntwork he did on the Wild Wild West, and there is no shortage of brawls and flying bodies. Conrad's tough guy persona led to a series of commercials for Everready batteries that are considered classics. Those used to CGI special effects may find primitive, the fighting sequences which combine stock and new footage. However 30 years ago, flying restored 30-year old Corsairs and Zeros, and filming models were typically how things were done.
Many in the cast got their first real break in television here, and went on to long careers in the business. Both Cannell, and associate producer Donald Bellisario, would employ various cast members in their future projects. Larry Manetti became well known on Magnum P.I. John Laroquette went on to success in Night Court and later McBride. James Whitmore Jr. has become a popular director. Dirk Blocker, son of Dan Blocker (Hoss Cartwright on Bonanza) has continued his acting career, as have Robert Ginty, Jeff MacKay and Joey Aresco, who played the mechanic Hutch.
This set is called `Volume 1' and includes the pilot, and the first ten episodes of the series. It is not the complete first season. The extras are minimal, which is unfortunate, as it would have been a treat to hear what Robert Conrad, Stephen Cannell or any of the show's other alumni have to say. Hopefully the rest of the programs will be released soon. "