TV Westerns

BLACK SADDLE “Client Meade.” NBC, Four Star Productions. 17 January 1959 (Season One, Episode Two). Peter Breck (Clay Culhane), Russell Johnson (Marshal Gib Scott), Anna Lisa (Nora Travers). Guest Cast: Clu Gulager (Andy Meade), Ned Glass. Director: Roger Kay. Currently streaming on YouTube (see below).

   The premise of this TV western series that ran for two seasons, the first for NBC, the second on ABC (*) was that when gunslinger Clay Culhane quit his gunslingers ways he turned instead to practicing law. There was more to his backstory than this, but all that was presumably covered in the first episode of season one. This is the second.

   Not yet having watched the first episode, I do not know the significance of his black saddle. Other than a carry over from his more wayward way of making a living, perhaps there was none. And of course even though he is now a lawyer, there are times when his guns are needed.

   Clay’s client in this one is Andy Meade (Clu Gulager), a drifter who is handy with a gun who is followed into town by three men with vengeance is their eyes toward him, but when the oldest confronts him, the man dies. A witness could verify that it was self defense, and he does at first, but when it comes time for a hearing, frightened for his family, he changes his testimony.

   This is the crux of the story, but for a tale that’s 30 minutes long, including time for commercials, there is a lot more action to come, including a break from jail, another shootout, and a recanting of the changed testimony, which comes too late for everyone to survive.

   As for the players, I hesitate to suggest this, but I think Clu Gulager had more onscreen charisma than Peter Brock and Russell Johnson combined (none), but maybe that’s just me. Anna Lisa, as the woman behind the front desk of the hotel, had little to do in this one.

   What this is, overall, as “adult” westerns on TV at the time so often were – and there surely were a lot of time – is a short little morality play. Don’t tell lies, and let the law be the guide. Done, and done, and most neatly so.



(*) Thanks to Mike Doran and his Comment #1 for the correction on this.



NOEL LOOMIS – Have Gun, Will Travel. Dell First Edition B-156, paperback original; 1at printing, 1960. Cover art by Robert Stanley.

   Not a real winner, but it inspired me to make a pipe.

   Noel Loomis was a well-regarded Western historian, and he wrote several scripts for the television show, so he was a natural for this paperback tie-in. And he gives it the dollop of polish one expects from a writer of his caliber, but that’s not always a good thing.

   The plot involves Paladin’s involvement with a notorious lady of the theatre, the search for a missing newspaper editor, Mexican revolutionaries and the near-legendary outlaw Three-Fingered Phil.

   Freed of the time and budget constraints of network television, Loomis lets his hero and himself ramble, from San Francisco to Santa Fe, down into Mexico and up into the mountains, with every leg and limb of the journey described in detail. Oh, it never gets monotonous, it just gets, well… long!

   And perhaps it’s no fault of Loomis’ that he never really evokes the forceful personality Richard Boone brought to his characterization, though he lards the dialogue with allusions to Shakespeare. He just misses the laconic personality and repressed rage essential to the character of Paladin, and it leaves a gaping whole in the book that Robert Stanley’s excellent cover can’t quite fill.

   That said, there are enough fist-fights, knife-fights and gun-fights to keep the reader awake, and Loomis puts the action across reasonably well. Maybe it’s me, I just couldn’t get excited over this.

   But it did prompt me to make a pipe out of a tree branch and trim from an old cap pistol!

  HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL “The Vigil.” CBS, 16 September 1961 (Season 5, Episode 1). Richard Boone, Kam Tong. Gunest cast: Mary Fickett, George Kennedy, Dan Stafford. Teleplay: Shimon Wincelberg. Director: Andrew V. McLaglen. Current;y streaming on YouTube (see below),

   There is both very little to this story, and yet there is also quite a lot, and although nothing very surprising happens, it ends up in quite satisfying fashion, Contradictions? This adventure of the western PI-for-hire who calls himself Paladin is full of them.

   He is hired by an idealistic nurse straight out of nursing school to help her travel to a community desperately in need of medical assistance, but they have already turned down her offer of help. They want a doctor. They do not want a nurse, not a female one.

   She is going anyway.

   Not only is she idealistic she is hopelessly naive. (Perhaps they are the same thing.)

   Perhaps only a day or two into their journey, they encounter a campsite where they find two men having just finished burying a third under a pile of rocks. Paladin is suspicious, but the young nurse is willing to take their story at face value: that the dead man died from an arrow in the back during an Indian attack. Paladin sees the dead man’s shirt. No hole in the back. He was killed at noon and in the heat, he wasn’t wearing the shirt, he is told. It’s now late in the evening, Paladin responds. What took you so long to bury him? Let’s uncover the body, he suggests.

   Events ensue – Paladin is a gunfighter by trade, after all — and by the end of this 30-minute episode, the young lady nurse has learned a valuable lesson about life. Neatly done, although if you are so inclined, one might have to admit, perhaps a little too obviously so.


RAWHIDE. “Clash At Broken Bluff.” CBS, 02 November 1965 (Season 8, Episode 8). Clint Eastwood, Paul Brinegar, Steve Raines, L. Q. Jones. Guest Cast: Ron Randell, Nancy Gates, Warren Stevens. Teleplay by Louis Vittes. Directed by Charles Haas. Currently available on YouTube.

   By some sheer coincidence, even on a TV show taking place in the past and the far West such as this one, the primary subject matter is voting rights: who should have the right to vote in an upcoming election, or more importantly, who should not. In this case, the women of Broken Bluff are demanding the same right at the polls as the men in the cattle drive who just happen to be in the county on election day.

   To that end, the town’s more nefarious leaders are premising the cowboys much needed supplies – not to mention free beer – if (and only if) they will vote their way. On the other hand, the leader of the women’s marches is a young widow whose land the cattle must cross while making their way north.

   It is a dilemma, if not an impasse, and it is complicated even further by Rowdy Yates’ attraction to the lady. (It is, of course, a young Clint Eastwood who plays the trail boss, and the lady is very attractive.)

   There’s not a lot more than an hour’s entertainment that’s intended here. The right of women to vote had long been settled in history books, even in 1965. The rest of the tale is what viewers sat down to see, and to that end, there was plenty of other old-fashioned western drama and romance in this episode to say they got their money’s worth.

THE WILDCATTERS. “Kelly from Dallas.” Unaired pilot, 30 min. Batjac Productions, 1959. Claude Akins, Sean McClory, L.Q. Jones (as Justice McQueen), Karen Steele, Don Wilson (yes, that Don Wilson), Denver Pyle. Created, written & produced by Burt Kennedy. Directed by Budd Boetticher. Currently available on You Tube (see below).

   Set in WWI-era Texas, three friends work as oil well diggers on spec (that is to say, wildcatters), but their latest venture seems to have gone bust, not because there’s no oil, but the owner of the venture has lost the rights to it to a lady gambler, who has given them only one more day before closing it down.

   Also in opposition to the project is a local cattle rancher who fears that oil, if found, will poison the only watering hole on his land.

   And that’s about there can be said about the story line itself. It’s a jaunty, more than semi-humorous effort, with blaring music, a backfiring contemporaneous automobile, and featuring the beauteous Karen Steele as the lady gambler.

   A highlight of the episode occurs when the three guys barge in on the lady and start to strip down to take a well-needed bath but not noticing that she is already in the tub.

   Mostly an entertaining but essentially inconsequential enterprise, in spite of an excellent cast and high production values. If it had been picked up as a series, one has to wonder how long it would have lasted before running out of stories to tell. This pilot seems to have exhausted most of the possibilities, all in itself.

BONANZA. “The Spanish Grant.” NBC, 06 February1960 (Season 1, Episode 21.) Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker, Michael Landon. Guest cast: Patricia Medina (Isabella Maria Ynez Y Castra De La Cuesta / Rosita Morales), Sebastian Cabot, Celia Lovsky. Director: Christian Nyby. Currently strreaming on YouTube (see below).

   Bonanza was one of the most popular and long-lived TV westerns of all time – but not, of course, the most – we all know what that one was – and by this far into the first season both the audience and players knew who was who without a lot of (or any) explanation or preparation for their characters.

   This episode begins with a gang of things on horseback attacking a pair of homesteaders, and killing the husband, under the guise of the law. It seems as though a claimant (female) to an old Spanish grant has appeared, and she, under her uncle’s guidance, is asking all of current residents to clear out, or pay the price. Among those resisting are the men of the Ponderosa (father and three sons), a part of whose holdings is among those claimed by the stunningly beautiful (as it so happens) Isabella Maria Ynez Y Castra De La Cuesta, played by the stunningly beautiful Patricia Medina.

   A question quickly arises in the viewer’s mind – and soon enough the Cartwrights as well — is she who she says she is? Adam (Pernall Roberts) takes the lead on this one, romancing the lady while investigating the possibility that she is not.

   Standard enough western affair, even if stolen from other sources (e.g., the Anastasia controversy). But what makes the story line so enjoyable is that it manages to never quite answer the question, even after Adam locates the grand old lady of the Spanish family who, under the law, own the land. Bringing her to Virginia City to settle matters leads, quite surprisingly, to a most satisfactory ending anyway.

TALES OF WELLS FARGO. “Shotgun Messenger.” NBC, 07 May 1957 (Season One, Episode 6). Dale Robertson (Jim Hardie).  Guest cast: Michael Landon, Walter Sande, Kem Dibbs. Story consultant: Frank Gruber. Teleplay by Sloan Nibley and Dwight Newton. Director: Lew Foster.  Currently available on Starz and free on YouTube (see below).

   A new gold mine means that Wells Fargo needs to set up a new stagecoach route in the area, which means that men must be found right away to be drivers and to ride shotgun. While barely a man, young Tad Cameron (Michael Landon) is hired by Jim Hardie decides to hire him as the latter, even though the boy’s father was fired by Wells Fargo eight years earlier under suspicion of being in cahoots with two outlaws who held up one of their stages.

   And guess what? The same two owlhoots are still around are trying their best to get young Tad to join up with them. Does he? Of course not.

   All in all, a small morality play, as weren’t most adult westerns that overpopulated the nation’s TV screens in the late 50s and early sixties?

   Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

   What was an extra huge viewing bonus was looking back in the YouTube time machine to see Michael Landon as young as he was then and not yet the TV star he was to become.

   That he was a natural is obvious.

HEC RAMSEY “The Century Turns.” NBC, 08 October 1972 (Season One, Episode One). Richard Boone, Rick Lenz, Sharon Acker, Harry Morgan. Guest star: R. G. Armstrong. Screenwriter: Harold Jack Bloom. Directors: Daniel Petrie, Charles Ziarko (uncredited). Most of the series is available on YouTube.

   First broadcast in 1972, Hec Ramsey was part of the NBC Mystery Movie, a “wheel” series format, starring Richard Boone in the title role for ten episodes over two seasons, in a part that might have had viewers thinking that Ramsey was the lawman Paladin might have become when he got older. (I have read that this was denied by people involved in producing the series, but I’m sure they didn’t mind the publicity it generated.)

   The premise behind itwas that the stories took place just after the turn of the century, with Ramsey showing up to be the new deputy for the police chief of a small town in Oklahoma after a long career of fighting outlaws with a badge and a gun. What takes the townsfolk by surprise, however, is that the aging Ramsey has learned new tricks: fingerprinting, ballistics and taking plaster casts of horseshoe prints at the scene of the crime.

   In this, the pilot episode, he uses all three to catch a gang of outlaws who held up the stage he was riding in on his way into town, and to solve a pair of murders first thought to be a murder-suicide. It’s all told in a light-hearted way, beginning with the instant antagonism between Ramsey and his new boss, later giving way to mutual respect.

   Western action fans need not have been worried. There’s a very good shootout at the en of the show as well. There is even a hint of romance between Ramsey and Sharon Acker’s character, but if so, it was decided early on not to have the show go in that direction. (She appeared in only one later episode.)

   Richard Boone was in his late 50s at the time, but he was in fine form as always in playing the gruff, rumpled, non-compromising Hec Ramsey, never one to take fools seriously.

   I somehow missed seeing any of the series at the time. What was I thinking? I enjoyed this one. Highly recommended!


SHOTGUN SLADE “Crossed Guns.” Syndicated / Revue. 13 May 1960 (Season One, uEpisode 30). Scott Brady. Guest Cast: Barry Atwater, Sue Ane Langdon, Rick Turner, Larry Thor, Francis X. Bushman. Series created by Frank Gruber. Screenwriter: Barry Shipman, Director: Will Jason. Currently available on YouTube.

   One of the gimmicks of this show that separated it from other westerns at the time (and there were many) was that he was a PI for hire, only in the Old West. The other being his weapon of choice, a dual-barrelled hybrid shotgun combination that has a .32-cal. rifle upper barrel and a 12-gauge shotgun lower barrel. (Without IMDb I could not tell you otherwise.)

   The western PI aspect of the series is not much in evidence in this episode , however , unless you call himself his own client. When he rides into Grover’s Bend, it is to confront a man he sent to prison five years ago and who has just been released. The latter’s revenge, however, turns out to be by proxy, as he has lost his right hand while in prison, and a young local gunfighter named Billy has agreed to shoot it out with Slade on the main street of town.

   Complicating matters is that Billy has been secretly romancing the sheriff’s daughter. How Slade gets out of this without either himself or Billy killed is the essence of the story.

   Which is neither terribly good nor really down and out awful. It’s good enough to find another one to watch, and if/when I do, you’ll probably read about it on this blog.



 TOP GUN. Fame Pictures/United Artists, 1955. Sterling Hayden, William Bishop, Karen Booth, James Millican, Regis Toomey, Hugh Sanders, John Dehner, Rod Taylor. Story & co-screenwriter: Steve Fisher. Director: Ray Nazarro.

   Terror in a Texas Town (reviewed here) was followed on TCM by Top Gun, also with Sterling Hayden, and  directed by Ray Nazarro, a Universal work-horse who at least knew how to put a picture together. The script, by Steve   Fisher, echoes High Noon and presages Man of the West in its story of Hayden as a local badman who’s been stringing with a Quantrill type (played hy John Dehner as a crafty maniac, in precisely the same style Lee J. Cobb used for Doc Tobin in Man of the West) but rides ahead to warn the folks in his home town that the baddies are coming.

   In High Noon style, the townsfolk spend most of the film debating over what to do, ostracizing Hayden and trotting out their buried grudges rather than mounting an effective defense, till Hayden and a few others have to take care of things.

   Somehow this movie really works.

   Nazarro races through the talky scenes like he knows he’s gotta keep the popcorn crowd in their seats, and makes the most of the few action bits. Although the budget is not much higher than any TV Western of its time, and the plot and dialogue are hardly memorable — barely noticeable, in fact — it’s handled with a workmanlike precision that kept me well-entertained for the brief hour of its length.

— Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #76, March 1996.


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