TV Westerns

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.


 LUKE AND THE TENDERFOOT “The Boston Kid.” Ziv Productions, unsold pilot, 1955. Edgar Buchanan, Carleton Carpenter. Guest Cast: Nancy Hadley, Lee Van Cleef, Dabbs Greer, Michael Landon, Leonard Nimoy, Jim Bannon. Producer/screenwriter: Steve Fisher. Director: Montgomery Pittman. Currently available on YouTube here.

   In this early 30 minute black-and-white western pilot, Edgar Buchanan plays Luke Herkimer, a bewhiskered itinerant peddler slash con man in the Old West, and if you can picture Edgar Buchanan in such a role, you probably will not be surprised if I were to tell you that he’s not all that good as either of the two.

   As he pulls into the nest town on his travels he meets a naive young man named Pete Quinn (Carleton Carpenter) stepping off a stage, straight from the East and wearing straight from the East clothes, which makes him the center of laughter from a gang of school kids as well as a bunch of local rowdies. You know, the kind of rowdies who are always hanging around small western towns in the movies being, well, rowdy.

   Before he knows it, Pete has been persuaded by Luke to fight three of the rowdies in a boxing match, posing as the “Boston Kid.” Pete’s resemblance to a notorious boxer is nil, zilch, none, and much hilarity ensues.

   In spite it all, though, Luke and Pete decide to patch things up and become partners of some sort, tin pans clanging as their wagon heads on out of sight.

   Enjoyable enough, you might say, but there’s certainly not enough meat on this to build a series on. There was a second episode made, one entitled “The John Wesley Hardin Story,” that one source says was actually aired by CBS in 1963. Most of the fun in watching this one comes from looking for members of the cast whose faces you can still recognize today. Well, mostly so. For some reason I never placed Leonard Nimoy in this one by his face. I will have to watch it again.

   But to be honest, though, not right away.



Note: Thanks to Mike Grost and his occasional email newsletter for tipping me off to this one.

THE MEN FROM SHILOH. “The West vs. Colonel MacKenzie.” NBC, 16 September 1970. (Season 9, Episode 1, of The Virginian). Stewart Granger (Colonel Alan MacKenzie), Doug McClure (Trampas), James Drury (The Virginian), Lee Majors (screen credit only). Guest Cast: Elizabeth Ashley, Martha Hyer, Don DeFore, John Larch. Directors: Murray Golden & Jerry Hopper. Currently streaming on the Starz channel.

   When the TV series The Virginian began its ninth series, some changes were made, starting with the title. The new owner of the Shiloh ranch also showed up: Alan MacKenzie (Stewart Granger), a British army colonel, along with his former aide-de-camp, now a combination valet and butler. As the new owner, the intent was to give the show a new perspective, that of someone unfamiliar to the West, someone who must learn its new ways and how things are done. On the job training!

   When he arrives, both Trampas and the Virginian are ready to step aside, but by the end of this first episode, they have agreed to stay. Roy Tate, a new regular to be played by Lee Majors, does not yet appear.

   Col. MacKenzie does not have long to wait to get his first crisis under his belt, that of the hanging of a suspected rustler by a gang of vigilantes. His sister claims he was innocent, and MacKenzie is inclined to agree with her. This simple act puts him in direct opposition to the sheriff and the local Cattleman’s Association. Nothing like getting off on the wrong foot with the people in power in the country you’ve just moved into.

   Given the 90-minute format the series always had, there’s plenty of time to flesh out the story without feeling that there was padding to waste, at least this time around. While I found nothing amiss in having an Englishman in charge of the ranch, I did find Col. MacKenzie a little too kind and good to be true. But kindness and goodness sometimes win out, and not very surprisingly, they certainly do here.


TALES OF WELLS FARGO. “Vignette of a Sinner.” NBC, 02 June 1962, 60 min, color. (Season 6, episode 34.) Dale Robertson (Jim Hardie), William Demarest. Guest cast: Jeff Morrow, Joyce Taylor, James Craig, Edward Platt. Series creator: Frank Gruber. Screenwriter: Al C. Ward. Director: William Whitney. Currently steaming on Starz.

   Tales of Wells Fargo was on NBC for five seasons in black and white, with each episode running 30 minutes. For its sixth and final season, however, they expanded the episodes to 60 minutes and showed them in color. As opposed to my usual custom of reviewing the pilot episodes, “Vignette of a Sinner” is the last one of the program’s last season.

   And quite fittingly so. While riding on a stagecoach to meet Jim, his semi-comical sidekick Jeb Gaine (William Demarest, as a character also added for this final season) regales his traveling companion with tales about his good buddy Jim. And for good reason. His companion is a lady, and Jeb has hopes of being a matchmaker. They would be perfect together, he thinks.

   The good news is that the attraction is mutual. The bad news is that she has come west to marry her fiancé (Jeff Morrow). The even worse news, for her, is that her intended is also a crook, having just robbed a stage of a considerable amount of money.

   The rest of the story I leave to your imagination, but with director William Witney at the helm, there is plenty of shooting and fighting before the smoke clears. Dale Robertson was an excellent choice to play Well Fargo agent Jim Hardie. Not only was he good with his fists and guns, he was good-looking, unassuming, and a fine man on a horse.

   And suffice it to say that while the closing scene shows her riding a stage back to Kentucky, no viewer is left unaware that she fully intends to return. Good show that.


CHEYENNE “Mountain Fortress.” ABC / Warner Brothers, 60m, 20 September 1955 (Season One, Episode One). Clint Walker (Cheyenne Bodie), L. Q. Jones (Smitty Smith). Guest Cast: Ann Robinson, Bob Wilke, Peter Coe, James Garner, John Doucette. Director: Richard L. Bare. Season One has been released on DVD and is also currently streaming on Starz.

   As I understand it, Cheyenne the TV series was a hit from the start, and it’s easy to see why. It’s an easy transition from the B-westerns that the TV audience in the mid-50s grew up with in the 1940s, complete with a hunky hero in the laconic Gregory Peck mode (Clint Walker), and a semi-goofy sidekick (L. Q. Jones), in the almost-but-not-quite Smiley Burnette et al. mode.

   Add a story that wouldn’t be out of place in 1940s, except that it’s one that actually makes sense, plotwise, complete with a secondary cast of villains and cavalry men whose faces were well known in westerns before then, if not their names. (But do note one new face, that of James Garner as a cavalry lieutenant whose fiancée is on board a stagecoach ambushed by Indians. This may have been his first appearance in either movies or on TV.)

   But as it turns out, the stagecoach was also the intended target of a gang of outlaws, who take both Cheyenne and Smitty prisoners, as well as the girl and the stage driver, and when the cavalry comes riding in, looking for the girl, they’re taken hostage too. All Cheyenne has to do to free the others is to guide the gang of outlaws safely to Mexico – through Indian territory, of course, and they’re already trapped on a high mountain top surrounded on all sides.

   One quick observation, other than the fact, already pointed out, that this little more than a B-western, dressed up only a very very little, and that’s that the body count is very very high on both sides, and maybe that’s  because (and this may be way off base) some of the footage used was left over (or re-used) from B-westerns from the 40s. No matter. This series made Clint Walker a very big star at the time (and I am not referring to his height, but as long as you ask, he was 6′ 6″), and the fact that it was on for eight seasons, reflects that.

   But one last thing, if I may. The bit with Cheyenne’s sidekick (Smitty) lasted only two more episodes, and he was gone for good. I can only conjecture why. If anyone knows more, that’s what the space set aside for comments is for.



THE RIFLEMAN “The Marshal.” ABC, 21 October 1958 (Season 1, Episode 4). Chuck Connors (Lucas McCain), Johnny Crawford (Mark McCain). Guest Cast: Paul Fix, James Drury, R.G. Armstrong, Robert Wilke, Warren Oates, Abby Dalton, Bill Quinn. Written & directed by Sam Peckinpah.

   It doesn’t really get any more western than this. Written and directed by Sam Peckinpah, “The Marshal,” a first season episode of The Rifleman has it all. A once respected lawman gone to seed and now a drunk who refuses to even carry a gun. A pair of brothers terrorizing a town. A scheming outlaw willing to murder without hesitation. A redemption arc for the aforementioned drunken former marshal. And some terrific character actors.

   Although Chuck Connors is the star, this episode really belongs to Paul Fix. He portrays Micah Torrance, a once fearless marshal who is first seen stumbling drunk outside of a saloon. Lucas McCain (Connors) takes him under his wing and offers him good hard work on the ranch. It’s there that both he and his son Mark (Johnny Crawford) realize how much damage whiskey has gone to Micah’s body and soul.

   At more or less the same time that Micah is trying to put his life back together, outlaws ride into town. Leading the group is the handsome, but devious Lloyd Carpenter (James Drury before he starred in The Virginian). There are also two brothers. Flory Sheltin (Robert Wilke) and his brother Andrew (Warren Oates).

   Without giving away too much of the story, let’s just say that something happens to the current sheriff of North Fork (R. G. Armstrong) that allows for Micah to take his place as the chief lawman of the fictional New Mexico town. Fix would go on to appear in some 150 or so episodes of The Rifleman.

BAT MASTERSON “Double Showdown.” NBC, 08 October 1958 (Season 1, Episode 1.) Gene Barry (Bat Masterson). Guest Cast: Robert Middleton, Jean Willes, Elisha Cook, Adele Mara, King Donovan. Teleplay: Gene Levitt. Director: Walter Doniger. Currently streaming on Amzazon Prime Video.

   In this first episode of a new western series on NBC, Bat Masterson comes to the aid of a old friend who owns a casino saloon: he’s being threatened by a competitor (Robert Middleton) who does not think the town is big enough for them both, but if it is, he wants to own them both.

   Using his guns and his trademark cane as well as his wits, Masterson manages to persuade the unctuous villain to a game of chance, winner take all. Dealing the cards is an old girl friend (Jean Willes), now reduced to working for Middleton’s character.

   Unfortunately there’s not a lot of suspense that can build in an episode that’s only 30 minutes long, and that includes commercials and a bit of flirtatious byplay involving Adele Mara’s characters, who comes in the stage one day and leaves the next. Not only that, the episode has two different endings. Anticipating that critics would be complaining how badly the show plays loose and easy with the facts, the point the producers decided to make in advance is that there is often more than one way history gets relayed down to us over the years.

   It’s an approach that I don’t remember ever seeing before, and I wasn’t expecting it. It was rather neat to see it done here.


TOMBSTONE TERRITORY “Gunslinger from Galeville.” ABC, 16 Oct 1957. 30 min. Cast: Pat Conway (Sheriff Clay Hollister), Richard Eastham (Harris Claibourne of the Tombstone Epitaph / Narrator), Thomas B. Henry, Gilman Rankin. Guest Cast: Robert Foulk, Brett King, Carol Kelly. Writer: Andy White. Director: Eddie Davis.

   The first two seasons of Tombstone Territory aired on ABC; the third and final season were shown in syndication only (ZIV). Each episode was supposedly based on a true story published in the Tombstone Epitaph in the 1880s. Only Richard Eastham, the publisher, and Pat Conway as Sheriff Clay Hollister were in all 91 episodes. No one else appeared more than a handful of times.

   Even though the story itself is a rather fanciful one, the first episode, “Gunslinger from Galeville,” is a good one. Determined to collect taxes from everyone in the county, Hollister co-opts the services of outlaw Curly Bill Brocius (Robert Foulk) to help persuade certain recalcitrants to pay up.

   It’s not easy, of course. The members of Curly Bill’s gang don’t know what’s come over their boss. One in particular holds a personal grudge against the sheriff, and lots of gunplay is the result. Curly Bill Brocius returned for a couple more episodes, but this was the only time that Carol Kelly appeared, as the owner of a small store in outlaw territory.

   Pat Conway had a decent career in TV, mostly in westerns, but this series was his only steady job. He’s both tough and steady in this one, and he displays a small sense of humor along with the other two attributes — that plus being a fine hand with a gun. Richard Eastham was solid enough as the editor/publisher/narrator, but mostly he acts a well-established witness who is otherwise only along for the ride.

CIMARRON CITY “I, the People.” NBC, 11 October 1958. Swaon 1, Episode 1. Cast: George Montgomery (Matt Rockford), Audrey Totter (Beth Purcell), John Smith (Lane Temple). Guest Cast: Fred MacMurray, John Anderson. Director: Writers: Gene L. Coon, Fenton Earnshaw. Director: Jules Bricken.

   The story is interesting enough, but as a first episode of the series, which lasted only one year, it really doesn’t do the job, as far as I was concerned. Of the three major cast members, only George Montgomery’s role is well defined. As Matt Rockford, he’s a successful cattle rancher but even more importantly, he’s also the son of the founder of Cimarron City, a small town north of Oklahoma City, and as such takes a decidedly paternalistic attitude toward it.

   Audrey Totter plays the owner of a boarding house in town, and is given a few lines every so often, but her role has nothing to do with the story. I never did figure out who John Smith was supposed to be. I have since found out that he was a town blacksmith, but if he did any blacksmithing during this episode, I apologize for missing it.

   I saw no reason for Audrey Totter to be in this episode, and apparently also saw no future for her in the part, for (I am told) she quit the series soon thereafter. To give Smith more of a part, in later episodes he becomes a deputy sheriff, while Montgomery is elected town mayor. But that all comes later. In “I, the People,” nobody in charge seems to know exactly what they are doing.

   Which allows Fred MacMurray’s character to come into town and ingratiate himself to the town elders as a substantial citizen, moving his way up first from town banker to being elected mayor. At which point, in the name of law and order, he really begins to tighten his smug self-satisfied grip on the town.

   And eventually Matt Rockford decides he’s had enough and that he’s the only one who can do anything about it. Otherwise it’s Fred MacMurray’s show all the way, at first anxious to please any way he can, but as time goes on, showing more an more of his inner character. Everything in this episode centers around him, not George Montgomery. As for Totter and Smith, they make no impression at all.

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