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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Baa Baa Black Sheep - Volume 1
Baa Baa Black Sheep - Volume 1
Universal // Unrated // May 24, 2005
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted May 29, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
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The Show:

Loosely based on Congressional Medal of Honor winner Greg "Pappy" Boyington's autobiography, Baa Baa Black Sheep (aka Black Sheep Squadron) is an very entertaining series that tells of Boyington's adventures in the South Pacific as a fighter pilot during WW II.  Though not historically accurate, the series is very enjoyable and exciting.  A favorite of mine when it first aired in 1976, this series has finally made it to DVD.  This set only includes the first half of the first season but it's a good start.

Set in the early days after Pearl Harbor, Major Greg Boyington (Robert Conrad) is a pilot for the Marines who can't get a flying assignment.  He's been assigned to Coronel Lard (Dana Elcar) who does things by the book, and Boyington's lack of respect for the Marine rule book lands him a desk job.  Not wanting to spend the war flying a desk, Greg takes matters into his own hands.  Coming across the files for all of the pending court-martials for the Pacific arena, Boyington gathers all of the pilots on the list and stamps their files 'disapproved.'  He gathers the men together and offers them a chance to fly with him.
 
These pilots are a group of drunk and disorderly Marines who have no respect for authority.  In other words, just like Greg.  Faced with flying for someone 10 years older than they are or jail, they decide to sign up with Greg, but only after giving him the nick name "Pappy."  Now Greg has the pilots, all he needs is some planes for them to fly, and the easiest way for him to get them is to steal them.

Dressing up as a doctor, Pappy puts the pilots of the 214th squadron under medical quarantine for two weeks.  Since they won't be using their planes for a while, his pilots might as well use them.  Of course Col. Lard finds out about his plans, and it's only by the skin of his teeth and some well timed interference by Pappy's friend General Moore (Simon Oakland) that the men are able to escape with the planes.  Christening themselves the Black Sheep, both Boyington and his men know that their days are numbered.  With Lard on their tails trying to have them all arrested, their only chance is to be the best fighter squadron in the Pacific.  Only a long string of kills will save them from the brig.
 
I haven't seen this show since it was first aired back in the mid seventies, and I have to admit that I enjoy it almost as much now as when I was just a kid.  The program has aged pretty well, much better than some shows from that period.  Sure, the stories are a little predictable and the plots are all a variation on the same theme, but the flying sequences more than make up for that.

The acting isn't outstanding, but it's fits the series well.  Robert Conrad is a great Pappy Boyington, giving the character just the right amount of humor and tough guy bravado to make him endearing.  If the real Boyington wasn't like Conrad, it makes you wish he were.  The supporting characters are mostly familiar faces, and they do a solid job as the slovenly Black Sheep.  Be sure to watch for a young John Larroquette as Bob Anderson, one of the pilots.

If you are looking for an accurate and precise dramatization of what the war in the Pacific was like, you'd best keep looking.  Yes, Greg Boyington did lead the 214 in the Pacific during WWII, and yes, they had one of the best fighting records at the time.  Boyington himself was officially America's ace with the most kills (though his record is disputed in several places,) and we were fighting the Japanese.  Beyond that, just about everything is a fabrication of Hollywood.  Though the shows are a lot of fun, I have to admit that I rolled my eyes at a couple of the plots.  There are only so many times that they can sneak onto a Japanese held island to rescue a downed pilot or steal a plane before you start to question the authenticity of the show.  At those times I'd just remind myself that this was Hollywood, sit back and enjoy the ride.

The show is still a lot of fun, inaccuracies and all.  The characters are easy to like and it's fun to root for the underdog Black Sheep as they try to find their way out of another scrape, but the best part of the series are the dog fights.  Mixing actual combat footage with contemporary reenactments, the show does a great job of putting the viewer in the sky with the pilots.  Vintage Corsairs were used for the contemporary footage, and though there are no surviving Japanese Zeroes (if I recall correctly) the planes that they dressed up for the parts look good to my inexpert eye.   A good portion of each episode is taken up with flying, and it never gets boring.  Though they do use some of the same footage of planes in the air over and over, but I'll be damn if it isn't pretty.

The DVD:


This set consists of the first half of the first season.  It has the two hour pilot and the first 10 episodes.  They come in two standard keepcases which come in a slipcase.

Audio:

This disc comes with a two channel mono soundtrack that sounds pretty good for a show this old.  The dialog is clear, though there is a little distortion.  Some shows are worse than others, with the last episode in the set being one of the worst, but even in this episode it doesn't get distracting.  There isn't a lot of dynamic range, but that is to be expected.

Video:

The full frame image looks fine.  There is a little bit of grain in some sections, but overall the show looks nice.  The colors are bright and the image is sharp for the most part.  There are some spots of dirt and an occasional scratch, but these weren't significant.  For a nearly 25 year old TV show, the video quality is very good.  I just wish that it was filmed in widescreen.  The flying scenes would look even better.

Extras:

There wasn't much in the way of extras included with this set.  The only bonus items are a couple of interviews with the real Greg Boyington.  These last about seven minute all together.  The first is from the Today show on the morning that Baa Baa Black Sheep premiered on TV.   Robert Conrad and Greg Boyington talk about the show, and there's a long clip from the pilot.  The second is a short news piece from April 16th, 1959, where Boyington talks about his book that had just been published.  I was hoping that these would be a little more substantial than they turned out to be, but it was still a nice item to include.

Final Thoughts:

Even with the plots that stretched believability almost to the breaking point, I really enjoy this show.  The episodes are just a lot of fun, and the flying scenes are excellent.  The characters are all likable and the episodes are filled with action.  I can't wait for the second half of this season.  This set gets a very high Recommendation.

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