Mon 30 Apr 2012
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.