Tue 19 Feb 2013
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.