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In The Return of the Fighting 69th, Peter Graves stars as Major Noah
Cooper, the leader of a squadron of old-timers who are brought out of
retirement to lead an attack on the fortified base of Roxanne Trent and
Commander Corliss, a couple of disfigured villains who are planning to
drop nerve gas on Earth.
Wilma and Buck accompany the coffin-dodgers in modified bombers, but are captured by the baddies during a dogfight. Fortunately, thanks to the help of Roxanne's deaf slave girl, Alicia, Buck and Wilma manage to escape in the nick of time, just before the base is blown to smithereens by Noah and his gang of old cronies.
Another fine adventure, The Return of the Fighting 69th is packed with action and drama, and isn't quite as camp as many of the other episodes from the first series. Peter Graves is as great as always as Major Cooper, the pilot forced to hang up his wings by Wilma Deering (who does so to protect him), although it's hard to watch him as a pilot without thinking of him uttering gut-busting lines such as 'Have you ever seen a grown man naked?'.
This episode also raises rather serious points about society's treatment of the elderly and the physically handicapped, which makes it a much more poignant affair than usual.
Erin Gray looks as fabulous as always, and puts in a terrific performance in a role which requires her to really push her emotional range.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A squadron of old-timer space fighter pilots led by the hearty Major Noah Cooper (a typically fine and engaging performance by Peter Graves) who were all forced to retire by Wilma Deering are brought back into active service to lead an attack on the fortified base of the vengeful Commander Corliss (marvelously essayed to the suavely slimy hilt by Robert Quarry of "Count Yorga, Vampire" fame) and his equally bitter cohort Roxanne Trent (a nicely venomous Elizabeth Allen). The two disfigured criminals plan to drop nerve gas on Earth. Director Philip Leacock, working from a thoughtful and engrossing script by David Carren, relates the absorbing story at a steady pace, stages the pitched spaceship dogfights with a reasonable amount of flair and competence, and brings a seriousness and sensitivity to the plot which transcends this show's usual campy sensibility and thus gives this particular episode an unusually hefty amount of emotional substance. Erin Gray as Wilma Deering gets a neat showcase for her acting skills as she grapples with her tender feelings for Cooper and has a cool sexy moment in which she playfully distracts three guards. The adorable Katherine Wiberg likewise excels as Alicia, a cute and appealing, but browbeaten mute servant girl who helps both Wilma and Buck Rogers (the always affable Gil Gerard) out. Moreover, we've also got a sturdy cast of veteran thespians in tip-top form: Woody Strode as the rugged Sergeant 'Big Red' MacMurthy, Eddie Firestone as the hearty Corporal M.K. Schultz, and K.T. Stevens as spunky tail gunner Lt. Harriet Twain. This episode deserves extra praise for its spot-on smart and insightful observations on society's generally low opinion of both the elderly and the handicapped. One of the definite highlights of the first season.
Butterfly collars. Lycra. Ya know, for the 25th century this looks an
awful lot like 1979...
Aesthetically this continues to look like Battlestar Galactica's minor league team. I can't say the writing is any great shakes either, but at least it tackles a few topics (ageism, disability) that give it some gristle. The beefy Gil Gerard has an appealing aw shucks charm and looks like an 8 oz. hamburger on a 7 oz. bun in his Lycra flightsuit, while co-star Erin Gray made me spontaneously re-enter puberty when she appeared in her formfitting purple number. Guest star Peter Graves classes things up as an aging pilot, but it's almost impossible to see him behind the stick and not expect him to say things like "Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?".
Just when I thought we were going to get a poignant ending, I was reminded that we're in the 70s when some darn near actual pathos is shoved aside for a happy ending and a happy ending bonus round followed by a joke and a freeze frame laugh.
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