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Title:Baa, Baa, Black Sheep
Release Dates:1976 (Season One DVD set, 2005)
Running Time:
Formats: DVD
Starring:Robert Conrad, Dana Elcar, James Whitmore Jr.
Directed By:Various
Produced By:Alex Beaton.
Written By:Stephen J. Cannell
Reviewed By:Harold C. Hutchison    Buy it at Amazon.com

The Marine Fighter Squadron 214 (VMF-214) was one of the most famous of the many squadrons that fought in World War II, and still flies today (as VMA-214, equipped with the AV-8B Harrier II). Under the command of Major Gregory P. Boyington (“Pappy”), the top ace in the United States Marine Corps, with 28 air-to-air victories (six of which came with Claire Chennault’s Flying Tigers).

The series “Baa Baa Black Sheep is based on Boyington’s 1958 memoirs, “Baa, Baa Black Sheep”. The series, though, shows how Hollywood can often take a good story, and feel the need to “punch it up” even more. Boyington was, for all intents and purposes, a black sheep – and a hero. The men of the squadron, though, took offense (with some justification) over Hollywood’s portrayal of the entire squadron as misfits and screw-ups who were at war with the Marine Corps (not to mention the Navy and Army) as they were with Japan. Even this is not characteristic of Boyington, who deserted from the Flying Tigers and returned to service with the Marine Corps.

The series does stretch the bounds of plausibility at times (see “Operation homecoming”, in which the squadron must fly a bunch of rebuilt Japanese “Kates” – the Nakajima B5N – against a Kibitzu-class carrier; there was no such thing as the Kibitzu-class in reality). Even some basic facts, like geography, escaped the writing staff (the use of Bougainville as a waypoint to Guam in the pilot, “The Flying Misfits” stands out).

That said, the series was well-done in some areas. The aerial combat series provides incredible views of the F4U Corsair (the aircraft used by VMF-214), although some of the footage used can make a person scratch one’s head (in “Anyone for Suicide” a landing by one of the Black Sheep uses footage of a F6F-5N Hellcat making a bad landing). Often the footage is stock footage (used in movies like “Midway”). For those of us spoiled by battle scenes using today’s special effects technology, it often seems quaint, but it still works well. Another good point for this series is the performance of Robert Conrad as Boyington. He has captured the essence of Boyington in the series (he received a great deal of help from the man he was portraying), and that resulted in no complaints from Boyington (similar effort on the part of Hal Moore helped Mel Gibson do an Oscar-worthy portrayal in “We Were Soldiers”; perhaps Nancy Sinatra could have considered doing what Boyington did when she came up for a portrayal on a TV series).

The series ultimately is a solid buy on DVD (for the $39.98 at Best Buy or the $27.99 on Amazon) – one of the extras in Volume One is a pair of interviews with Boyington, which provide an excellent way to measure the performance by Robert Conrad as the commanding officer of VMF-214. “Baa Baa Black Sheep” is a series that could be an excellent candidate for a big-screen remake given the advances in special effects.

Buy it at Amazon.com


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