TV Westerns


A TV Western Review by MIKE TOONEY:


“The Trace McCloud Story.” From the Wagon Train series: Season 7, Episode 24 (250th of 284). First broadcast: 2 March 1964. Regular cast: John McIntire (Christopher Hale), Robert Fuller (Cooper Smith, credit only), Frank McGrath (Charlie Wooster), Terry Wilson (Bill Hawks), Denny [Scott] Miller (Duke Shannon), Michael Burns (Barnaby West). Guest cast: Larry Pennell, Audrey Dalton, John Lupton, Paul Newlan, Rachel Ames, Stanley Adams, James McCallion, Nora Marlowe, Harry Harvey. Writer: John McGreevey. Director: Virgil W. Vogel.

   Whenever a long-running TV series runs short of ideas, they sometimes depart from their usual genre (in this case, the Western) to borrow from other genres (in this instance, the mystery/whodunit).

   As Christopher Hale’s wagon train wends its way westward, they sometimes have to stop for replenishment in small towns along the trail. It so happens that in Bedrock, one of their stops, they get to enjoy a traveling magic show — which is abruptly terminated by a murder.

   Wagonmaster Hale learns then that a series of stranglings have occurred in Bedrock, and the local marshal doesn’t have a clue who’s doing them.

   Almost immediately a sizable percentage of the nervous citizens of the town, as well as the itinerant magician, join up with the wagon train. So does the marshal, who thinks the strangler might find the prospect of more potential victims attractive. While Hale welcomes the marshal’s presence, he knows his life just got a lot more complicated.

   The marshal’s suspicions seem to be confirmed when several more murders happen as the train moves on, with the strangler barely escaping detection each time.

   At this point, Chris Hale would be justified in wondering if there’ll be anybody left when they finally reach the end of the trail.

   This episode does a very good job of keeping us guessing by ingeniously shifting suspicion around among the characters; the story benefits by having an hour and half to play in, giving ample time to insert red herrings.

   The solution, admittedly far-fetched, does border on the implausible, but the fun, as in all thrillers, is getting there.

REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


BARBARY COAST. ABC, 1975-76. Fancy Productions Inc., in association with Paramount. Created by Douglas Heyes. Executive Producer: Cy Chermak. Cast: William Shatner as Jeff Cable, Doug McClure as Cash Conover, Richard Kiel as Moose Moran and Dave Turner as Thumbs.

BARBARY COAST William Shatner

   To read my earlier review of the BARBARY COAST TV-Movie, click here.

   The series kept the TV Movie basic premise. Jeff Cable, master of disguise and undercover agent for the Governor of California (in the TV movie Jeff called himself a cop, in the series he called himself a spy) was out to bring law and order to the wild 1880’s Barbary Coast. Aiding him is the less than willing Cash Conover, owner of the Golden Gate Casino, Moose Moran the Golden Gate barker and bouncer, and Thumbs the casino’s piano player.

   But changes were made. Most important, gone was creator Douglas Heyes, replaced by producer Cy Chermak (THE VIRGINIAN, IRONSIDE, KOLCHAK THE NIGHT STALKER) who lacked the experience in adult light drama/comedy of Douglas Heyes (MAVERICK, ALIAS SMITH AND JONES, BEARCATS!).

   The series tone became lighter, more appropriate for a younger audience. Gone was Dennis Cole as Cash Conover, the biggest crook on the Barbary Coast. Doug McClure (THE VIRGINIAN, SEARCH) had a lighter more likeable persona than Cole and was better at the show’s growing comedic tone.

BARBARY COAST William Shatner

   It had been awhile since TV had had a successful Western, but those paid by advertising agencies to forecast what shows would attract an audience believed BARBARY COAST Western format would attract more than the Science Fiction series INVISIBLE MAN airing opposite on NBC. They were wrong. But it didn’t matter as the CBS Top 10 lineup of RHODA and PHYLLIS destroyed both of them.

   From the first week the ratings were basically the same. For September 8th BARBARY COAST finished 63rd out of 66 with a 12.0 and 21 share. NBC’s INVISIBLE MAN had a disappointing 16.3 and 28 share (30 share was usually needed to avoid cancellation). Both CBS’ RHODA with a 22.8 and 40 share and PHYLLIS with a 25.2 and 42 share finished in the top ten.

   By late October ABC decided to switch BARBARY COAST with another rating disaster MOBILE ONE, and October 31,1975 BARBARY COAST moved to Friday at 8pm opposite NBC’s major hits SANFORD AND SON and CHICO AND THE MAN, and CBS’ BIG EDDIE and MASH. BARBARY COAST remained in the bottom five of the ratings and was cancelled by mid-November.

   The reviews were bad. “Broadcasting” (September 22.1975) published excerpts from various newspaper TV critics reviews.

   Morton Moss of the Los Angeles “Herald Examiner” wrote, “…a couple good actors, William Shatner and Doug McClure, and various gaudy ingredients that could add up to a vibrant western swashbuckler. But it doesn’t…”

BARBARY COAST William Shatner

   From the Chicago Tribune Gary Daab, “It is hilarious to watch one of American’s raunchiest era – the 1880s Barbary Coast – being sanitized into a hunkey-dorey juvenile cartoon suitable for TV’s new family hour. Almost, but not quite, beneath contempt.”

   This was the first season for FCC ordered “family hour.” No one knew what to program in the time slot. But a fun entertaining grown-up Western with bad men and easy women such as the TV Movie version of BARBARY COAST belonged in the 10pm time period not at 8pm when the kiddies where watching. In a fatale mistake ABC decided to adapt the series for the time slot.

   From “Broadcasting” (August 2, 1976): “Last September, ABC’s BARBARY COAST, CBS’s THREE FOR THE ROAD and NBC’s THE MONTEFUSCOS and FAY were handicapped right from start (and were cancelled early) when pre-empted by affiliates that either had their own locally produced hours to put in primetime or had expensive syndication properties such as ITC’s SPACE 1999 that needed primetime airing to recoup prices.”

   So, a premise that needed a more adult time slot, competed against top ten rating hits, and had fewer stations than normal airing the program meaning fewer people available to watch, all virtually dooming BARBARY COAST to failure.

   I have seen four episodes of the series. I remain interested in seeing the series first episode “Funny Money” written by Douglas Heyes and with Flame (Bobbie Jordan), Cash’s lover still in the cast (according to IMdB).

         EPISODE INDEX:

   Check out this clip containing scenes from episodes “Crazy Cats.” “Jesse Who?” and “Guns For the Queen”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RPR5bgBvZ8

“Crazy Cats.” (9/15/75) Written by Harold Livingston Directed by Don Weis Guest Cast: Eric Braeden, Joanna Miles and Andrew Prine. *** Jeff needs to find and return to the Chinese government two priceless Jade cats stolen while on view in California.

   Entertaining, but predictable. Perhaps its biggest weakness was a disappointing action ending that was too much filler and silliness (why set bombs to block your exits?).

“Jesse Who?” (9/22/75) Written by Howard Berk Directed by Bill Bixby Guest Cast: Rosemary Forsyth, David Spielberg and Lloyd Bochner. *** A man calling himself Jesse James is robbing banks in San Francisco.

   The femme fatale and her motives make this predictable story almost interesting.

BARBARY COAST William Shatner

“The Ballad of Redwing Jail.” Teleplay by William D. Gordon and James Doherty. Story by Matthew Howard (Douglas Heyes). Directed by John Florea Guest Cast: Andrew Duggan, Ralph Meeker and James Cromwell. *** Jeff and Cash have to find some way to recover money buried inside the Redwing Jail without the greedy Sheriff finding out.

   This episode made me sad, as the production values that had been a plus had now virtually disappeared, revealing Paramount’s loss of faith in the show.

   Burdened with a dumber script than usual the only reason to watch this is to see Ralph Meeker show a surprisingly believable light comedic side.

“Gun for a Queen.” (10/6/75) Teleplay by William Putman Story by Matthew Howard (Douglas Heyes). Directed by Don McDougall. Guest Cast: John Ericson, Fred Beir and Joan Van Ark *** An old girl friend of Jeff and Cash arrives with a new husband who is there to buy some stolen guns for a revolution.

   Some good twists but flawed by the near slapstick action scenes.

   I remember liking this series when it was on. Watching it now there are moments when it is entertaining and fun, but overall the series is disappointing, one of failed potential.

REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


BARBARY COAST. TV movie/pilot. ABC – Paramount, 4 May 1975. Created, Written and Produced by Douglas Heyes. Directed by Bill Bixby. Cast: William Shatner as Jeff Cable, Dennis Cole as Cash Conover, Richard Kiel as Moose Moran, Lynda Day George as Clio Du Bois, John Vernon as Robin Templar, Bobbie Jordan as Flame, Charles Aidman as Lt. Tully, Leo V. Gordon as Chief Keogh, Neville Brand as Florrie Roscoe, and Michael Ansara as Diamond Jack Bassiter.

   While the premise owed much to THE WILD WILD WEST, and the story was predictable, this Western Action TV Movie was entertaining in ways only 70s escapism nonsense could be.

   The opening credits visually established the setting and premise quickly and with near perfection. Barbary Coast was a lawless area of San Francisco, filled with saloons, mud thick streets, women who would seduce you out of your money, dancing girls who could knock you out with a kick if you got too close, cops on the take, people demanding justice even if it meant vigilante justice, and places where if you entered you would wake up on a boat to Shanghai China.

   Yet the mood of the opening was as upbeat as the music and the unsuspecting victims determined to have fun, such as the drunk who got tossed out of saloon after saloon but remained determined to find another place to drink.

   The Governor of California had sent undercover cop Jeff Cable in to investigate the Barbary Coast and recommend how to clean the place up. Jeff couldn’t resist taking on the corruption by himself, with some help from a few reluctant friends, chiefly Cash Conover, owner of the city’s most successful and honest casino, The Golden Gate.

   Captain Keogh and nearly all the local police were in the pocket of the local criminals. That is except honest Police Lieutenant Tully. While Moose Moran, the Golden Gate’s barker and bouncer assisted Cash and Jeff, others at the place apparently were not aware of Jeff’s activities and connection to Cash. Thumbs (Dave Turner), the piano player who would join the team in the series, was just a background character in this TV Movie.

   West Point graduate Jeff Cable had worked undercover for President Grant to help bring down the Ku Klux Klan in the south. Now Jeff learns some of the former members have arrived at the Barbary Coast to set up a group called the Crusaders.

   Crusaders’ leader, lawyer Robin Templar encourages a shootout in Cash’s Golden Gate, and then begins to collect donations from the “good people” of San Francisco demanding justice.

   Meanwhile, a down on her luck French aristocrat, ineptly portrayed by Lynda Day George, finds her dream of marrying a rich man’s son shattered when the young man is killed in the shootout. She brings trouble to unsuspecting Cash who helps her find a place to stay and work.

   Jeff Cable is the perfect role for William Shatner. The character’s love of disguises made hamminess an appropriate character trait. Shatner gives a surprisingly good performance giving each character he played a life of its own.

   Dennis Cole was as bland as usual. Yet he was convincing enough as Cash the superstitious gambler with a past. Cash had killed the son of the Louisiana Governor in a duel. Jeff knows this and threatens Cash to turn him over to the Louisiana authorities unless Cash helps him fight the crooks.

   Douglas Heyes (BEARCATS!) created, wrote and produced this TV Movie pilot. A favorite of Roy Huggins (MAVERICK) since their days working on CHEYENNE, Heyes used his experience writing for such series as MAVERICK and ALIAS SMITH AND JONES to recreate a similar light dramatic tone for the TV Movie.

   The production levels were high as Paramount turned their back lot into the Barbary Coast. The Golden Gate interiors were lush and included the casino, Conover’s upstairs office and bedroom, and Jeff’s secret lair hiding behind a secret door/fireplace worked by the hands of a clock. Extras filled the Golden Gate and half a dozen dancing girls danced and high kicked endlessly on stage.

   Art Director Jack F. DeShields and set decorator Reg Allen were deservedly nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Art Direction or Scenic Design in a Dramatic Special or Feature Length Film Made For TV (they lost to ABC Theatre’s ELEANOR & FRANKLIN).

   Music for the TV Movie was by John Andrew Tartaglia. At times the background music brought back memories of the superior TV Western ALIAS SMITH & JONES. That was not surprising considering John Andrew Tartaglia also did music for that series.

   In the May 5, 1975 issue of “Broadcasting,” ABC had decided to add a Western to their upcoming Fall schedule in the Monday at 8pm time slot in front of MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL. There were three pilots up for the spot, Paramount’s BARBARY COAST, Universal’s BRIDGER and MGM’s HOW THE WEST WAS WON.

   BRIDGER starred James Wainwright and would air on ABC September 10, 1976. HOW THE WEST WAS WON starred James Arness aired January 19.1976 under the title THE MACAHANS. This lead to the HOW THE WEST WAS WON mini-series in 1977 and a weekly series in 1978 and 1979.

   By the next issue of “Broadcasting” (5/12/75), BARBARY COAST, called for a short time CASH AND CABLE, had made the Fall 1975-76 schedule.

NEXT: A LOOK AT BARBARY COAST THE WEEKLY SERIES AND WHAT WENT WRONG.

A TV Review by Mike Tooney


“The Fourth Victim.” An installment of Gunsmoke: Season 20, Episode 8. First broadcast: 4 November 1974. James Arness (Matt), Ken Curtis (Festus), Milburn Stone (Doc), Buck Taylor (Newly), Leonard Stone, Ben Bates, Alex Sharp, Al Wyatt Sr., Frank Janson, Biff McGuire, Lloyd Perryman, Victor Killian, Woody Chambliss, Howard Culver, Paul Sorensen, Ted Jordan. Writer: Jim Byrnes. Director: Bernard McEveety.

GUNSMOKE Matt Dillon

    Genuine whodunits set in the Old West are certainly rare, which makes this episode of Gunsmoke from its final season slightly more interesting.

    A serial killer (seen only in silhouette and shadow) equipped with a .30-caliber rifle and a silencer is stalking Dodge City, murdering at will, sniper-style. Since there seems to be no obvious connection of the victims with one another, his motive is completely opaque.

    Marshall Matt Dillon must turn detective to find the connection, which he does — and yet, technically speaking, he really doesn’t — halfway through the show, prompting him to think Doc Adams will be the next victim.

GUNSMOKE Matt Dillon

    Using a willing Doc as bait, Dillon sets a trap, which is only partially successful, resulting in a severely damaged chair in Doc’s office and a wounded and therefore doubly dangerous sniper — who courteously sends Matt a note swearing revenge on him for interfering in his plans and calling him out for a midnight showdown — alone.

    Feeling he has no better choice, Dillon appears on the deserted streets of Dodge, unaware that Doc and Festus have a surprise in store — but now fully aware of who the sniper really is ….

    Since the plot centers on a woman, it’s interesting that there are no speaking parts for them in this episode. (By this time, Amanda Blake [Miss Kitty] had left the show after an argument with the producer.)

    Unusually for this series, the episode takes place entirely on indoor sound stages.

GUNSMOKE Matt Dillon

    Ben Bates makes an appearance in the same scene with James Arness, which is of interest since he was Arness’s stunt double throughout the run of the Gunsmoke series.

    The mystery and suspense level of “The Fourth Victim” is gratifyingly high, although experienced mystery aficionados should be able to figure it out early on. If only the writer had surreptitiously introduced the final clue sooner, say in the first act, Matt’s solution near the end wouldn’t have had that rabbit-from-a-hat feel to it.

    As it is, however, “The Fourth Victim” is still worth a view. It can be seen in its entirety on YouTube here.

REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK


SHOTGUN SLADE. Revue Studios/MCA TV. Syndicated, 1959-61, 78 episodes. Created by Frank Gruber. Executive Producer: Nat Holt. Cast: Scott Brady as “Shotgun” Slade.

    “Shotgun” Slade (his first name was never mentioned) was the lone member of the Slade Detective Agency, with his office in Denver. He traveled all over the Old West for clients who had hired him.

SHOTGUN SLADE

    Scott Brady (He Walked by Night) was convincing as a tough Western PI who could handle himself in a fight, but less convincing as Slade the ladies man. Oddly, while he had a beautiful woman waiting for him in virtually every town, Slade thought of himself as a loner.

    It was 1959, the PI was beginning to replace the Western on TV, this gimmick heavy syndicated TV series wanted it both ways. Creator Frank Gruber is a familiar name to Pulp and Westerns fans alike. Gruber had worked with Executive Producer Nat Holt on several B-Westerns including The Great Missouri Raid, as well as the TV series Tales of Wells Fargo. Holt is also remembered for his movie work with Randolph Scott (Rage at Dawn). At one point Ralph Dietrich, whose producer credits include a couple of Charlie Chan films, took over as producer from Gruber.

SHOTGUN SLADE

    The series was typical of 50s TV-Film syndication. Stories required a least one fight and, as often as possible, for Slade to be knocked out from behind so he could wake up in the care of the beautiful woman of the week.

   Slade would narrate over scenes to give exposition so not to slow down the action in this time limited thirty minute PI/Western. The mysteries offered few clues and suspects, but focused on twist after twist until the villain was revealed.

   While the locations were pure Western, the stories were more noir PI than the morality plays of TV Westerns. In “Golden Tunnel,” Slade’s old friend and owner of a mine called Slade for help. He was seventy years old and had a young wife he trusted (and shouldn’t) and a nephew he trusted (and shouldn’t) helping him run the place.

    There were problems at his mine, someone had taken a shot at him, and, oh by the way, he just discovered the son he thought dead was alive and wanted Slade to make sure his new Will gets to the probate court when he dies, which he does in the next scene.

SHOTGUN SLADE

    Throughout the series the guest cast was filled with character actors (Alan Hale, Stacy Keach), B-movie favorites (Marie Windsor), and an occasional surprise (Ernie Kovacs).

    There is a reason so much of TV-Film syndication from the 50s and 60s look alike. In Storytellers to the Nation: A History of American Television, by Tom Stempel (First Syracuse University Press, 1996), D.C. Fontana (Star Trek) discussed the limitations imposed on writers of half hour TV film syndicated shows established by Ziv and followed by Revue (Universal).

    “On Shotgun Slade a writer was limited to only four major speaking parts, including Slade, and three sets. On the one episode Fontana did, no exteriors were allowed since it was raining and the company could not hold production until it stopped.”

SHOTGUN SLADE

    There were countless Westerns and PI shows on the air in 1959. Every series needed something to stand out from the crowd. Shotgun Slade had two obvious gimmicks.

   First was his weapon, a gun he had made himself, with a rifle barrel atop a double barrel shotgun. While it had its uses, such as using the barrel to knock the handgun out of the bad guy’s hand, it looked awkward as Slade carried it everywhere he went.

    The other gimmick was the jazz soundtrack by Gerald Fried (The Killing). The idea of using jazz music as the soundtrack for a show set in the “Old West” was an interesting but doomed experiment. It proved that no matter how popular the music is at the time of the viewers, the music needs to fit the time of the characters.

SHOTGUN SLADE

    A review in Billboard (8/22/60) gave the soundtrack album (The Original Jazz Score from Shotgun Slade, by Stanley Wilson and his Orchestra; Mercury Records) three out of four stars and said, “…Altho the TV show is a Western, the music is much more closely allied to current ‘private eye’ type, jazz-oriented music than to the old-fashioned Western ditties. It makes for good listening tho it doesn’t have the same melodic appeal of the Mr. Lucky or the Peter Gunn material.”

    Words can not come close to properly describing this song, from an episode of Shotgun Slade, sung by Monica Lewis. (Follow the link.)

    Shotgun Slade gave Oscar winning director Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa) his first director job. In The Directors: Take One, Volume One, by Robert J. Emery (Allworth Press 2002), Pollack explained how he got his chance when Shotgun Slade had been cancelled but had a few episodes left to film so they gave him a chance to learn on the job.

    The series was popular and, according to Broadcasting (May 30, 1960), it was syndicated in 170 markets. But if you expect Peter Gunn on horseback, you will be disappointed. It had some interesting talent in front and behind the camera, and tried new things with music and drama, but in the end Shotgun Slade offers little (beyond what not to do) worth remembering.

    Episodes of Shotgun Slade are available from various DVD sellers and all over the Internet from archives.org to YouTube.

SHOTGUN SLADE

THE FRONTIER WHODUNIT THAT WASN’T
A Review by Mike Tooney


“The Accused.” An episode of Daniel Boone (1964-70). Season 2, Episode 27. First airdate: March 24, 1966. Fess Parker, Joanna Moore, Ed Ames, Ken Scott, Vaughn Taylor, E. J. Andre, George Savalas. Writer: David Duncan. Director: John Florea.

DANIEL BOONE Fess Parker

   Daniel Boone (Parker) gets into real trouble when a man he has just been dickering with over the price of furs ends up being murdered.

   Every bit of circumstantial evidence points to Daniel, but being a scrupulously honest individual, he allows himself to be jailed even after an inquest clinches his guilt. Things aren’t helped at all by the inflexible attitude taken by the local constable.

   Of course, Daniel didn’t do it, as his Oxford-educated Cherokee friend Mingo (Ames) knows instinctively. Not being one to see injustice done, Mingo springs Daniel from the hoosegow and the two set out to find the real perpetrators.

   …which they eventually do, but only after a lot of running and jumping and shooting of the sort you won’t find in a typical Perry Mason episode.

   Which brings us to the chief defect of this particular show: that, with just a little rearranging, it would have made a grand whodunit, instead of the more prosaic how’s-he-gonna-clear-himself type of plot.

DANIEL BOONE Fess Parker

   The viewer knows ab initio what happened, who did the crime, and how they attempted to cover it up — and this knowledge contributes nothing to the progression of the storyline.

   If the producers had taken the first five tell-all minutes of the episode and simply moved them to the end, at the point when the perps have been apprehended and are explaining how and why they did the dirty deed, this commonplace action adventure show could have been elevated to a higher plane — a genuine whodunit.

   By inserting closeups of more of the people with worried expressions at the inquest — Perry Mason-style — and snipping a scene or two later on, the mystery would have been sustained.

DANIEL BOONE Fess Parker

   But by not doing so, the writer and the director missed a golden opportunity to give us a real rara avis indeed, a buckskin whodunit. Thus, the best moments in the show must remain the final few funny minutes when Daniel and Mingo are stranded literally up a tree.

   We’ve already discussed Joanna Moore in a couple of previous Mystery*File entries here and here, as well as Fess Parker here.

   If writer David Duncan’s IMDb filmography is complete, the notion of writing a mystery was foreign to him.

   And, yes, that’s Telly Savalas’s younger brother George (1924-85) playing the warden. Usually billed as “Demosthenes” (his middle name), he appeared in 114 episodes of Kojak.

TWO TV WESTERN WHODUNITS
Reviewed by Mike Tooney


CIMARRON STRIP

“Knife in the Darkness.” From the Cimarron Strip series (1967-68), Episode 18, January 25, 1968. Stuart Whitman (Marshal Jim Crown), Percy Herbert (Angus MacGregor), Randy Boone (Francis Wilde), Jill Townsend (Dulcey Coopersmith), David Canary, Philip Carey, Jeanne Cooper, Patrick Horgan, George Murdock, Tom Skerritt, Victoria Shaw, Karl Swenson, Grace Lee Whitney. Writer: Harlan Ellison. Music: Bernard Herrmann. Director: Charles R. Rondeau.

   Since Jack the Ripper was never caught (at least publicly), it’s reasonable to speculate about what happened to him.

   Science fiction maven Harlan Ellison chose to do some genre mashing with this script from Cimarron Strip, a relatively short-lived Western series (only one season of 23 episodes was produced). Ellison decided to have Jolly Jack (or someone who COULD have been the Ripper) immigrate to the United States and carry on his heinous activities — namely, slashing women to death.

CIMARRON STRIP

   For rugged and normally imperturbable Marshal Jim Crown, life is hectic enough without importing criminals from overseas, so when a local prostitute is murdered, Ripper-style, his nerves start to fray just a wee bit — as this exchange between him and inn keeper Dulcey Coopersmith (the delicately beautiful Jill Townsend) would indicate:

   Dulcey:   “You look worried — I can tell.”

   Jim Crown:   “I’m always worried when I work this town.”

   Dulcey:   “No, this is something special — this girl getting killed tonight.”

   Jim Crown:   “I told you when you came to Cimarron there’d be more killin’ than laughin’.”

CIMARRON STRIP

   As in England, the Ripper follows his usual M.O.: targeting women in the dark. Unlike most shows in this series, nearly the entire episode takes place at night and is nicely photographed with deep, rich shadows and feeble light sources. Bernard Herrmann’s musical score adds even more dimension to the story. (It’s been said that nobody could do ominous like Bernard Herrmann.)

   And this episode features a marvelous cast, including character actors who earned fame in other TV venues: David Canary (Bonanza, 94 episodes), Philip Carey (Laredo, 56 episodes), Jeanne Cooper (The Young and the Restless, 894 episodes), Patrick Horgan (Ryan’s Hope, 27 episodes), Grace Lee Whitney (Star Trek, 8 episodes and several movies), plus versatile and ubiquitous Karl Swenson and George Murdock, and Tom Skerritt before he made the big time.

   Ellison’s script and Charles Rondeau’s careful direction keep the viewer guessing, as suspicion continually shifts from one likely suspect to another.

THE RIFLEMAN

“The Mind Reader.” From The Rifleman series (1958-1963), Season 1, Episode 40, June 30, 1959. Chuck Connors (Lucas McCain), Johnny Crawford (Mark McCain), Paul Fix (Marshal Micah Torrance), John Carradine (James Barrow McBride), Michael Landon (Billy Mathis), Sue Randall (Lucy Hallager), Vic Perrin (Ed Osborne), William Schallert (Fogarty), Robert Bice (John Hallager). Writer: Robert C. Dennis. Director: Don Medford.

   John Hallager and Billy Mathis get into a real dustup over Hallager’s daughter, Lucy. So when Hallager is shot to death from ambush, Marshal Torrance, with reluctance, arrests Billy as the only one with sufficient motive.

   However, Ed Osborne, the town drunk, knows the truth, and he’s running scared. He begins to panic when James Barrow McBride brings his mind reading act into town, claiming that, with time, he’ll be able to name any eyewitnesses to the crime. For Osborne, that would be fatal.

THE RIFLEMAN

   Lucas McCain is able to piece together the few clues available to him, enough in his mind to clear Billy but not enough to finger the actual killer. Then Lucy makes things worse by engineering Billy’s escape from jail, further incriminating young Mathis in Marshal Torrance’s eyes.

   Lucas latches on to Osborne, in the fading hope that he’ll lead McCain to the murderer. The suspense in the last half of the show ratchets up very nicely, as Lucas bounces from one suspect to another. Finally, McCain figures out who the killer is — all of three seconds before he has to shoot him dead.

THE RIFLEMAN

   It’s pretty rare to have a genuine whodunit plot in a half hour Western, so kudos to writer Robert C. Dennis (1915-83) for this one.

   Dennis had a long career of writing crime dramas for television. His credits are truly impressive: China Smith (12 episodes), The New Adventures of China Smith (12 episodes), Passport to Danger (10 episodes), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (30 episodes), Markham (4 episodes), M Squad (5 episodes), The Untouchables (6 episodes), Checkmate (6 episodes), 77 Sunset Strip (15 episodes), Perry Mason (22 episodes), The Wild Wild West (7 episodes), Hawaii Five-O (6 episodes), Dragnet: 1967 (19 episodes), Dan August (5 episodes), Cannon (6 episodes), Harry O (5 episodes), and Barnaby Jones (3 episodes).

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