DVD Review: Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (The Complete Series)

Golly. When Gomer Pyle appeared as the goofball mechanic at Mayberry’s gas station, few would have recognized he’d become a major network star. He became a regular resident during the third season of The Andy Griffith Show when Floyd the Barber needed a breather. There was something so endearing about the innocent Gomer that he swiftly became a major character. He stardom was too much for the sleepy North Carolina town. He needed adventure that could only be found in the military. He didn’t merely end up in the Navy or Army. Gomer chose to be an elite fighter in the United States Marine Corp. Suddenly Gomer protecting American way against the evil commies lurking across the Pacific. Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.: The Complete Series brings together all five years of barracks comedy in a big boxset.

The first season of Gomer coincided with the last year CBS was the black and white network. The stark monochromatic look works as Gomer enlists and hits bootcamp. It feels like the “we’ll make of man out of you” movies from this era. When Sgt. Carter (Frank Sutton) explodes on the new recruits, he’s as fierce as any Drill Sergeant in cinema history. He’s ready to be cribbed for Full Metal Jacket. Except Carter never dealt with a raw recruit like Gomer. He can’t chew up and spit out the Tarheel. The first season and most of the series deals with Gomer overcoming the odds to become a Marine. He’s not the poster boy for the Corp. Not to spoil the show, but Gomer does get out of boot camp. Carter feels relieved to be rid of the bumpkin. However the success of the show leads to Carter getting a new assignment. He gets shipped off to Camp Henderson in California with a familiar face in his platoon. This is a fate worse than being flown into Saigon.

The next four seasons were shot in color. There are a few shows that dimished when color was introduced to the characters and sets. The Andy Griffith Show lost a little charm when colored people wandered the streets of Mayberry. Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. made a rather smooth transition with the change. Part of this of this can be attributed to the location change. The starkness of bootcamp gives way to the glow of normal base life. Gomer learns life lessons between various training exercises. There’s plenty of fun episodes including Rob Reiner as a hippie. What’s strange is that whenever a character from The Andy Griffith Show arrives for a crossover, the comedy turns into a sadness. Andy visits the base because Opie (Ron Howard) has runaway from home. Later Goober (George Lindsey) arrives and gets Gomer into trouble. Mayberry wasn’t a good mix for the ex-resident.

The show feels a bit like the real life military with a constantly rotating cast of platoon members. There were a few special faces in the bunks. Gilbert “Duke” Slater (Ronnie Schell) starts out on the show as a private. He vanishes for a while only to return as Carter’s new corporal. This leads to Gomer learning that his old pal can’t be the same old Duke. Before Duke, Corporal Chuck Boyle (Roy Stuart) served as the thin camo line that kept Carter from killing Gomer. Private First Class Frankie Lombardi (Ted Bessell) is tight with Gomer in the early seasons. Bessell would leave the show for That Girl where he grew out his marine haircut to have the impeccable hair of Ted Bessell. PFC Lester Hummel (William Christopher) was a ’60s military nerd. Christopher would go back in time to the Korean War to play Father Mulcahy on M*A*S*H*. Staff Sergeant Hacker (Allan Melvin) of the mess hall was the fierce rival of Carter. Melvin’s recurring work links Gomer to The Phil Silvers Show since he was one of Sgt. Bilko’s henchmen. Corporal Carol Barnes allowed Carol Burnett to show her military moxie. She’s got a thing for Gomer.

What’s extremely interesting is that for four of its five seasons Gomer was on Friday nights and ranked in the top three. Friday nights are now considered second only to Saturday as a ratings graveyard. Back in the late ’60, people were up for a little military fun after the weekend kicked off. The show ended after five seasons because of the Vietnam War. Jim Nabors got a little uncomfortable having Gomer’s antics overshadow the lives lost across the Pacific. Many of the Marines that marched with him in the opening credits had died in combat. He dropped the sitcom to host his own variety show that also featured Frank Sutton and other cast regulars. This was a wise move since America was focused on the Southeast Asian fighting on the nightly news while Gomer somehow never deployed outside of California. The lack of historical context has allowed Gomer Pyle to remain entertaining. There’s no jokes about Kissinger to explain to the kids. The true conflict on the show is between Pyle and Carter instead of U.S. Policy. Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.: The Complete Series is 150 episodes about a simple man with a desire to serve.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers bring out the details of Gomer’s life on the marine base. In a few exterior long shots, you can see the watch towers from the Hogan’s Heroes set. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The sound levels are perfect for when Gomer breaks into an inspirational song. The episodes are subtitled in Englihs

Audio Introductions from Jim Nabors are featured on the first season episodes.

Pilot Episode “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” (28:08) was the backdoor pilot that aired on The Andy Griffith Show. You can play it with Jim Nabors giving a sales presentation opening. He reminds people that the series will be a little different. There’s also an audio commentary from Jim Nabors.

Lucy Gets Caught In the Draft (1:39) is a clip from The Lucy Show with a special cameo.

Jim Nabors on the David Frost Show (10:56) allows the actor to discuss his life and becoming Gomer. Not quite Frost/Nixon, but great for fans.

Jim Nabors Hour Clip (8:51) is a taste of Jim and Frank Sutton on a variety show. The duo play brothers-in-law. Frank still has buzz cut.

Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.: The Complete Series contains all the naive charm of America’s favorite jarhead. Gomer does his best to bring out the joy of being a Marine. The episodes are from the previous season sets so the missing musical moments are still snipped. However this doesn’t reduce the joy of the show.

CBS DVD presents Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.: The Complete Series. Starring: Jim Nabors, Allan Melvin and Frank Sutton. Boxset Contents: 150 episodes on 24 DVDs. Rated: Unrated. Released: March 10, 2014.