A simple-minded gas station attendant and later auto mechanic, Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) was originally intended to appear on just one episode of The Andy Griffith Show. Gomer proved so popular, that after a year on the show, Nabors and the character were given their own show. In a bit of a surprise, the finale of the Andy Griffith’s fourth season—which served as the pilot for Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.—found the once seemingly satisfied lad yearning for the travel and adventure that can only be satisfied in the military. Not content with the Army or Navy, Gomer chose to be an elite solider in the United States Marine Corp. Released individually in the past, this new Complete Series release brings together all five seasons of the series in a single boxset.
Premiering in September of 1964, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C was an immediate hit, ranking third overall in the Nielsen ratings for the 1964-1965 season, even beating out its original host series, The Andy Griffith Show. The series stayed in the Nielsen Top Ten during in its entire five year run. It is also interesting to note that the first season was the only one shot in black and white. This darker look feels appropriate as the naïve, good-hearted Gomer hits boot camp and is met head on by Sergeant Vince Carter (Frank Sutton); a real hot-head who is right in Gomer’s face every time he messes up. By mid-season, Sutton had perfected his character so his anger at Gomer was more of a slow burn, than an explosive rage, which made for a much funnier character. Sutton’s facial expressions are some of the best ever seen on television. Far from the envisioned poster boy for the Corp, Gomer overcomes numerous obstacles to make it out of boot camp. While Sergeant Carter is thrilled to be done with the country bumpkin, Carter finds himself transferred to Camp Henderson in California where Gomer is an eager member of his platoon.
Despite its military theme and the fact that it aired during the height of the Vietnam War, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C never mentioned the conflict by name, choosing instead to offer a distraction for viewers dealing with the war and many other difficult social and political issues that were affecting America at the time. CBS ordered that Gomer never be deployed into action; the real world wasn’t to intrude on the fantasy Marine life he and Carter had created. The network wasn’t whitewashing anything. Viewers were well aware what was going on in Vietnam; they could watch that every night on the news. Gomer Pyle was strictly for laughs.
While the premise of the show and their characters never really changed much (though Gomer did become more confident), Nabors and Sutton deserve a lot of credit for always making the material seen fresh. This was helped by a few familiar faces that would show up in the barracks. Gilbert “Duke” Slater (Ronnie Schell) starts out as a private. He disappears for a while only to return as Carter’s new corporal. Gomer learns that his old pal Duke, just can’t be the same guy he used to be. PFC Lester Hummel (William Christopher) was a ’60s military nerd. Christopher would go back to the Korean War to play Father Mulcahy on M*A*S*H*. Carol Burnett’s Corporal Carol Barnes has a thing for Gomer. Of course, Jim Nabors was a regular guest on The Carol Burnett Show.
Gomer Pyle is a humble series about a simple man and his desire to serve his country. Largely because it stayed away from political issues of the day, the antics of Gomer and Sergeant Carter still play well today.
Presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the transfers bring out a surprising amount of detail. The colors are quite good in the four colorized seasons. Not much to complain about here, given the age of the material.
The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The sound levels are perfect for when Gomer breaks into an inspirational song. Dialogue is clean and clear.
English subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Introductions from Jim Nabors are featured on the first season episodes.
- Pilot Episode Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (28:08) the backdoor pilot that aired on The Andy Griffith Show. You can play it with Jim Nabors giving a sales presentation opening. There’s also an audio commentary from Jim Nabors in which he acknowledges that many of the boys seen marching with Gomer in the opening title sequence were later killed during the Vietnam War. Ronnie Schell also offers a commentary on Disc 2, where he shares numerous stories.
- Lucy Gets Caught In the Draft (1:39) is a clip from The Lucy Show with a special cameo by guess who?
- Jim Nabors on the David Frost Show (10:56) allows the actor to discuss his life and the role of Gomer.
- Jim Nabors Hour Clip (8:51) Jim and Frank Sutton on a variety show. The duo play brothers-in-law. Frank still has buzz cut.
NOTE: The set contains all 150 series episodes on 24 discs. However, the musical moments are still missing, as they were from previous releases.