Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Comedy Reveals Acting Skills

I'm still on my Steve Ihnat kick...

And to that end I've been enjoying watching his I Dream Of Jeannie episode, My Master the Rain Maker.

(As an aside...gag me with a spoon! I know I used to watch this show when I was a kid, and I must have liked it, but the male chauvanism rampant in it just makes me want to strangle the actors today. However, that's a rant for another time and place.)

Anyway, I would have to say that 99.9% of Steve Ihnat's roles were in drama. He'd only been guest-star in about 22 TV series before 1966 (plus a couple of movies) when he did I Dream of Jeannie, but each of those was a drama and in probably 90% of those he was the cold-hearted villain.

So I'd really, really like to know how he went about landing the role of Sgt Ben Roberts in this episode of I Dream Of Jeannie. Why would anyone have offered a serious, "villainous" actor such a role? Was it his choice, to show that he could play comedy as well, or did he do it as a favor for a friend when the original actor dropped out, or what?

The episode is rather a silly one. Tony Nelson (Larry Hagman) is supposed to take Jeannie (Barbara Eden) on a picnic. But it's raining. So, she blinks her head and stops the rain. After a bit of conversation with her Master, she makes it snow, but just over their house - and the psychiatrist, Dr. Bellows, shows up at this time. He goes around the base telling people that Tony can control the weather.

Sgt Ben Roberts, played by Steve Ihnat, comes in to Tony's office, very diffidently. His whole persona is that of a diffident, good ol' country boy (he's from Alabama). He has a brother who has a farm, and because of a draught the crops are all withering away. So he wants Tony to make it rain. Tony of course can't. But Jeannie can.

So, some time later, Ihnat returns to Tony's office, happy because it's started raining. And he gives Tony some crops, and the people of the town give Tony some crops.

Then, some time later (but only a minute in screen time) Ihnat returns, begging Tony to stop making it rain because the streets of the small town have turned to rivers and his brother's barn floated away that morning. Dr. Bellows overhears this, and tells the two men to come to his office in ten minutes. He has General Peterson there.

Ihnat says he can't prove Tony can make it rain but it was sure raining in Alabama. He is standing at attention with his head bent forward, and seems rather to be channeling Gomer Pyle (though he is never as stupid as Pyle was!). After he answers General Peterson's question he does this funny thing with his neck - difficult to describe, but amusing to watch - because he knows Tony's in trouble, and exits. Then of course, Bellows demands Tony make it snow, Tony can't, the General shakes his head and tells Bellows to go away for a long rest.

Final scene, Ihnat goes to Tony's home this time, and says that the lake that used to be his brother's farm is now full of trout, and bass, and catfish and his brother and his friends are renting out cabins to tourists and getting rich.

So yes, a very slight episode - but after all, it's a sitcom - but it gives Ihnat a chance to play a happy guy, and smile in a friendly fashion (as opposed to an evil fashion) alot, and just be a regular guy, and because of that it's fun to watch.

Other videos available at the IMDB are his episode of Alias Smith & Jones, "Stagecoach Seven" in which he plays an unpleasant passenger. A supporting villain, not the lead guest star or the lead villain. Also is his episode of To Catch A Thief, "Turnabout" in which he plays a Russian guard, and he is the villian in this one, though of course he's only doing his job as head of a security facility which contains something that Al Mundy's boss has to steal (Al having broken his ankle). Not sure how accurate Ihnat's Alabaman accent was, though he did have some kind of Southern accent!, but he does a good foreign accent - though not a real Russian accent. (I'm sure he could do one, but back in the 70s they probably thought the average audience wouldn't be able to easily understand a Russian accent).

The Big Valley has his ep, "Teacher of Outlaws," another one where he was not the main villain, but a supporting villain under him, although it is only he and the lead villain at the end.

And of course, there is his Star Trek episode, Whom Gods Destroy.

There is also a trailer for a movie called Strike Me Deadly, and this was a movie role when Ihnat first started his acting career, he plays the husband of a wife who is cheating on him, and he sets out in the wilderness to track them down and shoot them. All the trailer is is scenes of the man he's chasing running, running through a path in the woods, and a young, fit-looking Ihnat chasing after him carrying a rifle.

THere's also a trailer for Madigan, in which Ihnat seems to have a small role as a villain. He seems to lose it after Madigan (Richard WIdmark) and an associate break into his apartmetn room while he is having sex with a woman. He gets the drop on them and manages to escape.

It's fun to watch these things, for nostalgia's sake if nothing else. I remember how young I was back in the 1970s, and all my hopes, dreams and aspirations.... then the show is over and I'm back to today.... but that's a post for another time, too!

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